GRAPHIC NOVEL and TRADE PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm

Miscellaneous (Superheroes) - "Je" - "Ju",

Back to the main listings (including character sections)
 



Jimmy Olsen Adventures
is reviewed here



John Byrne's Next Men
for reviews of two volumes, go here


JSA: The Golden Age
  See The Golden Age


JSA / Justice Society
  See Justice Society and also the various "Crisis on Multiple Earths" Collections reviewed in the JLA section


cover by Adam HughesJust Imagine Stan Lee Creating the DC Universe, vol. 1 2002 (SC TPB) 220 pages

Written by Stan Lee, with Michael Uslan. Illustrated by Joe Kubert, John Buscema, Jim Lee & Scott Williams, Dave Gibbons & Dick Giordano with Michael Kaluta, Gene Colan & Tom Palmer, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Joe Rubinstein, Kyle Baker.
Colours: various. Letters: Bill Oakley, others.

Reprinting: Just Imagine Stan Lee and Joe Kubert creating Batman, Just Imagine Stan Lee and Jim Lee creating Wonder Woman, Just Imagine Stan Lee and John Buscema creating Superman, Just Imagine Stan Lee and Dave Gibbins creating Green Lantern (2001)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Additional notes: behind the scenes sketches, etc.

Number of readings: 2

Published by DC Comics

The "Just Imagine..." project was initiated by Michael Uslan, sometime comic book writer, but whose name is more often associated with getting comic book properties turned into Hollywood movies. Here he presumably used his expertise as a behind-the-scenes facilitator for the gimmick of turning a comic book property...into another comic book property. Published at a time when DC had an actual label for "what if...?" re-imagining of its character -- "Elseworlds" -- the idea behind Just Imagine was: what if Stan Lee, who co-created almost the entirety of rival Marvel Comics' line in the 1960s and revolutionalized super heroes and comics forever after -- what if he "created" the heroes of the DC Universe? The project unfolded over twelve, prestige format graphic novels, each generally self-contained as it presented a new origin for an old character, but also tied together by a sub-plot involving an evil cult. The idea was to re-imagine the character...while sticking to the basic concept. So Superman is still an alien from another planet, while Batman is still just a normal man who's built himself up through training and skill.

And the results were mixed, both creatively...and in the reviews. A lot of modern fans grumbled, asking what was the point of the series? But of course, there's no "point". Like DC's "Elseworlds", it was just meant to be a fun chance to see radical spins on old heroes, nothing more. Other criticisms aren't as easy to dismiss, as they related to Lee's writing itself. Lee has written comics irregularly over the last few decades (after having spent the 1960s writing dozens of monthly comics) and those he has have often suffered because Lee's ear for dialogue hasn't really kept up with the times, still often sounding tinny and clunky, like an old comic book...while lacking some of the spark that makes the best of his old comics still eminently readable to this day.

Reading these, someone unfamiliar with Lee's 1960s/early 1970s Marvel work might well wonder why he is remembered as Stan The Man.

And yet...if the results were hit and miss...there were hits as well as misses. This, the first of three TPB collections, assembles the first four volumes, dedicated to Lee's Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and Green Lantern. And Lee was paired with a who's who of talent, ranging from hot, relatively modern talents, such as Jim Lee (no relation) and Dave Gibbons to old warhorses like Joe Kubert and John Buscema (the latter with whom Lee produced zillions of Marvel comics over the years). And it may well be that my personal preferences influenced my reactions, as the better issues were often drawn by the artists I liked most.

The series kicked off with one of the best -- Lee and Kubert's Batman. But instead of a rich millionaire, Wayne Williams is a poor ghetto kid who owes more to Spider-Man's Peter Parker, and when Wayne is framed for armed robbery and sent to prison, the story takes on aspects of something like "The Bird Man of Alcatraz" (or, in his case, the bat man), "Hurricane" and even "The Count of Monte Cristo". Sure, there's an obviousness to Lee's writing, but in a way, it helps create the sense less of a super hero adventure...and more almost of a fable. And there's a Hemingway-esque brevity that's quite appealling when contrasted with modern comics and their "decompression". There are scenes I remembered that, when re-read, I realize only took up a panel or two! And Kubert's art adds a haunting mood, adding a weight to Lee's words that might not be there with another, less accomplished artist supplying the visuals. It also helps create the sense of fable that I've alluded to. Vistas of the ghetto are both sultry and forlorn, while scenes of Wayne lost in grim contemplation seem more thoughtful, more substantial because of Kubert. Thanks to the off beat setting, Lee's brooding characterization, and Kubert's moody, evocative art, Batman is one of the strongest of the "Just Imagine..." tales. Though it isn't that conventional a "super hero" tale -- it's half over before he even dons a costume. Perhaps as a deliberate nod to the way the old Marvel series were seen as progressive, here Lee's Batman is a black man (later, Marvel's Supreme Power would also cast a black man as the Batman archetype). Granted, some quibbled about the "ex-con black man" cliche, and the fact that Wayne is actually about the only black character in the story, but still the intent is there.

Lee and Buscema's Superman is also highly entertaining. Perhaps it was the higher profile characters that inspired Lee the most, but like with Batman, there's more of a "vision" fuelling the story. Here Superman is Salden, a police officer on a distant world who ends up pursuing a felon through space, the two crashing on earth where the lighter gravity imbues them with super powers. There are some nice ideas throughout (like on his world, Salden is the puny runt of his squad) and Lee does the unexpected by making Salden the antithesis of clean cut Superman...he's surly and talks in hardboiled patois. It makes him a distinctive personality, and funny. In fact Lee's Superman is the one that most reflects what was an aspect of a lot of Lee's '60s stuff...a sense of humour. Though still fundamentally a drama, Salden's churlishness is funny, and Lois Lane is here a pushy press agent. Salden decides the only way he'll get home is if earth discovers space travel, and that'll only happen if humans aren't wasting resources on fighting crime and wars, so he decides, well, he'd better eliminate those problems -- it's an amusing reflection of the character's arrogance, and his condescension to earth people. The story here may not be complex, per se, but there's enough going on, broken up into scenes, that it comfortably satisfies as a "graphic novel". And this Superman is perhaps the best designed, visually, of the Just Imagine characters. John Buscema's art is moody and dramatic, with Buscema bringing a well honed eye to storytelling and narrative composition. Buscema was officially retired at this point but the art here shows whatever his reasons for "retiring"...it wasn't a loss of skill and talent. Though, sadly, I think this may have proved Buscema's last work before passing away.

And the colour in both stories, by Sibin Slavkovic and Chris Chuckry, is also attractive and rich in mood.

The other two stories are less effective. Yet, after re-reading them recently, I enjoyed them a bit more than I remembered. Part of that may be because I've been reading some of Lee's old 1960s stuff, so I'm a little more primed for some of the heavy handed dialogue. Some critics argued Lee's style hasn't kept pace with the modern comics. But maybe that's the point. You don't read this as a "modern" comic...but as a throwback, as "what if Lee had tackled these properties in the 1960s?" -- only presented with modern colouring and heavy paper. If Alan Moore did the same, it would be heralded as a wonderfully evocative homage, and people might more quickly forgive some of the sillier plot points (Lee's Batman amassing a fortune by becoming...a pro westler -- although that itself was probably an homage to Spider-Man, who tried to make money in the ring).

Perhaps the most modern aspect to the stories is occasional undercurrents of environmental themes.

Lee and Lee's Wonder Woman also goes the "ethnic" route, set in South America, with Maria Mendoza a young woman agitating against the corrupt businessman who holds her village under his thumb. He's engaged in an archaeological dig, seeking some ancient Inca power, and though he acquires his evil power...Maria is also transformed by benevolent forces into Wonder Woman to fight him. As a personality, Maria isn't as distinct as Lee's Batman and Superman, and starting out as a normal human, she's less interesting than the true Wonder Woman with the latter's mythological background! And the plot is straight forward and generic. At the same time, for all the criticisms of Lee's stuff being dated...I couldn't help thinking it seemed like any of a number of mediocre modern comics I've read, of the sort Image or Wildstorm might produce. Part of that may be because of Jim Lee's art. Lee is a super star among modern fans, but I'm more mixed on him. On one hand, it can be nice and certainly is detailed, but it lacks that extra artistic spark that Kubert and Buscema have. Perhaps a good example is that Kubert and Buscema create memorable characters, so that even when the hero is just standing mutely, brooding, you feel his personality...whereas Lee draws pretty pictures.

Lee and Gibbon's Green Lantern is similar in concept (a person granted powers by a higher presence while in the jungle, leading to a showdown in Los Angles) and similar in flaws, in that GL is a blandly generic leading man. There are some interesting bits, some involving a woman working for the villain (even if it's developed a bit thinly), or sequences where GL learns having power and the wisdom to use it aren't necessarily the same...not to mention just a cool battle with a Godzilla-sized monster! I've never been a big Dave Gibbons fan, often finding his art can be a bit stiff, his character designs a bit bland (though maybe that's part of the Silver Age vibe, as his Len Lewis looks a bit like Barry Allen a.k.a. The Flash) which probably exacerbates the stiltedness in Lee's dialogue. Giordano's equally stiff inks probably don't help. Though Gibbon's GL design is similar to his Dr. Manhattan from the seminal The Watchmen -- so there is an appealing resonance, there. Of the four stories, it's the one where the sub-plot involving the sinister Church of Eternal Empowerment is moved to the foreground as the main adversary.

The Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern stories are briskly paced and after re-reading them all, I enjoyed them more. The Batman and Superman stories remain the highlights, but even if just rounding out the TPB package, the other two are okay page turners. Yeah, the dialogue can be corny and heavy handed, the plotting simple, but as entertainment, the better ones work. The villains have about as much dimension as rice paper, and all the stories lack much in the way of a supporting cast -- which was a strength of Lee's old Spider-Man, for example, and would help to flesh out the world and the personalities.

Along with the main stories, each issue featured an "On the Street" back up story. Presumably inspired by Marvels, they utilize the heroes little -- if at all -- instead focusing on the world around them, and people's reaction to the heroes. Written by Lee in collaboration with Uslan, despite some nice artists assembled (like Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez who I would've loved to see draw one of the main stories) they're mainly minor, even muddled (save the Superman one which is quite funny).

Lee once claimed the impetus for the Marvel Age revolution was that he wanted to try all the things he'd never been allowed to do before. Reading this, you don't get the sense of that passion, or that there's anything left Lee wanted to say with comics. It's a lark, nothing more, and as such Lee's take on the DC Universe didn't shake up the industry the way his 1960s out put did. Yet for all that, the Batman and Superman stories are genuinely entertaining and visually striking, and the Wonder Woman and Green Lantern efforts are, well, okay in the context of a collection.

Lee wrote this as if these were the beginnings of new series...even though they were just one-shot stories (though the characters recurred in things like Lee's JLA). But it's actually a credit to Lee that, in a way, you kind of wish more stories had been done with them, either by Lee or another, successor writer. That there is enough neat ideas to the characters that you could imagine these versions developing into interesting properties in their own right.

This is a review of the stories as they appeared in the original one-shots.

Cover price: $__CDN./ $19.95 USA.


cover by Adam HughesJust Imagine Stan Lee Creating the DC Universe, vol. 2 2003 (SC TPB) 256 pgs.

Written by Stan Lee, with Michael Uslan. Illustrated by Kevin Maguire, Jerry Ordway, John Byrne, Gary Frank, with Sergio Aragones, John Severin, Kano. Inks by various.
Colours: various. Letters: Bill Oakley, others.

Reprinting: Just Imagine Stan Lee and Kevin Maguire creating The Flash, Just Imagine Stan Lee and Jerry Ordway creating JLA, Just Imagine Stan Lee and John Byrne creating Robin, Just Imagine Stan Lee and Gary Frank creating Shazam (2001-2002)

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

Additional notes: behind the scenes sketches, etc.

Number of readings: 2

Published by DC Comics

Just Imagine... was essentially an off shoot of DC's then prolific "Elseworlds" label (wherein alternate versions/realities of their familiar heroes were presented) -- but the specific gimmick here was to get Stan Lee, the co-creator of probably two-thirds of the Marvel Comics characters still on the shelves today, to take a whack at the DC characters. Spread over twelve prestige format specials/graphic novels, the project received decidedly mixed reviews. And certainly those expecting Stan Lee to revolutionize super hero comics in the 21st Century the way he had in the 1960s were in for a major let down. Nor does one really get the impression Lee was even trying to. The project was for him, one suspects, no more than a lark. And, in a sense, does it really need to be anything more?

Lee's dialogue hasn't really kept up with the times and, indeed, can be stiff even by his 1960s standards, Lee not having written too much regularly over the last few decades. The plots are a bit thin, the villains one dimensional...yet for all that, the stories aren't without their enjoyment.

This second volume collects the fifth to eighth books in the series, with Lee once again paired with an impressive list of artists. And, in a way, it maybe shows Lee getting more comfortable with the gig. There's a greater consistency -- the stories here aren't as strong as the best of the previous volume (his Superman and Batman) yet most are better than the lesser stories from that collection. But there's a greater sense of fun, of humour, of Lee letting his hair down. In the first volume, only one of the books (his Superman) seemed to have a bit of that ol' Lee twinkle...here, three of the four are more willing to indulge in humour and wisecracks.

The collection kicks off with Lee's Flash, paired with artist Kevin Maguire. Teenager Mary Maxwell longs for a life of adventure, but is resigned to a drab life with her dull dad...until she discovers her dad is an inventor on the run from a secret organization, STEALH. There's a little more bounce and fun to this story, perhaps credit to artist Maguire who had an association with the Justice League during its light-hearted phase. Maguire's a striking artist, with a clean, realist, vibrant style -- and he's good at drawing pretty girls (without sliding into too much cheesecake). There also seems to be a little more going on here, story-wise, and though the dad gets killed off, he sticks around long enough to give Mary someone to play off of -- unlike some of the other stories which suffered from a lack of a supporting cast. Of course, Mary's origin is kind of bizarre, to say the least, as it involves her first entering a mysterious, unexplained mist that saps her energy then her desperate dad trying to cure her with an injection of...hummingbird DNA. The former seems to evoke the old "Incredible Shrinking Man" movie and may be intended to be explained in a later volume. The comics though, theoretically, "one shots", are part of a Just Imagine Universe. The fact that the mist is green hints at some connection to Lee's Green Lantern. While the hummingbird DNA thing seems ripped off from the 1940s Marvel hero, The Whizzer (who used Mongoose genes). Lee may just be unconsciously ripping it off...but I also wonder if allusions to Marvel characters was kind of deliberate. Actually I wonder if Lee -- or Maguire -- were being influenced by the 1994 movie, "The Shadow". The plot isn't the same, but there are a few scenes that seem to echo it, with even one of the villains looking like a henchmen from that movie. The Flash remains a pretty straightforward effort -- despite dealing with themes of time travel, all the action takes place in the present. But it's a modestly fun read.

Up next is Lee's JLA. Marking the half-way point in the series it brings all his Just Imagine... characters (to that point) together. Drawn pleasingly by Jerry Ordway, it's the best in this batch, in no small part because of the combining of the characters. A lot of these stories seemed to be a bit thin on cast, not allowing much character interaction. Here, there's a lot more energy, and fun, from the interplay. And by combining them, some even work better than they had in their solo adventure. Green Lantern had been kind of bland, but here, that blandness actually works in contrast with some of the quirkier heroes. Again, the plot isn't anything to write home about -- but it is fast paced, with a fair amount of twists and turns and double crosses. Throughout these books, a recurring menace has been an evil cult and its hooded reverend -- usually in the background. Here, the Reverend Darrk and his villainy is front and centre, as the JLA take on his evil goon squad -- the Doom Patrol (another DC name reworked for this series).

Lee's Robin is probably the least effective in this collection. Although here Lee plays around with narrative a bit by mixing it up with flashbacks, as opposed to just a linear story. And by tossing in Batman -- albeit in only a few scenes -- it benefits from the presence of a previously established hero. It too is more deeply tied into the Rev Darrk theme, as Robin is an orphan who works for the sinister reverend. More brooding than the other stories here, lacking some of Lee's recaptured wit, it's not terrible, but lacks a certain "ooomph". It's drawn by John Byrne, and is the least visually pleasing of the stories here. Ironically, I used to be a huge Byrne fan years ago, but I'm not as fond of the looser, scratchier style he's developed over the years. Ironically, it's a style that's similar to that of Joe Kubert and John Buscema on the previous Just Imagine collection -- who were, and remain, among my favourite artists in this series. But Byrne just doesn't seem to pull it off as well. Instead of adding mood and atmosphere...it just looks rough and hasty. Though he probably draws the eeriest Rev. Darrk of any of the artists here.

The final story here is Lee's Shazam. In concept it's among the most colourful, involving Interpol agents in India. Robert Rogers is a bit of a nebbish, and Lee approaches it more as a twosome, with his female partner, Carla Noral, an equal character and, indeed, is the tougher of the two. They are in India seeking the hideout of a James Bond-style super villain on the verge of a world dominating plan and, by having two protagonists, it allows more room for character interplay. Robert is bequeathed a magic word and the power to transform -- but instead of into the cape wearing Captain Marvel, he transforms into a hulking gargoyle. Again, there's a Marvel Comics homage, as there's clearly an Incredible Hulk influence at work. It's all pretty simple, but briskly paced and with a lighter, occasionally silly tone. The artist here is Gary Frank who has a detailed, realist style...and an unabashed penchant for pulchritude, with a lot of, um, impressive cleavage on display.

Also included are a few "On the Street" back up stories (with still more artists contributing -- including John Severin and Sergio Aragones) which focus, not on the heroes, but the world around the heroes, or characters peripherally connected to the heroes. But like with the main stories, there's a sense Lee (and collaborator Michael Uslan) are getting a better feel for their ideas, because the stories are maybe a little more focused. The Flash back up is funny (revisiting characters first used in the Superman back-up), the Robin one actually does hint at greater revelations to the Rev. Darrk thread, and the Shazam one, though the most unconnected, is perhaps the most "story" developed.

As mentioned at the beginning, Lee's Just Imagine... stories received a decidedly mixed reception from readers. And I'm not making any case for them being high art or "must reads" (though it's interesting that Lee's JLA is 40% women and 40% minorities...a significantly better ratio than the "real" JLA!). But maybe they need to be viewed less as "modern" comics, and more as a nostalgic homage -- as a "what if...Lee created these DC characters in the 1960s?" Though unfortunately Lee does seem to ape more modern sensibilities in that there's a more ruthless streak to these characters -- in almost all the stories, the villains end up dead, usually with a little help from the heroes!

I bought the first eight stories as they came out monthly, then stopped. Being hit and miss, I wasn't enjoying enough of them sufficiently to justify the price tag. Yet re-reading them, and viewing them as a "collection", where no one story has to justify the purchase on its own, they're agreeable page turners. Although the stories are, on one hand self-contained, on the other hand, they are meant to form a kind of epic, with the recurring presence of Rev. Darrk suggesting some overall arc. It's not developed enough that each appearance by Darrk ads to a greater story. Which is maybe why I didn't necessarily feel any overriding compulsion to see how it all plays out.

Yet there is an appeal to the characters here, a feeling they could have justified a "Just Imagine..." on going series, maybe with another writer building on what Lee began. And having re-read them as a bunch, I'll admit, I do find myself with a vague desire to maybe some day hunt down the final four issues and see how it all plays out.

This is a review of the story as it was serialized in the comics.

Cover price: $__ CDN./$19.95 USA


cover by Adam HughesJust Imagine Stan Lee Creating the DC Universe, vol. 3 2004 (SC TPB) 223 pgs.

Written by Stan Lee, with Michael Uslan. Illustrated by Scott McDaniel, Chris Bachalo, Walter Simonson, John Cassaday, with Ramona Fradon, Richard Corben, Darwyn Cooke. Inks by various.
Colours: various. Letters: Bill Oakley, others.

Reprinting: Just Imagine Stan Lee with Scott McDaniel creating Aquaman, Just Imagine Stan Lee with Chris Bachalo creating Catwoman, Just Imagine Stan Lee with Walter Simonson creating Sandman, Just Imagine Stan Lee with John Cassaday creating Crisis (2001-2002)

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Additional notes: commentaries, behind the scenes sketches, etc.

Number of readings: 1

Published by DC Comics

This is the third and final TPB collection of the 12-part, prestige format project in which Marvel Comics mainstay and comics legend Stan Lee took a stab at re-imagining characters from the DC Comics pantheon.

In a sense, with these final four issues, Lee has maybe settled into a groove, the baseline being of a higher, surer quality than maybe the lesser issues in the earlier TPB collections...unfortunately, the flip side is none really rise to the heights of the better tales, either. Lee makes better use of a supporting cast, giving the heroes characters to play off of, relationships to indulge in. With some of his other efforts, the focus was so restricted to the main character, there was little chance to flesh out a broader environment. Yet this is still a far cry from the kitchen sink comedy-drama of Lee's old Spider-Man, or the raw, feet-of-clay humanity of his Fantastic Four.

Lee's Aquaman is an oceanic environmentalist -- environmental themes recur enough through out the series that I'm assuming Lee was sincere about it, and perhaps most reflects the glimmer of that old school Marvel social-relevancy. Ramon Raymond is a normal guy who acquires the super ability to turn into a water creature -- it's one of the more interesting "powers" of Lee's Just Imagine cast, though does harken back, I believe, to an old Bill Everett creation (Everett also the creator of the Sub-Mariner). Ramon has a girlfriend, and a cop brother, giving him some characters to play off of, but the actual adventure plot is pretty thin and generic. The art by Scott McDaniel, with Klaus Janson inks, is appealing and energetic.

Lee's Catwoman is pretty obvious -- a gal who gets cat-like powers. She's super model, Joanie Jordan, by day and Lee has some fun with the modelling world, making use of a cast of humorous friends and colleague...albeit none to any significant effect. Part of the fun of the Just Imagine line was that Lee approached them as if these were the first issues of on going series...but the down side to that is that it's an excuse not to really develop relationships beyond the introduction. Joanie takes to the super hero-ing with enthusiasm, the main emotional conflict being the contrivance that her ex-cop dad hates vigilante super heroes. Her opponent is a rather grisly villain called Furgo the Flesh Crawler with the oddball ability to make people's flesh ooze and run. The art on the story is by Chris Bachalo who has an edgy, stylish style that is kind of neat and effective, providing a counter point to Lee's more straightforward writing (Bachalo sometimes playing around with panel arrangement, such as on the opening page). It's detailed, and mixes the tones of humorous caricature with dark action. At the same time, it can be a bit confusing at times, trying to figure out the action he's drawing.

One significant way Lee's Just imagine stories diverge from his old work is that Lee seems to have embraced the modern era's cavalier attitude to heroes-and-violence. Whether that reflects Lee's attitudes, or simply his pandering to that modern audience or, indeed, is a reflection of the artists' choices, I don't know -- certainly in the Catwoman tale, Bachalo's visuals of Catwoman with her Wolverine-like claws seem to demonstrates a violence that isn't always reflected in Lee's captions!

The best of this collection is the Sandman tale as Lee breaks away from the rather generic super hero origins for something a little wilder and head trippy. Not, admittedly, radical, but at least a little different from the other stories. Here Sandman is astronaut Larry Wilton (what? Lee foregoes his trademark alliteration?!?) who after he is almost murdered during a space walk, find himself in the dreamplane he used to visit in his childhood dreams. It's among the most complex of these tales, the action taking Larry back to the real world where he finds that people are succumbing to a sleeping sickness. It's drawn by comics legend Walt Simonson (inked by Bob Wiacek), who's well suited to depicting the otherworldly dream plane.

Throughout all the Just Imagine stories, Lee had threaded a sub-plot involving an evil cult. In the stories collected here, the cult and its leader, Rev. Darrk, tend to be more paramount, nowhere moreso than in the Sandman story, which is the big showdown between the Sandman and Rev. Darrk. But just as the Sandman story may be the most interesting of the comics in this collection, it also threatens to be the most unsatisfying as a stand alone read, as it pushes us into the maxi-series' final instalment...Crisis.

I had high hopes for Crisis, both because it was drawn by John Cassaday, an artist with an effective, realist style, and because I had liked Lee's previous mid-series teaming of his heroes, in the JLA issue (reprinted in the 2nd TPB, reviewed above). A story teaming up the various heroes promised to let him play around with their personalities more. And certainly there's some of that at first, as all the heroes from the past 11 stories are united to combat a single threat, and bicker and interact. Unfortunately, too few really get much chance to shine, or play off of each other to any great effect. And the "Crisis" of the title, harkening to all those universe shaking events DC churns out on a semi-regular basis, actually turns out to be nothing more than the name of the story's big bad villain. And sure -- he is big, and bad, and threatens the earth. But it still seems a bit...banal.

Because this is the climax of the Just Imagine saga, Lee ties it more heavily into continuity than most of the previous chapters were -- which means it can get a bit confusing, especially if you haven't read the earlier stories too recently (as I hadn't). Still, it does suggest that Lee was planning some things ahead of time, that even seeming throwaway bits in some of the "On the Street" back up tales were providing info that would prove pertinent.

Even as, in other ways, one can't help thinking it's a lot of malarkey!

The telling of the tale itself is also a bit muddled and confused. But that may be Cassaday's fault as much as Lee. Lee tends to provide his artists with the basic story, rather than a detailed scene-by-scene breakdown, allowing the artist a certain freedom to interpret the tale. But as Cassaday remarks in his commentary, this was the "first time" he'd worked in that style, and he may have had trouble figuring out how to flow from one scene to the next without better guidance. And he admits he was sometimes amused at the different ways he and Lee interpreted the finished scene! It's still not a terrible climax to the Just Imagine series...but it's not the high point, either.

Also included in this collection are the short, "On the Street" back up tales...most pretty inconsequential, though boasting some interesting artists, from Silver Age pioneer, Ramona Fradon, to cult favourite Richard Corben, to the critically acclaimed Darwyn Cooke. And entries from the Just Imagine Secret Files one-shot relating to these characters (better to have included entries on the characters from the earlier books).

This emerges as the least of the Just Imagine TPB collections...though that may say as much about it being the final (that is, you can enjoy the earlier tales because you're still waiting to see where it's all headed). At the same time, it's a modestly enjoyable page turner, the stories clipping along well enough, with some cute quips and the like.

Cover price: $__ CDN./$19.95 USA


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