Adam Bender reviews… Comics!

Reading comics is one hobby that’s stayed with me since childhood. A new crop of writers and artists are keeping the genre fresh and telling smart stories that even mature readers can love.

Here’s some of my recent Goodreads reviews, reprinted for your bloggy enjoyment. Let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions on what I should read next!

Batman, Volume 1: I Am GothamBatman, Volume 1: I Am Gotham by Tom King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After the great Snyder / Capullo run, I was skeptical of a fresh creative crew coming on board, but the new team of King and Finch really works! It’s a bit of a slow start with the initial “Rebirth” comic (which happens to be co-written by Snyder), but I raced through Batman #1-6, enjoying every minute.

King packs in the action without losing the intelligence of a good Batman comic. And whereas I felt Snyder sometimes gets a little excessive with trying to be epic, King’s narrative approach feels a little leaner and more streamlined. Finch’s art is also exceptional — it just has a real classic feel with action that’s easy to follow.

I also loved King’s superb work on The Vision, so I’m excited to find out where he takes Batman next!

Speaking of King’s Marvel Comics series…

The Vision, Volume 2: Little Better than a BeastThe Vision, Volume 2: Little Better than a Beast by Tom King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, Tom King knocks it out of the park again in the second half of his Vision story. This book’s got everything — a clever premise, memorable characters, beautiful art, robots with feelings… If you like sci-fi, even if you don’t necessarily consider yourself a comics fan — you owe it to yourself to read this book. King is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers in comics today.

No need to have any background on The Vision, though you’ll definitely want to start with The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man. Maybe watch the second Avengers movie if you want a quick take on his origin, but not necessary.

Superman: American AlienSuperman: American Alien by Max Landis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fresh spin on Superman, this mini-series captures what it’s like to grow up feeling like an alien. It gives the Kryptonian a humanness that often gets left out of stories about the Man of Steel. The artwork varies in style with the tone of the story, showcasing some of the best artists in comics today.

The hardcover edition is beautifully presented with vivid colors and interesting extras showing original sketches and layouts. One complaint with that edition, however, is that occasionally part of the image and even text gets caught in the fold due to the way the pages are bound together.

Descender, Volume Three: SingularitiesDescender, Volume Three: Singularities by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Volume 3 loses some of the momentum of previous books, with each issue focusing on flashbacks to flesh out the backgrounds of various characters. These characters needed more fleshing out, so it’s good to get to know more about them. Also, the issues about the robots characters are particularly clever. But like season two of Lost — when it took many episodes to resolve a single, short event — this book doesn’t do much to resolve the cliffhangers from Volume 2.

Of course, it’s hard to nitpick a book that looks this good. Nguyen’s watercolors shine once more, transporting the reader to a fully envisioned sci-fi universe. And Lemire continues to do a great job mixing action, humor and the bittersweet.

Just don’t come into this one expecting much progression of the main plot.

Well that’s all for today! Follow me on Goodreads to keep tabs on what I’m reading!

Adam Bender reads … Superhero Comics!

He also reads other people's books.
Adam also reads books by other authors

When Adam Bender’s not writing, he’s reading. Or doing other stuff, maybe. I mean, he can’t just be reading or writing all the time, can he?

But I digress (and switch suddenly to first person). Here is a selection of my latest book reviews on Goodreads. If you’re a Goodreads user, please follow me to keep updated on what I’m reading. You can even review my books if you want! The shoe is on the other foot now, eh?

Hm, that’s a weird expression. Oh well. Without further ado, book reviews! And today, a special SUPERHERO EDITION!

Moon Knight, Vol. 1: From the DeadMoon Knight, Vol. 1: From the Dead by Warren Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A visual feast for the eyes! This comic is all about style — almost like Kill Bill in book form. There’s a lot of action and not a huge amount of dialog, so the pages go by fast. The writer and artist were definitely in sync with this one, making the images feel like they’re in motion.

Warning: this is a dark, weird and blisteringly violent comic. If you’re into stuff by Frank Miller or Alan Moore, you’ll probably dig it. But it’s not for the faint of heart!

Ant-Man, Vol. 1: Second-Chance ManAnt-Man, Vol. 1: Second-Chance Man by Nick Spencer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like a little humor with your superheroes, Ant-Man is the comic book for you. Nick Spencer killed it on The Superior Foes of Spider-Man and the spirit of that (sadly) canceled series lives on here! In fact, it’s actually kind of fitting, since Scott Lang (Ant-Man) used to be a criminal himself and doesn’t have problems working with other reformed criminals.

The story here takes a lot of unexpected turns, which adds a lot of originality to a genre that can at times feel stale. In that way, I think that Spencer, like Matt Fraction, are really doing a lot to reinvigorate superhero comics.

Of course, a lot of the humor would be lost without the great artwork by Ramon Rosanos. There’s something about the facial expressions and body positions he draws that really enhances the storytelling. A lot of the cleverness in the writing could easily be lost without Rosanos on-board.

A fun book all around!

Iron Man: Demon in a BottleIron Man: Demon in a Bottle by David Michelinie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For quite some time, I’ve been wanting to read the comic where Tony Stark has a drinking problem. Okay, that sounds kind of weird, but it’s true. This is the volume that includes the classic “Demon in a Bottle” comic.

What I didn’t realize is that it’s mainly the one issue (the last in this collection) that deals with it. The first seven issues show Tony having occasional drinks but he doesn’t really hit rock bottom until the issue before the eponymous #128. The storyline up to that point focuses on Justin Hammer messing with Iron Man’s suit. It’s a fun but not totally absorbing superhero adventure, and I felt a bit bored at times. So, if you’re just reading this for the drinking problem stuff, you might be better off buying digital single issues of #127 and #128.

That said, that last issue is pretty great. It’s pretty interesting to see a comic take on an issue like drinking and do it in a way that feels organic to the plot. Even more commendable is that the guy with the problem here is Iron Man himself! I’ve seen a lot of comics address addiction issues through sidekicks and friends of sidekicks, so it’s great to see Marvel had the guts to use one of their biggest stars.

Robin The Boy Wonder: A Celebration of 75 YearsRobin The Boy Wonder: A Celebration of 75 Years by Bill Finger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like the Batman and Joker volumes before it, this another great hardcover reproduction of classic Batman stories. Robin is a character with an interesting history, because he’s had so many different secret identities. Each of them reflect the times in which they were created.

In this volume, you get a bunch of classic tales, including “Robin Dies at Dawn” (he doesn’t really) and the “Death in the Family” issue where the Joker kills Jason Todd, the second Robin (he really does). The collection kind of loses steam as soon as Tim Drake comes onto the scene, which was a bit surprising because I always liked the character in the ’90s. Maybe it’s because his issues tend to deal with teenager life stuff and I’m no longer a teen.

It’s definitely worth reading if you like the character, and there’s plenty of Dick Grayson here, but I would recommend some supplemental reading to get a better feel for the other Robins. For example, there’s only single issues here from the larger story arcs Batman: A Death in the Family, Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying, and Batman and Son. It’s worth checking out these other books to get a better feel for Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne.

You should also check out the excellent Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn, in which Dick Grayson is Batman and Damian Wayne is Robin.

Well, that’s the end of today’s edition of Adam Bender reads … If you’ve read any of the above books, I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below! Or let me know what books you think I should read next!

Batman editor takes on The Wanderer

Rachel Gluckstern

Big news for my upcoming third novel! I’m excited to announce that Rachel Gluckstern will edit The Wanderer and the New West.

Rachel is an award-winning editor who worked more than ten years at DC Comics, including as editor of the Batman Group from 2010 to 2015. Follow Rachel on Twitter and check out her LinkedIn profile for more details. We connected on Reedsy, an innovative web platform that helps authors find freelance publishing assistance. Be sure to check out my interview with Reedsy co-founder Emmanuel Nataf.

Rachel will be doing content and copy editing on The Wanderer to sharpen my prose and, generally, to keep me from looking like a hack. I’d be lying if I said comic books didn’t influence the knockabout action in my new book, and I believe Rachel’s experience with action/adventure stories will really give the novel a boost.

I completed my own edits for The Wanderer last week, and–if you’ll allow my biased opinion–it’s a fun and topical book. The story is set in a possible future won by gun evangelists and advocates for hands-off government. Plagued by shootings, this America has returned to the ways of the Wild West, a lawless land where people make their own justice.

Keep your eye on this blog and please sign up for my newsletter for more updates!

Holy Reboot, Batman! DC Comics Now More Accessible

Detective Comics #1 is a must read for Bat-fans

I’ve been following the DC Comics reboot with a lot of interest. I’ve always been a comic book fan but for the last several years have felt a bit left behind.  Too many conflicts in the so-called “continuity” had made it hard for even a fan to explain what was happening.  Some heroes had died and come back, others gone evil and back.  Or both, in the case of Green Lantern.

So I’m glad they’ve decided to start fresh and renumber every comic back to #1.  I know some people out there are miffed at the lost history, but I personally was getting tired of having to go to Wikipedia every time a comic referenced a mysterious super vortex first seen in issue 367. I was also getting sick of all the crises constantly afflicting the DC universe.  Seriously, they had a “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” an “Infinite Crisis” and a “Final Crisis,” and the last two happened in the span of a few years.  I don’t care about earth-shattering events; I just want to read a good story!

Swamp Thing #1: Better than you might think!

And good stories they are.  DC so far has only released about 14 of the planned 52 books labeled #1 this month, but there have already been some winners.  I’ve read five of them — Justice League, Action Comics (Superman), Detective Comics (Batman), Swamp Thing and BatgirlJustice League is a great introduction to the DC Universe and has more action than a Michael Bay picture (in a good way). If you’re looking for something a a little darker and more sophisticated, check out Detective Comics, which is a classic Joker story with a twist, or Swamp Thing, a devilish tale of  horror (environmental horror?)

Action Comics reminded me of old-school 1940s Superman, but didn’t wow me as much as the others (though I guess some might find it interesting seeing Superman in jeans and a T-shirt). But then, I’ve always been more of a Batman fan. The Batgirl book has strong writing, but feels very much like the first in a larger story arc. Oddly, it also seems to require some knowledge of the character’s past.

The thing I think is really going to boost sales at DC Comics isn’t the narrative reboot, though. It’s digital comics.

Have you heard about this yet? You can now buy digital versions of all of the new comics, the day they are released, and read them on your PC, smartphone or tablet.

This addresses two of the main reasons I stopped buying actual issues of comic books:

  1. I had to make special trips every time I wanted to go to a comic book store. The two shops I know of in Washington, DC are in Georgetown (which takes a Metro ride and a bus transfer to get to), and Union Station (which also requires a $2 Metro ride)
  2. I have very little space to store comic books.

Digital solves both of these problems.  I can buy a comic with a mouse click or a tap on my phone’s touch screen, and they’re all stored online so I don’t have to buy an entire filing cabinet.  The price per comic feels a little steep since it’s the same as what you’d pay for a print edition, but damn if it isn’t convenient.  Longtime comics fans might scoff at the idea, but I am sure it’s going to bring in a lot of people like me who were having trouble keeping up.

What do you think of the DC reboot? Does digital distribution make the difference? Please leave a comment below!

Batman Still Cool in the Future

The idea of taking classic characters and sticking them 50 years in the future never appealed to me. So when I heard they were doing it to my favorite DC Comics hero Batman, I was less than eager to see the results. The show introduced a “younger, hipper” Batman who wasn’t even in the comics, and it was easy to see that the creators meant this to replace their classic Batman: The Animated Series.

Batman Beyond

It seemed like a pure marketing move. It was 1999, a year before the millennium, and everything on TV seemed to be going space age. Even the creators of The Simpsons were making Futurama.

So I never really got into Batman Beyond. I watched a handful of episodes, and that was the end of it. But now, more than a decade later, I decided it was time to give it a second chance.

Let me tell you, I was wrong to abandon this show back in the day. The first thing that struck me about Batman Beyond was how dark it is. This was a Saturday morning cartoon, but season one’s topics include chemical warfare and drug overdosing. The next thing I noticed was how well it honored the Batman character’s past despite taking place so far in the future. While most of the villains are brand new, there are references and sometimes entire episodes about classic villains. Particularly clever is an episode discussing what happened to Bane (the villain of the next Batman movie) after pumping himself with the steroid-like “venom” his entire life.

Did I mention that Will Friedle (Eric from Boy Meets World) provided the voice of the new Batman? That’s almost as awesome as Mr. Feeny doing the voice of KITT on Knight Rider!

Batman's secret identity?

You can get all 52 episodes on DVD for about $50 if you shop around online. If you’re any kind of comics fan, you owe it to yourself to check this show out. The writing is terrific, not to mention the shway pre-digital animation.

If you like it, I also recommend the feature-length film Return of the Joker. It’s even darker than the show (so much so that they released censored and unrated versions) and includes flashbacks of present-day Batman.