Thursday, June 28, 2018

Throwback Thurdsay - Green Lantern #25

I'll come right out and confess. . .I'm not really a fan of Green Lantern. 

 I don't HATE Green Lantern in any of the character's many forms.  Really, it's okay.  But I never go out of my way to buy a Green Lantern comic.  It's just that, at the heart of things, Green Lantern (Except for the original Alan Scott version) is a Science Fiction character.  I prefer my Sci-Fi more in a "Space Ships and Laser Guns" sort of military fashion. . .Battlestar Galactica would be a good example.  And then also, I've never really been a big fan of "traditional" capes and tights sort of superheroes.  Batman and Captain America are probably my favorites of the "traditional" superhero bunch.  

So two strikes against Green Lantern.  But two strikes isn't an out, right?

And so here we are with a Silver Age Green Lantern comic in hand for another "Throwback Thursday" special edition of Longbox Junk, where I take a closer look at some of the older and more "valuable" comics lurking in my Longboxes.  

This comic is actually a pretty new addition to my collection.  As of this writing, I bought it 5 days ago at a flea market, where I found it unbagged and in surprisingly good shape mixed into a pile of old Archie and Dennis The Menace comics for the low price of 12 lousy bucks.  I don't know exactly where the guy got that weirdly-specific number from, but I know a good deal when I see it and so I came into possession of my one and only 1960's era Green Lantern comic.

Is it any good? Let's find out!

GREEN LANTERN (Vol. 2) #25

DC (1963)
SCRIPTS: Gardner Fox
INKS: Joe Giella
COVER: Gil Kane & Joe Giella

Let's start at the start, with the cover.

Unfortunately, it's not a very good start.  I usually buy these older comics for their covers in order to add them to my rotating comic cover collection on my office wall at work.  To be honest, if this was just one of a stack of Green Lantern comics, I definitely wouldn't have chosen this particular one.  But as it is, this was the only one, so here we are. 

 I like the logo and the flying villain is interesting, but other than that there's WAY too much in the word balloon, Hal Jordan looks really stiff and is posed strangely, the "swoosh" marks trying to show action are a bit overdone, and really. . .I thought Green Lantern was a flying space cop.  He just looks strange running down the street on foot.

Not a good cover.  Moving along!

The story goes like this:

Hector Hammond (a Green Lantern villain with powerful psionic abilities who has lost the ability to move on his own after exposing himself to strange radiation in Green Lantern #22) rots in prison after being defeated by Green Lantern.  What Hal Jordan doesn't know is that Hammond has faked Green Lantern into believing that he had successfully deadened the parts of Hammond's brain that give him his extraordinary powers with his power ring.  In reality, Hammond is still fully-capable of using his powerful mental abilities. . .and he has come up with a plan to defeat Green Lantern, now that the superhero thinks his enemy is helpless.

Hammond uses his mental powers to help free the villain Sonar from prison across the Atlantic in the small country of Modora. . .AKA the most ridiculously-overdressed tiny nation in Europe. . .where he was imprisoned by Green Lantern after being defeated in issue #19.  As Sonar escapes, he thinks he's somehow gained some new mental powers. . .never realizing he's being used as a pawn by Hammond.  How Hammond even knows about Sonar or where he's imprisoned is never exactly made clear, because. . .Silver Age?


In an oddly-convoluted plan, Hammond decides the best way to go about defeating Green Lantern using his new pawn (Sonar),  is that he's going to use his super mental powers to have Sonar attack and switch weapons with Green Lantern. . .but only in Green Lantern's mind.  This way, he can see how Green Lantern would win in a battle.  With this information, he can come up with a better plan for his enemy that will actually work and only then REALLY send Sonar in.  

Wait. . .what?  Never mind. Great plan.  Moving along!

When Hammond puts his hilarious. . .er. . .nefarious. . .plan into motion, Green Lantern is the guest of honor at the Ferris Aircraft Company picnic, because when trying to maintain a secret identity, it's ALWAYS best to be right there among people you work with all the time, right?  

Green Lantern discovers that Lois Lane. . .er. . .sorry. . .Carol Ferris has secretly entered Hal Jordan as her partner in the three-legged race, causing a bit of secret identity consternation RIGHT at the moment when Hammond's mind probe hits.

Green Lantern is plunged into an imaginary battle with Sonar in the skies of Coast City.  After escaping being tangled in steel girders and crushed by a conveniently-gold statue, their weapons are switched, so Green Lantern has to dodge energy blasts while using Sonar's sonic gun against him.  The battle eventually ends with Green Lantern tricking Sonar into an enclosed space and immobilizing him long enough to take his ring back and take Sonar into custody.

The battle against Sonar lasted only a second in Green Lantern's subconscious mind, so he just gets dizzy for a moment without realizing anything happened.  And he STILL has to deal with Carol expecting Hal Jordan to show up for the three-legged race.  So to solve the secret identity dilemma, Green Lantern hunts down his best friend. . .Pieface.

Wait.  Stop a moment. Savor the 60's flavor of Green Lantern having an Eskimo sidekick named Pieface. Pie. Face.  Piiiiiiiiiefaaaaaaaace.  Yep.  They actually had an Eskimo guy called Pieface.  

Okay, enough. Moving along. . .

Green Lantern uses his power ring in the most responsible way that a Galactic Space Cop entrusted with one of the most powerful weapons on Earth can. . .he changes Pieface to appear as Hal Jordan so that Carol won't be disappointed by not being able to run the three-legged race.  Eat THAT Spider-Man! With great power comes whatever the hell you want to use it for over in the DC Universe! 


JUST as Green Lantern changes his best friend into Hal Jordan and they're both standing in front of Carol Ferris. . .who somehow fails to notice that Hal and GL have the same hair color, hair style, face shape, chin, height, and body type. . .the REAL Sonar attacks and Green Lantern avoids awkward questions by flying off to battle.

Everything goes pretty much exactly as the first (mental) battle, up until Green Lantern tries to trick Sonar into a trap.  Hammond uses his mental powers to help Sonar avoid captivity, and Sonar gains the upper hand, trapping Green Lantern in a solid block of emerald.

As Sonar flies the trapped Green Lantern to Modora, where he plans to put the hero on display, Green Lantern uses Sonar's sonic gun to pull off a trick from The Flash's playbook.  He uses the gun to vibrate himself so fast that he is able to pass through the solid emerald block.  Green Lantern then uses the Sonic Gun to create a waterspout that knocks Sonar out long enough for him to recover his power ring and then take the defeated Sonar back to prison in Modora.

Meanwhile, the "Mastermind" behind the whole thing finds it hard to believe that his overly-complicated plan using an underpowered C-List villain somehow failed.  As far as Hammond is concerned, the only good thing to come of it was that Green Lantern is completely unaware that it was him who was manipulating things from behind the scenes, and he swears to keep trying until he gets it right.


At the end of it all, Green Lantern returns to the Ferris Aircraft Company picnic. . .which is STILL going on even though Green Lantern has made a two way trans-Atlantic flight (I guess there ain't no party like an F.A.C. party).  He learns that "Hal Jordan" did indeed help Carol win the three-legged race and gets to stand by and be jealous as a guy called Pieface kisses the girl he's been chasing since issue #1.  

The End.

Okay,  let's break it on down now!

I'm gonna be honest here and say that, as far as I'm concerned, this comic is everything good AND bad about the Silver Age.  So let's go with the good first. . .

There's a simplicity here that comes with the knowledge that this comic was NOT written for a 50 year old comic collector like myself.  It was written for kids during the 1960's.  There's a definite feeling of an honest suspension of disbelief that's possible when you're a kid in this comic.  It's hard for me to suspend that disbelief at my age.  This sort of comic makes me remember when it was easier. 

To me, that's what's great about Silver Age comics. . .the ability for them to remind the reader of a time in their life when even the most ridiculous things could be taken as they were.  I'm more of a child of the 70's so I get that feeling stronger when I read those Bronze Age comics and especially when I see those old ads, but I definitely got that whiff of what it was like to be able to completely suspend my disbelief when reading this comic.


Looked at objectively by the 50 year old comic collector, this isn't a very good comic.

The concept is interesting.  It's basically a villain team-up without the superhero OR half of the villain team realizing that it IS a team-up.  Unfortunately, the decent idea at the center of things is surrounded by Silver Age crap.

The Villain's plan is hilariously complicated and even unnecessary.  Hammond shows that he can influence the mind of Green Lantern.  Why not just do THAT?

And then there's the whole "Picnic" sub-plot.  I don't understand the Silver Age obsession with secret identities. . .especially on the DC side of things.  I think over at Marvel during the same era, the only characters REALLY trying to hide their identity were Spider-Man and Iron Man.  With DC, EVERYBODY had a secret identity, whether they really needed one or not.  It gets pretty. . .well. . .stupid.  This comic's secret identity shenanigans are a perfect example of the general stupidity of trying to force every character in your stable to have a secret identity.  

And now I'm gonna tip the sacred cow.  Let's talk a bit about the art.

Gil Kane is regarded highly by a lot of comic fans.  Part of that high regard comes from his work on Green Lantern.  But I have to honestly say that I don't see it in this comic.  

I'm not going to completely bag Kane's work here.  It's not BAD, but it's barely on the good side of "okay".  It's probably also the fault of the inker and/or the colorist, but I find the art in this comic to be about as utterly average as it can get.  There are a few nice moments, such as this shot of Green Lantern flying into battle. . .

. . .but for the most part, the art is pretty uninspired.  

Like I said above. . .I realize that this comic wasn't written or drawn for me.  But that said, the minimum effort that the art team put into this issue is pretty plain to see.  There's a lot to like about Gil Kane's later work, but it's a bit hard to see here.

If I had to describe this comic with one word, that word would be: Juvenile.  It has an interesting idea at its core, but uninspired art and basically being written for kids does not make Green Lantern #25 a shining example of the Silver Age evolution of comics.  That said, I'm pretty sure that if I was a kid in 1963 buying this comic off the spinner rack, I'd be about as happy as could be.  So it's kind of hard for me to kick this comic around for not appealing to a 50 year old comic collector when I can plainly see that it was perfectly written and drawn for the audience DC had in mind.

Up Next. . .

Longbox Junk business as usual as I take a look at a comic prequel nobody asked for to a movie nobody cared about.  IDW's The A-Team: War Stories.

Be there or be square!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Longbox Junk - Azrael (vol. 2) Part 2: Issues 10 - 18

After a pretty strong start, can this unwanted and almost forgotten series stay on the rails heading into the back half?  Let's find out!

AZRAEL (VOL. 2) Part 2 
DC (2009 - 2011)


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Guillem March
COVER: Francesco Mattina

Azrael and Order of Purity Representative Father Garrett travel to London, following a trail of murdered Order of Purity members who are the keepers of their greatest secret. They arrive too late and find themselves confronting the killer, a religious warrior calling himself The Crusader.

Holy creative team change, Batman!

The first issue of the back half of this series undergoes a complete changeover. New artist, new writer, new storyline, a whole new feel to the comic.

The new art leaves behind gritty realism in favor of a more standard comic book style. Lane is drawn as a much taller, more imposing figure. It's not BAD, it's just completely different than what came before. The only real problem with the new artist is that he doesn't do a great job with faces at all.

The new storyline is also a change from what came before. . .not in the subject matter, which stays pretty much in the realm of an underlying secret religious war in the DCU, but in that the "One and Done with a little extra" style seems to be done with, as this is the first part of a 4 part continued story.

Overall, I'm not thrilled with the changes. The gritty, realistic art and self contained stories gave Azrael a feel that made it stand out a bit from the average mainstream DC superhero book, almost like a Vertigo title.


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Guillem March
COVER: Guillem March

Azrael learns the secret that the inner circle of The Order of Purity are giving their lives to protect. . .that they have the Shroud of Turin, the shroud is genuine, and it proves that Christ was not resurrected!

First off. . .Great cover! One of the best of the whole series. VERY nicely done.

After dipping a toe into the Gnostic pool last issue, the new writer dives deep into Gnostic belief this time out with the revelation that The Order of Purity is guarding the most devastating religious secret of all. . .that Christ didn't die on the cross and was not resurrected. The Crusader is after the shroud, trying to return it to the Vatican.

Some pretty heavy stuff in here. So despite the art switching up to a more traditional comic booky style and the writer switching to an internal narration style, the story itself remains interesting enough to keep Azrael on the rails.


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Guillem March
COVER: Guillem March

Truth and faith come into conflict when Azrael risks everything to save the life of the keeper of the True Shroud. If he fails, the secret of the shroud will be lost forever. If he succeeds, he must face the fact that everything he ever believed in is a lie.   

This issue (and Azrael in general) dives deep into dark Vertigo-style storytelling as Azrael learns more of the secrets of the Order of Purity. . .that they believe that Lucifer is a second God, Jesus not only survived the crucifixion, but also had children with Mary Magdalene, and The Order plans to reveal to the world that the resurrection never happened.

It's also revealed that the Catholic Church has purposely faked evidence the shroud is not authentic, and that their own version of Azrael, The Crusader, was created to protect the secret of the shroud.

This ain't a kids story, folks. This series is getting down deep into the dark underbelly of organized religion. It's a surprisingly good story full of questions of faith, truth, and religious obedience.


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Guillem March
COVER: Guillem March

While Azrael and Father Garrett rush to save the Shroud of Turin, Father Grieve sacrifices himself to be tortured by The Crusader to buy them time. During the final confrontation, Azrael uses his swords to reveal the truth that the shroud is genuine and the Pope is an agent of evil to The Crusader, who spares their lives and lets them leave with the shroud.

Before dying, Grieve reveals the Order's greatest secret to Lane. . .the suit of sorrows was created to be worn by the ancestors of Jesus Christ. Yep. . .that's right. Michael Lane is part of Jesus' bloodline.

Once again, this issue reads a lot more like something one would expect from Vertigo than a mainstream DC superhero book. It's deep, it's dark, and it's a really thought-provoking story.

I have to say that I was a bit worried about the creative team change and new direction for this series, but this "Killer of Saints" arc was really quite impressive.  Moving along to the final story arc!


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Cliff Richards
COVER: Guillem March

First off. . .Fantastic cover!  I'd definitely like a poster of that one.

After learning the deepest secrets of the Order of Purity (including that he is of the bloodline of Christ) and being haunted by the spirit of Father Grieve, Michael Lane's sanity finally snaps. The newly-returned Bruce Wayne decides that either Azrael joins his new "Batman Inc." program or he needs to be dealt with as a threat.

As Azrael gets sucked into crossing over with Batman Inc. there's an awkward conversation in the Batcave between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. . .

BRUCE: WTF, Dick? You let this new Azrael run around Gotham killing people because GOD tells him too?

DICK: Yeah. . .I thought it would go a little better. But hey. . .you weren't here and Damian and I were being Morrisoned!

BRUCE: I don't want to hear about how YOU were being Morrisoned! I was in the friggin' stone age with a cave boy Robin!

DICK: Yeah, but Morrison had US dealing with Joker pretending to be a suave English detective and learning that the grounds of Wayne Manor are in the shape of a giant FU#%^NG BAT! Like anyone with a helicopter never noticed!


DICK: Okay, Okay. . .we BOTH got Morrisoned pretty badly. What now.

BRUCE: Yeah. . .and I'm STILL being Morrisoned with this whole "Batman Inc." thing. Just go take care of Azrael and see if he's good for a crossover. . .

And so we get a crossover.

To tell the truth, the story here is not bad. Lane finally snaps, refuses to listen to Batman (The Dick Grayson version), and the issue ends with him hanging on a cross, revisiting the mystery that was teased in the very first issue.

We also get another art changeup. I actually like this artist better than the one for the previous 4 issues. It's a happy medium between the gritty, realistic art this series started with and the more comic-booky style of the past few issues.

Overall, despite this being the first part of a crossover with the Morrison Madness of Batman Inc., this was a pretty good issue.


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Cliff Richards
COVER: Guillem March

Batman investigates the suicide of Michael Lane and discovers that Ra's Al Ghul is pulling the strings behind Azrael and The Order of Purity.

In this issue, we see Azrael commit suicide with the help of his old police partner, Pete Farelli. Most of the book is taken up by flashback vignettes leading to the crucifixion and flash forwards to Batman's investigation.

It's pretty much based on his belief that he's of the bloodline of Christ and will be resurrected. . .but without him knowing that Ra's Al Ghul is behind it all and has treated the Suit of Sorrows with chemicals from a Lazarus Pit to fake a spiritual resurrection.

I like how, even though this is a crossover with Batman Inc., this series still maintains its own identity of exploring the dark underbelly of religion and faith in the DCU as Lane's delusions of grandeur and religious destiny overpower his ability to deal with reality.


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Cliff Richards
COVER: Guillem March

Three days after committing suicide, Michael Lane rises from the dead.  Ra's Al Ghul, the mastermind behind Lane's "resurrection", gives Batman the bad news that Azrael now serves him, whether he knows it or not.

Being a sporting man, Ra's lets Batman try to recruit Azrael to Batman Inc. But now more than ever, Lane is convinced of his religious destiny of Judgement of Sin, thanks to his crucifixion and 3 day resurrection. . .due to Ra's Al Ghul and his Lazarus Pit chemicals, of course.

In this final issue of the Batman Inc. crossover, I liked that Batman lost, and lost badly.

 Ra's had stacked the deck and manipulated Azrael and the Order of Purity so well that he even invited Batman to witness Lane's rising from the dead. At the end of it all, the only small victory for Batman was Azrael telling him he wouldn't be an enemy.

All in all, a bit of a surprising end to this arc.
It's not often you see Batman having to walk away a loser.


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Cliff Richards
COVER: Guillem March

Azrael leaves Gotham for Afghanistan in order to destroy "The Brotherhood of The Sword" and their secret weapon, who turns out to be a man with pyrokinetic powers who calls himself "Fireball" and is a Muslim version of Azrael.

All in all, after the dark revelations and devious manipulations of the past 7 issues, this issue felt weak. . .like filler. I have the feeling that (like other series I've reviewed), the ACTUAL end of the story came last issue and these final two issues are going to be trade padding in order to get an even 18 issues - 6 issues in a trade.

This story was written at a time when the war in Afghanistan/Iraq was still in full swing, so in addition to feeling like trade padding, it also feels a bit exploitative.

This is NOT a good way for an otherwise pretty good series to go out. . .


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Cliff Richards
COVER: Guillem March

After battling with the "Muslim Azrael", Fireball, it is revealed that Ra's Al Ghul is behind the confrontation. He brings the two of them to Gotham and Lane's mind finally completely collapses under Al Ghul's manipulation and Azrael swears judgement and vengeance on Gotham.

And so we come to the big finish.

Unfortunately, it's really more of a "To be Continued" (In Batman #708) as part of the "Judgement on Gotham" multi-Bat-book crossover, where he teams up with Fireball and The Crusader to bring. . .well. . .Judgement on Gotham.

Overall, not a good ending for the series. The main character turned into a villain by the manipulation of Ra's Al Ghul and a "To be continued in another comic series" ending leaving things swinging in the wind for Azrael fans (If there WERE any fans of this version of Azrael).

Once again, I maintain that the TRUE ending of this series was actually issue 16. This final issue (and the previous one) just leave a bad taste in the mouth and aren't a good ending at all.


Overall, this series surprised me.  Lousy ending aside, it was a grim exploration of religion, faith, and fanaticism in a world of superheroes.  The art was good throughout, and even though Michael Lane as a character wasn't that interesting in and of himself, the stories and world built AROUND him were good.

I really think that Azrael failed because it wasn't in the proper place.  Like the Jonah Hex series  (from about the same time) I reviewed a while back, I sincerely believe that this version of Azrael would have done better as a Vertigo title, where it could have fully embraced the dark themes it was exploring.

It's a shame that this character and this series is practically forgotten.  It's better than it has a right to be.  If you're looking for a dark exploration of religion and faith in the DCU, then give it a try.  Just skip the last two issues and there's a fine ending in issue #16.

Up next. . .

Anybody remember that A-Team movie that came out a while back?  Anybody?
Can a four issue prequel series to that utterly forgettable movie POSSIBLY be any good?

IDW's 4 issue The A-Team: War Stories mini.

Be there or be square!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Longbox Junk - Azrael (Vol. 2) Part 1: Issues 1 - 9

I said it once and I'll say it again. . .it ain't easy being an Azrael fan.

After an unimpressive introduction in the "Death's Dark Knight" mini, I pondered the question of just how good an ongoing series starring the uninteresting character of Michael Lane could be. . .

It ran for 18 issues, so there was SOME push behind it, but from what I can see on the internet (O Internet! Fountain of Comic Knowledge!) nobody really cared. A continued lack of care is reflected in the REBIRTH Bat-books where Azrael has been re-introduced, but as a strange version of Jean Paul Valley wearing a Suit of Sorrows with some sort of ancient A.I. computer built into it. 

 Rebirth Azrael is a steaming pile of WTF, but Michael Lane seems to have been completely forgotten by. . .well. . .everyone.  There is very little information on this series beyond the first issue to be found.

So here's a look at the ongoing series starring the Azrael nobody asked for, nobody cared about, and nobody remembers today.  I kind of feel sorry for it, because to tell the truth. . .it ain't bad.

AZRAEL (Vol. 2) 
DC (2009 - 2011)


SCRIPTS: Fabian Nicieza

First issue. Here we go

First off. . .great cover by Jock!

This first issue of Azrael featuring the Michael Lane version of the character was surprisingly good after the lackluster introductory mini that preceded it (Death's Dark Knight). The story is split into 3 sections. . .

The first is Azrael's hunt for a serial killer that is preying on a specific list of Catholic Church members. The ending was surprising in that Azrael figures out who the killer is (a contract assasin working for victims of a child molesting priest and working his way through those who turned the other way or protected the priest, saving him for last) and confronts him, but ultimately lets him go to finish his job. . .showing that Azrael is more concerned with justice than being a traditional hero.

The second story thread involves Michael getting settled into his new role as Avenger for The Order of Purity, and is mostly exposition for those who didn't read the mini.

The third storyline. . .and most interesting. . .is a flash-forward 8 months ahead with Harvey Bullock and the GCPD investigating the death of Azrael. I like that they were already considering the end of the story at the very beginning of it.

Let's talk about the art a bit. 

In other reviews I've seen of this first issue, 90% of them bagged on the art. I have to disagree. I REALLY liked the gritty, realistic, somewhat chunky and darkly-inked art. I think that the penciller, inker, and color artist really work great together and that the art is actually the best part of this book for looking nothing like one would expect in a mainstream comic series. I especially like that they don't draw Lane himself as a super-heroic figure, but as a compact, muscular bulldog of a man. . .not really physically imposing at all when out of costume.

Overall, I found this issue to be a surprisingly good read. I liked that the story touched on an extremely uncomfortable topic for a mainstream DC superhero book (child molesting priests), had great, gritty art, was pretty much a self-contained one issue story, and hooked me in by giving me a flash forward mystery. There's really nothing bad I can say about this issue. Well done!


SCRIPTS: Fabian Nicieza
PENCILS: Ramon Bachs

As Azrael tries to learn more about the Order of Purity, his mission, and the curse on the Suit of Sorrows he wears, he is lured into a confrontation with Ra's Al Ghul's servant, The White Ghost, and is forced to choose between saving only one of two innocent people.

Another surprisingly good issue. Once again, it's pretty much done in one issue, while still exploring some threads for the overall story. I'm really liking the "one and done, with a little extra" narrative structure of this title so far. 

I also liked that (like last issue), Azrael doesn't take the obvious path to solving the problem at hand. In this case, he talks his enemy into a corner, forcing him to help him with the "impossible" test Ra's Al Ghul has set up for him (deciding which one of two innocent people to save from certain death).

The gritty, realistic art continues to impress. This issue has a brief appearance by Birds of Prey-era Huntress that is particularly nicely done.

Overall, there's really nothing bad to say about this issue.


SCRIPTS: Fabian Nicieza
PENCILS: Ramon Bachs

While racial tension heats up in Gotham City, Azrael discovers that a killer is one of the men he went on a secret mission to Iran with during his time as a Marine. . .

Another good "One and Done, with a little extra" issue. I'm really liking the narrative style of this title. Also, as in the last two issues, Azrael doesn't solve the problem in a traditional "heroic" way as he's forced to confront some of the evil things he did during wartime and decide if he has the right to judge someone who was there with him.

The art. . .especially in the flashback scenes. . .remains very nicely done. I really like the chunky, more realistic look of this title. It's almost like a Vertigo book.

Overall, this title still remains strong three issues in, with a "Cast the first stone, he who is without sin" self contained story and a great, gritty look.


SCRIPTS: Fabian Nicieza
PENCILS: Ramon Bachs
COVER: Francesco Mattina

After taking down a Satanic cult, Batman and Robin discover the person responsible for the murders of Azrael's brother and sister. 

And so we come to the first "clunker" issue on this run. . .and fairly early too.

It's not BAD, it's just not as good as the previous issues, with a story that still follows the "one and done, with a little extra" framework established from the beginning of this title, but with Azrael finding out that his own Sister In Law murdered his brother and sister. . .and that "The Devil Made Her Do It" Literally.  It's a bit weak, and frankly the way they just sort of leave it hanging is unexplainable.

The art remains strong in this issue, but for some reason, the art team does a poor job with Batman and Robin, with the exception of a few panels.

Overall, this is the weakest issue so far. . .and being only 4 issues into an 18 issue run, I hope it's not the start of an early downward slide.


SCRIPTS: Fabian Nicieza
PENCILS: Ramon Bachs
COVER: Francesco Mattina

As racial tension between Jews and Palestinians in Gotham reaches a boiling point, Azrael encounters Ragman and learns that fighting on the "Right" side all depends on the point of view. . .

Another fairly weak issue, making it two in a row. It involves tension between Jews and Palestinians with a confrontation between Ragman and Azrael as champions of two different religions as sort of a proxy battle of words and faiths. The IDEA is interesting, the execution is not so much. There are a few thought-provoking moments, but to be honest, the whole thing feels more than a little forced.

The art returns to an outstanding level in this issue. A particular standout is a double page spread of Azrael being forced to mentally confront the truth of all the blood that has been shed by those wearing the cursed Suit of Sorrows. I guess the art team just has some sort of problem with Batman and Robin, because it's all good in this issue.

Overall, a weak story with a good concept, an interesting guest character, and poor execution.


SCRIPTS: Fabian Nicieza
PENCILS: Ramon Bachs
COVER: Francesco Mattina

Azrael studies ancient texts to learn more about the Suit of Sorrows and those who wore it previously. He discovers a secret code that claims to tell him who his real enemy is. . .The Order of Purity that he serves.

This was probably the best issue of the run so far. Good news after 2 pretty weak issues. 

Told mostly in flashback as Michael Lane secludes himself and studies the history of the Order of Purity and journals of previous Azraels, he discovers a code that tells him that The Order is his REAL enemy.

The story is tight and very well written, and the art is especially impressive this time out. In particular, a past confrontation between an Azrael of St. Dumas and an Azrael of the Order of Purity is VERY nicely done.  All that AND the cover of this issue is one of the best so far.

Overall, this issue is a winner in every way!


SCRIPTS: Fabian Nicieza
PENCILS: Ramon Bachs
COVER: Francesco Mattina

Azrael's sanity starts to fray around the edges as he tracks down "Hide and Seek", a team of two criminals who have kidnapped a child.

After the fantastic previous issue, this one feels like a bit of a disappointment. Not to say that it's bad, just not as good as it COULD be. The story is pretty simple and straightforward. . .another "one and done" that also snips the loose end of Lane's sister-in-law being acquitted for the murder of Lane's brother and sister because. . .the DEVIL made her do it! Whatever. It's just a one page WTF in an otherwise decent issue.


SCRIPTS: Fabian Nicieza
PENCILS: Ramon Bachs
COVER: Francesco Mattina

Azrael follows a trail of clues and dead bodies to France, leading him to a secret temple beneath a church and a cult that worships sin who try to force him to become the avatar of the 8th Deadly Sin. . .Faith.

You know how they say when a T.V. show goes on the road for a "Special Episode" where they go on vacation to Hawaii, or visit Disneyland (for example), it's on the way down? Yeah. . .I get that feeling with this issue.

There's a lot of heavy questions here about unquestioning faith being a sin itself, but basically, this is the first "Continued" issue, and is mostly a fight with supervillains from “The Eighth Deadly Sin” storyline found in BATMAN ANNUAL #27 and DETECTIVE COMICS ANNUAL #11.

The art remains gritty and grounded, but I definitely see signs of story fatigue as the writer moves Azrael toward continuity-based supervillain battles.

Overall, it's not awful. . .but it ain't that good either.


SCRIPTS: Fabian Nicieza
PENCILS: Ramon Bachs
COVER: Francesco Mattina

Azrael is forced (somehow that isn't really explained) into becoming the avatar for the 8th Deadly Sin, Faith. He gets a brutal new helmet and joins the La Saligia team for an attack on The Vatican. 

The White Ghost manages to talk him back down and the two team up to take out half of the Deadly Sins. After their killing spree is over, Azrael declines to join Team Ra's Al Ghul. White Ghost tells him it's only a matter of time before he changes his mind. . .

This second half of the "Let Him Who Is Without Sin" story is basically a long fight sequence, with Azrael changing sides twice and lots of religious questions being asked between punches and sword blows.

I found it interesting that Ra's Al Ghul (via The White Ghost) is becoming a bigger part of the overall story, but other than that, this was a fairly weak issue with some inexplicable moments. . .Michael Lane has to be one of the MOST easily-manipulated characters ever. You can talk him into doing almost ANYTHING.

The art is the saving grace on this story. The fight scenes are very nicely done, and the art team makes even ridiculous supervillains look decent.

Overall, I'm glad this story is done with, and I hope it's not a sign of the direction this title is headed. . .

Despite a few weak issues, I'd have to say that I enjoyed the first half of Azrael a lot more than I thought I would.  Here's the thing. . .the Michael Lane version of Azrael is an EXTREMELY forgettable character, but the stories built AROUND the character are good.  All credit due to Fabian Nicieza for turning lemons into lemonade.

 Also credit due to the art team of Bachs, Smith, and Stanisci for giving the book a dark, gritty, grounded look that really sets it apart.  As I mentioned above, I really liked that this Azrael is NOT a hulking, impressive figure, but is a short (he's drawn about 6 or 7 inches shorter than Batman), muscular bulldog of a character.

Overall, I found the first half of this series to be a gritty, thought-provoking take on a religious-themed hero.  There were a few WTF moments to be had. For example. . .one has to wonder why Batman allows someone to go around Gotham killing people because God and The Order of Purity say they deserve it.  In any regular Bat book Azrael would be the villain. . .but Batman and company just sort of let Azrael do his thang for some reason that's never really explained.

But good taken with bad, this series (so far) isn't nearly as bad as it SHOULD be. It's actually pretty good and deserves a read as a nice little piece of Longbox Junk. . .this first half anyway.  We'll see about the rest.

Up next. . .

The back half of the Azrael series nobody remembers!  Issues 10 - 18.

Can this thing stay on the rails?

Be there or be square!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Longbox Junk - Azrael: Death's Dark Knight

Let me tell you something.  It ain't easy being a defender of Azrael.
That said. . .I'm a pretty big Azrael fan, and guess what? I thought he was a decent Batman too.

Yeah, I know.  DC has pretty much admitted that they specifically created Azrael in a sort of "You want this? You got this." response to constant reader demands to make Batman more grim, gritty, and generally 90's - tastic.   But I liked Azrael, and I liked Azrael as Batman, and I liked Azrael AFTER comic fans were like "Whoa, now! Give us back the old Batman, please."

BUT. . .

That was Jean Paul Valley Azrael.  THIS is a whole DIFFERENT Azrael, introduced as part of the "Battle For The Cowl" event, where everyone thought Batman had died in Final Crisis (but he was really travelling through time and Grant Morrison's mind) as one of the handful of tie-in mini's that came along with that merry mess.

So. . .a new Azrael nobody asked for.  Is it any good? Let's find out!


DC (2009)
SCRIPTS: Fabian Nicieza
PENCILS: Frazer Irving
COVERS: Guillem March


Michael Lane. . .former Marine, GCPD beat cop, and part of a secret program to replace Batman. A broken man who has lost everyone and everything he loves. His tragic past leads the Order of Purity to offer him a purpose and a chance at redemption by becoming their Avenging Angel. . .Azrael.

Like the last "Battle For The Cowl" tie-in mini that I reviewed (Oracle: The Cure), this is not so much a big part of THAT story as it is an epilogue to ANOTHER story. In Oracle's case it was Final Crisis, in this case, it's Batman: R.I.P.

The main character, Michael Lane, was one of the three replacement Batmen that the GCPD and the military were training in case Batman fell, and who came under the influence of Dr. Hurt as part of his plan to destroy Batman.

So. . .once again in a "Battle For The Cowl" mini, you might need to wiki up on past storylines. That said. . .it's not a bad start. Not that it's a particularly GOOD start either. It's really pretty average.

Lane's transformation from a broken wreck of a man into a guy shouting about how he's Azrael, Avenging Angel and jumping into battle with Talia Al Ghul's motley band of mercenaries she's sent to recover the stolen "Suit of Sorrows" (which leads one to have to wiki up the "Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul" story) takes place in the course of about 3 panels.

It's like one minute Lane is in the graveyard not wanting to talk to his sister in law because he's so sad, the next minute, he's like "GET SOME!"

But other than the extremely rushed transformation, the origin of Michael Lane Azrael isn't bad. The art is dark and moody, fitting the story well, but there really aren't any moments of brilliance.

Overall, this first issue of the new Azrael's origin was pretty average. Not bad, not great. The backstory requires knowledge of past storylines to fully understand, but even without that knowledge it's not too hard to figure out. Unfortunately, the bland story and art didn't really excite me for reading the next issue.


Michael Lane learns the truth about the cursed armor he wears from Talia Al Ghul. . .that every Azrael who has worn it has gone insane.

Another pretty average issue with a few headscratching moments thrown in the mix.

After Talia Al Ghul goes to all the trouble of tracking down the stolen Suit of Sorrows and then having her merry band of mercenaries attack The Order of Purity. . .she sits down for drinks with Lane and tells him all about the curse on the suit, then just sort of. . .goes away. What?

And then at the end of the book, Lane just sort of casually strolls into the Batcave. One would think there would be some sort of security down there. I'd hate to think my friggin' CAR has more security than a crimefighter's secret high-tech hideaway filled with billions of dollars worth of stuff.

But WTF moments aside, this second issue was pretty much like the first. . .extremely average, with decent art that doesn't really have any great moments either.


After a confrontation in the Batcave ending with Azrael defeated and part of his memory erased, Nightwing and Talia Al Ghul come to an agreement to continue letting Michael Lane operate as Azrael in Gotham, for. . .reasons?

So here we are at the big finish for the origin of the new Azrael. And it definitely lives up to the title of the story. . .Why Ask Why?

A lot of things happen in this issue for no real reason except to cram a new Azrael into DC continuity, tie up loose threads from previous stories, and set things up for the promised new ongoing Azrael series.

 There's quite a bit of WTF in this issue, but it's all presented in such a bland "this happened and then this happened" manner that it sort of. . .happens. There's nothing exciting or particularly interesting about the events.

Overall, I'd have to say that this was probably one of the most uninteresting new character introductions I've read. It was so utterly average in every way that I really had no interest in finding out what happens next. Not that it was BAD, it just wasn't that good. It's just sort of. . .there.


So what we have here is ANOTHER Battle For The Cowl mini that is actually less of a Battle For The Cowl tie-in and more of an epilogue for another story written by Grant Morrison during his days of tainting Batman with his peculiar brand of insanity. . .in this case, it's Batman R.I.P. that you might have to wiki up on to fully understand the references in this story.

That aside. . .

The story at hand has to be one of the most uninteresting character introductions I've ever read.  It's not bad, and the art fits the story nicely, but it's all presented in such a bland way that it seems like a minor miracle to me that after this mini DC decided to go ahead with an ongoing Azrael series with this new version of the character.

Was there REALLY that much reader interest? Or was DC just like, "Here's your new Azrael. . .whether you want him or not!"  I don't really understand.  I'm not seeing a clear answer, based on this introductory series.

Up next. . .

I decided to take a look at the confusing question of how such an uninteresting introduction led to an 18 issue ongoing series.  DC's 2009 Azrael. . .the Azrael nobody asked for, but we got anyway!

Be there or be square.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Longbox Junk - Aliens: Berserker

First, let me say that I'm a big fan of the Aliens and Predator universe that Dark Horse established outside of the movie continuity in the 1990's.

BUT. . .

The stories varied wildly in quality.  Some of them were brilliant, and are some of my favorite comics, period.  Others were steaming piles of crap.  The inconsistency of Dark Horse's Alien universe was its weak point. . .and I'm assuming the reason why it eventually faded away for quite a while (They've recently rebooted their Alien/Predator books and the quality is a lot more consistent).

So what we have here is a mini from smack dab in the middle of Dark Horse's Alien/ Predator 1990's heyday.  Is it one of the good ones?  Let's find out!


SCRIPTS: John Wagner
PENCILS: Paul Mendoza
COVERS: Kilian Plunkett


In this issue, we're introduced to the crew of the "Nemesis", a Weyland-Yutani Company Hunter/Killer team. A small group of expert mercenaries whose specialty is taking out Alien nests using specialized tactics and supported by a walking tank with a living brain. . .The Berserker.

I found this to be a pretty enjoyable issue. It's mostly introduction and setup. . .following the Berserker team on a mission into an alien nest and showing the military precision and destructive power of The Berserker (a giant, armored power suit with a living person locked inside under sedation until needed).

The art was a bit hit or miss on this one. This is another artist who can draw vehicles and gear with beautiful detail, but struggles with human proportions and faces. The coloring is also WAY too bright, with big primary splashes everywhere. The cover is VERY nice, though.

Overall, this was a great introduction to the specialized Hunter/Killer teams working for the Alien universe's "Evil Corporation". It's a fast reading and enjoyable little piece of hard military science fiction.


The crew of The Nemesis is diverted to Terminal 949. . .a space station with a crew of over a thousand, making it the largest Alien nest in history. Unfortunately for them, the Company refuses to call in the Colonial Marines for backup and orders are to take the station intact. . .a suicide mission.

This issue wasn't quite as good as the first one. . .but still wasn't bad. One would think that if it was SO important that the station not be damaged or destroyed, that "The Company" would send a few more teams of Hunter/Killers in, instead of relying on just one team. But then again. . .they ARE supposed to be the best.

Also, there's some clunky dialogue that's supposed to set up a romantic connection between one of the team and their commander that's extremely forced.

The art maintains the same problem as in the first issue. . .the double-whammy of the line artist not doing so well with humans and the color artist being WAY too heavy handed with the primary colors.

All in all, other than a bit of shaky romance subplot with half good/half bad art, this was still a decent and fast-moving read with lots of great sci-fi military action.


Things start to go badly for the crew of the Nemesis as team members start dying, communications go down, and their Berserker seems to be having trouble getting started up for battle. . .

Lots of good action in this issue as the Hunter/Killer team realizes just HOW many aliens are on the station and start losing people as they are overwhelmed while their Berserker is having problems.

Once again. . .briskly-written sci-fi military fiction with art that is great in some places and pure crap in others. The awful coloring really stands out in this issue even more so than the previous ones.


And now for the big finish!

In order to save the rest of the team, their medic has to take over the Berserker when the living "brain" inside dies. But having an inexperienced pacifist driving a heavily-armed war machine is just the beginning of their problems as they are betrayed by their commander on Company orders and they have to run for their lives to avoid being nuked along with the station. . .

Another fast-paced issue with lots of action as the team tries to escape the station after their commander is ordered to nuke it to protect the secret that The Company has been transporting Aliens.

The art is still problematic, but the scenes where the commander gets his karmic payback via facehugger alien are very nicely done. Unfortunately, the colors are still God-awful.

Overall, this was a good issue, but as an ending for the mini, it left me a little cold. It seems (from a blurb on the last page) that this was actually a prologue to "Alien vs. Predator: War", so there isn't really any resolution as the three surviving team members fly off in a shuttle away from the exploding station. . .just a sort of "To be continued".


All in all, this was not bad. I liked it quite a bit.  It's a quick-moving, decent piece of hard science fiction military action.  If you aren't a fan of that genre of writing, then this won't be for you at all. 

 The characters are barely-sketched military cliches, the story is basically an excuse for shooting things, and the ending is a bit disappointing. . .but all that said, it hits the marks for a pretty good hard sci-fi story.

The only real problem here is the art.  Vehicles, machinery, weapons, aliens, and gore are all done VERY nicely.  Human faces and proportions are pretty poorly rendered.  This wouldn't be so much of a problem in this kind of story, but it's compounded by lousy, heavy-handed coloring.  It's all too bright and splashed with primary colors in an extremely distracting way.

Overall, what we have here is a decent sci-fi military story hampered by barely tolerable art.

Up Next. . .

The new Azrael nobody asked for but we got anyway!
DC's 2009 Azrael: Death's Dark Knight 3 issue mini.

Be there or be square!