Summer Reading: Finale!

Hey Summer Reading is back for a quick round of short descriptions of books I recommend. This will be more short paragraphs and quick recommendations as I wanted to bring Summer Reading Back for one last hurrah as the season keeps rolling on! I want to thank Kevin who’s Summer Recommendation inspired me to write one last Summer Reading.

Now a couple of these I have reviewed more extensively in the past and a couple of them I plan to do a more extensive review of in the future. So for now these are just the essential words I have on them as to why you should pick these books up to read on your summer vacation.

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Written: Neil Gaiman Art: Andy Kubert This comic made me a fan of Neil Gaiman, someone who’s work prior I haven’t really been all that interested in. His work can best be described (as the man himself described it) “a love letter to Batman and Batman fans” which is exactly what it is, at least in my eyes it is.

The Hardcover is 25 dollars with added works from Gaiman but really you should just pick this up for the main story. It’s only 2 part but it’s 2 amazing reads that are incredibly well done. He takes a more abstract approach from telling a very straight forward story and spins it very nicely.

Obviously I don’t want to spoil all of the great moments or the nice twists during the second half but all I can say as far as the actually content is it’s the funeral of Batman, the many, many funerals of Batman.

There are some moments that are just too good to be true it seems. Their moments that feel simple and make you say “Hey, why didn’t someone else think of that” but at the same time their so brilliant that you wonder if anyone else could do them right. It’s some really incredible stuff.

The second half is definitely the better, it closes with some really inspirational stuff about Batman and goes over the key aspects to Batman as a character. Gaiman paints the perfect picture of the Dark Knight and it’s some amazing stuff really. Kubert’s art hasn’t always been a favorite of mine. He’s great, no doubt about that but at the same time his art just hasn’t always clicked with what I like. Here however he blew me away as he does Batman from all ages and stories and it looks beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

There are 3 other stories written by Neil Gaiman and while they are all right you really should just pick up this deluxe hardcover for the main story.

There is no reason you shouldn’t buy Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader if you are a Batman fan. Either if you grew up with the Dark Knight or you recently got into the character over the last few years this is one of the greatest Batman stories ever. A must have for all Batman fans.

Summer Reading Must Have

Thunderbolts by Warren Ellis volumes 1 and 2 Written: Warren Ellis Art: Mike Deodato There really should be an Omnibus or something collecting all 12 issues of Ellis’ run. It would be a lot easier for you all but for now all we’ve got is these 2 separate volumes even though together both stories build and tell their own storyline.

We start with the formation of the new Thunderbolts for the Initiative fall out of the Civil War event and we end with just absolute insanity.

The first story arc is undeniably not as good as the second, as it’s the second story (Caged Angels) where Ellis really cuts loose and goes wild with the story. Though we get plenty of madness win Faith in Monsters.

The characters are all great, from Songbird to Venom everyone gets their moment in the spotlight. Venom was especially interesting at how Ellis takes a different approach with the villain and turns him from a cocky meat head to more of a power drunk warrior. We only see flashes of it sadly though as this could have been fleshed out more.

Though while all characters here are great the one who steals the show and practically became Ellis’ pet character through these 12 chapters was Norman Osborn. While nowadays Norman is at the top of the food chain, here he was just a simple director of the Thunderbolts trying not to upset a balance.

really excels with Norman’s character and fleshes him out very nicely. Norman has always been a great character over the years, but he’s never been better then under Ellis’ run. Certain lines he throws out are just too sick not to love “Norman will get the girl pregnant and then snap her neck in public. Norman will do everything” it’s so twisted but brilliant at the same time.

Really this could have just been Green Goblin, guest starring the Thunderbolts.Though the best part is what Ellis does with Norman near the end of Caged Angels. To put it simply without actually saying it, Norman puts on some old duds and has a blast.

While Deodato’s work is great I never really appreciated him up until his work on Thunderbolts. He got stuck doing art for one of the most infamous Spider-man storylines (Sin’s Past) and did some work on New Avengers and it was all good but he shines here on Thunderbolts more than ever. The artwork is just absolutely amazing and it brings the twisted horrors to life like no other artist could.

Thunderbolts is undeniably a bit twisted so if you like your straight forward super hero stories you should stay away. But if you’re in the mood to laugh at something horrible then feel bad for it but still keep laughing, this is the book for you. It’s sick, twisted and brilliant all at the same time.

Summer Reading Must Have

Joker Graphic Novel Written: Brian Azarello Art: Lee Bermejo Obviously made to go alongside the mega hit movie the Dark Knight, the Joker graphic novel is some of the best writing and art combination I’ve seen for Batman. (alongside of course with Gaiman/Kubert) The team of Azarello and Bermejo work together to tell an absolutely amazing story.

We get a very dark re-imagining of Gotham City that we can presume is out of continuity. Maybe it’s in the continuity of the movies or maybe a play on the comics continuity, we don’t know and they don’t waste time explaining that.

The main character of this book isn’t exactly Joker, but Jonny Frost. Jonny is a low level criminal looking to make it big. He’s got an ex-wife and some kids that he left behind after going to prison. He’s got a mildly interesting back story but what really makes this character work is how he views the Joker and his dark antics through Gotham.

The story’s main premise is Joker is out of Arkham and he is looking to take Gotham back. How Joker got out of Arkham is a mystery but it’s not really important. Joker hooks up with Killer Croc and soon starts getting old friends together.

Azarello does a great job of building up Joker’s demented character though the eyes of Jonny Frost. Jonny is our window into the world of Gotham and he is how we see things unfold.

A lot of characters are changed. Harley Quinn gets a very updated and different look/personality (she doesn’t utter “Mr. J” or “Puddin” once) along with Killer Croc, Penguin and Two-Face. They are all given more realistic looks and the redesigns are all great. It’s a shame Catwoman isn’t anywhere to be seen.

Azarello does a great job of showing us all these different aspects of Gotham from the slums to the high crime life that the Joker lives. It’s all twisting and sharp smart stuff. Joker himself is a very interesting character. Azarello doesn’t delve too deep into the character as far as what drives and motivates him but he does delve more into who Joker is, even if not why he is that person. We see easily that Joker is someone who acts before thinking and that he’s also a smart criminal even if he has his bad moments.

We also see that somewhere, deep down in the Joker, there is a sliver of a human who feels some odd form of emotion. We only see it in a split second of Joker crying and hugging Harley but it spoke volumes as to that there is something, even if only a sliver mind you, in there.

As a villain he clashes with other villains, mainly Two-Face, though I’m obviously not going to spoil the outcome. It is a brilliant “making your way back to the top” kind of storyline at the people Joker guns down to get back where he belongs.

Batman himself is merely a presence through the story. He does finally act near the end and clashes with the Joker eventually but up until then Azarello does a good job of keeping Batman as a shadow following his nemesis around.

Bermejo’s art is absolutely amazing. Sadly he can’t do the entire comic in painted form but his pencils work, rough as it is, is still great and fits the story nicely. His work switches back and forth from regular work to painted and I almost wonder if there’s a bit of a reason for it. Rather than him just randomly doing painted work here and there. It seems that whenever the Joker is most prominent the work seems more vibrant and painted, possibly showing us the world from his perspective whereas from Jonny’s perspective the world is rougher.

is an absolutely thrilling story that has action, suspense, great moments and characters and has the formula for a great memorable dark twisting tale of Batman that fans of the movies and comics should enjoy.

Summer Reading Must Have

New Avengers the Illuminati Written: Brian Bendis and Brian Reed Art: Jim Cheung I’m giving this book a recommendation for the bigger Marvel fans out there who want a more enjoyable Super Hero tale as an alternative to Ellis’ craziness on Thunderbolts.

book is definitely something that die hard Marvel fans will appreciate and no doubt enjoy and get something out of. Though for the less devoted fans like myself it’s still a great read even if a little disjointed in the 5 different stories in one book.

Really it’s a collection of 5 different stories (2 that actually connect) involving a secret organization of big heroes in the Marvel Universe. Iron Man, Namor, Blackbolt, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange and Professor X. The Illuminati’s job is to be a secret force keeping watch of earth and protecting it as best as they can.

They tackle the Beyonder, Skrulls, Marvel Boy and the Infinity Gems to try and defend their world but really it seems they did more damage then good.With Marvel Boy it was clear Bendis was sewing the seeds of the renegade’s eventual turn to hero for the Dark Avengers.

The Skrulls obviously lead in to Secret Invasion and the events of Illuminati are actually the main catalysts for the invasion. Obviously that adds more importance to the series and gives it even more weight in the current continuity of the Marvel Universe but that’s not why I’m giving this book such a high recommendation.

This book is full of great character moments which is the main recommendation. Bendis and Reed work together and tell 5 enjoyable stories that have great moments for the characters and very nice interactions. The best moment had to be a discussion between the Illuminati about their love lives. It was hilarious.

Cheung’s art is absolutely great stuff. He’s got to be the best artist at Marvel right now. Marvel has a ton of great artists but Cheung has the most distinct and appealing style for me at least and his work here on the Illuminati is really incredible stuff.

Really I’m giving this a recommendation for Marvel readers only. If you’re strictly DC or Indy then you probably won’t get as much out of this as a Marvel fan. That being said either way it’s still a great book.

Summer Reading Must Have

Spawn: Endgame volume 1 Written: Brian Holguin and Todd McFarlane Art: Whilce Portacio Looking at my list I think I should have at least one really good “new reader friendly” book on this list and while Thunderbolts is a good one I need to give some love to one of my favorite comics of all time, Spawn. Spawn is the comic that got me back into comics a few years ago and I’ve been reading it religiously (pun very much so intended) for the last few years and I’ve happily picked up the Spawn Collections.

Sadly Spawn Collections have been canceled in favor of the much smaller Spawn: Origins Collections which I refuse to buy. So if you’re looking to get into Spawn but don’t want to start all the way from the beginning then Endgame is the perfect book for you.

First what the story did that shocked Spawn fans across the world, killing off Al Simmons the main protagonist for the last 15 years of Spawn greatness. Al blows his brains out in a spectacular green light show and Jim Downing awakens and soon becomes the new Spawn. Something a lot of Spawn fans are angry over but I’ve given the newbie a chance I’ve grown fond of him as he’s been fleshed out nicely.

Jim is introduced as Patient 47, a once comatose man who awakens just as Al blows his brains out giving us an obvious connection between the two. What starts from Jim’s awakening is a whole mess of insanity, doctors trying to mooch off him, a mysterious man in the shadows doing surveillance and even heaven shows up to try and get their hands on him.

Endgame almost didn’t make it onto the list for it’s most glaring issue and that’s the pacing. McFarlane opted for a slow burn story rather than having Jim in the Spawn costume by chapter 2. Now some favor a story where the hero takes along time to put on the mask and I can appreciate a methodical build up but I think 4 issues was 1 issue too many to finally have Jim hit the streets.

By the 4th chapter I was near pulling my hair out for him to go Spawn already. We get glimpses in the prior 2 chapters but all we get are flashes of him as Spawn. It isn’t until the 5th chapter of Endgame that Spawn actually starts kicking ass.

Still we get a lot of solid dialogue, something that Brian Holguin absolutely excels at and it’s for this that I’m sad to see him off the book with volume 2 of Endgame. McFarlane does a good job on his own but still Holguin is a master of keeping even the longest conversation fresh and interesting to read.

Endgame also has it’s boring plots, the plot of why a man kills himself is an absolute snore fest. Also with Jim building up to become Spawn he doesn’t start out all that great really even though by the 6th chapter he is well developed at first he starts out as a very boring character.

Outside of Spawn himself we get Jim’s only friend/possible love interest Sarah the nurse who would visit him when he was in a coma and confess all her problems to him. Holguin does a great job of developing her into a flawed but lovable character who I have come to really enjoy and hope she sticks around as a main cast member. In chapter 2 she gets a real tear jerker moment with Jim.

I would be an idiot not to mention the incredible artwork by Whilce Portacio. While he takes a little bit of getting into the swing of things by the final chapter of this book he is fully in to the Spawn book and I must admit that his art is the best art I’ve seen on Spawn since the great Greg Capullo himself graced the comic.

There’s also some nice bonus s tuff but to be honest it’s just some little editorial bits of showing coloring differences and a nice cover gallery. Just a nice little extra really.

Starting with a strong chapter and even though it falters a bit by the end I’d say Endgame volume 1 is a satisfying book that is great for anyone who wants to get into the great Spawn comic.

Summer Reading Must Have

All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder volume 1 Written: Frank Miller Art: Jim Lee Similar to my suggestion Illuminati suggestion, I should warn that All Star Batman comes with a recommendation specifically for a certain readers. If you have a high love for the classic “can do no wrong” Batman then you will hate All Star Batman. If you love Frank Miller and his gritty noir like storytelling along with a edgy over the top Batman then you will absolutely love All Star Batman.

Taking place in the Dark Knight Returns universe of DC’s Multiverse All Star Batman is heavily out of continuity like it’s brother book All Star Superman. Miller has stated that the book takes place in between Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. Still near the beginning few years of Batman’s career before he became the refined hero.

A lot of people hate this book, claiming it takes everything Miller did and throws it out the window as Batman is a much more over the top and violent vigilante than ever. I love that. As if Batman is supposed to be a cuddly fuzzy loving vigilante who just slaps the criminals around into a jail cell.

Batman is a hard crazy guy dressing like a Bat to scare the hell out of criminals. It’s who he is, and while sure this isn’t as nice a version it’s still Batman at it’s core. Here he just happens to do more permanent damage to criminals rather than tying them up and tossing them into a police car.

Here Batman goes crazy, setting people on fire, shattering bones, it’s intense stuff. Though really at the same time it’s a really nice twist from Miller to give us a much more sadistic Dark Knight who doesn’t just want to jail the bad guys but he wants them to feel hurt for their crimes. Something only a vigilante can do, even if he doesn’t kill anybody.

Of course there was a bit of controversy over Batman’s nickname through this storyline. “the Goddamn Batman” has never been said so many times in one book. While at first it’s only said a couple of times, by the 7th chapter it does get a little ridiculous abut at the same time it’s humorous and does fit perfectly with this over the top Batman.

isn’t the only character here though, we also of course get Dick Grayson as Robin. We start from the very beginning as far as Dick’s origin as the first chapter deals with the death of his parents and by the 9th and final chapter an evolution is made from scared child in shock to hero in training.

Dick Grayson is handled nicely as his character battles with shock and bravery as he struggles not to cry over his parent’s death and gets some “help” from Batman (I really don’t want to spoil what he does, it’s a bit twisted and surprising to see from Batman is all I can say) Dick progresses from grief, to anger and rage, to fear, to becoming a detective and the perfect side kick that Batman is looking for.

Of course it isn’t just Batman and Robin here. We see Batgirl, Black Canary, the Joker, Catwoman and the Justice League. Miller stuffs his own universe into All Star Batman and it really works as we get lots of great moments between them all.

Joker himself is just brilliantly done. Rather than the cackling maniac we’re all familiar with Miller takes a much more haunting approach.

With the Justice League Miller seems to poke fun at the DCU. Especially with Hal Jordan, he points out the often unimaginative constructs the silver age version of Hal would use and it makes for some hilarious back and forth with Green Lantern and Batman. We also see development that ties this book more into the DKR universe with Superman and Wonder Woman having a relationship as they revealed in The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Miller does a great job of building up this universe in the first volume of All Star Batman for the later volumes to continue from and build upon as the story continues.

One draw I do find with the story is the pacing is fairly slow. Miller gives us a slow burning story and in the first volume there really isn’t a clash or any epic battle to conclude on. The story will just keep on rolling and continuing from each chapter despite volumes.

Volume one does have a satisfying conclusion though as we see the full circle of Dick Grayson becoming Robin. The final page between Batman and Robin perfectly caps off the first volume.

I would be a fool not to mention Jim Lee’s incredible artwork. Much as I’ve loved his work over the years, I’ve never really felt that a lot of writers have pushed the writer to even great heights. At least that is how I feel when looking at his older stuff like Batman: Hush.

Just by reading the script for issue #1 though I could tell that Miller really was pushing Lee to outdo himself and reach higher than he’s ever been before. This is definitely Lee’s best work yet (to me at least) as he pulls off some really incredible images and his art fits perfectly with the dark crazy tone Miller gives the story.

All Star Batman is a book that I highly recommend to anyone who can have fun and enjoys some real crazy fun and over the top storytelling with absolutely amazing.

Summer Reading Must Have

So that’s it. This turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it was. I thought I’d have done well if I got at least 5 paragraphs per book. Guess I had a lot more to say than I thought. There where some books I wanted to recommend, but since I haven’t read all of them I didn’t feel right. Megatron: Origin and the Invincible Ultimate Collections are going to have to wait until next year’s Summer Reading.

That’s all for now folks, go out, enjoy this books and have a great Summer!

2 Comments

  1. Good choice of books Andrenn. I liked reading Miller and Lee's take on Batman. I just wish that the delays between each issue weren't so ridiculous. It's been quite some time since Issue 10 was released and I have no idea if there is going to be an issue 11.

  2. The good thing about Miller and Lee's Batman is that even if you don't like it (I LOVED it, by the way) you have that awesome Batcave render that's worth issue 4's price alone.

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