by The Masked Bookwyrm

Miscellaneous (Superheroes) - "D" Page 1

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Cover Essential Dazzler, vol. 1 2007 (HC TPB) 552 pages

Written by Danny Fingeroth, Tom DeFalco, with Chris Claremont, Marv Wolfman. Pencils by Frank Springer, with John Byrne, John Romita, Jr, others. Inks by Vince Colletta, others.

Colours/letters: various.

Reprinting: Dazzler #1-21, Uncanny X-Men #130-131, Amazing Spider-Man #203 (1980-1982)

Rating: N/R (out of 5)

Number of readings: various

Review posted Sept, 2011

Published by Marvel Comics

This isn't really an "official" review, as I haven't read most of the issues reprinted here -- I have about seven or eight of these Dazzler issues in my collection (as well as the X-Men comics). But I just thought I'd opine that Dazzler...was, in its way, a surprisingly decent comic.

Now, one might ask, if I thought it was so good -- why haven't I bought the Essential collection? And the answer is that, A, I'm not buying as much as I used to (particularly when, as mentioned, I already own almost a third of the comics included here), and, B, I'm not necessarily saying it was great -- but it was decent. And I make that point because Dazzler occupies a strange position in comics. My impression is that it's often regarded with some derision, as a cheesy, goofy comic -- about a pop singer with mutant powers! Yet funnily enough, lasting 42 issues, Dazzler was, for its time, actually more successful than a lot of super hero comics with a female lead. And it was by far the most original -- both in terms of her powers and in that she wasn't just a spin-off of a male hero (like Supergirl, She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel).

Dazzler was introduced in the X-Men, part way through a three part tale of the X-Men battling minions of the Hellfire Club (which would be the opening act of the classic Dark Phoenix Saga). The X-Men, on the look out for new mutants, find Dazzler -- a pop singer with the ability to transmute sound into light, giving her stage act a spectacular light show that the audience assumes is mechanical, not mutant, powered. She's a slightly different Dazzler than she would evolve into -- talking in a bit of a hip, jive lingo. But the basic concept of the reluctant heroine is established -- and what makes the subsequent series sort of interesting.

After that exciting adventure (the Claremont/Byrne/Austin team at their peak -- even if it is the final two chapters of a three parter), and another guest starring turn (in Amazing Spider-Man) Dazzler got her own series. By this point her personality has been tweaked to resemble the more standard female heroine -- Alison Dare is basically a normal, girl-next-door type (heroines often not allowed to be quite as quirky as male heroes). But what makes the regular series kind of unusual in the comic book/super hero field is that Dazzler isn't really a super hero, nor is her dream to spend her nights fighting crime. Rather, she just wants to live her life, pursue her career, and use her powers subtly in pursuit of that goal. Of course, things rarely work out that way -- and crime and a plethora of super villains are always lurking about, sometimes dragging Dazzler in reluctantly...sometimes she charges in of her own volition to help a friend. But it makes an interesting dynamic -- Dazzler truly is an "everyman" hero. She doesn't even have a "secret identity", per se (although her stage dress serves as an impromptu costume). She keeps her powers a secret, but there's no dual identity, no friends wondering why Alison disappears everytime Dazzler is around or anything.

And Dazzler is, herself, a likeable, sympathetic heroine.

The series started out a bit uneven, written by Tom DeFalco, the early issues maybe struggling to find their footing, and DeFalco's dialogue clunky and clumsy (and with an opening issue climaxing in...a singing contest between Dazzler and the super-villainess, the Enchantress!). But things improve when Danny Fingeroth takes over scripting (though initially still working from DeFalco's plots). The dialogue is a little smoother, the personalities a little more grounded, suspense and tension better maintained (to be fair to DeFalco -- I've only read two issues by him). Throughout there's a supporting cast, there as much for comedy as drama, such as her loquacious manager, and her vainglorious stage manager (body obsessed and always decked out in gym shirts to show off his pecks) among others. And there's soap opera-y undercurrent involving her estrangement from her dad (interesting, the early She-Hulk comics, published around the same time, also involved a daughter-father estrangement).

As often happens with fledgling series, there seemed an over-reliance on guest stars and familiar characters to boost sales, heroes and villains both -- arguably to the detriment of creating the series' own rogues gallery, with Dr. Doom, the Enchantress, Klaw -- even Galactus! -- all dropping by (as well as heroes like the Human Torch, the She-Hulk, the Angel, and others). Yet despite this, the series -- and its heroine -- did carve out its own identity, the reluctant/vulnerable/every(wo)man hero providing an interesting twist on the cliches. And sometimes the familiar characters dropping by did work: despite the small scale Dazzler meeting the cosmically grand Galactus seeming an odd match, that story was actually pretty effective. The series also introduced another hero -- the Blue Shield, with the unusual back story that he was a super hero who masqueraded, in his alter ego, as a mobster (though despite a few guest appearances, I don't think he ever went on to much).

The issues were often densely written, with a lot of small panels (a hallmark of a few Marvel comics at the time, I seem to recall), allowing most plots to only run an issue or two, making for some meaty reads that are more than just an excuse for a fight scene (a good highlight being #8's story of someone targeting Dazzler's manager).

The lion's share of the art was handled by Frank Springer (who was also the inker on She-Hulk), usually inked by Vince Colletta. The art was hardly spectacular -- but was actually decently effective. As mentioned, the nature of the dense scripts meant the art wasn't really required to dazzle us with lots of big panels and splash pages. And Springer told the scenes well enough, even if the poses could look a bit hasty -- but it maybe suited the "human" aspect of the heroine. And sometimes he excelled -- as mentioned, the Galactus story was decent, and part of that is due to the grandeur of the visuals. Though featuring a heroine, the cheesecake factor seemed to vary -- though I think Dazzler's cleavage got more pronounced as the series went along.

Obviously, what you like -- and look for -- in a super hero comic will affect your appreciation of these issues. Me -- I tend to like a mixing of the human, and soap opera, with the super hero hi-jinks (a formula dating all the way back to the early days of Spider-Man). Hence why I applaud the human/reluctant heroine idea. But others tend not to. My impression was that as the series went along, it was moved more and more heavily in the fantasy/SF/super hero direction, putting more emphasis on tying the series into the whole mutant/X-Men franchise from which it had sprung (after cancellation, Dazzler even joined the X-Men becoming, well, a conventional super hero). One review of the series seemed to feel the later issues were better (but maybe they just meant the writing and art more than the themes). But as I say -- what appeals about these early issues is that human grounding, the sense that Alison is a real person, just trying to get through life -- with the calls to herodom more a burden than a blessing for her.

The interesting thing about this collection is it climaxes with the double-sized 21st issue. Reflecting my point about the human aspect: that issue has little action or adventure (though plenty of super hero guest stars as they attend Dazzler's big concert). But it brings to a head various character threads that had been percolating through the series, relating to her estrangement from her dad, and the mystery of her long vanished mom. And maybe it reflects a subtle ambition to the series -- that they would have the hutzpah to present a double-sized issue of a super hero comic that's basically a human/character drama. It also means that in some ways, this Essential collection does act as a nice story arc building to a conclusion -- not just as a random collection of sequential comics.

There are lots of ways Dazzler wasn't a great comic -- some clumsy dialogue, some forced plots, some uneven art. But digging out those old issues I had and re-reading them -- there are also a lot of things to like about the series, too.

Cover price: __ .

Cover by Bill Sienkiewicz DAzzler, The Movie 1984 (SC GN) 64 pages

Written by James Shooter. Pencils by Frank Springer. Inks by Vince Colletta.
Colours: Christie Scheele. Letters: John Morelli. Editor: Ralph Macchio.

Additional notes: Marvel Graphic Novel #12; published in tabloid dimensions.

Mildly suggested for mature readers

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Review posted Mar, 2013

Published by Marvel Comics

Dazzler was a kind of odd super hero comic in its day. Odd because my impression is it generally isn't well regarded...even as it ran longer than many comics featuring a heroine and she was more atypical than just a female version of some male predecessor.

I also think the Marvel folks saw it as more ambitious and experimental than readers quite realized. And case in point is this 62 page graphic novel published in the midst of the series' run.

It's interesting to consider it in the context of later experiments. Dazzler was an "everyman" (or woman) hero -- she didn't prowl the streets looking for crime, but was a gal trying to live her life, who happened to have super powers, and was reluctantly drawn into adventures. And this graphic novel is written by Jim Shooter -- who wasn't the series' regular writer, but was Marvel's editor-in-chief (here teamed with Dazzler's regular artistic team). And one can perceive in it the themes that fuelled Marvel's later "New Universe", and even later, the early Valiant Comics line overseen by Shooter. Super powers...married with a slight "kitchen sink" realism. Few costumes or arch foes. Almost as if Shooter, who had been writing comics professionally since his teens, was looking to break away from the four colour fantasy...while still trying to write what the market wanted. Finding a middle ground between the super and the human.

So in Dazzler The Movie we have 62 pages...that's more drama than adventure.

I'm not sure what was going on in Dazzler's comic at the time. Dazzler, previously based in New York and with a music career, is here living in Los Angeles, working as an aerobics instructor while moonlighting as a lounge singer, her erstwhile supporting cast I guess back on the east coast. After fending off one lech, Dazzler than fends off another, Roman Nekoboh -- who may or may not be someone known from previous stories (Dazz seems to know him already). A Frank Sinatra-like singer looking to revitalize his flagging movie career, Roman sees in Dazzler, not just a romantic conquest...but a possible cinematic co-star. And she eventually joins him in his pursuit of making a movie -- explaining the otherwise odd title of this comic book!

And as things progress you begin to suspect Shooter had maybe seen some old Hollywood melodramas about tinsel town (like A Star is Born or something) and decided to push the boundaries of a super hero comic by using that as his template. While tying it into the whole "mutant menace" idea popular in Marvel Comics -- even using as the graphic novel's marketing hook that it features the outing of Dazzler's previously secret super power to transmute sound into light and energy.

It's all very ambitious and audacious, Shooter trying to prove the super hero genre can support more than just dust ups with costumed villains.

But in execution it's mixed. As a writer, Shooter has both strengths and weaknesses. He can affect a genuine ambition, and a desire to explore characters that are more "human" than just iconic paragons. His work on New Universe (namely Star Brand) and Valiant often reflected an off beat approach to plotting and structure. Yet, at the same time, it's married with a very blunt, obvious, comic book style, where characters state their motives and feelings boldly and for every subtle, nuanced character, there are equally one dimensional, heavy handed characters. Still, it keeps the tempo up. I mean, when he can write 62 pages with little action or adventure yet you keep turning the pages, clearly he's accomplishing what needs to be accomplished.

I don't think Shooter had any idea how the movie biz actually worked, undermining the credibility of the tale and making it as much a fantasy as any battle with space aliens. I suspect he was being influenced by movies of 30 or 40 years earlier (and which weren't necessarily true to the Hollywood reality either). And my reference to A Star is Born seems supported by the plot of an aging, fading star who hooks up with a starlet. Part of the theme is our heroine swept up in the fairy tale glamour, only gradually realizing she's losing herself, and starts to assert herself more, essentially wearing the pants in the relationship, so to speak. And there is a relationship that develops between her and Roman -- kind of awkward, giving she at first has to physically fight off his advances...then later falls for him. Sending kind of mixed signals to the reader about sexual harassment!

Dazzler was often supposed to be the girl next door innocent and the arc of the plot is her being swept up in the glamour. But it does mean she can seem a bit vapid for a lot of it. When a character snidely refers to her as having a bust measurement that exceeds her IQ you aren't sure if that's the character talking...or Shooter's opinion of his heroine!

Of course the recurring theme of mutant persecution arises and, likewise, can be heavy handedly comic booky for something that clearly wants to seem sophisticated. Sometimes presenting prejudice with subtlety is more disturbing...and compelling. It's awkward to have anti-mutant mobs storming fenced in studio lots...even as at other times, Dazzler can blithely walk down city streets!

The whole mutant idea could've been more interestingly explored than it is. Dazzler is outed...but not in the way you might anticipate. And it becomes partly about her using her notoriety for her career, and seeing a movie as a chance to promote tolerance. But other mutants might argue: is she supporting the cause...or exploiting it?

The story is illustrated by Dazzler's then frequent creative team -- penciller Frank Springer and inker Vince Colletta. In her regular comic they could be uneven but this is arguably top work from them -- but not especially dynamic. It tells the tale, conveys what needs conveying, and was a style preferred by Shooter (as Valiant and The New Universe used similarly unsplashy art). On one hand, having them on board maintains a visual continuity -- Dazzler looks like Dazzler (even the letterer and colourist I think worked on the monthly comic). On the other hand, if you're going to present the story as a "graphic novel" maybe different artists (like cover artist Bill Sienkiewicz) would've added to a sense of specialness.

Later super hero graphic novels were just regular comics on heavier paper. But the initial Marvel Graphic Novels flirted with the idea that, being published outside the then Comics Code, maybe they should be a little edgier...and then again, not. It was as if they couldn't decide. So in the case of Dazzler The Movie it's basically what you would've expected in Dazzler's regular comic. A little more innuendo, and characters sleep together (off the page) in a way they might not have done as overtly in the comics. The fact that Dazzler is working as an aerobics instructor certainly opens with a few pages of her stretching and gyrating...but they would've done the same in the comic. There's only really one or two panels that push outside the comic (notably a panel where you can see Dazzler naked from the side with her butt turned just slightly toward the reader).

One can admire Marvel's restraint -- exploring more mature subject matter, without being gratuitous. On the other hand: what's the point of half-measures and doing a "graphic novel" if it's just the same as the comics?

The end result with Dazzler the Movie is, credit where it's due, even without much action, I read it easily enough. But Shooter deliberately eschews the super hero adventure...yet without more attractive visuals, or delivering a drama the succeeds as being as smart, as character nuanced -- and as believable -- as he needed.

Cover price: __ .

Cover by CookeDC: The New Frontier 2004 (various) 300 pages
This has been collected in various forms, including a two volume TPB edition, and a single hardcover "Absolute" edition.

Written and illustrated by Darwyne Cooke.
Colours: Dave Stewart. Letters: Jared K. Fletcher. Editor: Mark Chiarello.

Reprinting: the six issue, prestige format mini-series (2004) - with covers

Rating: * * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by DC Comics

Thoughout the 1990s, DC published occasional one-off stories under the "Elseworlds" label -- "what if...?" tales envisioning new origins, new ends, or new settings for Superman, Batman, etc. Eventually, DC retired the "Elseworlds" label...but continues to put out Elseworld projects; they just don't call 'em that.

Which brings us to Darwyn Cooke's DC: The New Frontier.

After recent "event" projects that make a splash for a month or two, then fizzle out, it may be the first mini-series in years critics have lumped in with such seminal works as The Watchmen, Kingdom Come and the Dark Knight Returns.

Cooke goes back to basics, re-imagining the dawning of the Silver Age of DC Comics, both by setting the characters against the realities of the 1950s time period in a way the original comics couldn't (or wouldn't) -- McCarthyism, bigotry -- and also by integrating the DC Universe when the original series basically existed on their own, and by having the plain clothes heroes like Slam Bradley and the Challengers of the Unknown brushing shoulders with the super heroes. And wrapping it all into a 300 page graphic novel.

A lot of this has been done before. DC inparticular has produced a staggering number of "epics" involving the entirety of their characters (even dating back to Showcase #100 in 1978!) You can't help but feel deja vu here and there. Even the 1950s-era setting has been tackled in JSA: The Golden Age and Martian Manhunter: American Dreams. And that's ignoring the scenes that are meant to be familiar (origins of J'onn J'onzz, Green Lantern, etc.)

And what exactly is Cooke's intent? To imagine if super heroes really existed in 1950s America? -- or just to be a super hero comic but acknowledging the period? Is it a human drama...or a super hero adventure? I read one review that said Cooke was introducing the characters in the chronological order they had appeared in the original comics -- but that doesn't explain a cameo by Zatanna in this 1950s set tale. And though Cooke works in racism and the Ku Klux Klan in a cutaway tale involving a black, hammer-wielding vigilante, it is just that -- a cutaway.

Yet despite my feelings that Cooke doesn't fully establish a consistent "flavour"...New Frontier succeeds more than it doesn't.

It starts out seeming a collection of disparate story lines, having little to do with each other, albeit where Cooke overlaps previously separate lifelines -- such as by having "Ace" Morgan of the Challengers of the Unknown be a friend and mentor to Hal Jordan (soon to be Green Lantern). It's a sprawling tale, cutting between various characters, often in sequences that seem less like an "action" story with a clear narrative thrust, and more like a drama. Yet as the saga unfurls, storylines creep closer together, the lives of the characters become more intertwined, until an apocalyptic menace rears its head and everyone comes together in the final act.

This isn't meant to be part of regular continuity, not the least because of its being set 50 years ago. And whereas nowadays, Superman and Batman are supposed to be part of the second wave of DC's heroes -- here, Cooke has them truer to their publishing history and be well established before this story begins.

Even at 300 pages, selections have to be made: certain characters are "leads", and certain "supporting"...and some appear in glorified cameos. And Cooke's choices are interesting. Superman, Wonder Woman and especially Batman are more supporting players, while front and centre is Hal Jordan, with Cooke beginning Hal's story long before he acquires his power ring. And it's a testament to Cooke's storytelling that he makes Hal a compelling person even without powers. J'onn J'onzz also gets a fair amount of focus. Origin stories, naturally, begin with the character's, well, origin...but knowing what lies ahead, Cooke can indulge in fleshing out the men before the mask.

That's Cooke's greatest strength...the simple, raw, storytelling. He makes the characters come alive and seem real, with quirks and foibles and nuanced perspectives, without becoming mired in self-conscious pretension. There's an easy, natural flow to the scenes, the dialogue, the character exchanges (and amusing banter). Similar projects (James Robinson's The Golden Age) can sometimes try too hard, explaining characters rather than simply letting them be characters. Here there's a nice understatedness to some things, like how seeming steel hearted Colonel Flagg insists a project be named Flying Cloud -- and Cooke leaves it for the reader to connect it back to the saga's opening sequence. Or the way characters and their relationships can evolve.

There's a lot of this that's aimed at the hardcore fanboy who knows the characters. If you don't know them, it still doesn't really affect your understanding of some scenes. (Colonel Flagg heads a Suicide Squad group...but I had no idea whether this was part of existing DC mythology, since the only Suicide Squad I knew of was a super hero comic created in the 1990s, and Colonel Flagg was the name of a recurring character in the sitcom M*A*S*H -- but it's not important to following the story).

But...there's an entire scene set in Las Vegas that will be kind of bewildering if you aren't aware that the characters are super heroes in their alter egos.

But New Frontier genuinely comes across as an epic's epic. A big, sprawly, grandiose achievement that drags you in and immerses you, not just in this story, and the clever way plot threads weave about each other, but in its affection for the stories of old.

Still, the narrative can be a bit erratic. Significant scenes (relevant to the overall plot) can appear...and then not be referenced again for dozens of pages. References are made to a sense of unrest throughout the world...but that's all they are: references, rather than depictions of such.

Cooke makes the human drama/suspense aspect of the story so effective, that when it turns into a big super hero battle for the final's actually a bit of a disappointment. In some such stories the climax can seem short changed. Not so here. But you lose some of the sense of the carefully teased along character development and plot threads. Though Cooke does cleverly evoke 1950s creature features, or even the real life Manhattan Project, as the characters gather in a compound to strategize and work out a plan.

And it does work as an epic confrontation against an awesome menace.

Though curiously, after introducing Hal as an airforce pilot who refused to kill, as if heartedly endorsing the old "heroes don't kill" idea -- Cooke then gives us a climax where he contradicts that with a menace that is of a kill or be killed variety.

I've gone through this whole review without commenting on the art. Yet the art is one of the things that other reviewers single out up front.

Cooke's style is of a simple, cartoony style -- a style that I wouldn't normally be the first to embrace (in fact, in Cooke's Catwoman: Selina's Big Score, I mention a certain ambivalence). But I'll admit, it did work for me here -- quite a bit. Perhaps it's because of the time period. In trying to evoke a 1950s sensibility, Cooke's art -- which at times seems like the love child of Chester Gould and Jack Kirby -- is suitably appropriate. Perhaps it's because, despite the simplicity, Cooke has a deceptively strong eye for composition, in creating scenes that are both dramatic...and dramatically understated. This is a talky saga at times, with a lot of scenes of people in civvy clothes, sitting around, chatting. Scenes that could get dry if visualized wrong. His decision to tell a lot of the saga with each page broken up into three horizontal panels is precisely the sort of miserly thing I often rage against -- but, again, he pulls it off. Despite the simple art style, there's enough detail and background that the images don't feel short changed. And maybe the limited panels aid the story, keeping the pace up.

Cooke is aided quite nicely by colourist Dave Stewart who doesn't get too fancy with the central figures, realizing that a simple colour palette suits the simple art -- yet then provides some richly textured and shaded backgrounds for the actions to play out against.

Just a minor aside: this seems to be on the way to becoming a modern super hero comics touchstone (even adapted into an animated movie!), rich in themes and ambition. And writer/artist Darwyn Cooke is Canadian (there's even a Canadian "in" joke in that a newspaper clipping photograph is credited to Boris Supremo -- a real, award winning Canadian photographer). New Frontier tackles DC's universe, drags it back to its roots, re-imagines and salutes the old school spirit of wholesome heroism while exploring the ills of racism and gun-boat imperialism. It's The Watchmen...minus the nihilistic deconstructionism. The Watchmen was heralded as being the product of British sensibilities brought to an American art form. Yet, curiously, no one seems to regard Cooke's Canadianness as being worth acknowledging -- or as what helped fuel the vision behind New Frontier.


Closing the final pages on New Frontier, I'm conscious of things that didn't quite sit well with me. The climactic act is maybe too long, there are plot threads hinted at that, invariably in such an epic undertaking, get forgotten. As well, for a story that is so much trying to root the story in a gritty realism of the era, and dealing with themes of 1950s prejudices and paranoia (and the familiar theme of "super heroes as metaphor for persecuted minority") the fact that it becomes an epic battle with a monster in the final act can seem a bit like we've dropped the "serious" threads for a comic book romp.

Yet New Frontier works -- as an epic, as a drama, as a grand celebration of all that was wonderful in comics while tempering it with modern worldliness and sophistication (and mild profanity!). The interlocking of plot threads is clever, the large cast of personalities, the characters empathetically realized and shaded -- and some of the fan boy "in" references effective (even as others were lost on me). And the cartoony art absorbing and expressive.

Cooke has crafted an "Elseworlds" story (even if not labelled as such) that manages to take advantage of the freedom inherent in that...without diverging overmuch from the established characters and history. So that it can act as both an "alternate reality"...yet also as an introduction to the characters fans know and love.

And, above all, he's given us a true -- and truly epic -- graphic novel, rich in plot and character.

Cover price: ___

DC Universe Christmas 2000 (SC TPB) 160 pages

Written/Illustrated by various.
Colours/letters: various

Reprinting selected stories from Superman's Christmas Adventure #1 (1940), Sensation Comics #14 (1943), Adventure Comics #82 (1943), Captain Marvel Adventures #69 (1947), The Teen Titans #13 (1968), House of Mystery 191 (1971), Super-Star Holiday Special (DC Special Series #21, 1980), Christmas with the Super-Heroes #2 (1989), DC Holiday Bash #1-3 (1997-1999), Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1 (1995)

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Review posted: Jan 2018

Published by DC Comics

Christmas-themed stories are a not infrequent staple of super hero comics -- whether told within the realm of the monthly titles, or in end-of-the-year specials and one-shots. So DC had a lot to draw upon when selecting stories for this (circa 2000) Christmas-themed TPB collection. The chosen tales seem to lean heavily upon culling stories from past Christmas anthologies, with only a few reprinted from the monthly comics. This may have been to allow for more material relative to the page count -- as most of the tales here are short pieces rather than full twentysome page adventures.

The tales range from a few conventional super hero adventures that happen to take place around Christmas to character or sentimental pieces to comical vignettes. And with most of the main heroes making appearances such as Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, etc. (though appearances by Green Lantern, Green Arrow and the Flash are all reflective of the time when this was first published -- so they are Kyle, Connor, and Wally respectively, rather than Hal, Ollie, and Barry) as well as less obvious characters like western hero Bat Lash, WW I anti-hero The Enemy Ace, and a comedic short featuring villain Darkseid.

With that said, the collection could have favoured a few more conventional super hero tales simply because the shorter sentimental and comedic pieces can feel a bit insubstantial -- like, well, what they are, I guess: stories simply intended to be sandwhiched between other stories.

Among the more "conventional" super hero adventure tales are the Batman story -- "Wanted: Santa Claus -- Dead or Alive!" a fairly typical Bat-tale just set against a yuletide backdrop written by Denny O'Neil. It also boasts the historical novelty of being drawn by Frank Miller...presumably his first ever work on the character! There's also a vintage 1940s Wonder Woman tale that crams a lot into its 12 pages with Wondy tracking Nazi POWs along the Canada-U.S. border which also works in a couple of lost children, marital difficulties, and all narrated by a sentient fir tree! While one of the longest tales in this collection is the 1960s Teen Titans tale "The TT's Swinging Christmas!" -- and sure it's got that deliberately kitschy teen lingo ("groovy!" "far out!") making it easy to dismiss as just cheese...but it also cleverly riffs on A Christmas Carol while avoiding just being a point-by-point re-telling (here Scrounge -- not Scrooge -- is a junk dealer embroiled with smugglers and Tiny Tom -- not Tim -- is a teenager!). And it's all served up by Nick Cardy's striking, atmospheric art.

Arguably the best example of a story blending the super hero adventure with holiday sentiment is the Legion of Super-Heroes tale (by Paul Levitz and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez) in which a whimsical quest to locate the star that shone over Bethlehem leads to the team discovering a planet imperiled by natural disasters.

Most of the other tales are of the sentimental (or satirical) nature, and are mostly agreeable and well drawn...but don't perhaps linger too long in your memory. Honestly, that's why I'm being vague...I'm literally having trouble remembering them! There's one of the Flash desperately trying to remember what his girlfriend, Karen, told him she wanted for Christmas; another of Green Lantern & Green Arrow getting embroiled in a trouble when a man takes a mall hostage; one of Robin being at loose ends on Christmas Eve; etc.

I'll admit, having read one or two of the holiday anthology one-shots these were chosen from I can't always see why these stories were selected over some of the other tales in the same issues. Indeed, you'd probably score just as many good reads simply picking up the original anthology comics in the back issue bins (if you can find 'em). Which is maybe another reason this TPB should have favoured more stories taken from the monthly comics, as they would be harder to trackdown and collect for the holiday inclined -- rather than leaning so heavily on past holiday collections.

Still, this is an agreeable holiday anthology.

Cover price: $___ USA.

Cover by Kubert DC Universe: Legacies 2011 (HC & SC TPB) 336 pages

Written by Len Wein. Illustrated by various.
Colours/letters: various

Reprinting: the ten issue maxi-series (2010-2011)

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Review posted: Feb. 2016

Published by DC Comics

To be honest, Legacies is a project I'm having trouble even figuring out how to review.

It belongs to a particular sub-genre of comics (which is a polite way of saying it has become a bit of a cliche, even if I can only point to a handful of examples prior to it). It attempts to retell a comics company's entire publishing history in one, linear narrative. It most obviously resembles Marvel Comics' ground breaking mini-series of some 20-plus years ago -- Marvels. But one can also hear in it echoes of DC: The New Frontier and The Marvels Project. (These are reviewed elsewhere on my site -- I'm just too lazy to provide links, but you can find them in the TOC/index).

Legacies tries to retell the history of the DC Universe through the eyes and reflections of a narrator character -- Paul Lincoln. It begins in the 1940s with him as a kid, encountering some Golden Age heroes, which inspires both his decision to become a police officer, and to maintain a life long interest (and scrap book collection) about the heroes. So it's Paul who recounts old stories and adventures (much as Phil Sheldon did in Marvels), taking us through the eras, not just describing the changing heroes, but how their stories reflected the changing eras.

It's written by Len Wein, an old pro of the biz who was a mainstay of comics in the 1970s and 1980s. And I'm guessing Wein was handed the gig, rather than it being something he pitched himself. Simply because I can't imagine it being very inspiring creatively -- and certainly Wein doesn't do much inspired with it. As with The Marvels Project and, frankly, Marvels itself, it ultimately just feels like an encyclopedic run down of the comic book line, summarizing and skimming over most things, occasionally slowing down and retelling key scenes or events but which, in this context, have very little dramatic impact. It's like old TV series which, to save money, would do an episode in which a minor plot was stitched around flashbacks to past episodes. (Only DC: The New Frontier successfully managed to play the nostalgia card while also shaping it into its own, compelling epic story).

And despite Wein trying to give a little more detail and story to the narrator (his family life, his brother-in-law's run-ins with the law) the character never really emerges as a compelling figure in his own right.

The problem with a project like this is if you haven't read the original stories, a recap like this doesn't really satisfy as a story for itself, and if you have read them, then you've read them and why would you need this Reader's Digest version? (I suppose the target is people who've read some of the old comics, but no longer have them, or can't be bothered to dig through their long boxes, and so it instills in them a warm sense of nostalgia for half-remembered events).

Wein does do a bit of shuffling here and there. In order to craft a narrative arc, a sense of evolving themes, he occasionally has to re-order a few events in order to make them suit the story he wants to present. But he's sometimes struggling to force thematic square pegs into symbolic round holes. Nor does he really come up with any particular fresh spins or interpretations on the old events -- nor, perhaps, was that his mandate. One thing I do associate with Wein's writing of old was a tendency to toss in some sort of final twist or denouement in a lot of his stories. Although in this case, I think some reader's misinterpreted the end. I think Wein's going for a bittersweet irony that Paul's story is not believed -- not that we, the reader, are supposed to disbelieve him.

To give the series' a little more specialness, an impressive line-up of artists is assembled. Each drawing two sequential issues, either in a style meant to suit the period (Andy Kubert drawing the Golden Age section in a style very much evocative of -- and inked by -- his dad, the legendary Joe Kubert) or even having artists return to their signature eras or even stories (George Perez drawing the issues recounting the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which he drew). Visually, there's not much to complain about.

The series also offers up back up stories by Wein (also with an impressive array of artists). Here Wein has a little more scope in what he can do, as the stories can be original, not just recaps. They can be -- but equally, some still are basically just recaps of old stories and issues (such as a New Gods tale that just retells the 1st issue). While even those more original to him are still just there to work in appearances and cameos (such as a story where the Atom goes back in time to Camelot but other than working in everyone from The Demon to The Shining Knight, has little plot). Heck, the final story, focusing on The Blue Beetle (an indulgence on Wein's part, perhaps, since he hardly seems like such a seminal character but Wein wrote the character's 1980s series) basically just recaps the different people who were the Blue Beetle...and ends in a confusing way that only makes sense if you know what happened next!

So, as I say: not sure how to review this. I didn't find this satisfying as an epic retelling of DC history in one narrative. Yet neither did I find the story of ... compelling as the front and centre plot. Doing a "recap" story might be fun -- in a limited, finite number of pages. But stretched over 10 issues it can seem a bit much.

But, equably, some fans dig this sort of thing.

This is a review based on the monthly issues

Cover price: $___ USA.

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