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This diamond indicates those titles included in the Top Ten Core List

 

Catwoman: The Dark End of the Street
ISBN: 1563899086
by Ed Brubaker
Art by Darwyn Cooke, Mike Allred, Cameron Stewart
DC Comics 2002

" My world is all just shades of grey, Batman"

I love Catwoman. It's not just her slick black costume with the pointy ears or her way with a whip, it's her shades of gray. Catwoman is the most morally ambiguous of superhero characters. She's a villain, a cat-burglar, yet she also has a strong sense of justice. Plus, Batman once loved her. What keeps the Cat and the Bat apart is a question of worldview; for Selina Kyle, raised on the streets, a superhero's notion of good and evil is too simplistic. Ed Brubaker, one of the best writers in comics, has crafted a moving and brilliant story of Catwoman's return to life after being presumed dead for years. Selina Kyle needs some time off. She's not sure where she fits into the world anymore, and she doesn't want to be controlled by the mask she wears. Yet she also yearns to give something back to the streets from which she escaped. Returning to a secret safe house she set up for young girls working the street, Selina learns that a murderer is praying on Gotham's prostitutes. The police don't consider these victims worth their time, and even Batman doesn't have much sympathy for women who choose to break the law. If no one else will speak for them, maybe Catwoman can! Soon Selina is prowling the night in a new, more practical costume and tracking the serial killer. She'll soon learn, however, that the monster she seeks has his own shades of gray.

I can't say enough about The Dark End of the Street. The art is as good as the writing, if not better; Darwyn Cooke's elegant, film-noir style is a little bit like the incomparable Powers but has a retro verve all its own (when I use this many adjectives, you know it's got to be good!). Each panel adds to the nocturnal atmosphere of Catwoman's world. While the story deals with prostitution and violence, nothing is graphic or explicit. Part superhero comic, part detective story, The Dark End of the Street is really the story of a woman making peace with herself.

review by Jen

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Astro City: Life in the Big City
ISBN: 156389551X
By Kurt Busiek
Art by Brent E. Anderson and Alex Ross
DC Comics 2000

Ever wondered what superheroes do in their off time? Do they even have off time? Go on dates? Go shopping? Hang out with their friends? Kurt Busiek has created a wonderful series considering these burning questions with Astro City, and with Alex Ross and Brent Anderson creating such vibrant visuals, there's never a boring moment.

review by robin

If you like Astro City, you should definitely check out Kurt Busiek's Marvels, another team up with Alex Ross. This time the author takes a look at the history of the Marvel Universe from the everyman's perspective -- not to be missed!

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Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score
ISBN: 1563898977
by Darwyn Cooke
Color by Matt Hollingsworth
DC Comics 2002

Selina Kyle is about to come back from the dead, but she needs some money first. Much as she hates returning to Gotham, one last "big score" will help her start a new life. When "working girl" Chantal comes along with information about a train-load of dirty Mafia money, Selina sees a chance to help a girl like her former self escape a life of exploitation. To pull off this heist, Selina will have to confront her past in more ways than one. She’ll need some friends in Gotham. Above all she’ll need master-thief Stark, the man who took her off the streets and gave her the skills she would later use as Catwoman. There’s just one problem: the last time Selina saw Stark, she betrayed him. Will he trust her again?

Selina’s Big Score overlaps in time with The Dark End of the Street, weaving in Selina’s encounters with private detective Slam Bradley. We learn what happens between their first meeting and the return of the new Catwoman. It’s a nail-biting crime story with an explosive ending; Selina might steal herself a new life, but not without paying a horrible price. The subject matter is pretty adult, but the presentation is impeccably tasteful. Crime and noir fans will love this critically acclaimed graphic novel, and Catwoman fans will love seeing Selina in action without her mask. I’ve already enthused about Darwyn Cooke’s gorgeous art in The Dark End of the Street, and his writing is a worthy partner for his elegant style. What really stands out in Selina’s Big Score is Matt Hollingsworth’s color; the pages are awash with bright, bold hues that glow against Cooke’s dramatic shadows.

review by Jen

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Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey
ISBN: 156389484X
By Chuck Dixon and Jordan Gorfinkey
Art by Various artists
DC Comics 1999

What about the women? Well, two of the hottest female superheroes in DC's universe Black Canary and Oracle together form Birds of Prey. Black Canary is sassy, deadly, and fully capable of wiping the floor with the bad guys. Oracle, once Batgirl until the Joker's violent trick confined her to a wheelchair, is Black Canary's lightning fast link to all information via the Internet. She's also often Black Canary's conscience and more often than she'd like, her mother hen. Together, they're a force even the Dark Knight himself is impressed by.

review by robin

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The Authority: Relentless
ISBN: 1563896613
by Warren Ellis
Art by Paul Neary and Bryan Hitch
DC Comics 2000

I had heard a great deal about The Authority, in general comments about the series’ excellence and in specific about its groundbreaking characters (see my random thoughts on this distinction). As you may have noticed by now, I love superhero comics as much as the next guy, but I love them even more when the stories twist expectations. The Authority is a kind of descendant of Alan Moore’s Watchmen and the familiar Justice League set-up. A group of empowered beings decide that they have a duty to change the world for the better. The difference here is that since attempting to convince the world to change has failed, they will enforce change. The world will be better, or face The Authority’s judgement and sentence. The members of the Authority are familar and different at the same time – key members Apollo and the Midnighter follow the Superman and Batman mold respectively. Other members exhibit inventive new powers, from Jack Hawksmoor’s ability to feel and integrate with the spirit of cities to the Engineer’s evolution into a human being with machines making up her very blood. Their unflappable and dangerous leader is Jenny Sparks, Spirit of the Twentieth Century, gifted with the power to focus and control electricity. Warren Ellis’ writing is witty and suitably dark, and the artwork shows once again the depth and beauty computer aided color can bring to comics. For superheroes with one-liners, intelligence, and brawn to spare, flip to The Authority.

review by robin

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Global Frequency: Planet Ablaze
Volume 1
ISBN: 1401202748
By Warren Ellis
Art by Garry Leach, Glen Fabry, Steve Dillon, Roy Martinez, Jon J Muth, David Lloyd, David Baron
DC Comics 2004

Warren Ellis has a penchant for creating kick-ass female leaders. Miranda Zero of the Global Frequency is the most recent addition to the ranks of strong women to emerge from Warren Ellis’ fertile and strange imagination (see also – Jenny Sparks from The Authority and Jakita Wagner of Planetary). Ms. Zero is the somewhat mysterious leader of the civilian organization known as the Global Frequency. There are 1001 members of the Global Frequency, scattered across both disciplines and the globe. When a situation arises she calls on them to respond depending on their proximity, expertise and the degree of desperation. Efforts are coordinated through the punk wild child Aleph, the nexus point for the Global Frequency. They are the self-appointed defenders of the world, and their ranks are made up of those whom the system has betrayed. In this first volume they stop a black hole from opening in San Francisco, disarm a bioweapon before it can detonate, and neutralize a new age geek cult before they can suicide taking innocents along with them. Each story is illustrated by a different artist, which makes the artwork on this volume inconsistent. Some of it I loved, like Jon J. Muth’s work on ‘Big Sky’ showcasing gorgeous colors and a beautiful simplicity of line, and some of it I didn’t care for much. Like most of Warren Ellis’ work this is not for the faint of heart, or for younger readers – although in this case that’s more because of blood, guts and gore, than for language or content. I’m curious to see where he is going to go with this series, and what kind of social commentary he is going to make.

review by petra

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Planetary: All Over the World and Other Stories
ISBN: 1563896486
By Warren Ellis
Art by John Cassidy
Wildstorm 2000

Planetary agents are archeologists of the planet’s secret history. In this first volume in a series by Warren Ellis (also known for The Authority, Stormwatch and Transmetropolitan) the reader is introduced to field team – Jakita Wagner, the team leader; Mr. Snow, born in 1900; and The Drummer (first name "The" second name "Drummer") who communicates with machines and emits his own signal jamming field – and Planetary, the mysterious and very well funded agency that they represent. The origins of Planetary seem innocuous at first. The trio investigates instances of the unexplained, the supernatural and the unusual, such as the skeletal remains of enormous sci-fi moviesque beasts on an icy island between Japan and Russia; or the implications of an underground laboratory with no visible entrance guarded by a man who should have died 50 years earlier. However, as Mr. Snow, the most recent member of Planetary, becomes more comfortable in his new job, he becomes more suspicious about the origins and purposes of the organization he works for.

review by petra

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The Victorian
Act 1: Self Realization
ISBN: 0967368316
Act 2: Self-Immolation
ISBN: 0967368383
By Trainor Houghton
Art by Lovern Kindzierski, Len Wein, Jim Bakie, Claude St. Aubin, Andrew Pepoy, Chris Chuckry, Richard Starkings, and Jason Levine
Penny-Farthing Press 1999, 2002

The Victorian is a story told backwards, which is appropriate for a saga about time travel, voodoo, occult science, and a mystery that none of the principal characters fully comprehend. Winston Fitzrandolph, a professor of Victorian history with a past full of dark memories, is summoned to New Orleans to examine some antiques for a mysterious patron. Eudora Kincaid, a teenage photographer with a penchant for shady situations, befriends a New Orleans cabdriver. Detectives Leviticus “Doc” Schumpert and Hal Keller investigate a murder and a voodoo shrine. Claude Ballaré plots something sinister in an underground stronghold. As the story progresses, crime in 2006 and the activities of The Order of the Blue Rose in the 19th century bring all these unlikely characters together as they are drawn to and chased by the mysterious figure of “The Victorian.” This shadowy, top-hat-wearing being haunts the streets and bayous of Louisiana, terrorizing New Orleans criminals, then vanishing. Writer Trainor Houghton and script-writer Lovern Kindzierski unfold the story with deliberate speed, seemingly unconcerned that readers won’t fully understand what’s going on until the end of this 5-part series. As you read beyond the first Act’s bewildering opening montage of scenes and time periods, you will begin to feel the threads of a complicated story tightening like a spider’s web. The Victorian and his contemporaries in 2006 and 1889 are heading towards an earth-shaking discovery, and all their readers can do is hang on for the ride.

review by alison

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flash: roguesFlash Vol. 2: Rogues
by Geoff Johns
ISBN: 1563899507
DC Comics, 2003

Even though the heroes are traditionally the center of many superhero comics, sometimes it‘s the villains that end up stealing the show. Many writers enjoy demonstrating that villains, no matter how seemingly wicked or unfeeling, are more than just fodder for the heroes to pound on and then throw in jail; villains, even if they aren’t exactly human, can be people too. Writer Geoff Johns demonstrates this in the collection "The Flash Vol. 2: Rogues." John’s work on the Flash, the fastest man alive, made him one of the top writers in comics and this collection shows him transforming villains who wear ridiculous costumes into people one would hate to meet in a dark alley.  Though the Flash is the star, this collection takes a look at his rogues (a group of villains that return time and again to plague a particular hero). The book boasts some stellar storytelling as Flash deals with villains who have motivations both complex and full of pathos. One example is a story where Flash faces Peek-A-Boo, a rogue who uses her newly discovered power of teleportation to steal for reasons not entirely selfish. Fallout, a walking nuclear reactor, was locked away for accidentally killing his family and Flash must bring this misunderstood being back to jail on Christmas Eve. The villains in these two stories are just as deeply developed as the hero and Johns expertly shows the Flash’s soul searching as he is morally obligated to apprehend them.  Ironically, the best story in this collection has the Flash only in flashbacks. Under Johns’s writing, Captain Cold has gone from being a man in a laughable parka and sunglasses to a rogue with a Wild West gunslinger’s moral code and outsider status. Readers will actually cheer for Captain Cold as he goes on a mission of revenge/justice against the man who murdered his sister. Not only does the reader see the development of the Flash’s most popular villain, but they also get to see how cold the Captain can truly be.  Scott Kolin’s artwork in the series gives it a distinct look and breathes action into the pages. Though some may call the artwork gritty, it gives Flash’s Keystone City a distinct, blue-collar look that separates it from the futuristic Metropolis or shadowy Gotham City. Readers will especially see the artist’s flair for detail as he shows the destruction caused by Gorilla Grodd after he escapes and rampages through town. Kolin’s artistic style makes the book truly unique among DC’s other superhero titles.  The major drawback to this collection lies in the fact that it’s a trade paperback; the stories collected within are not necessarily connected and the storytelling quality is sometimes uneven. The story of a living black hole, despite the cool premise, is subpar to Johns’s usual character-driven work and a group of  Jokerized  villains invading a superhuman prison will leave casual readers wondering what made these guys look and act like poor imitations of the famous Batman villain. While not a self-contained story arc, the book does offer some storytelling gems and action-packed artwork that shows the Flash and his Rogues are more than just second-string superfolk.

review by james

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flash: blitzFlash Vol. 4: Blitz
by Geoff Johns
ISBN: 1401203353
DC Comics, 2004

Just a few years ago, superheroes existed in a world that was very distant from ours. The problems they faced on a daily basis (alien menaces or villains with futuristic technology) were not really seen in the adult world. Newspapers and television brings us scores of tragedies and a superhero’s adventures were an escape from those problems. However, comic book writers are exploring some of these tragedies, pondering how a hero who can break the sound barrier can still become helpless in certain situations without the use of predetermined weaknesses like Kryptonite. Geoff Johns’s writing for Flash is some of the best in comics today and  Flash Vol. 4: Blitz  shows the layers and humanity of the fastest man alive.  The Flash is a man who runs fast, fast enough to travel the world in seconds or vibrate his own molecules so he can pass through objects. He’s fast enough to seemingly do many things at once, but he is not fast enough to stop a friend’s life from being ruined nor is he fast enough to keep that friend from attacking all that the Flash holds dear. The focus of this arc of the Flash comics involves Flash’s battle with Zoom. Once a bizarre parody of Flash from the future, this new Zoom can move faster than the Flash and knows how to strike at the hero through where he’s most vulnerable: through his family.  Johns has created one of the most complex and fascinating villains in Zoom. Though he feels his life has been left in shambles because of the Flash’s unwillingness to help, he has become a villain and attacked his family not out of revenge but rather the twisted desire to see the Flash become a better hero. The idea of a villain that sees himself as a barrier a hero must overcome shows how willing Johns is to take risks. There’s nothing more twisted than a villain who believes his evil deeds have noble intentions behind them. Scott Kolins’s gritty yet detailed art shows Flash’s and Zoom’s expressions as they deal with the pain in their lives and their inevitable confrontation. His art has enough frenetic action and details to suit a title where men move faster than the speed of light.  Unlike some of the collections of Flash, this volume shows a more coherent storyline, focusing on the creation of and battle with Zoom. This story, librarians should note, shows a maturity in its storytelling, dealing more with the real consequences of superheroes trying to balance their evil battling and real lives with families and friends. Older teens and adults will enjoy this title s blend of fast-paced action and heart-wrenching pathos as the Flash’s heroic obligations and family life collide.

review by james

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ex machina 2Invincible: Ultimate Collection, Volume 1
by Robert Kirkman
ISBN: 158240500X
Image, 2005

Volume 1 of Invincible: Ultimate Collection collects 13 issues of the Eisner Award-nominated series and offers a look at another superhero who learns there's more to saving the day and staying alive than punching stuff.

Robert Kirkman's Invincible follows the same plot of a lot of other superhero comics where the hero in question just discovers that he/she has superpowers and must decide how to best use them. The hero in question is Mark Grayson (a.k.a., Invincible), a high school senior who discovers that he, like his dad Omniman, has superpowers like super-strength, near invulnerability, and the power of flight. Mark comically discovers his superpowers when the simple act of taking out the trash goes horribly awry, and from there, Omniman mentors Mark as he gets his new costume, hangs out with teen superheroes the Teen Team, and stops a deranged science teacher.

The book starts off like a rollicking action-adventure story laced heavily with humor, mainly dealing with the unusual situations Mark finds himself in as he's learns how hard it is to follow in his Dad's footsteps. The first few volumes of the story have the feel of what used to show up on Saturday morning television, but then Kirkman puts the metaphorical screws to Invincible and the readers as Invincible, the future protector of planet Earth, learns a dark secret about his father, a secret so terrible that it leads to one of the most destructive, brutal, and bloody fight scenes ever seen in a superhero comic, quickly moving into older teen/adult territory.

The artwork of Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley shows a love for classic Gold and Silver Age comics from the way the heroes fly to the scene to the bizarre, almost ridiculous looks of heroes that could earn the duo some lawsuits from DC. Invincible: Ultimate Collection has a maturity to its storytelling as well as some mature situations, but older teens should like this book because Mark Grayson could be any teen with a job, a possible love interest, and a growing concern for where he is going to college... except for the fact that he has superpowers. Older teens will definitely relate to Grayson as Kirkman piles on the drama and pathos, all so Mark Grayson can learn to be Invincible.

Review by James

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daredevil yellowDaredevil Legends Vol. 1: Yellow
by Jeph Loeb
ISBN: 0785109692
Marvel Comics, 2003

The superhero s origin defines that hero. It determines what kind of hero they will become and the future life-or-death decisions they will make. The comic book team of writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale has practically made a living retelling the origins of some of DC’s greatest icons like Superman and Batman. Many of their collaborations delve into key moments that develop the hero’s character rather than just offering page after page of fisticuffs. Loeb and Sale have applied this formula to Marvel mainstay Daredevil in the series Daredevil Legends Vol. 1: Yellow, referencing Daredevil’s earliest choice in costume style. Daredevil, for the uninitiated, is blind attorney Matt Murdock who plays costumed vigilante for New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. An accident with spilled radioactive material took his sight but heightened his other senses to superhuman levels (he can hear heartbeats and know a person by scent). Loeb’s descriptive writing takes full advantage of Daredevil’s apparent disadvantage, describing the world that he doesn’t see but embraces through his other senses. While setting up his law firm with partner Foggy Nelson, he meets and falls for their new secretary Karen Page. The book focuses not only on the budding relationship between Page and Murdock (something Daredevil scholars know is significant to the character) but also Daredevil’s initiation into the ranks of superheroes.  Those who are familiar with Daredevil from darker, grittier works by Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis may actually be disappointed with Loeb and Sale’s offering. Though still having small touches of noir as well as Murdock’s motivation for wearing the costume, the book still shows a young and confident Daredevil ready to take on anyone or anything. Ignoring traditional Daredevil adversaries, Loeb has him enter the superhero world fighting costumed villains like Electro and the Purple Man. Sale’s art only adds to the classic funny pages feel of the book, giving the reader more swashbuckling action than brooding hero. Sale’s character designs, especially, of Page and Murdock together, may remind readers familiar with them of Golden Age romance comics but doesn’t come off as satire.  Daredevil Legends Vol. 1: Yellow is almost a throwback to when comics were more concerned with action and drama over drama and more drama. The book’s tight plotting and sweeping action sequences keep it from being bogged down in a dreary worldview and it may even be a breath of fresh air for readers who think comics have lately gotten too dramatic or too adult.

review by james

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Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority
ISBN: 1563897695
by Mark Millar
Art by John McCrea
DC Comics 2001

Jenny Sparks is, according to those involved, a blond, female, and distinctly more super-powered version of her creator, the dynamic Warren Ellis (although there are those who would argue that he has plenty of superpowers of his own). When Ellis left The Authority in Mark Millar's hands, Jenny too made her exit, for no one could quite fathom Jenny Sparks without Ellis' spirit behind her. Jump forward a couple of years and Millar, with Ellis' blessing, decides to give the impossible task a whack and revisit The Authority's fearless leader's life. Shuttling back and forth through the 20th century (of course), we get to see moments private and grand. The tale is happily executed with all the familiar in your face attitude we readers have all missed. A welcome return of a unique and complex superhero, this volume also highlights the genius of both series' writers and the unforgettable icon of a new cast for superheroes.

review by robin

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Ultimate X-Men
by Mark Millar
Marvel Comics 2002-2005

The X-men made their first appearance in the 1960’s. In the intervening four decades the X-men mythos has been reinvented any number of times. However, the central message of tolerance and the struggle for acceptance that the X-men represent remains unchanged and relevant. Ultimate X-men is the latest incarnation of the series, updating the comic’s context while retaining its core plot lines. It is both an accessible introduction to the universe for first time readers, and a worthy next generation for long time fans. read more...

The Complete Series

Ultimate X-Men: The Tomorrow People (Volume 1)
Ultimate X-Men: Return to Weapon X (Volume 2)
Ultimate X-Men: World Tour (Volume 3)
Ultimate X-Men: Hellfire & Brimstone (Volume 4)
Ultimate X-Men: Ultimate War (Volume 5)
Ultimate X-Men: Return of the King (Volume 6)
Ultimate X-Men: Block Buster (Volume 7)
Ultimate X-Men: New Mutants (Volume 8)
Ultimate X-Men: The Tempest (Volume 9)
Ultimate X-Men: Cry Wolf (Volume 10)

all reviews by Petra

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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
ISBN: 1563893428
By Frank Miller
Art by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley
DC Comics 1997

Sinister, fierce, and burning with power, reacting against the new laws prohibiting superheroes from walking the streets, the Dark Knight returns to his crime fighting ways after a ten year absence. Frank Miller made comic history in the 80s with this reinvention of Batman -- and deservedly so. This collection remains one of the most powerful examples of just what a superhero tale can be.

review by robin

Read more about the Batman series!

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Daredevil: A Man without Fear
ISBN: 0785100466
By Frank Miller
Marvel 1994

Matt Murdock grew up an outcast, bullied constantly, while tending his alcoholic father, a retired prizefighter caught in too deep with the mob. After his father's murder, Matt was left to his own devices, surviving by instinct. When he hits thirteen, however, he is accidentally blinded. Just when it seems he's beaten, Matt is taken under the wing of a frightening but charismatic teacher who will lead him toward his destiny -- to become the defender of those who cannot defend themselves.

review by robin

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slop: alalectaPromethea: Volume 1
by Alan Moore
ISBN: 1-56389-667-2
America's Best Comics, 1999

"If she did not exist, we would have to invent her."

Imagine a strange, futuristic version of our world. Instead of Hello Kitty, the most popular figure for t-shirts and billboards is a weeping gorilla, the mayor of New York has multiple personalities, and a group of superheroes known as the Five Swell Guys serve as a protective back up to the city's police forces. Amidst all of this is Sophie Bangs a college student that just wants to finish her term paper on the literary figure Promethea. But isn't that always how these things begin?

Promethea is intense, cracked out, and awesome all at the same time. Created by the fabulous and more than mildly eccentric Alan Moore, this is the story of how Sophie goes from researching Promethea to being another in a long line of individuals that have become her.

Picture something that vibes a little similar to The Invisibles only with even more mysticism, philosophy, feminism, kabbalah, tarot, reincarnation and significantly less appearances of the Marquis de Sade. Volume 1 follows Sophie as she discovers Promethea's existence, deals with the inevitable attacks upon her person, and attempts to get used to slipping in and out of the human universe and into a realm known as the Immateria.

You might think this sounds a bit like every hero-journey you've read already, but it isn't. Trust me. I'm not even sure how to explain the multiple layers of symbolism, magic, art, religion, philosophy, and plain old wackiness packed into this comic, not to mention the larger story to come. The plot is held together loosely at best, but the incredible art and overall richness to the story carries you through it.

Promethea the comic is beautiful to look at. The artwork is filled with references to art and history from around the world, each page is filled with detail-packed images, and the page and panel layouts are creative and inventive. Reminiscent of comics like The Adventures of Little Nemo, the artists manage to strike a perfect balance between simple fun, richness of detail, and plain old good drawing to keep your eyes interested. Volume 1 doesn't push the adult content barriers much, but there is some nudity and sexual content to come. For the most part it's moderately artistic and somewhat restrained, but those of a younger age range should consider themselves warned.

Review by Katie

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we are on our ownTop Ten: The Forty-Niners
by Alan Moore
ISBN: 1401205739
American's Best Comics, 2005

Top Ten: The Forty-Niners is the prequel to Alan Moore's previous two Top Ten books. This book is set at the time when Neopolis is just being established, and people are just getting used to the presence of science-heroes, robots, and people endowed with mystical powers in their post-WWII society. The story centers around two characters: Steve Traynor, Jetlad, and Leni Muller, the Skywitch. They're both relocated to Neopolis after the war, and Leni finds a job in the police force while Steve works as a mechanic at a local hangar. There's a general feeling of discontent in Neopolis, since half of the inhabitants used to be war heroes, and now they're waiting tables and managing apartment buildings and not getting to use the skills and abilities they developed in the war. Things come to a head when the vampires start showing a general disdain for live people just when the mayor is considering declaring martial law. Gene Ha's art in this book is gorgeous--he somehow manages to make this book have the same atmospheric feeling as old photographs. The art, combined with Alan Moore's fantastic storytelling, make this the best volume of Top Ten yet. This is a great book for people who read traditional superhero comics and for people who enjoy science fiction.

review by gina

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Watchmen
ISBN: 0930289234
By Alan Moore
Art by Dave Gibbons
Warner Books 1995

If you're like me, reading superhero tales, there is also that nagging, logical question in the back of your mind -- just why are these particular men and women driven to put on costumes and become, for all intents and purposes, vigilantes? There's a reason people didn't trust Batman when he first roamed the streets of Gotham -- who was he to judge who was right and who was wrong? Superman may have a noble and undeniable calling, but many of these figures, Batman perhaps the most darkly conflicted, have other, more human reasons for what they do. Watchmen, full of superheroes of the same breed as Superman, Spiderman, and Wonder Woman, explores all the complicated answers provoked by these questions. In its pages, not only do we find a little superhero in ourselves, but also find the humanity, flawed or noble, in the heroes elevated above us.

review by robin

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Starman: Sins of the Father
ISBN: 1563892480
By James Robinson
Art by Tony Harris, Bob Kahan, and Wade von Grawbadger
DC Comics 1996

Jack Knight is having a bad day. His older brother has been murdered, his father attacked, and he's expected take up the family tradition -- being Opal City's guardian, Starman. Never mind that he's never had any interest in being a superhero. Never mind that he's being attacked left and right by old enemies without any idea of why. Will he rise to the occasion or will he prove his inner demons right -- and fail?

review by robin

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Green Arrow: Quiver
ISBN: 1563899655
by Kevin Smith
Art by Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Guy Major, and Sean Konot
DC Comics 2002

The number of times I laughed out loud at this title (and they were too numerous to count) should not in any way detract from the seriousness of its issues of the craft of its creators. If anything, readers should be grateful for a tale that's smart, dramatic, full of excellent DC and Green Arrow canonical references, and, with all that, makes you guffaw at least once. Kevin Smith whips out some truly wonderful one-liners and perfectly timed conversations, my personal favorite an exchange between the Flash and Batman that proves the Dark Knight is anything but humorless. At this point, no one should be surprised that Kevin Smith is a funny guy.

The great part of this title is, however, the more unexpected depth and heart that Smith filled this tale with (though anyone who saw and loved Dogma as I did should know better.) As with that complex film, Smith tackles what it means to have faith, to have a soul, and how much a man needs all of his past, from shameful moments to pain as well as love and joy, to be human. All of these issues are contemplated fully, emotionally, though they are contrasted and lightened up by the sparks of humor.

The artwork is top-notch -- my favorite kind of superhero work where they all look like heroes, yes, but not too far from actual anatomy. The expressions are also particularly fine -- the interactions between Aquaman and Green Arrow are priceless in both word and image.

I was originally warned that this title was way too full of canon references for me to try: I have never read Green Arrow comics and only know what little I know about that hero from references in Birds of Prey. As a newbie, though, I can say, despite occasional moments of character vertigo, I was well able to follow and thoroughly enjoy the story. I could tell that if I knew the character and his world, the story would undoubtedly have been richer, but it was a fine feast for me as is.

Read more about the Green Arrow series!

review by robin

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Outsiders: Sum of All Evil (Volume 2)
ISBN: 1401202438
By Judd Winick
Art by Tom Raney, Will Conrad, Tom Derenick
DC Comics 2004

Judd Winick is rapidly becoming one of my trusted writers. That is to say, writers I will read no matter what they’re writing. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the second volume of Outsiders. I liked the first volume, but didn’t know where Winick was going to go that wouldn’t be just another superhero story. He blew me away with the second volume which is all about consequences. Most superhero comics brush over what happens after the fight is over and the villain of the day has been vanquished. Winick addresses Roy’s (Arsenal) fear and vulnerability in his recovery from the bullets he took at the end of the first volume of Outsiders. Winick also begins to question whether Nightwing’s insistence on emotional distance from his team is perhaps more dangerous than effective. The artwork matches the story well, with strong colors and lines. The action is easy to follow, but the humanity of the characters is not lost. The subplot showing the interaction between Roy and his daughter uses this to particularly good effect. This is not a book for younger readers. Winnick uses both violence and sex to good effect and with purpose, but he also isn’t coy about it

review by petra

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demo

Demo
by Brian Wood
art by Becky Cloonan
ISBN: 1932051422
AIT/PlanetLar, 2005

Demo is a book of twelve one-shot stories with a connected theme: adolescents with superpowers.  But wait! This isn't a typical 'kid gets superpowers and then joins a team of like-minded individuals who try to make the world a better place' book--this is an intense, gripping look about what it would be like if people in our world today really had these powers. Each short story looks at a different person--one at a girl whose powers manifested as a young kid, and who's trying to wean herself off the mind-altering drugs her parents give her to stop her powers from manifesting, another at a guy who can hit whatever he shoots at, and is recruited by the army, and another about a girl whose voice causes people to do what she tells them, even when she tells them to drop dead. This book is a great piece of speculative fiction that will appeal to both superhero fans and people who enjoy more realistic works of fiction. Brian Wood writes about issues that figure largely into teenagers' lives--drugs, depression, success in life, physical appearance--in such a way that the stories in Demo are will ring true to teenage readers. Becky Cloonan's black and white art excellently compliments Brian Wood's gritty and realistic story-telling.

review by gina

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copyright Robin Brenner 2002-2004