Superman/Shazam: First Thunder (2006)

 

Quote:
“My name’s Billy Batson. But maybe it’s too dangerous to be Billy Batson anymore …”

“Who did this to you?”

 

This book features the first meeting of Superman and Captain Marvel and collects isues 1 – 4 of the First Thunder mini-series. I wouldn’t normally buy a Superman book but I bought this one because it was written by Judd Winick whose work on Blood + Water and Under the Hood I really liked. The art was by an unknown to me – Joshua Middleton.

A gang who has been stealing European artifacts from museums across the country make a successful hit on a museum in Metropolis. When they turn up in Fawcett City, Superman is there to lend a hand to Captain Marvel but they fail to stop the raid or apprehend the gang. Fawcett City’s equivalent of Lex Luther, Dr.Thaddeus Sivana, has hired the gang to raise a demonic version of Captain Marvel to destroy a promising solar energy project. Meanwhile he has swallowed his pride and turned to Lex Luthor for help in hunting down Captain Marvel and his weaknesses so that he can eliminate him.

This book is set mere months after Billy Batson has been given the power of Shazam and marks the first meeting between Captain Marvel and Superman. It starts off as a piece of typical superhero nonsense with Captain Marvel pleased and overawed to be meeting and beating up bad guys with the legend that is Superman. However, the book takes a darker twist towards the end when Silvana’s attempt to assassinate Billy leaves his best friend fighting for his life. Winick takes us from the light to the dark with a great story about the loss of innocence and a boy alone forced to grow up too fast. I’m not a big Superman fan but Winick does a good job of making me want to read more. The only weak point in the story is after the raiders escape from the Fawcett City museum by conjuring up a couple of demons that the heroes have to deal with. After defeating the demons they go off for a chat on Mount Everest rather than trying to hunt down the criminals which didn’t seem right. The art by Middleton is great and in that modern clean style reminiscent of Frank Quitely’s work. I will definitely look out for more from him as well as Winick.

Batman: Under the Hood Volume 2 (2006)

 

Quote:
One son returns from the grave as another enters it. What a fitting ending this has become.

 

This book collects Batman 645 to 650 and Batman Annual 25 and was again written by Judd Winick continuing the story he started in volume 1. The art duties were carried out by a number of pencillers (3) and inkers (5).

Batman has come to accept that Jason Todd has returned from the dead – if he even was dead as the coffin appears unused. The trouble is that the Red Hood continues to spoil the Black Mask’s crime operations with little regard for the lives of the criminals involved. Batman must choose whether or not to help Jason when members of the Society are sent after him. Meanwhile, Jason is holding the Joker hostage as a pawn in a game where he confronts Batman about his moral code.

I loved the bulk of this book, the issues taken from the main series, and the continuing story of Jason Todd’s quest for answers as to why Batman has allowed the Joker to continue to live. I am slightly conflicted in the bringing back of characters from the dead. I was collecting the Bat-books back when the Death in the Family story line was running and there is a part of me that does not want the emotional investment that was made at that time discarded for a cheap thrill now. The portion of the story taken from the Batman Annual that explains how Jason is still alive is the weakest part of the book – there is a big Deus ex Machina involved and I never like that. I feel they could have come up with something better and, as they had to use a resurrection pit anyway, maybe Talia and Ra’s Al Ghul could have hatched some scheme that would have had the same result. Anyway I did enjoy the two books enormously – I just wish that the companies could commit to killing off characters permanently.

Batman: Under the Hood (2005)

 

Quote:
I think about when he was younger. When I was younger. It was a different time. Simpler. And … I miss it. I miss those days. For that … It’s hard to be around him.

 

This book collects Batman 635 to 641 and was written by Judd Winick who wrote the enjoyable Blood + Water for Vertigo. The pencillers were Doug Mahnke and Paul Lee with inks by Tom Nguyen and Paul Smith.

With the Black Mask settling down to rule Gotham’s underworld, a new player in the form of the Red Hood comes to town to disrupt his operations. Batman encounters the Red Hood and despite himself is impressed with his training while thinking that it looks all too familiar. His thoughts on recently deceased partners and colleagues cause him to seek out heroes that have returned from the dead in search of answers that he cannot accept.

Another great story from Winick featuring cameos from Nightwing, Green Arrow, Zatanna and Superman. It also has some cameos from the villains, Mr Freeze, the Joker and Amazo. If you don’t know who the Red Hood is before reading this book then you should know before the reveal as it is telegraphed pretty heavily throughout the book – with the themes of regret over lost colleagues and heroes returning from the dead. But despite that it is a fun story and well worth a read. The art is good too and reminds me at times of Frank Quitely and other times of Steve Dillon with a touch of Paul Gulacy thrown into the mix too.

Blood + Water (2009)

 

Quote:
Would you be willing to do anything to yourself in order to survive?

 

This book collects the 2003 mini-series from Vertigo. It was written by Judd Winick and the art was by Tomm Coker. I think I have previously read one of Winick’s Batman storylines but he has written for other DC series as well such as Green Arrow, Green Lantern and the Ousiders. I have never come across Coker’s work before but I really like his work on this book as it reminds me of the Scottish artist Jock who I really like.

Adam Heller contracted chronic Hepatitis B from his mother at birth but lead a normal healthy life until he contracted Hepatitis A and he became very sick. His body went through a transformation and eventually gave out on him. On hearing of his death sentence, his friend Joshua reveals that he is a vampire and that there is a way to cure Adam and let him live forever. Shocked and unbelieving at first, Adam eventually agrees and with the help of his other (unknown to him) vampire friend, Nicky, He is transformed once again into the fit healthy person he was before his illness. However, the transformation of Adam into a vampire awakens an old adversary that kills Joshua and is after Nicky and Adam with all other vampires unwilling to help.

This was a really good vampire tale. I really liked the opening chapter that described Adam and his illness and the revelation that his best friends were vampires. The opening was the highlight but the rest of the book was good too, while perhaps not being as original – new vampire tests powers by having sex a lot, revelation the Adam is special even amongst vampires and the existence of more than one kind of vampire. As I said at the start I really lie the style of Coker’s art on this book and makes me a little surprised that I had not heard of him before now.