This month sees the return of another old comics tradition: annuals. Originally they were meant to be extra-sized issues which served as the culmination for a year’s worth of stories. At least, that’s what I remember hearing. One time. Somewhere on the internet. Anyway, the reason you don’t see them as much now is that they eventually became a kind of vestigal part of comics publishing -- something that they did because you had to have an annual every year, even if it didn’t tie into the main title. They were eventually scaled way back, to the point where whenever you did see one it was usually because it had a story necessary to the main title that couldn’t be fit in otherwise. They’re back now and most of them seem appropriately vestigal. The sole exception appears to be the “Green Lantern” one by Johns and Van Sciver which wraps up the current “Revenge of the Black Hand” arc. Probably not a surprise to see that the one example of how to do these things is coming from them..
Superman: Earth One vol. 2: With all the origin stuff out of the way, my hope was that this next volume would be free to tell some interesting stories with the character in this new “Ultimate” setting. And that most of it would involve Lex Luthor as well. That won’t be happening here as the main villain is going to be the Parasite and we’re getting a story of someone who has Superman’s powers but not his morals and a merely mortal Clark Kent. J. Michael Straczynski hasn’t had the best track record of late, but I’m going to try and be optimistic here. Also, the fact that this volume is arriving about a year and a half since the first volume is itself a great argument for the graphic novel format. At 136 pages, there’s a little more than six issues worth of content here and I’m betting that having that content dripped out over a quarterly schedule would’ve killed any storytelling and sales momentum it had.
Batman: The Dark Knight vol. 1 -- Knight Terrors: Along those lines, I just wanted to say that after a first series of five issues that came out haphazardly and with some that weren’t entirely illustrated by David “The Whole Reason This Series Exists” Finch, this one collects eight issues illustrated by him that came out on time. And one fill-in. I’ve got no plans to buy it, the series seems to be aimed at fans of teeth-grinding extreemness, but he deserves credit for finding a system that works for him.
Batman: Arkham City: This story serves as the “bridge” between the “Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham City” games. If that were all there was to it, I wouldn’t be giving this series a second look. However, it’s written by Paul Dini who, aside from being a Bat-writer of considerable talent, also wrote both games. So there’s actually a pretty good chance that it’ll actually be a worthwhile read instead of the usual superfluous dreck that is videogame tie-in stories.
Stormwatch vol. 2 HC: This collects vols. 3 & 4, and most of vol. 5 of the trade paperbacks and contains the first appearances of Apollo and The Midnighter, as well as the first mention of the boundary between universes known as the “Bleed.” If you’ve never read these before, then this comes highly recommended. Warren Ellis’ work here kept getting better as it went along until it mutated into “The Authority” and delivered a figurative nutshot to superhero comics at the time. The catch here is that it doesn’t appear to be collecting the “Wildcats vs. Aliens” (yes THOSE “Aliens”) one-shot where Ellis killed off most of the team. Most people were surprised by the fact that the issue was collected at all due to the rights issues with 20th Century Fox, but whatever deal they struck then seems to have lapsed now. Too bad. It was a fun one-off and it’ll be interesting to see how they explain the death of most of the team and destruction of Skywatch between issues #10 & #11.
Death: The Deluxe Edition: Aside from the two “Death” mini-series written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Bachalo and Mark Buckingham, this looks to collect every other one-off and short featuring the character. I don’t have all of everything collected here, but I have the majority of what is. It’s also worth mentioning that it was the first “Death” mini-series that finally got me to read “Sandman” as Gaiman’s depiction of the character as an effortlessly upbeat goth was as charming as it was against the grain. So I decided to start with vol. 2 of the series, “The Doll’s House,” because it had two appearances by her, and even though I was hopelessly lost at first the story really grew on me in the end. The rest, as they say, is history.
Hellblazer #294: Wow, we’re closing in on issue #300 aren’t we. Guess I’d better start catching up. I also think that Peter Milligan has written more issues here than any other writer in the title’s history. In spite of this, I’m hard pressed to think of a story he wrote that really knocked my socks off. Even Mike Carey had one in “The Gift” and most of his run annoyed the hell out of me. Short version: I like reading “John Constantine: Hellblazer,” not “John Constantine: Bitch.”