Comics Reviews

Black Orchid Review

This trade collects the complete Black Orchid miniseries by Neil Gaiman (issues #1-3).



Black Orchid was the first comic of Neil Gaiman’s I’d read. In one sense it’s unusual for him in that it deals more directly with “regular” superheroes than his other works, featuring an established minor hero and appearances by familiar heroes and villains.

But the imagination and lack of strict adherence to convention that would mark his later work is present here too, and makes Black Orchid anything but a normal superhero story. There are twists, themes and heavy mythic overtones that give this a unique feel even 20+ years later. The questions of self-identity and morals raised are particularly interesting.

The art here is phenomenal, some of my favorite I’ve seen from McKean. It more defined than his usual and gets abstract when the story calls for it. The use of color is incredible, and the default grey scale of supporting characters really highlights it.


Although not as revered as some of his other work Black Orchid is a wonderful shake up of the superhero genre by Gaiman that still holds up. And McKean’s breathtaking art is not to be missed.

Comics Reviews

Robin Volume 1: Reborn Review

This trade collects Batman #455-457, Detective Comics #618-621, and Robin (first mini-series) #1-5.


As Nightwing, Dick Grayson is perhaps my favorite character in the DC Universe (or at least tied with Batman). But surprisingly enough he’s not actually my favorite Robin. By a small margin, that honor goes to Tim Drake. A detective in his own right, a proficient computer hacker, and level headed enough to be aware of the weight of the legacy he wishes to have passed to him, Drake was embraced as a successor to Grayson by fans in a way Jason Todd never was.

This collection contains three multi-part stories that cover his training pre-Robin and his first steps once he’s become the new boy wonder.

Rite of Passage is a four-issue story that ran in Detective Comics and was done by one of my favorite creative teams, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle. Grant is a fantastic writer that wrote dark stories, sometimes with mystical elements, that still felt grounded, always had a point to them, and were appropriate additions to the Batman mythos. Breyfolge’s art was always dynamic and captivating.

Here they present an important chapter in Tim’s journey to becoming Robin. He’s already being trained by Batman and Nightwing, having previously proved his potential by deducing their identities. But after what happened with Jason Todd Batman is taking it slow, trying to be sure Tim is ready before allowing him in the field. Fate has an even tougher trial in mind however, as Tim’s parents are abducted. Powerful story with themes of voodoo, fate, and responsibility.

Batman #455-457 is another arc by the same creative duo, seeing Batman investigating a string of odd murders committed by civilians in masks. Meanwhile the weight of being the next Robin hangs heavily over Tim’s shoulders. These stories are wonderfully character driven, with a Batman who’s not infallible and tough events and decisions for our heroes to contend with.

Finally we have the five issues first Robin mini-series. Tim has become Robin, but has some soul searching to do as to what that really means for him. Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle provide this nice globe spanning tale that sees Tim trying to continue his training only to be swept up in dangerous schemes that will cross his path with an old Batman foe as well as a dangerous new villain. Like the previous two arcs this focuses on character development and what makes Tim unique, to great effect.

I’m thrilled they rereleased these early stories of Tim’s career. Hope to see more.

Comics Reviews

“Not the Justice Dorks”

This trade collects Secret Six (II) issues #1-6 and DC Sneak Peek: Secret Six #1.


I enjoyed Simone’s entire run of Secret Six comics pre-New 52, so was quite excited to check out the recent re-imagining of the title. It’s different, but retains enough of the original’s DNA to feel right. These issues cover the team being forced together by the machinations of a much different Mockingbird and for different reasons than we’ve previously seen. I think more could have been done with the opening arc, but I won’t complain too much about moving things along at a nice clip.

Familiar faces are mixed with new additions. Catman and Black Alice were two of my favorites from the original run, so I’m thrilled to see them anchoring the book as part of the core team. There are also some nice cameos. I’m split on the new crew. Strix and Porcelain are quite interesting and unique. Adoring them both so far. Not feeling Big Shot and I’ve never been a fan of this version of The Ventriloquist. Simone uses them all well though, and as usual the character interactions are a key part of her stories.

It’s not the Secret Six we know, but honestly it shouldn’t be (not to mention the previous version went through numerous shakeups during its run). Strong start here and it’s great to see my favorite dysfunctional team of not-heroes return to action.

Comics Reviews

Chase Review

This trade collects Batman #550 (Chase’s first appearance), Chase #1-9, and 1,000,000, and material from a variety of Secret Files issues.


Chase is a short lived comic from the 90s that has become somewhat of a cult classic, and I personally see why. Cameron Chase is an intriguing lead, and a former private detective working for an agency that exclusively deals with those she hates (meta-humans) is a strong premise with tons of potential.

Of course lasting only 9 issues her ongoing series didn’t have nearly enough time to fully explore that potential, but it hit some of the high notes by filling in her background and taking some unexpected turns along the way. The biggest disappointment here is one of the most unique aspects of her character, her ability to momentarily dampen superpowers, is essentially forgotten halfway though. And the comic meanders a bit as it focuses on various other DCU characters guest starring (likely in an attempt to improve sales).

Still I enjoyed the main series and Chase’s adventures contained within, particularly a two issue arc where she tries to outmaneuver the Batman.

While opinions on issue #1,000,000 will vary wildly, I’ve read numerous DC 1,000,000 issues previously and generally enjoy their imaginative take on established characters. This one was no exception, as Johnson provided just enough context to get into the nice little thought-provoking story he was telling.

The extra excerpts were a mixed bag, but generally decent. A couple odd choice though. For example, my favorite of the bunch is “The Evil That We Do,” in which Vandal Savage hires The Word (an amusing character who sadly never appears anywhere again) to research potential allies in his battles against the Justice League. The Word of course runs into Chase at one point, with a footnote that says “See this confrontation from Chase’s point of view in DCU Heroes Secret Files #1.” With 8 different excerpts chosen from Secret Files comics, I find it mind boggling that the companion piece referred to was left out.

A note on style: this is a product of its time and is vastly different in approach than today’s comics. For one thing it’s much more wordy, including long thought blocks and excerpts from written reports Chase turns in. It’s done well and suits the story, but is worth mentioning. The art is also darker and not as “polished” looking as many of today’s comics (although that’s starting to change again). I personally think the art is perfect for the stories being told and the atmosphere needed, but again just something worth mentioning.

Overall while not perfect Chase is a very good read and I’m likely to look up some of the comics where she later appeared as a guest star.

Comics Reviews

“After all… I am my mother’s daughter.”

Given Gotham’s mysterious guardian and attraction to the criminal element, one would be correct in assuming life at its most prestigious boarding school isn’t exactly normal or quiet. Things are even stranger for Olive Silverlock, who’s dealing with personal issues she’d rather not tell her friends about involving her mother and a certain bat…


I loved the premise of Gotham Academy straight away. The concept of normal(-ish) children attending a spooky school on the edges of Batman mythos is fantastic. Cloonan does a good job taking that potential and letting it evolve in its own way at an appropriate pace. This is a mystery style tale, more concerned with atmosphere and story than action (though there is enough of that peppered in to keep things exciting). So the pace might be slow for some and it does meander here and there, but I liked the gradual build up of the school, its students, and its secrets. And while the mysteries are all intriguing, Cloonan knows that the true draw is the characters, and keeps the focus firmly on Silverlock and her friends.

The supporting cast is nicely varied and starts showing depth by the end of this volume. Some start out a bit one dimensional for immediate identification and to move the plot along, but happily none of them stay that way for long. Maps is a favorite of mine, as her relentless optimism is contagious and always stays on the side of endearing rather than annoying. Olive having no love for the Batman is interesting, as he almost plays an antagonist. I found him a bit harsh, but it’s a valid interpretation and suits the story. There’s also a fantastic cliffhanger in that regard leading into the next volume.

The art is great. It has a soft feel that might take getting used to, but everything is clear, expressive, and conveys tone and emotion well. The coloring is amazing. Always vivid, and while usually appropriately dark it brightens up whenever needed.

Overall everything really comes together as a whole here, with the art nicely complimenting an imaginative story. It’s strong ties to Gotham mythos could be double edged, as there were name drops and other references of significance that could be lost on readers not already familiar with Batman comics. But personally I enjoyed Gotham Academy and will definitely be continuing with volume 2.

Comics Film Reviews

Not Your Traditional Heroes


Justice League: Gods and Monsters is the latest DC animated movie, and opens with a vision of a dying Krypton where a familiar villain interrupts a last ditch effort to save the species and contributes his own genetic material to the child’s makeup. With General Zod now the biological father of Superman, the world is a vastly different place. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman still fight what they see as evil but their ideals, identities, and even their very nature, are a far cry from what we’re used to.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but I really enjoyed Gods and Monsters. The key is that tribute was paid to the ideas and characters being borrowed but they let the reimagining go where it needed to to tell a good story. This is not a what-if adventure where one small thing is change an the effects are examined. The tweaks to Superman’s origin are just the beginning, and in some ways are the least drastic of the changes in store. Some extremely important characters, concepts, etc. one would expect to see are nowhere to be found, because they wouldn’t have fit. I like the focus shown and the commitment to embracing this universe and this story instead of letting things balloon out of hand. There are cameos and nods to familiar faces and they’re well done, serving as nice nods for those who catch them without being intrusive.

There are strong themes of responsibility and nature vs nurture woven into the story without slowing down the action or getting preachy. The flashbacks break up the flow a bit, but they are interesting and allow us to really understand what’s driving these new versions of our heroes so it’s well worth the slight pacing issues. The animation has a sleek look, and is appropriate for the atmosphere and style of the tale. And I have to admit watching harder edged versions of familiar characters was captivating.

JL: Gods and Monsters is another great movie from DC’s animated catalogue.

PS – The special features discuss numerous classic alternate reality stories from DC comics as well as the inspiration and ideas behind Gods an Monsters, and were a nice little treat after watching the film.