The Watchtower

No real introduction this week, and I’ll blame The Mean instead of Ultimate Marvel News & Views. But hey, at least I put a column out, and the long awaited conclusion of the TPB guide (thought I’d forgotten? Thought I’d never finish? SUCKAAAAA!!); hopefully next week I get a chance to yak about nothing for a bit before going into the meat.


SQUADRON SUPREME
Reprints: Squadron Supreme #1-12, Captain America v.1 #314
Writer(s): Mark Gruenwald
Penciller(s): Bob Hall, Paul Ryan, John Buscema & Paul Neary
The Solicit:
Extras: Introduction by Catherine Gruenwald, interview excerpts from Mark Gruenwald, commentaries by Tom DeFalco, Alex Ross, Mark Waid & Kurt Busiek, afterword from Ralph Macchio
The Story: 4.5
If you consider Watchmen and/or Kingdom Come trend-setting and are currently enjoying Supreme Power on a monthly basis, you owe it to yourself to pick up this maxi-series, the forefather of all three and the series that opened the door for a more realistic style of storytelling that would define the 80s and early 90s. The Squadron Supreme was a long-running joke from Avengers, knockoffs of the DC’s Justice League of America (Hyperio=Superman, Nighthawk=Batman, Power Princess=Wonder Woman, etc.), but Mark Gruenwald saw great story potential in the characters; besides that (as revealed in the commentaries by Waid & Busiek), Gruenwald had a tremendous affinity for the JLA, so as a lifetime Marvel guy, this was a dream project for him. It’s a story about the then unexplored idea of what would happen if superheroes decided to use their powers to run society rather than simply help to police it (essentially DC heroes taking on a Marvel attitude). As in Kingdom Come, the flaws of a plan like this are eventually exposed; as in Watchmen, the heroes don’t always act heroically. I believe the reason Squadron Supreme stands the test of the time is that it differs from either of those series in the amount of stuff it has going on; KC is mainly about three or four characters with a supporting cast of hundreds that just stand around and Watchmen is a focused central plot with side stories and references to flesh it out; both of these works are brilliant in their own right, but Squadron stands apart because it is a series of stories, each equally compelling, with every character getting utilized, framed by a larger theme or story. Gruenwald is a master of the large cast and make sure that going into issue twelve, every member of the Squadron has at least one albatross around their neck before the final confrontation. This story loses points only because the characters and more the dialogue are dated by today’s standards when held up against something like Watchmen (which has stood the test of time better). Also, the art is inconsistent as Bob Hall’s early work is sloppy but once Paul Ryan takes over it’s polished and powerful. Again though, you have to give props to this story simply for the number of great stories that have come since that it has influenced.
The TPB: 4
A better-assembled collection of commentators you’d be hard pressed to find. The introduction from Gruenwald’s widow, Catherine, is heartfelt, and Gruenwald’s own interview demonstrates his passion for the characters and story. Waid, Busiek, Ross & DeFalco have some neat Gruenwald stories, but on the whole all four say essentially the same thing. Macchio’s afterword doesn’t add too much but is a nice bit of closure.
Overall Grade: 8.5


UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED
Reprints: Underworld Unleashed #1-3, Underworld Unleashed: Abyss-Hell’s Sentinel #1
Writer(s): Mark Waid & Scott Peterson
Penciller(s): Howard Porter, Phil Jimenez & J.H. Williams III
The Solicit:
Extras: Afterword by Mark Waid
The Story: 4
An absolute gem to come out of the much hated mid 90s era of DC; the gimmick here (a demon named Neron powers up DC’s crappier villains as well as some heroes in exchange for their souls) made for some decent crossover issues and some awful ones (and some much better villains, though the common thread of all of them receiving their powers from the same place would eventually become a problem), but the main story as reprinted here is the good stuff. The absolutely amazing use of two minor characters in longtime Flash villain The Trickster and 80s joke hero turned JLA joke member Blue Devil alone is worth the price of admission. The charm and wit displayed by the Waid-written Trickster here turned a character that had never been worth much of anything into a player in the DCU (and one of my personal favorites); great narration as well. The decision to turn Blue Devil from clown to ass kicker may not have paid the best dividends in hindsight, but his pathos story here is truly heart wrenching. Readers will also get a kick out of how Waid & Neron toy with the “high council” of Lex Luthor, The Joker, Circe, Dr. Polaris & Abra Kadabra. Good choice to include the Sentinel one shot, a good story that seems to draw equal influence from classic Greek mythology and gruesome horror movies with an excellent cast of characters and superb early art by Jimenez & Williams III. But the main draw remains Waid’s classic super hero adventure, full of twists and turns (the best of which being who the purest soul in the DCU is), compelling looks at morality and the respective “prices” of different DCU characters, and an ending that ranks among my favorites of all time. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was the project that made Howard Porter a star and deservingly so.
The TPB: 3
You could probably find these issues for a reasonable price on eBay, but then you’d miss out on an afterword by Mark Waid on the villains of the DCU that is funny, informative, and insightful and has some great silver age art.
Overall Grade: 7


WONDER WOMAN: PARADISE LOST
Reprints: Wonder Woman v.2 #164-170, Wonder Woman Secret Files #2
Writer(s): Phil Jimenez, J.M. DeMatteis, George Perez, Joe Kelly & Devin Grayson
Penciller(s): Phil Jimenez
The Solicit:
Extras: None
The Story: 4
Phil Jimenez’ run on Wonder Woman is one of the most beautiful and criminally overlooked in the last several years of the industries and this is the slightly superior of the two collected editions covering that run. The art gives Jimenez a chance to flex his muscles, with lots of action, huge landscapes and gorgeous women. From a writing perspective, Jimenez certainly selects some excellent collaborators. J.M. DeMatteis helps him craft a tale that utilizes the entire extended WW (Troia, Artemis, Wonder Girl) and Bat (Nightwing, Robin, Huntress) families as well as Bat villains The Joker, Poison Ivy & The Scarecrow (combined with some Wonder Woman villains longtime readers will appreciate and cameos by Maxie Zeus & Harley Quinn) and brings back long forgotten threads from the War of the Gods mini-series; with this many guest stars and plot gimmicks, Jimenez & DeMatteis could easily fall back on a weak plot, but instead they come up with a fun story that uses every character and makes interesting observations on the nature of Batman and how Diana relates to him and his mission. The second story is an all out epic in which Perez returns to characters he revitalized to help Jimenez tell the story of a long brewing war between two tribes of Amazons; besides the amazing action sequences, there is significant character growth for both Diana and her mother, Hippolyta. The final one issue story is a classic co-penned by Joe Kelly in which we get to know Diana and her world through the unlikeliest of narrators: Lois Lane. Jimenez has a great appreciation for the history and power of the character and does some amazing work here.
The TPB: 1
You can still pick up the single issues for cheap and there’s no extras.
Overall Grade: 5


WONDER WOMAN: PARADISE FOUND
Reprints: Wonder Woman v.2 #171-177
Writer(s): Phil Jimenez
Penciller(s): Phil Jimenez, Travis Moore & Brandon Badeaux
The Solicit:
Extras: Secret File profile pages
The Story: 3.5
Still good stuff from Jimenez’ Wonder Woman run, but definitely the inferior of the two volumes; for one thing, it gets nailed by not one but two company crossover, Our Worlds At War and Joke’s Last Laugh. To his credit, Jimenez uses OWAW to craft an incredibly moving story which climaxes with the most heartfelt death to take place during an otherwise not particularly fondly remembered crossover (not to mention a great moment between Diana and Darkseid). The second half of the TPB covers Diana’s war with Circe, and despite the novelty value of Jimenez attempting to feature cameos from every female hero or villain EVER, it’s kind of a lame story that is hurt both by a pointless and forced aside to Joke’s Last Laugh and Jimenez not doing all the art. Still, the ultimate Diana-Circe clash is great, #177 is a great capper to both TPBs and we get some cool new villains in Silver Swan and a male Cheetah.
The TPB: 2
I love the new DC TPB policy of including Secret Files profile pages, it’s a very nice and inexpensive extra.
Overall Grade: 5.5


MARVEL MASTERWORKS v.11: THE X-MEN
Reprints: Giant-Size X-Men #1, Uncanny X-Men #94-100
Writer(s): Chris Claremont & Len Wein
Penciller(s): Dave Cockrum
The Solicit:
Extras: Introduction by Stan Lee
The Story: 4
Having had the pleasure of reading the classic Claremont/Byrne/Cockrum run in its entirety, I can say that the stories reprinted in this volume are not the zenith, but c’mon dude, this is where it all gets started and it’s damn cool. This is a good pickup (and it’s affordable at Barnes & Nobles in softcover, as opposed to the hardcover I bought back in the day) for historical value if nothing else. The plots and dialogue also hold up surprisingly well given that they were written over thirty years ago. It’s Claremont who really gets the characters clicking, but give credit to the all but forgotten Len Wein who actually created Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Thunderbird and crafted the awesome tale that brought them into the X-Men. Giant-Size X-Men #1 also has one of my favorite battles of all time with all the X-Men, new and old, facing off against Krakoa the living island; the splash page of every character using their powers against the seemingly unstoppable Krakoa and the subsequent salvation of the team by Polaris and Iceman is a work of art by Dave Cockrum. Speaking of Cockrum, people praise Byrne for helping the X-Men turn a corner, but nobody designs costumes like Dave Cockrum and his action sequences are damn operatic. The ball does really get rolling once Claremont gets a handle on the characters and their relationships in later issues, but they don’t have Sunfire & Thunderbird, man! Seriously, my recommendation is to get this and the other X-Men Marvel Masterworks softcover from Barnes & Nobles so you get the full color then continue from there with Essential X-Men (fun fact: this was the favorite TPB I ever owned, a birthday present at the tender age of 11!)
The TPB: 2
Not too long ago, this would have scored a higher rating on the power of how old, valuable and expensive these issues are, but Essentials (the greatest TPB invention EVER) has changed that”¦still, this has a half decent if somewhat incoherent introduction from Stan the Man with all his usual carnie charm.
Overall Grade: 6


X-MEN: INFERNO
Reprints: Uncanny X-Men #239-243, New Mutants v.1 #71-73, X-Factor #36-39
Writer(s): Chris Claremont & Louise Simonson
Penciller(s): Marc Silvestri, Walter Simonson & Bret Blevins
The Solicit:
Extras: Introduction by Peter Sanderson
The Story: 2
Before I got into the history of the X-Men (which was until pretty recently), I often wondered exactly when the heralded X-Men stories of the seventies and early eighties I’d often heard referred to as a “golden age” of comic book storytelling transformed into the cash cow X-Universe of the 90s; I can now say that the definitive moment is probably when Chris Claremont buckled to editorial pressure and brought back Jean Grey, in the process abandoning his plans for Cyclops & Madelyne Pryor, and since Inferno is the storyline in which Claremont made a sloppy attempt to do damage control on that mess, this is where it went from bad to worse. Not only do we have the Madelyne/Jean debacle, we have the X-Men swinging back and forth from being in character to being demonic versions of themselves wildly and without explanation, impossible to keep track of (for all I could tell Dazzler and Rogue were still evil at the end of the storyline). You’ve also got far too many players on the villain side, great cliffhangers that get dropped in the next chapter, and a terrible attempt at dark comedy with talking buildings and mailboxes that makes things even worse. The New Mutants storyline, an emotional and touching resolution to a decade long saga involving Illyana Rasputin, tries its best to redeem everything, but goes on too long and is plagued by the same continuity confusion and goofy backdrops that hurt the main storyline. The art is sub-par as the usually excellent Silvestri and Simonson look like they drew half asleep while Blevins turns in a mighty effort but comes up short. If you are an old time X-Men fan who wants to remember the characters and stories you loved, avoid this book at all costs.
The TPB: 1.5
An informative but boring intro from Peter Sanderson, but the issues are somewhat old and rare.
Overall Grade: 3.5


X-MEN: THE X-TINCTION AGENDA
Reprints: Uncanny X-Men #270-272, New Mutants v.1 #95-97, X-Factor #60-62
Writer(s): Chris Claremont & Louise Simonson
Penciller(s): Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld & Jon Bogdanove
The Solicit:
Extras: None
The Story: 1.5
And then here’s the story that makes Inferno looks like a Shakespearean masterpiece. Slapdash storytelling that sees a disorganized group of unlikable X-Men with generic voices get overcome by what amounts to little more than a group of armed thugs and then come back to somehow beat an entire country (not to mention how this story completely sidesteps the consequences of the X-Men essentially dismantling a nation’s government in a matter of days and throwing them into turmoil, a situation Peter David later attempted to explore a little in X-Factor but never got far with). We have one longtime character dying and two others being dramatically transformed with little to no time for the reader to react or care before the next plot gets set in motion. I mentioned earlier that this is an unlikable team of X-Men; I hazard to say that the collection of early Jubilee, Liefeld era Cable and Boom Boom, and early Gambit alone could accomplish this, but that’s discounting needle-stuck-on-brood Archangel, brainwashed Havok and lust-filled perv Wolverine. Cameron Hodge, the main villain of the piece, comes off as little more than a disfigured Bond villain. The one saving grace of this book might be the early Jim Lee work if it wasn’t overshadowed by Liefeld at his worst and one of my least favorite artists, Jon Bogdanove. It is near impossible to care about anything that occurs in this storyline given its breakneck pace and hackneyed dialogue (ironically, Claremont’s 1970s work stands the test of time far better than this schlock).
The TPB: 1
No extras and whether these issues are out there for purchase or not, they’re not worth it at any price.
Overall Grade: 2.5


YOUNG JUSTICE: SINS OF YOUTH
Reprints: Young Justice: Sins of Youth #1-2, Superboy v.2 #74, Sins of Youth Secret Files #1, Sins of Youth: JLA Jr. #1, Sins of Youth: Aquaboy/Lagoon Man #1, Sins of Youth: Batboy & Robin #1, Sins of Youth: Kid Flash/Impulse #1, Sins of Youth: Starwoman & the JSA #1, Sins of Youth: Superman, Jr./Superboy, Sr. #1, Sins of Youth: Wonder Girls #1, Sins of Youth: The Secret/Deadboy #1
Writer(s): Peter David, Karl Kesel, Geoff Johns, Ben Raab, Jay Faerber, Dan Curtis Johnson, Chuck Dixon, Dwayne McDuffie, Brian K. Vaughan, Todd Dezago, Scott Beatty & Jim Alexander
Penciller(s): Todd Nauck, Carlo Barberi, Sunny Lee, Tom Grummett, Rob Haynes, Cary Nord, Angel Unzueta, Drew Johnson, Scott Kolins, Michael Avon Oeming, Mike S. Miller, Norm Breyfogle & Cully Hamner
The Solicit:
Extras: None
The Story: 4.5
So rarely in the long and storied history of comic books have either Marvel or DC been able to pull off that most elusive of beasts, the company wide crossover. DC was able to do it quite well a couple times in the 80s with Crisis, Legends, Invasion! and maybe even Millenium, but the last decade has brought countless clunkers that would take too long to list. Sins of Youth achieves the remarkable accomplishment of keying in on a very cult hit in Young Justice and using its formula to produce excellent stories using the rest of its stable of characters. The premise of the crossover, longtime Etrigan villain Klarion The Witch Boy transforming the adult heroes into kids and vice versa, provides for a ton of fun, but some introspective moments as well. JLA Jr. and Starwoman & the JSA are hilarious pieces of comedy that let us look at these long standing characters from a completely new perspective. Batboy & Robin brings up for the first time the question of whether Tim Drake really wants to be Batman, a thread still running through Robin and Teen Titans. Kid Flash/Impulse addresses Impulse’s sense of responsibility and legacy, another issue currently being addressed in Teen Titans. Superman, Jr./Superboy, Sr. and Wonder Girls (as well as the other two stories I mentioned) provides great insight into the relationships between these heroes and their protégés. Heck, this crossover produced possible the only good story to come out of the “don’t talk about it” run of Titans! You’ve also got cameos galore thanks to Todd “I only get to draw half the characters to have appeared in DC sinc ethe 30s? Damn”¦” Nauck and the important overreaching and relevant theme of how parents and adults relate or fail to relate to their children provided by Peter David. Plus, just check out that talent roster: David, Kesel, Johns, Dixon, Vaughan, Nauck, Kolins, Avon Oeming”¦what the heck are you waiting for?!
The TPB: 1.5
No extras to speak of, but while you may find a couple of these one shots here and there, there are so many you’re better off picking up the trade.
Overall Grade: 6


Holy crap”¦I did it!

Next week I put a final touch on this monstrosity by listing what TPBs scored the best and the worst over the course of all this as well as an update on the latest collections I’ve picked up”¦plus whatever else I come up with.

In the mean time, thanks for reading.