Catwoman: Relentless (2004)

Another title that I am joining in a middle of a run – this collection collects Catwoman #12-19. It is also another story written by Ed Brubaker – almost seems like he has an exclusivity clause with my local library.

In the first half of the book, a psychotic crime boss in the east end of Gotham, Black Mask (a Batman villain that I am not familiar with), is plotting revenge on Catwoman for the theft of a diamond shipment. In the course of this revenge he is aided by an old friend of Selina’s from her youth in the street gangs in Gotham. He also entices Selina’s sister and her husband to Gotham and kidnaps and tortures them. The second half of the book deals with the aftermath of the ending of the Black Mask’s scheme and the psychological damage it has inflicted on all concerned.

Brubaker introduces me to a very different Catwoman than the one that I am used to seeing. Gone is the lone cat burglar of old to be replaced with a much more social group of supporting characters – a necessary move if trying to sustain the interest in a character over the course of an ongoing series. Selina is portrayed more as a minor crime fighter and benefactor to the east end of Gotham where she grew up and is suffering from deprivation and neglect. She is seen using the funds gained from the diamonds stolen from Black Mask to build a new community centre and apparently confirming an agreement with the Batman not to be involved in major theft.

The book was enjoyable but probably would have benefited from having read the earlier issues that introduce her social circle and the events leading up to the Black Mask’s revenge. The book had a noir-ish feel to it – possibly because one of the supporting characters is a private detective – that was well suited to the streets of the east end of Gotham. I have the next volume from the library but will probably look out for the earlier volumes also – especially if they were written by Brubaker.

Lex Luthor: Man of Steel (2005)

Back to the library books and this one is a collection of the 5 issue mini-series of the same name. It is written by Brian Azzarello who I know better from the Vertigo series Loveless, 100 Bullets and his stint on Hellblazer.

I’m not a great fan of Superman but for this series the focus is almost entirely on his nemesis Lex Luthor. The story details Lex’s obsession with Superman and his desire to see him rejected by the planet he calls home. It explores the deviousness of Luther and the lengths that he will go to discredit Superman in the eyes of a fawning public.

It was a well written story that gradually revealed Luthor’s meticulous scheme and the way that he compromises his own humanity in the name of humanity. The portrayal of Superman is fairly grim, as the story is mainly told from Luthor’s perspective, and the art (from Lee Bermejo) matches that mood perfectly. It was good to see the usual sparring of these two icons from the “villian’s” point of view as it made it a more interesting story.

Greek Street #12-14 (2010)

Having read all the offerings from Marvel that my son and I had on loan, I am taking a quick break by reading some recent issues of Greek Street before moving onto the DC books that I have from the library.

For those that don’t know Greek Street is a reinterpretation of Greek Myths set in modern day London. The writer is Peter Milligan who I have been a fan of from the days of Bad Company in 2000AD. This 3 issue story arc, called Ajax, does not contain any of the main characters introduced in the first 11 issues except two as bit players. The story concerns an ex-soldier Alex Jackson who is trying to come to terms with life after seeing his patrol blown up in Afghanistan. After a series of flashbacks and visions of an ancient Greek soldier he decides to take vengeance on the politician he feels has been the cause of all his problems.

It was a bit of an oft told story but written well and felt as though it could have been taken from a serviceman’s recollections – even with the ancient Greek allusions. I’m back on more familiar ground with this title after all the Marvel comic collections and it was a good chance of pace. I like this series even though the parallels between Greek myth and present day London can be laboured at times – most especially in the names of some of the characters.

Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand (2008)

Latest book read from the library is a TPB collecting Uncanny X-Men #495-499.

The story starts in the aftermath of the Messiah Complex storyline – Xavier is apparently dead (sure he is), thousands of mutants have lost their powers and the X-Men have disbanded for now. There are two distinct storylines running through this book. First, Scott and Emma travel to a San Francisco that has been transported back to the sixties to find out what has happened and track down Angel. Secondly, Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Colossus travel to Russia and run into trouble with a group called the Red Room.

Another book written by Ed Brubaker and the stories were entertaining enough but I preferred the Colossus storyline as it was more action packed and concerned characters that I like better – I have always found Scott to be a whiner and his relationship with Emma to be a bit creepy. It does stand alone in that I don’t think you need to know what has happened before to enjoy it – I haven’t read the Messiah Complex story. Having said that I had the feeling that it is filler between the end of a major storyline and a, presumably, landmark issue 500 of the series. Entertaining but not essential unless you want to see some X-Men in sixties hippy gear.

Ultimate Fantastic Four Volume 7: God War (2007)

A downside to reading comic book collections from the library is that they often don’t have full runs of titles. Particularly annoying is when then only have one volume of a two volume story in the system. Anyway I have had to jump from volume 5 of the Ultimate Fantastic Four to volume 7 – collecting Ultimate Fantastic Four #33-38.

In this collection a group of aliens, known as Seed Nineteen, on the run from a skirmish in a war in a galaxy far, far away crash land on Earth and run into the Fantastic Four. The two teams fight before joining forces against Seed Nineteen’s enemy led by the Ultimate universe version of Thanos.

This collection is notable for me because it is the first time I have read anything by Mike Carey outside of his work for Vertigo – Faker, Crossing Midnight, The Unwritten, Hellblazer and Lucifer. I was curious to see how a writer that I have always associated with fantasy or supernatural stories – he also writes a series of supernatural novels – would get on with a superhero story. I have to say that I enjoyed it very much as it had a strong sci-fi/space opera element that you don’t get in many superhero books. Also the revelation for me was the beautiful artwork by Pasqual Ferry. I have not seen or heard of this artist before but I want to find more. I think his work would suit a more fantasy/supernatural themed book – apparently he is (or is about) to take over on Thor which could be amazing.

So an interesting sci-fi tinged story combined with great art means that this is probably a book I will look to buy sometime in the future. I also hope someone returned to answer the open plot points raised in the story concerning Reed and Thanos. Great stuff.

Ultimate Fantastic Four Volume 5: Crossover (2006)

Another book from the library and another Fantastic Four collection – this volume collects Ultimate Fantastic Four #21-26. This time it is set in the Marvel Ultimate universe – which seems to be a parallel universe to the normal Marvel universe (haven’t these guys learnt anything from DC’s various multiverse crises?). The Ultimate universe gives creators the chance to play with characters so that they are familiar to readers of the regular but subtly different enough that they can be reinvented.

The first three chapters deal with Reed Richards contacting yet another parallel Earth and connecting with that Earth’s older version of himself. However he crosses dimensions to find himself in a superhero zombie apocalypse version of Earth. He hooks up with the last unchanged superhero – Magneto – who is, ironically, protecting a last pocket of humanity from the zombies. The remaining three chapters tell of the return of Sue and Johnny’s mother from the dead; the discovery and exploration of Atlantis and the release of Namor – with chaos ensuing.

I enjoyed this collection. The Fantastic Four in the Ultimate universe have gone right back to their roots and are portrayed as a young team of heroes again. Mark Millar’s script was action and emotion packed with subtle touches of humour along the way. It did suffer slightly because I was joining the story in the middle of a run and so had to fill in some of the details of the history of character exchanges for myself. However, there was enough in it to make me want to read more of the series.

Fantastic Four: Books of Doom (2007)

[ Happy Mood: Happy ]

The next few books that I will be reading have been borrowed from the local library. This one is a collection of a six part mini-series of the same name. I was looking forward to it as it was written by Ed Brubaker who wrote an excellent Daredevil collection that I read recently. This is a retelling of the origin story of Doctor Doom and probably suffers a little bit because of that as it must limit the creativity of the storytelling to a certain degree.

I am familiar with Doctor Doom’s origin story from the Fantastic Four annual #2 as reprinted in the book Bring on the Bad Guys. The Brubaker story stays remarkably close to the plot of the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby story – the 10 or 12 page story being retold in the first four chapters of the book. Brubaker expands the story, in part, by making more of Doom’s mother’s life as a sorceress. He uses this to give Doom more of an interest in magic and how it can be combined with technology and expands on his quest to breach the nether worlds and rescue his mother. The last two chapters give an account of how Doom returns to Latveria and takes control of the country.

This was an entertaining read as I am not a big fan of the Fantastic Four, and hadn’t read many of their comics, so the story was fresh to me – it has probably been 30 years since I read the original story before today. I don’t know if it would appeal to long term fans of the Fantastic Four as much – I know that I sometimes get fed up of endless retellings of the origins of characters that I am familiar with. It wasn’t as good as the Brubaker Daredevil stories that I have read so was a slight disappointment to me.

The Middleman: The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse (2009)

This comic is apparently based on the unfilmed 13th episode of the excellent Middleman TV series. The comic wraps up the series and answers questions such as:

  • What is the future for Wendy and her boyfriend Tyler?
  • Will Lacey get it together with the sexy boss man?
  • Who is the Middleman’s secret love?
  • What is Manservant Neville’s evil plan?
  • Why didn’t we get to see Natalie Morales dressed as a slave girl?
  • Who will pay the Ultimate Sacrifice?

(OK, it doesn’t answer one of those questions but I feel cheated now.)

The book is fairly short (at 64 pages) and published in an unusual mini format (14 x 21.5cm) that does not particularly sit well on the bookshelf – its size, combined with its slimness, mean that it is swamped by the books around it.

The art by Armando Zanker is in a nice cartoony stylebut slightly strange in that the characters are not drawn to resemble the characters in the original comic series or in the TV series.

The story is fairly fluffy with the Middleman saving the world (again) from a preposterous threat but it is filled with the usual in-jokes and pop culture references – which are expanded upon at the back of the book. Somehow the dialogue doesn’t sparkle as much as it did in the TV series – there was a cast read through of the script at a convention once. (It would be interesting to hear that read through to see if the script is different from the comic text and whether the great cast can make it come more alive.) [Here is part one on youTube – it covers the first four pages of the comic and is word for word so far.]

Probably not a book for the casual fan but it does provide some closure for the much missed (by me at least) TV series.