JLA: Tower of Babel (2001)

 

Quote:
“And as for the most persistent thorn in our side, the Detective … well … distracting him was so obvious a matter, I cannot believe I never thought of it before.”

 

This book collects JLA #42-46 and material from JLA Secret Files 3 and JLA 80-page Giant 1. The main story was by Mark Waid who has worked as a writer on most of the major characters from both DC and Marvel. The book also features a host of pencillers and inkers but the principle story was drawn by Howard Porter and Drew Geraci, in the main.

The main story has Batman investigating the disappearance of his parents after their graves were desecrated by Ra’s al Ghul who implements Batman’s contingency plan to incapacitate the other members of the Justice League. With the Justice League incapacitated or distracted Ra’s is free to pursue his agenda to escalate tensions in the Middle East.

The other stories in this book feature a gang trying to frame Superman for a murder in Gotham, Aquaman inadvertently revealing too much about his feelings for Wonder Woman on a rescue mission and the Atom discovering a bacterial civilisation manifesting as a tumour in a boy’s brain – a civilisation doomed to self-destruction that has a deep resonance for Superman.

The main story is an examination of the paranoia of Batman and the schemes he is prepared to consider, against his friends and colleagues, to ensure that each member of the JLA can be held accountable for their actions and brought to justice if necessary. When his schemes are turned into actions against the members of the Justice League, they must consider how far they can trust a man that does not have faith in them and whether they can continue to work with him knowing that he is constantly judging them. The only slight niggle I have with an otherwise great book is that there are a lot of artists used and even the main story has an interlude with guest artists as does the final chapter of the story – is it too much to hope that a creative team can see out a four or five page story without chopping and changing. A good story that would seem to have ripples that affect not only Batman’s relationship with the JLA but also those of his close companions within their respective teams.

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 (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.

Superman: Emperor Joker (2007)

[ Sleepy Mood: Sleepy ]

This book is a multi-part story spread across various Super-titles and collects Superman #160-161, Adventures of Superman #582-583, Superman: Man of Steel #104-105, Action Comics #769-770 and Superman: Emperor Joker #1. As the story is spread across the four titles and one special so the it and the art is also divided amongst the regular creative teams on each title.
In the story, Mr Mxyzptlk has been tricked into giving his power to the Joker who uses it to reshape the universe in his image and torment his enemies. In the Joker’s universe the JLA are made up of villains, the superheroes are all villains and Batman is tortured and killed every night. Superman is subjected to a groundhog day where he escapes from Arkham but is always captured and returned by Bizarro. Mr Mxyzptlk tries to help Superman break out of the cycle so that he can return the world to normal.
This was an OK book. I think the number of writers on the story and the fact that it was spread over several titles probably didn’t help the flow – there was too much time spent on Superman’s groundhog day for me (it wasn’t until the third chapter that it was broken). The Joker didn’t make his appearance until the middle of the book which I thought was way too long – it might be fine in the monthly titles when trying to build a mystery or suspense but in the collected edition the pacing doesn’t feel right. The Joker himself is in full deranged/deluded mode as he constantly remodels the universe as he sees fit for the maximum torment of the principal characters. The fact that it has taken me a while to get through it is not a good sign – though it was also over the holidays when I had other pulls on my time – but still it was worth a read to see the Joker go up against the boy scout (though he still needed help from you-know-who).

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.