Category: Superheroes


Review by C.J. Bunce

The third book in the new series of hardcover novels based on Batman stories from DC Comics, following The Killing Joke (reviewed earlier here at borg) and the Harley Quinn story Mad Love (reviewed here) is on its way to your comic book shop and other bookstores.  The Court of Owls is relatively new to Batman and DC Comics.  It’s a storyline that emerged from the New 52, the big DC reboot from seven years ago, created in the pages of Batman comics from writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo.  Just as DC was re-creating origin stories and restarting some story lines for various characters, The Court of Owls became the latest subversive crime unit, a mix of a secret society like Skull & Bones and the mid-century Mob, infiltrating every part of Gotham City, controlling everything from the police to the banks, business, and the government.  It was an entirely new creation, so Snyder was challenged with establishing a foundation of events no reader had encountered in Batman’s then 72 years, but thenceforth became a part of established Gotham City history and lore.  This is the focus of a new novel edition of the storyline, Batman: The Court of Owls, written by tie-in author Greg Cox.

People are catching fire, human spontaneous combustion style, across Gotham.  As Bruce Wayne aka Batman investigates with Commissioner Gordon, it becomes clear crime scene information is similar to crimes of record from Batman’s past sleuthing.  An element is common among the remains, tying these deaths to a secret society that Batman previously encountered and confronted in the underground Labyrinth lair–The Court of Owls.  The Court of Owls consists of a small but far-reaching group of the wealthy and powerful who meet in secret and wear a sort of Eyes Wide Shut face mask system, and their henchmen, called Talons, also wear masks, and possess unnatural regenerative qualities.  They are fierce and possibly unbeatable.  Enter the missing Joanna Lee, rescued in a shoot-out in Gotham years ago by Batman, she was an art history student studying a historic Gotham sculptor when she vanished.  As Bruce, butler Alfred, and ally Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon piece together the history of the city and this sculptor’s strangely pervasive art, they learn the impossible has happened: This 19th century artist created works depicting future events decades before they happened.  What they have in common opens up a past that was in front of Bruce Wayne all his life.

As a standalone novel, Batman: The Court of Owls is a solid, worthy Batman story, a complete adventure that doesn’t require much prior knowledge from the reader.  It’s not an adaptation of the New 52 story, but incorporates various elements from the original, comic book version of The Court of Owls story, plus elements from related stories, Night of the Owls, City of the Owls, Fall of the Owls, and Scourge of the Owls

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If first impressions are everything, the first four minutes of the new CW series Superman & Lois look like a great next series to add to your DVR.  But that’s not where the writers of the series take us, leaning more into the soap opera drama audiences saw in years of Smallville.  The typical Superman tale follows Clark Kent from rural America to the big city of Metropolis, when the typical Supes story takes off.  This series reverses that plan, moving Supes and his family back to Smallville when newspaper man Clark Kent loses his job in the big city.  What happens when you take a strong-willed city woman like Lois Lane and her and Clark’s two (newly created) citified (twin) sons to Smallville?  Fans loving to watch Superman soaring in the supersuit, righting wrongs and exploring the globe, will need to take a backseat for at least part of the new series.  Economic downturns, the scam of reverse mortgages, embedded conflicts between rural and urban America–things you probably don’t turn to for your next CW superhero series–is the direction of the new series.  But what about strong-willed Lois?  Although she gets to share the title, Lois doesn’t get much to do–yet.

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Swamp Thing ad

When people with creativity and skill have their grasp on the reins of DC Comics properties, great things can happen.  Unfortunately it’s a rarity.  Although its Arrowverse on the CW Network were good efforts, DC at the movies hasn’t shown much promise until last year’s Shazam!, although Aquaman was another good effort.  But the big win of live-action DC Comics adaptations was last year’s Swamp Thing (above) featuring the titular creature and other Justice League Dark characters Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger.  The series was our own selection here at borg for top superhero series last year.  Shazam! and Swamp Thing prove that with good writing, production, and acting talent both movie and television adaptations truly worthy of the comic book source material are possible.

New streaming provider HBO Max announced this week its own team-up.  It will join J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions to produce a new live-action Justice League Dark series with Warner Brothers Television (in addition, a project related to Stephen King’s The Shining called Overlook was also announced).

Justice League Dark is, as the title suggests, a band of superpowered characters from the shadows of the DCU.  Spanish artist Mikel Janin was tasked with re-imagining the look of these more offbeat and occult characters from their earlier individual series and appearances for the New 52 launch in 2011, and for us Justice League Dark is synonymous with Janin’s designs, shown above and below (we interviewed Mikel about the new look here at borg back in March 2012).  The JLD then included Zatanna, Constantine, Deadman, Shade, Madame Xanadu, Swamp Thing, the Phantom Stranger, Frankenstein, and the Enchantress, and more as they would emerge throughout the series’ short 40-issue run.

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With DC Comics’ summer Rebirth reboot, many monthly series turned bi-weekly, and we’ve now already seen the first eleven issues published of many series.  Like the many reboots before it, DC Comics introduced the Rebirth continuity to re-ignite its fan base after the success of the prior reboot–the New 52–dissipated.  So many shake-ups and change-ups occurred in the New 52 that you’d pretty much need to read the entire DC Comics line to keep up with what has happened to even the key Justice League superheroes.  With two issues per month that’s difficult for any reader to keep up with.

One of the better sellers in this year’s Rebirth line is the Green Arrow title.  Under the New 52 Oliver Queen encountered as many changes to his character as anyone.  In fact fans of Green Arrow were probably better served subscribing to the Arrow tie-in comic book to the television series to get a dose of the classic crusader.  As likely as not the success of the CW Network series coupled perhaps with fans’ hopes for big changes from the New 52, and a restoration of the essential Oliver Queen, could account for the sales success of Green Arrow in DC’s Rebirth universe.

Otto Schmidt served as artist and colorist on the series in the introductory chapters.  Bringing Oliver’s older look back to the character, complete with the goatee, was a move in the right direction.  Schmidt used the supersuit of the modern update yet his style conjures up both Neal Adams and Mike Grell’s key design elements that defined Green Arrow’s look for decades.  Writer Benjamin Percy, who was the writer on the series before the Rebirth kicked in, re-introduced the second key element that defines Oliver: his partnership with Black Canary.  The lack of the Arrow-Canary partnership contributed to the wane of Oliver’s story in the New 52–as a solo character Queen was just too much like everyone else.  Percy’s other shift is reminding everyone that Queen is first and foremost a fighter for social justice.  In contrast to the billion dollar company he sometimes owns and sometimes loses, Queen is the ultimate anti-corporate superhero.  So these three elements: his look, his partnership with Black Canary, and his brand of justice, form the framework for what could be a solid Green Arrow series going forward.

green-arrow-vol-1-percy

Plenty is left to be done.  Queen’s social justice efforts have only scratched the surface with eleven issues already in the can.  Instead, Percy has opted for some frivolous, but fun, nostalgia: several scenes are spent restarting a romance between Oliver and Dinah, and he’s brought back classic secondary characters like Shado and Eddie Fyers, both from Mike Grell’s definitive Green Arrow series The Longbow Hunters.  With the story now firmly set in Seattle, also as Grell had done with the setting–and not Star City–we can see some good attempts are being made to rediscover what made the 1980s and 1990s Green Arrow worth reading about.

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batwoman-issue-1-cover    batwoman-begins-page-one

One of the most popular characters and series to emerge from DC Comics’ New 52 reboot in 2011 was J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman’s Batwoman.  Not only was the series popular, it received critical acclaim for Williams’ gritty storytelling and the stylish and spectacular, ethereal, and surreal artwork by Blackman.  The classic B-level superheroine of the 1950s had been reintroduced as Kate Kane with a new Alex Ross-designed costume in 2006.  In the DC Comics weekly series 52 the character became the most memorable legacy of the series–ex-military, a lesbian, of Jewish descent, with her ex, Renee Montoya, a Gotham police detective—rare constructs for any character in comicdom.  In the best of ironies, the character created to combat accusations of Batman’s sexuality in the 1950s became a symbol of the very thing she was made to deflect.

Beyond the symbolism of the modern character and success as a new iconic character, Williams and Blackman wrote a great Bat-book.  But after several successful months as a New 52 series, editorial decisions and creator ideas crossed streams and the series fizzled out.  Happily for fans of the character, DC is bringing Batwoman onto center stage once again.  Beginning this month in Detective Comics Issue #948 and continuing in February with Issue #949, the two-part “Batwoman Begins” arc forms the prologue for the monthly Rebirth continuity one-shot Batwoman: Rebirth in February and the series Batwoman, beginning in March.

detective-948-interior-preview-a    detective-948-interior-preview-b

Writers Marguerite Bennett and James T. Tynion IV are co-writing the initial story with Bennett to take over the series later in the year.  Artwork will be provided by Steve Epting and Ben Oliver.  Jae Lee will be creating a variant cover for the series’ first issue.

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Justice League Dark cover art issue 6 Mikel Janin

The last vestiges of The New 52 seem to be fleeting in light of DC Comics’ Rebirth superhero universe reset.  Back in 2011 we at borg.com were reading and reviewing every monthly from the New 52 we could get our hands on.  One of the most compelling and creative of those series was Justice League Dark, a further spin-off from the likes of Justice League of America, Justice League Europe, Justice League International, Justice League and JLA.

Justice League Dark was, as the title suggests, a darker band of superpowered characters from the DCU.  Spanish artist Mikel Janin was tasked with re-imagining the look of these characters, and he pulled it off brilliantly.  We interviewed Mikel about the new look here at borg.com back in March 2012.  The JLD included Zatanna, Constantine, Deadman, Shade, Madame Xanadu, Swamp Thing, and the Enchantress, and more as they would emerge throughout the series’ short 40 issue run.

Justice League Dark interior art

Guillermo del Toro had been involved for a few years with a live action version of the JLD that never seemed to spring away from the development stage.  Now because of a feature listing on the Blu-ray from Batman: The Killing Joke, an animated version is likely further along than had been previously disclosed by DC.

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Eighty years ago Superman first hit neighborhood newsstands in Issue #1 of Action Comics–an issue that if you kept your copy could pay off your house, car, and retirement.  The cover was dated June 1938, but it was in kids’ hands first on April 18, 1938.  DC Comics is celebrating Superman’s big anniversary this week with a celebratory issue of Action Comics numbered 1000, created by some of DC’s top writers and artists, an anthology of stories just as you’d find in Action Comics’ first 500 issues.  The 1,000 issues is spot-on with the number of Action Comics issues released, but those counting the months since 1938 will come up short:  Action Comics shifted from a monthly to a bi-weekly once upon a time, and you won’t find numbered issues #905-956, which were replaced by 52 issues of the New 52 reboot numbering 1-52.  For American comic book fans, there’s something special about holding this issue in your hands.  It’s no small feat seeing such a truly undisputed iconic character get to this point.

The 80-page giant issue is one not to pass up.  For current fans, it’s a ramp-up to Brian Michael Bendis’s writing run beginning with the complete issue #1001.  For everyone else, it’s a nostalgic trip via variant covers and dozens of classic and modern creators offering up stories about the Man of Steel.  The writers?  Dan Jurgens, Peter Tomasi, Marv Wolfman, Paul Levitz, Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Scott Snyder, Tom King, Louise Simonson, Paul Dini, Brad Meltzer, and Brian Michael Bendis.  The artists? Dan Jurgens, Pat Gleason, Curt Swan, Neal Adams, Olivier Coipel, Rafael Albuquerque, Clay Mann, Jerry Ordway, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, John Cassaday, Jim Lee, Norm Rapmund, Butch Guice, Kurt Schaffenberger, Kevin Nowlan, Scott Williams, Hi-Fi Color, Alejandro Sanchez, Dave McCaig, Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Laura Martin, and Alex Sinclair.  Cover artists include Steve Rude, Michael Cho, Dave Gibbons, Michael Allred, Jim Steranko, Joshua Middleton, Dan Jurgens, Kevin Nowlan, Lee Bermejo, Dave Dorman, George Perez, Neal Adams, Jim Lee (providing the main cover and two variants), Curt Swan, Felipe Massafera, Nicola Scott, Jock, Oliver Coipel, Jason Fabok, Kaare Andrews, Gabrielle Dell’Otto, Artgerm, Tyler Kirkham, Pat Gleason, Francesco Mattina, Ken Haeser, Doug Mahnke, and Tony S. Daniel.  Check out images of all the variant covers below.  Our favorite?  Danielle Dell’Otto’s take on Christopher Reeve at the Fortress of Solitude, and Pat Gleason’s cover, which includes Krypto.

   

Some comic book stores are holding events to celebrate the Man of Steel’s big day.  This Saturday if you’re in the Kansas City area head on over to Elite Comics, where you can pick up copies of Issue #1000 plus a limited exclusive Superman print (shown above) by artist Bryan Fyffe, a nationally-recognized artist whose licensed works include projects for Disney and Star Wars.  Or check out your own neighborhood store.

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Our borg Best of 2020 list continues today with the Best Books of 2020.  If you missed them, check out our reviews of the Best Movies of 2020 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2020 here, and the Best in TV 2020 here.  Our list continues tomorrow with the Best Comics and Games of 2020.  And we wrap-up the year with our additions to the borg Hall of Fame later this month.

We reviewed more than 100 books that we recommended to our readers this year, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf.  We don’t publish reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only this year’s cream of the crop.

So let’s get going!

Best Sci-Fi, Best Thriller Novel Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson (Tor Books).  It’s a far-out science fiction novel with all the right notes of a good supernatural fantasy.  And it has an easy pace and an impending, looming darkness waiting ahead that will keep you planted firmly in your seat until you get to the last page.

Best Tie-In NovelBloodshot novelization by Gavin Smith (Titan Books).  A great update to the genre that began with Martin Caidin’s Cyborg, Smith creates an exciting, vivid novelization of the comic book character adapted to the big screen.  Honorable mention: Firefly: The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).

There are many more best book selections to go…

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JLD animated movie

Warner Bros. confirmed that Justice League Dark would be its next animated movie project this weekend at its panel at San Diego Comic-Con.  Now a behind-the-scenes feature included on the home release of Batman: The Killing Joke is online, and not only confirms Justice League Dark is the next animated movie coming from the DC Expanded Universe, but that it’s pretty far along in production.  Fans of NBC’s short-lived, Constantine television series will be happy to hear series lead Matt Ryan will voice the character in the animated movie.

Unfortunately DC did not choose to base the designs or stories on Mikel Janin’s gorgeous run on the Justice League Dark New 52 comic book series, except for the updated look for Zatanna.  Batman will be a key feature of the movie, along with JLD members John Constantine, Swamp Thing, Zatanna, and Deadman.  The movie will also feature Etrigan and Black Orchid.

In addition to Matt Ryan reprising his role as Constantine (from his series and on CW’s Arrow), Nicholas Turturro (Burn Notice, White Collar) will voice Deadman, Camilla Luddington (Grey’s Anatomy) will voice Zatanna, prolific voice actor Ray Chase plays Etrigan, and Jason O’Mara (Complications, Life on Mars, The Closer, Terra Nova, Band of Brothers, Monarch of the Glen) is Batman.

Justice league Dark

Wonder Woman, Superman, and Green Lantern will have cameo appearances in the movie.

Check out this behind the scenes look at Justice League Dark:

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Green Arrow Stephen Amell SDCC 2015

DC Entertainment and the CW released a first look at the new costume for Oliver Queen’s superhero incarnation the Arrow at the DC panel at San Diego Comic-Con Saturday night.  This suit was crafted by Maya Mani, who also crafted supersuits for Arsenal (Colton Haynes), Black Canary (Katie Cassidy), Speedy (Willa Holland), and Ray Palmer’s Atom.  The original costumes for the series had been designed by Academy Award winning costumer Colleen Atwood.

The new look seems to pull more from the New 52 look at the Smallville supersuit more than any classic look for the character.  Those football pad shoulder pieces are going to take a bit to grow accustomed to.

Sunday the cast appeared again, this time with Amell in the new garb claiming the “Green” in the Green Arrow title, and mentioning the change from Starling City to the classic Star City.

New Arrow costume from Stephen Amell

The panel showed a video (below) recapping the series highlights from 2015 so far.  What it really does is emphasize that Ra’s Al Ghul has the worst name in comicdom and that no one at Warner Bros. must have any idea how it is intended to be pronounced (your guess is as good as ours, but just look at each cast member to see how many different ways it can be said).

Neal McDonough joins CW’s Arrow this season as villain Damien Darhk (sometimes DC Comics seems like it attended the George Lucas school of character naming, doesn’t it?).  McDonough crosses the divide from the Marvel universe, formerly playing the awesome Dum Dum Dugan in Captain America: The First Avenger, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Agent Carter.  We’ve also been fans of his work in everything from Quantum Leap to Star Trek: First Contact, from The X-Files to Timeline, and Walking Tall to RED 2.

Oliver Queen Arrow new supersuit SDCC 2015 costume panel shot

Here’s the video montage from the panel at Comic-Con:

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