Superman: Red Son. Made-for-Video Animation, 84 minutes. Directed by Sam Liu. Written by J.M. DeMatteis. Executive Producers: Bruce Timm and Sam Register. DC Entertainment. Release Date: March 17, 2020
The timing could not be better for one of the great Superman stories. DC Entertainment presents the 2020 animated feature adaptation to Mark Millar’s 2003 Superman: Red Son. This time around, the script is by another DC Comics stalwart creative, J. M. DeMatteis. This is a great time for the alternate-history genre. There’s For All Mankind on Apple TV, a what-if about the Soviets landing on the moon first. And there’s The Plot Against America on HBO, a what-if about a Fascist America. Now, make room for a what-if about a Soviet Superman. This is about what would happen if the future Superman never crash-lands in some corn field in Kansas. But, instead, baby Superman crash-lands in the heart of Cold War-era Russia.
This is arguably the very best of DC Elseworlds adventures. In this very heated and confused time for U.S.-Russian relations, a story like this provides refreshing perspective. What would Superman do if he found himself part of Mother Russia and developed a loyalty to Communism? Apple pie and baseball don’t mean a thing to the Man of Steel. Superman is more loyal to the latest five-year plan for the people. Capitalism is just a funny concept and the U.S.A. is more suspect than respected. And leading the “greed is good” pack is, of course, Lex Luthor.
What will appeal to a lot of viewers is the clever look at how the world works. No sooner does Superman, innocently enough, prove to be the strongest man at the Kremlin than he’s elevated to the post of supreme leader. To Superman’s way of thinking, he is genuinely compelled to do good. That’s just how he’s built. But he has to do it within the confines of the Soviet Union. Conversely, Lex Luthor, not so innocently, proves to be the strongest capitalist, riding an “America First” campaign, that lands him in the White House. Along the way, we have different versions of the Korean War, the Berlin Wall, and even a taste of Dr. Strangelove thrown in for good measure.
If you’ve never read the original comic book or collected graphic novel, then you’re in for even more of a treat as this story unfolds. I think the animated feature hits all the right marks and could not be better. Voice actors like Jason Isaacs, as Superman, and Vanessa Marshall, as Wonder Woman, lead a lively cast. This is something that I could even see as a major live action movie version. It is certainly a compelling example of what can be done within the formidable world of the DC Universe.
Panel excerpt from John Constantine: Hellblazer #1
File under Diehard Offbeat Comics: the latest run from the Sandman Universe under DC Comics Black Label, John Constantine: Hellblazer. Sometimes, you just want something nice and weird…and yet familiar. Look no further than the murky and spooky world of John Constantine. You may, at times, find the narrative a bit loopy and hard to follow but a good yarn with some meat on its bones, and plenty of authenticity, makes up for it. Let’s consider a choice panel from the first issue right above. You are in good hands with writer Simon Spurrier. We can jump over to a sneak preview (Issue 4 out Feb 26) via Spurrier’s Twitter right below:
Cannot wwwwWAIT for you guys to meet Tommy Willowtree in #HELLBLAZER 4 next week. He is quite literally everything John isn’t.
John Constantine is back in London, back to his old tricks—and just in time, as things have become very dark indeed in his old stomping grounds. A small-time gang lord has found himself dealing with a big-time outbreak of supernatural weirdness…and without any allies to call on and nothing left to call his own, John doesn’t have much choice about taking a paycheck from one of London’s worst, or accepting the help of one of the gang lord’s would-be foot soldiers. But what should be an open-and-shut exorcism turns out to be anything but…and the author of this madness may just be getting started on their terrible masterpiece!
The original Constantine is back in this series from Si Spurrier (The Dreaming) and Aaron Campbell (Infidel), with nothing to his name but decades of bad memories and an unearned second chance. How, exactly, will he squander it? There’s only one way to find out…
The Empire State Building looms large over Alonzo.
“To finally have this collaboration between two giants available in a single volume is a gift for which we can only hope to be worthy.” — Howard Chaykin
Sometimes, a book is placed under my nose and I just can’t stop reading. So it is with Family Man, the crime noir graphic novel written by Jerome Charyn and drawn by Joe Staton. This is a deluxe edition to the 1995 series by Paradox Press, an imprint of DC Comics. This new 2019 edition is by It’s Alive and IDW Publishing. For a brief moment, both publishers were working together. What matters most is that this book packs a wallop, full of the grim and gritty underbelly of New York City that novelist Jerome Charyn knows so well. As is the case here at Comics Grinder, while we enjoy sharing images from books with you, we also don’t rely on it so much to the exclusion of thoughtful reviews. That said, let’s take a closer look at a book that well deserves it.
Alonzo pays his respects and kisses Don Furioso’s hand.
As a reviewer who also happens to be a cartoonist, I can tell you on an intimate level that this is a very special book. It’s a perfect pairing of writer and artist. Both Staton and Charyn are not holding back anything while also working as a team. Charyn is busy condensing his prose to the perfect concise distillation. Staton is busy letting loose with his highly expressive line ever mindful of disciplined efficiency and consistency. Both are being the artists they were born to be, both working on the same page. Take a look at the panel above. A whole story, a whole way of life, is held together in that one rectangle. Staton is depicting a connection between two brute men. Alonzo is the Mafia hitman showing respect. Don Furioso is the kingpin in decline who has been reduced to fretting over his colon.
Family Man page excerpt
We can see that Alonzo and the don are both past their prime and yet remain quite deadly creatures with no immediate plans to depart this earth. To that end, Alonzo the mob’s hitman, fixer, and “family man,” has been assigned the job of killing a band of rogue assassins who are bent on killing off all the Mafia dons in the city. It won’t be an easy task for Alonzo by any means. Add to the mix Charles, his own brother, the local Monsignor who works for the NYPD. If the killers don’t get him, Alonzo’s own brother just might.
Family Man page excerpt
Let’s take a moment to skip back to Joe Staton’s artwork. If you examine the above examples, you’ll start to focus in on the distinctive shades running throughout. Before everything went digital, artists had to be rather crafty about finding ways to create tones to spice up black & white line art. One way was with the use of a special bristol board that was embedded with shading inside the board. Applying a brush that had been dipped into a special solution would reveal the shading hidden within the board. What tones ended up making it to the surface were dependent upon the artist’s choice of brushstrokes. It’s my guess that Staton had a hefty stockpile of Duotone board at his disposal. By the early ’90s, around the time of the creation of this graphic novel, this old-fashioned board was pretty much already extinct. Staton probably had hoarded more than enough of this board going back decades. The results are stunning, of course, and it would take some doing to even try to come close to emulating it in Photoshop. Staton has a clean sharp style to begin with so this special shading technique was really just an option, an option that he makes the most of in this book.
Greetings from the Bronx Boys
With Family Man, Jerome Charyn and Joe Staton create their very own crime noir mythos. Alonzo, the mob hitman, and Charles, his monsignor brother, have numerous tales to tell and to act out. The setting, the mood, and the attitude all add up to an edgy good time. Joe Staton (Batman, Green Lantern) seems to channel the best of the work he’s done during his impressive career. He also seems to offer a tip of the hat to Will Eisner’s The Spirit. Jerome Charyn plays with various crime fiction tropes and brings in his unique sensibility as evidenced by his critically-acclaimed Isaac Seidel crime novel series. Alonzo is a “family man” in more ways than one. He used to be a true family man with a wife and kids. Later on, he became a family man to the mob alone. And, to further frustrate and complicate matters, he finds himself in mortal conflict with his only remaining member of flesh and blood family, his brother, Charles, the man of god who is not what he seems. As Charyn and Staton drop each layer of the narrative into place, the reader becomes all the more invested in the outcome.
Family Man page excerpt
A satisfying narrative, whatever the medium, is made up of a finely spun web of action, deliberation, long and short pauses, and a resolution that resonates, perhaps even transcends. It’s a matter of a myriad of creative choices and observations, big and small. Bit by bit, it all comes into focus: Alonzo, our big hefty protagonist, seems up to any challenge given enough time to digest a hoagie. Something about a certain metropolis is forever swirling in the background, and creeping into the foreground. New York City welcomes everyone but it coddles no one. Better to be tough, tough it out. A flamboyant so-called “man of god ‘ should wear a cloak or cape. And Alonzo better have a secret weapon. All the hoods eat hoagies too. Lastly, in the end, all the corruption, filth, mayhem, and blood lust tallies up. Maybe nobody gets the girl, like they used to in the movies. It’s all set “one hour into the future” with a crime-ridden New York City on her knees! But Alonzo will prevail, one way or another, and live or die as a “family man.”
Family Man, published by It’s Alive and IDW
I welcome everyone, especially my longtime readers, to check out the video review below. I invite you all to like, subscribe, do whatever you like to engage with, the Comics Grinder YouTube channel. Comics Grinder welcomes your support, as always, to help expand our reach and scope with your feedback and general goodwill! Take a look:
Family Man, by Jerome Charyn & Joe Staton, is a 300-page hardcover. For more details, and how to purchase, visit IDW Publishing right here.
A lot of you out there are familiar with Batman: The Dark Prince Charming, the collaboration between DC Comics and the French comics publisher Dargaud. It was the first time that many Americans got to see the masterful artwork of Enrico Marini. And now comes along another amazing Marini work, with writer Thierry Smoldered. Gypsy Omnibus is published by Insight Comics, an imprint of Insight Editions. It is available as of December 4, 2018. Gypsy is an excellent example of the adrenaline-fueled mega-adventure European comic book. Gypsy was originally published in 1992 by Dargaud Comics and reprinted in English in the pages of Heavy Metal. Its futuristic Mad Max edge hasn’t aged a bit.
Set in the not-too-distant future, the world of Gypsy has it all: planetary highways, the coronation of a young Russian Tsar, the resurrection of a Mongol army on the trail of Gengis Khan, an all-powerful multinational corporation that controls all earthly transport—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! In the middle of all this, we have a Gypsy truck driver who, fortunately, knows how to look after himself.
Enrico Marini (Desert Star, Raptors, Scorpion, Negative Exposure) is an artist steeped in all the old school ways. All the artwork, including the coloring, is done by hand. Drawing, and painting, on paper sturdy enough to handle ink and watercolor, Marini provides a robust feast for the eyes. Colors get to play and expand beyond their the usual perimeters, spreading even into the word balloons. This hands-on approach compliments the gritty narrative. It’s not overdone. It’s purposeful.
Thierry Smolderen launched a career writing comic books in the mid-1980s. He has since won multiple awards for his graphic novels and is recognized as one of the leading specialists in the history of comics, having published several essays and articles in journals like Comic Art or the International Journal of Comic Art. His passion for comics is in full evidence in his script for Gypsy.
Gypsy Omnibus is a 368-page full color deluxe edition with slipcase. It is available as of December 4, 2018. For more details, go to Insight Comics right here.
DC Comics: Anatomy of a Metahuman is another entertaining and informative title from Insight Editions. This is something that will appeal to teen readers and up. Whatever your level of knowledge of superheroes, particularly from DC Comics, this book is quite appealing. A “metahuman” can mean a lot of things and, in the DC Universe, it is a superhuman power. That includes the most prominent names like Superman and Aquaman as well as lesser know characters like The Cheetah and Martian Manhunter.
This book examines in detail, with bold illustrations, the powers of twelve characters. It’s an investigation carried out by, none other than, Bruce Wayne. So, Batman himself guides the reader through this top secret dossier. You never know what to expect with these metahumans, friend or foe. For the most part, these are villains. Some have gained in prominence since gracing the silver screen, like Bane and Doomsday.
Bruce Wayne doggedly pursues the secrets to Superman’s superpowers.
In the hierarchy of metahumans, it’s hard to judge the order of significance. Each can become a star within context. And often the most interesting things are going on with the least known. And, with that in mind, this book makes for an intriguing collection.
There is a fun and natural flow to this book. The reader will be delighted with the meticulous reporting by Bruce Wayne. He definitely gives it his all in attempting to dissect Superman. The reader will enjoy following Wayne’s obsessive search and question alongside him as he ponders such things as: “While it would explain many of his feats, is negative mass effect even the likeliest reason for his abilities?” In a sense, this dossier is a story within a story.
Wayne goes on to turn his attention to The Cheetah, Aquaman, and on down the line. This is a wonderful way to become more familiar with the DC Universe, all under the metahuman theme. Without a doubt, this is another great title from Insight Editions.
DC Comics: Anatomy of a Metahuman is a 160-page full color hardcover available as of September 18, 2018. For more details, visit Insight Editions right here.
Caroline Sharp, aka superhero Chrysalis, has been put on administrative leave by Alpha 13. You see, there was this incident, where all sorts of things got blown up. It was no big deal. She just lost her cool, as she tells her therapist. In fact, Caroline has got a lot to say given that she’s been trying to kill herself ever since she was put on leave…and, as a superhero, she’s immortal. ETERNITY GIRL is a miniseries from the Young Animal imprint at DC Comics and it is easily one of the most engaging of new comic books.
Here is a comic that knows how to strike just the right balance with crisp writing that juggles serious issues and complex characters. And the main character just happens to be a superhero. We’ve gone down this road before but it’s always worthy of recognition when it’s done right. The script by Magdalene Visaggio (Kim and Kim) is so good that it all feels quite refreshing. And the art by Sonny Liew (The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye) jumps off the page, with a lively spirit reminiscent of Curt Swan.
No Big Deal!
So, what do you do when you can live forever but you’d rather be dead? Quite a conundrum. And get a load of the featured villain: Madame Atom and The Night Terrors! Alright then! Turns out that Madam Atom may have a solution as to how Caroline/Chrysalis can kill herself. But who ever took advice from a villain? Sounds like pretty self-serving advice to me. We’ll just have to stay tuned to find out.
A perfect score: 10/10
ETERNITY GIRL #1 is available as of March 14, 2018. For more details, visit DC Comics right here.
MISTER MIRACLE, script by Tom King; art by Mitch Gerads
I have not been following a Batman title, or any mainstream superhero tile, for quite a while. But all that has changed with just one name: Tom King. As many of you already know, King is the man on Batman. He’s a writer who knows when and how to expand on a moment as he recently did with a whole issue devoted to a certain gathering for dinner (see Batman #29). And then there’s his work on Mister Miracle. King has brought back the character first created by Jack Kirby in 1971. For this latest 12-issue run, Tom King’s script is decidedly existential. Our hero, Scott Free, happens to be one of the fabulous New Gods. His backstory is a little complicated. Think Wonder Woman. To add to the complexity, Scott hides his secret identity as a world-renown escape artist. And, lately, he’s been struggling with his greatest challenge of all: Scott wants to escape death.
So far so good. Any story with a guy dancing with the Grim Reaper gets my attention. What wins me over is the everyday moments between Scott and Barda. They’re, in many respects, just a typical young married couple. Maybe they take each other for granted sometimes. Maybe they push each other’s buttons at other times. That sort of thing. But they’re also awesome superheroes, right? King and artist Mitch Gerads (The Punisher) keep that balance working very nicely. Frankly, any talk, at least at first, of New Genesis and Darkseid and my eyes will fully glaze over. Maybe I’d get into it after a while. I just need a hook. Honestly, all of us readers need something to hook into and the truth is that few of us are going to care as much about the superhero stuff without first investing in the characters. That said, this creative team understands that very well.
Barda and Scott
Okay, so now for the finer points. The comic pretty much sticks to a grid of nine panels per page. It’s a great look and King and Gerads can get really creative with this more arty approach. Well, I say “arty” as I think of that nine panel grid as definitely calling attention to itself. It has a great deal of potential as seen in other titles such as Hawkeye from Marvel Comics. King and Gerads have made good use of this structure for both dramatic and comedic affect. There’s a moment where Scott and Barda must go through the ritual of kneeling before their leader, the Highfather. It’s an extended moment that allows for all the necessary timing. But you’d expect that sort of thing from King, king of the pregnant pauses. It’s totally funny. Now, I’m just wondering if we’re simply going to see more and more of the nine panel grid as it works so well on mobile devices. Hopefully, we’ll always have the Kings of comics overseeing quality control with excellent content.
MISTER MIRACLE #2 is available as of September 13, 2017. For more details, visit DC Comics right here.
French publisher Dargaud caused plenty of buzz when it announced last month a two-volume Batman graphic novel by legendary European comics creator Enrico Marini (Le Scorpion, Eagles of Rome, Gipsy). By itself, that is exciting news. But there was no news about a simultaneously published English version. Perhaps that was a secret that can only now be revealed. DC has just announced that it will be publishing this work, entitled, “Batman: The Dark Prince Charming.” Now, that’s some Batman news!
With this work, Enrico Marini will make his American comics and mainstream superhero debut. If you’ve seen his work for “Le Scorpion,” for instance, you can expect some cool swagger. And Batman will need all his confidence for this new story as he confronts his arch-nemesis The Joker. According to the DC press release, what distinguishes this story from other Batman tales is that this time, “it’s personal!” When has it not been personal when it comes to these two characters? Whatever the case, this time, Batman is…European! And let’s not lose sight of another character in this tale: Catwoman! I will have more to say about Catwoman in an upcoming post.
Here is the official description of the story according to DC:
What secret connection do both Batman and The Joker share with a strange and mysterious young girl? After she’s kidnapped by The Joker, Batman must plunge deep into the underworld of Gotham City and race against time to find out where she’s being held. The stakes are high, and for Batman, it’s personal!
MARINI’s GOTHAM CITY!
Pretty cool news however you spin it! Book one of Batman: The Dark Prince Charming will be in stores on November 1, 2017. Look for book two coming in spring 2018!
“Wonder Woman” is simply the movie to see rounding out its third weekend with U.S. sales at $275 million and $570 million worldwide. You may have noticed there are a lot of showings, including 3D and 4DX versions, and they sell out quickly. All of this is for very good reason. This Wonder Woman movie is very sharp and Gal Gadot in the main role commands the screen at all times, even more so, I dare say, than a Ben Affleck or a Henry Cavill. That had to be part of the thinking behind this first ever Wonder Woman major motion picture. The stumbling block all these decades was supposed to have something to do with whether or not a Wonder Woman movie could ever deliver the box office of a Superman or Batman movie. The answer is YES!
Yes, Wonder Woman can Kick Ass!
“Wonder Woman,” directed by Patty Jenkins, is certainly one of those exceptional movie events. It comes out of that urgent need to get it right. The most brilliant step in getting it right was to set the story during World War I. When was the last time you saw a major motion picture set during WWI? Any young person walking in to see this movie would shrug. There have been a select few, including 2004’s “A Very Long Engagement,” starring Audrey Tautou. The original Wonder Woman comic book was inextricably linked to World War II since it came out during that era. But to rework that same terrain would have been dreadfully tiresome for many a fan. Setting things back to an entirely different epoch opens up different and more compelling options, bringing it all back to basics in a very intriguing way. What could be better than to have a young and idealistic goddess confront “the war to end all wars”? I can imagine that being the pitch to the story by Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) that was fleshed out in the screenplay by Allan Heinberg (Grey’s Anatomy).
HOLLYWOOD, CA – MAY 25: Actors Gal Gadot (L) and Lynda Carter attend the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Wonder Woman” at the Pantages Theatre on May 25, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
The beauty of “Wonder Woman” is how purposeful it is. Yes, we are dealing with the inevitable origin story. But that becomes a big plus as this is used to full advantage. The opening scenes set in Themyscira, the idyllic world that Wonder Woman comes from, have a refreshing vibe to them. There is a certain amount of dutiful explaining going on but, right from the start, we see quick and steady progress from our main character. We see Diana, the little girl, get the early training she demands. In no time, she has grown into a young woman more powerful than even she could imagine. And, all the while, this phase of Diana’s life, comes across not as merely backstory but as essential. Most importantly, there is a sense of urgency and suspense. In a different era, not too long ago (not exactly over with), this depiction of a female paradise could have easily fallen prey to titillation. More harmful than any supervillain, that would have been the worst sucker punch Wonder Woman could have endured.
Yes, a Wonder Woman can be VERY SUCCESSFUL and POPULAR!
So, let me jump to my big point. I went to see this movie with my 21-year-old daughter. She was not really all that aware of the Wonder Woman TV show, starring Lynda Carter. I tried to explain that it was part of its era, the ’70s, and less enlightened. It was too easy to make Wonder Woman a sex symbol for that show. And my daughter quickly picked up on that and said she appreciated how this new Wonder Woman was not sexualized in that way. I also mentioned that I have read more than one account, over the years, of women claiming to have been inspired as little girls by the spinning Lynda Carter did on the show to magically transform into a superhero. Girls would spin and spin and spin. Again, my daughter picked up on that. She said she was more interested in Gal Gadot’s impressive Taekwondo kicks. I am sure that Lynda Carter would understand.
“Wonder Woman” offers a whole new way for girls to be inspired. They no longer have to just spin and spin and spin. What a remarkable job this movie does in playing catch-up. Had a movie just like this come out in Lynda Carter’s heyday, it would have been hailed as nothing short of revolutionary. Superman and Batman movies have dominated the pop culture landscape for decades having left a Wonder Woman movie at a considerable disadvantage. How this movie overcomes that, with a genuinely inspiring main character, clearly demonstrates that there is a demand of strong and powerful female characters. In fact, the revolution continues and this movie manages to depict Wonder Woman as leading the way.
“Wonder Woman” is distributed by Warner Bros. Visit the official Wonder Woman movie site right here.
I still remember the sting and utter humiliation during an improv class when I was asked to tell a joke and I froze. I thought I knew what to expect from acting and improv but I wasn’t ready that night to tell a simple joke! Now, I have discovered a fine book that I wish I had with me all long: THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK! This book will save your comedic bacon no matter what your age and is published by Downtown Bookworks.
Page from THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK
There are more than 600 puns, knock-knocks, one-liners, riddles, gags, and tongue twisters! Use it at parties. Use it on dates, depending on the date, of course. And definitely use it to bring a smile to anyone’s face. How about a way to get a rambunctious kid’s attention? Everyone loves a good joke. This book is chock full of them in an eye-popping colorful presentation.
Page from THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK
As you can see from the samples, these are smart and funny jokes. A little here about the authors: Noah Smith is a comedy writer who has worked for Saturday Night Live; Sarah Parvis is a children’s book author; and Michael Robin is an author and librarian.
THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK is a full color 176-page trade paperback for ages 6 and up, published by Downtown Bookworks. You can also find it at Amazon right here.