Comic Review: Batman: A Death In the Family

Published: 1988
Written by: Jim Starlin
Art by: Jim Aparo, Mike DeCarlo, Adrienne Roy

DC Comics, 142 Pages

Review:

A Death In the Family was one of the biggest Batman stories to happen around the time that I was getting into comics as a serious reader and not just a casual one, who just occasionally picked up stuff other than G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

When I was in elementary school, this is a story that all the kids talked about and I remember trading my hardcover copy of Arkham Asylum for this and The Killing Joke. I felt like I definitely won in that trade and it’s mainly because of this story.

I was the rare Jason Todd fan. Sure, nowadays other people like him because of how he came back as the Red Hood and carved out his own legacy. Before that, however, people pretty much hated Jason. I think I mainly liked him because he was Robin when I started paying attention and I saw through him being a prickish pain in the ass and knew that there was something deeper inside him that was needing to come out. The problems Jason presented Bruce/Batman with were different than Dick Grayson’s, the original Robin. He simply made things more interesting, as you knew his attitude and temperament would somehow come to a head in a big way.

While I love this story and I really liked how it altered the Batman series going forward, I always thought that Jason died too early and that they missed out on exploring him more. I guess that’s why I really gravitated towards his stories when he finally did return, nearly two decades later.

In regards to this story, it’s exceptionally well written and presented with great care and a respect for the character, even though the fans called a hotline and actually voted for Jason Todd to die.

This is still one of the best, all-time classic Batman stories ever written. It also has great art by Jim Aparo.

I liked that this takes things out of Gotham City and that the story is kicked off by Jason Todd discovering that his biological mother is out there, somewhere. He goes in search of her and while that’s happening, The Joker is off selling a missile to a Middle Eastern tyrant, which brings his story and Jason’s crashing together in a tragic and emotional way.

Jason does find his mother but what he finds with that costs him his life and turns Batman into someone that wants vengeance against The Joker for what he did to the child that Batman was supposed to raise and protect.

This is a pretty heartbreaking story that has stood the test of time and is still emotional, even if you are aware of what actually happens to Jason Todd after his death.

If you are a fan of the Caped Crusader and haven’t read this, you probably should.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other Batman comics of the late ’80s/early ’90s, as well as the early Red Hood stories from the ’00s.

Comic Review: Doctor Strange – Epic Collection: A Separate Reality

Published: October 19th, 2016
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 480 Pages

Review:

I’ve been going back and picking up a lot of ’70s Doctor Strange floppy issues, lately. Mainly, I love Marvel’s art style with their fantasy and horror titles from the decade and Doctor Strange had some of the best covers from that time. But after reading a few of the singles issues, I wanted to delve into a much larger chunk, so I gave this huge Epic Collection release a read.

This actually focuses on the end of Doctor Strange’s first solo series, his complete run in Marvel Premiere and then the first handful of issues of his second solo series.

This also features a ton of great artists and writers, as well as adapting some of H.P. Lovecraft’s characters and concepts into the Marvel Universe, beyond what was done in just the Conan titles.

Furthermore, this collection features just about all of the major Doctor Strange villains of the era with a lot of emphasis on Nightmare.

This was, hands down, one of the best Doctor Strange trade paperbacks I have ever read and it only solidified my love for the character from this era. It also kind of made me wish they’d have done something with Strange and Conan back in the ’70s due to the Lovecraftian flavor of this book.

I’ll be in search of other hefty collections of Doctor Strange from the ’70s and early ’80s because this was just damn cool and featured so much imagination and stupendous art. I wish people didn’t sleep on old school Doctor Strange, it’s really, really great stuff.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other old school Doctor Strange collections, as well as ’70s Marvel fantasy and horror comics.

Documentary Review: Marvel 75 Years: From Pulp to Pop! (2014)

Release Date: November 4th, 2014
Music by: Lauren Pardini, Daniel Sternbaum
Cast: Axel Alonso, Hayley Atwell, Gerry Conway, Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Seth Green, Clark Gregg, Jimmy Kimmel, Stan Lee, Ralph Macchio, Todd McFarlane, Patton Oswalt, Nicole Perlman, Joe Quesada, Peter Sanderson, Jim Shooter, Kevin Smith, Jim Starlin, Emily VanCamp, Len Wein, Ming-Na Wen

ABC Studios, Disney, Marvel, 42 Minutes

Review:

I recently reviewed a short, made-for-TV documentary on Disney+ called Assembling a Universe. That one was a piece on how Disney and Marvel assembled a movie franchise based off of Marvel’s rich treasure trove of characters and stories.

This short documentary is kind of more of the same but it focuses mostly on the comic books themselves and how Marvel grew into what it is today.

Like the previous documentary, which came out earlier in the same year, this one is really just a marketing tool to try and get people to go see their movies. It’s made by Disney, Marvel and ABC, all of whom are essentially the same company, so this is made to sort of pimp themselves out.

Ultimately, this is an autobiographical puff piece. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things of value in it. It’s informative and gives you a good amount of info to start with for those interested in Marvel’s history but there are much better documentaries, books and magazine articles on the subject.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Assembling a Universe and Empire of Dreams.

Comic Review: Iron Man, Issue #55 – First Appearance of Thanos and Drax the Destroyer

Published: January 31st, 1973
Written by: Mike Friedrich, Jim Starlin
Art by: Jim Starlin, Mike Esposito

Marvel Comics, 21 Pages

Review:

As big of a character as Thanos has become over the last few years, he had to start somewhere. And interestingly enough, his first appearance is also the first appearance of Drax the Destroyer, who would go on to be a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

I also find it interesting that both characters first appeared in Iron Man, as neither are really all that tied to Tony Stark outside of major events with “Infinity” in the title.

This was a quick, short story but it did a really good job of establishing these two characters. Thanos is the big bad here but the comic seemed more interested in establishing the Drax character. I’m not sure if Jim Starlin really knew what he had with Thanos yet. But he would certainly turn Thanos into one of the biggest threats in the entire comic book medium over time.

What’s cool about this is it actually shows how powerful of a character Drax is in the comics, which is something that might surprise people that only know him from the Guardians of the Galaxy films. But this also gives some context to the history between Drax and Thanos.

While Iron Man is the star of his own book and in the foreground of this story, this issue is really about Drax and Thanos.

But this has a good plot, solid old school Marvel styled art and it helps enrich the already rich Marvel cosmic mythos.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s Marvel cosmic stuff.

Comic Review: The Infinity Crusade

Published: December 17th, 2008
Written by: Jim Starlin
Art by: Ron Lim, various

Marvel Comics, 488 Pages

Review:

Well, I read through the great Infinity Gauntlet storyline and followed that up with the mediocre Infinity War sequel. Naturally, I thought that I should finish the trilogy of Infinity stories with this one: The Infinity Crusade.

However, I wasn’t a fan of Magus and his whole shtick from the previous chapter in this large saga. The reason why I’m pointing that out here is because the setup is essentially the same. Where Magus was the physical embodiment of Adam Warlock’s evil side, the big threat in this story is the physical embodiment of Adam Warlock’s good side. I admit, I rolled my eyes when I was reminded that this was the setup to this story.

Frankly, I thought the plot was lame and what was even lamer was the McGuffin. No longer was the focus on the Infinity Gauntlet, now the focus was on this “Goddess” character and her Cosmic Egg. Basically, she just sits around in her giant cosmic egg using religion to brainwash a large group of heroes to be her holy army. So this is like Civil War but with religion and a giant friggin’ egg.

It also doesn’t help that there is virtually no action, this is overly talkie and just boring. Well, to be fair, the fifth issue in the six issue arc was just straight up action. But outside of that, there wasn’t anything exciting other than a few brief physical spats and some cosmic magic battles, the biggest of which featured psychically projected heads shooting laser beams at the “Goddess”.

Plus, the story suffers from being spread over several different titles. So when I read the collected edition of the main comic, there is key stuff missing from it, as it happened in another issue of a different title altogether. I get that this is how crossover events work but the two previous Infinity sagas kept the main story in the main title and the other comics just had tie-in subplots.

This whole mega event is just proof that Marvel was milking the Infinity thing way too hard. The Infinity War was just okay and then this was a disaster. Neither of them came as close to the greatness that was The Infinity Gauntlet.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Its prequels The Infinity Gauntlet and The Infinity War.

Comic Review: The Infinity War

Published: April 5th, 2006
Written by: Jim Starlin
Art by: Ron Lim

Marvel Comics, 400 Pages

Review:

I just finished up The Infinity Gauntlet mega crossover event, so naturally I wanted to jump right into The Infinity War. Plus, the next Avengers movie centers around these storylines, so I wanted to revisit them, as I haven’t read them since they were fairly current back in the early ’90s.

Like its predecessor, this tale is jam packed with more Marvel heroes and villains than can reasonably fit onto one page. There are more characters in this story than the previous one and everyone is present and accounted for, unlike the first Infinity story, which saw half of the heroes (and the universe’s population) removed from existence.

Sadly, this is not as good as its predecessor. The Infinity Gauntlet was very talkie in the first half and then just broke off into three giant comic book issues of straight up action. The Infinity War has some action but it is minuscule when compared to the previous saga.

Also, Magus was a cool idea for a villain but he didn’t even come close to having the presence and intensity of Thanos. Also, Thanos is pretty much neutered in this story and is more of a hero than a villain. I get that he is in someway atoning for his actions when he had possession of the Infinity Gauntlet but it seems like it is way too soon for him to be working with the heroes of the Marvel universe, even if the situation called for it. There certainly should have been more push back from the heroes.

Ultimately, the story was boring. It was a lot of talking… A. LOT. Hell, this story was mostly just talking and talking and more talking. The overall plot was dragged down by an extreme overabundance of dialogue.

I remember really liking all the stuff tied into this event more than the event itself. In the broader universe, Marvel characters were forced to face their evil doppelgängers. I’ll have to re-read some of the single issues I have that are spunoff from this main story arc.

I feel like this book was more of a gimmick than an attempt to really continue the Infinity saga in a way that was actually meaningful. Most of the book felt like it was just full of splash pages with as many characters as possible crammed into a large room, trying to dodge their speech balloons.

This was still a mostly fun read but it was a weak followup to the far superior Infinity Gauntlet.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The other parts of the trilogy: The Infinity Gauntlet and The Infinity Crusade.

Comic Review: The Infinity Gauntlet

Published: September 28th, 2011
Written by: Jim Starlin
Art by: George Perez, Ron Lim

Marvel Comics, 256 Pages

Review:

Since the new Avengers movie is coming out very shortly and it is about Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet, I wanted to revisit those stories in their original comic book format. This is the first of The Infinity Trilogy, which also features The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade.

This was the biggest Marvel mega crossover event of my most formative years. I had read Secret Wars I and II, as well as some of the major X-Men centered mega events before this but this one, at least when I was a preteen, seemed like it was legitimately for all the marbles like nothing else that came before it. Therefore, when it was revealed several years ago that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was building towards Thanos and his acquisition of the Infinity Stones, I knew that the third Avengers movie was going to be the biggest cinematic event in the history of comic book movies.

But how does the original body of work stack up now, two and a half decades later?

Well, it’s still really damn good and was a heck of a read.

The story is comprised of six beefy oversized issues. The first three serve to set up the final three, which cover the massive space battle between Thanos and everything the Marvel Universe could throw at him. The first half is a bit slow but it is necessary to understand what is happening. The fourth issue throws Earth’s heroes at Thanos, the fifth issue throws Marvel’s cosmic entities and gods at Thanos and the sixth and final issue sees Nebula acquire the Infinity Gauntlet, causing Thanos to have to reassess his place in the order of the universe.

I think that the biggest difference between this classic version and the upcoming film adaptation is that the build will be much different and it should be.

Here, Thanos is motivated by the petty idea that he can use the Gauntlet to win over the heart of Death. While it does work for the comics, it isn’t something that could really work on film, at least not with a lot more narrative work than the Marvel screenwriters will have time for if they also need to focus on wedging every cinematic hero into the film. By modern standards, Thanos’ motivation seems cheesy but I’ll buy into it because it isn’t something that I couldn’t see the character doing. He’s flawed and egomaniacal, and he would be driven to win over what he feels he cannot have.

I liked where this story went, how it challenged the heroes, how the writers worked it so that Thanos wasn’t “omnipotent” and how it all panned out in the end.

The Infinity Gauntelt is still a great Marvel mega crossover event that deserves the recognition and legendary status it has.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Its sequels The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade.