Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately. Today’s edition includes thoughts on Dark Knights of Steel, Newburn, Human Target and more.
Let us know what you’ve been reading lately in the comments or on social media.
Most of us remember Elseworlds, right? Ubiquitous in the DC Comics of the 1990s, they mixed and matched familiar superheroes with non-traditional surroundings. These included at least two medieval and/or fantasy-themed stories, League of Justice and Superman: Kal. Now there’s Dark Knights of Steel #1, an Elseworlds without the branding, written by Tom Taylor and drawn by Yasmine Putri. It’s a decent introduction, emphasizing style and relationships over plot. Actually, that’s a little unfair – this issue does have a plot, involving Batman and friends arresting a “banshee,” and the ensuing complications – but the series’ overall plot is only a hint at this point.
Here, Jor-El and Lara both escape to Earth, where she gives birth to Kal-El. Nineteen years later, Kal is the prince of Castle El, which is also the home of Batman, various Robins, and court jester Harley Quinn. There are prophecies about demons from the sky, murmurs of assassins, and a climactic parental revelation. Still, most of it trades on standard Elseworlds juxtapositions, where everything’s just scrambled enough that you can’t guess where it might go. (Black Lightning is an evil king now, for instance.) Taylor also doesn’t try to hide everyone’s “real” identities too much – everyone is referred to by first names which haven’t been Olde Anglicized – so that took me out of the story a little.
It does look great, though. Putri’s uncomplicated style makes the script’s expository passages go down more smoothly; but there are a couple of action sequences where the art is suitably bombastic. In the end, that’s enough to get me to come back for the next issue.
Speaking of alternate timelines, next up is the Batman/Superman Authority Special. It was written by Philip Kennedy Johnson, with tag-team pencils from Trevor Hairsine and Ben Templesmith, Jonathan Glapion, Scott Hanna and Rain Beredo inked Hairsine, while Templesmith inked himself. There’s no separate colorist credit, so I suppose the pencillers did that as well…? Anyway, the art is split between DC-Earth and the “Shadow Earth” from the Dark Multiverse. That’s right, we’re back in Metal territory, but this time the sense of inevitable doom and gloom isn’t that pervasive.
The issue picks up after the Superman and the Authority miniseries, with Supes’ new team assembled in the Fortress of Solitude at the request of Batman. He’s discovered a Dark Multiverse Earth where the al-Ghūl family has been in control for generations, crushing all resistance utterly and completely. Now Batman wants to take them out before they get a chance to invade the main Earth-Zero, and he wants the Authority to do it. No problem for a team that includes Superman, Apollo, Midnighter and Enchantress, right?
Well (spoilers) … yes. I mean, it’s just a one-shot, you know? The real fun of this issue is the first meeting of Batman and Midnighter, because the latter gets to make merciless fun of the former. Meanwhile, Batman is very much in elder-statesman mode, respectful of the Authoritarians but not taking a lot of guff either. It’s a neat little package of superheroic action, and it has me excited for the upcoming Authority/Warworld storyline in the Superman books.
I also read Human Target #1, written by Tom King and drawn by Greg Smallwood. I have developed a love-hate relationship with Mr. King’s writing over the years. I really enjoyed Grayson and the first part of his Batman run, but since then the returns have been diminishing. Thankfully, Human Target presents a straightforward murder mystery starring a character who’s in the superhero world but not really a part of it. Christopher Chance, our headliner, is hard-boiled enough to be firmly within King’s wheelhouse. He also doesn’t come with a lot of fan expectations; and while he’s at the center of the plot, so far he doesn’t seem to have done anything to set it in motion.
Indeed, King tells the story from Chance’s point of view, which I think is a bit of a departure from his other recent miniseries. Naturally, it goes a long way towards humanizing Chance, while avoiding the sort of impersonal remove that characterized miniseries like Strange Adventures and Omega Men. The result is a script whose retro-noir touches don’t feel like affectations. It reminded me of Darwyn Cooke’s “Parker” adaptations.
Smallwood’s art is also reminiscent of Cooke, albeit not as stylized. Instead, it uses softer lines and muted colors, giving the issue the palette of an old pulp-paperback cover. Carmine Infantino co-created the Human Target (with Len Wein), and in a nice touch, Smallwood’s Christopher Chance is very Infantino-esque. It would be too cute by half to suggest that Chance is a character King can’t screw up, so I will repeat that Human Target #1 presents a good union of character and creative team. Here’s hoping that holds true for the rest of the miniseries.
Finally, this goes back a few weeks, but the last story in the Avengers Epic Collection: The Final Threat paperback is a 1977 two-parter from writer/artist Jim Starlin. Spanning Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2, it featured Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, plus the Thing and Spider-Man, joining forces with Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock to defeat Thanos. Cosmic clashes in the Mighty Marvel Manner, amirite?
While there is plenty of action, Starlin seems to have forgotten a couple of things. Specifically, despite the Avengers making some cool entrances, no one cries “Avengers Assemble!” Even worse, bashful Ben Grimm never informs Thanos or anyone else that it is, in fact, clobberin’ time! I re-read these issues just now to make sure. Thor says “To arms, Avengers,” and Ben talks about “Dr. Grimm’s world-famous knockout formula,” but I think that’s Starlin trying to be too good for catchphrases. In the words of the idol of millions, “Wotta revoltin’ development!”
Chip Zdarsky and Jacob Phillips are two of my favorite creators, between That Texas Blood and Daredevil and, well, the laundry list of titles that Zdarsky writes nowadays. But I’m not sure I would have ever thought to put their two styles together.
In the first issue of Newburn, the combination works — really well. This is a slow burn crime comic, the kind Phillips excels at, with a very different kind of lead than we’re used to in these sorts of stories. Which is something that Zdarsky excels at writing. It’s a nicely done introduction to the world our lead, Newburn, inhabits, that also sets up some fun possibilities for the future. Recommended.