2022 was the year I dropped reading monthlies. After decades of reading them, whether buying them myself, reading my college roommate’s copies, or consuming them digitally, I decided it was time to get off the ride. This happens to all comic fans when they reach a certain age. It comes from frustration with the cyclical nature of superhero books. Most of the best stories for a character have already been told, so everything between now and the next great authorial genius coming along is just spinning wheels.
The status quo will always return, and radical changes are always retconned. See DC Comics’ recent announcement that they would be rolling back Brian Michael Bendis’ public reveal of Superman’s secret identity of Clark Kent. Through some narrative and in-universe magic, that genie is being forced back into the bottle to take us back to the familiar. Nothing wrong or bad about that. I will be following comics in 2023, though, but focusing entirely on collected editions. Nothing changes here on PopCult, only in my personal weekly reading habits. But let’s look at the collected editions I loved from 2022.
Suicide Squad by John Ostrander
While this is an oldie, it was my first read-through of John Ostrander’s remarkable run on the original Suicide Squad. These days the team name is one of the tentpoles of the DC cinematic exploits, but this book was left to its own devices when it first came out. Spinning out of Legends, which was an effort to lay out the post-Crisis DC Universe, the Squad was somewhat original. The Dirty Dozen was mixed with the Secret Society of Supervillains, a book where the good guys were also bad guys. Ostrander’s team dynamics are incredibly mature when you understand that DC published some bland material just a year or two earlier. That’s why it needed Crisis. Over five years, Ostrander wove a tale of late Cold War intrigue mixed with what you’d expect in a comic book. One of the most unique and fascinating post-Crisis creations, Amanda Waller faces off with Darkseid himself. Older characters got a fresh coat of paint: Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, Vixen, and Captain Boomerang. Yeah, they aren’t household names, but that’s okay. Ostrander gave them depth and interior lives no writer had ever done before. He made you want to cry for the baddest bad guys because they were presented as human beings. They had made some bad choices. Some were pushed down paths by others. There were no heroes in Suicide Squad. Just people killing to survive, doing things they often would rather not do. But the government won’t let them reform or rehabilitate.
Review of Suicide Squad Volumes 1 & 2
Geoff Johns is getting a lot of hate these days. I’m not going to say he doesn’t deserve at least some of it. Since taking on a more prominent role as a creative in DC’s movies/tv wing, he’s definitely off his game. It could be argued it was happening even a little before that. It’s what happens when you bite off more than you can chew. Though he has seen better days, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Flashpoint Beyond. Hell, I liked it better than Dark Crisis (what a shocking dud). To be fair, Johns isn’t flying solo here. He’s got Jeremy Adams and Tim Sheridan as co-writers, so that’s probably why the book came out on time. Returning to the well of Flashpoint, a story written entirely to bridge the gap between the post-Crisis DCU and the New 52 in 2011, is a stupid idea. I’m not going to argue that it isn’t. What I will say is that sometimes stupid ideas can be fun? Remember that, fun? We have Thomas Wayne as Batman in a world where Bruce took the bullet. There’s a serial killer out there, but all of reality may also be collapsing? Lots of insane things happen, no more so than including the original Rip Hunter and the Time Masters. Plus, that cliffhanger teasing “The New Golden Age” was exactly what I wanted. I thought Dark Crisis would be this thing, so I’m glad I at least had this.
Justice League Incarnate
Grant Morrison introduced the JL Incarnate back in their masterwork, The Multiversity. They’ve popped up very rarely since, but Joshua Williamson decided to make them a pivotal piece to the build-up to Dark Crisis. Now, you know I don’t like that story, but the prelude was a lot of fun. Calvin Ellis, President Superman of Earth-23, leads this team of multiversal heroes. This mini was, in turn, a continuation of 2022’s Infinite Horizon. This time around, we get introduced to Doctor Multiverse of Earth-8. She’s like Marvel’s Captain Marvel but different. My favorite part of this book is when she and Cal get stranded on a mundane Earth (i.e., our own) and put together a comic book explaining the current Crisis as it seems the only way to warn this world. If you tell a story involving the multiverse in the DCU, I have to give you my money. Once again, like Flashpoint Beyond, does all of it work, and is this a masterpiece of the graphic novel form that will win an Eisner Award? Of course not. But I like seeing Captain Carrot, goddammit. Let me have fun. If you keep asking questions, we’ll never get through this.
Nightwing by Tom Taylor
Unlike some of you freaks out there, I am not a Nightwing stan. Yet, Tom Taylor delivered a grand slam with his ongoing Nightwing run. Dick Grayson is the inheritor of the late Alfred Pennyworth’s billions (What can I say, the man knew how to pinch a penny). He uses that money to revitalize his old stomping grounds of Bludhaven. That’s all fine and dandy, but that crime boss Blockbuster does not like this. Along the way, Dick rekindles his old romance with Batgirl, aka Barbara Gordon. He adopts a dog. He starts a charity for the underprivileged. He meets his retconned half-sister, whose dad was Tony Zucco, the guy who killed Dick’s parents…I think. That part was a little…um. Is this essentially a reskinning of Daredevil. Yes. Do I care? No. The final showdown between Nightwing and Blockbuster is one of the most satisfying conclusions to a long-running comics feud I’ve ever read. Just *chef’s kiss*. It was the only comic this year that literally made me want to stand up and cheer. That’s saying a hell of a lot.
Batman/Superman: World’s Finest by Mark Waid
Mark Waid is growing on me in my old age. Not like an infectious mold but like fine wine. His injection of pure Silver Age fun into this newest iteration of a Batman/Superman team-up book is just what the doctor ordered. It seems Waid is back in the fold thanks to the retirement of one Dan Didio. It’s good to have you back, Mark. Jumping to some point earlier in the careers of these iconic heroes, Waid can tell stories that feature the extended families of both characters. He isn’t leaving out more obscure faces like The Doom Patrol and, coming up in 2023, Metamorpho. And the most surprising thing is that the stories in this book matter. The opening arc about the demon Nezha led into the Batman vs. Robin mini (also penned by Waid), which is kicking off Planet Lazarus in January (guess who is writing the bookend titles for that one). I cannot write this review without mentioning the blessing that is Dan Mora’s artwork. It’s colorful and bold yet still modern, just the perfect bridge between the Silver Age and contemporary comics. Keep it coming, Mark!
Action Comics by Phillip Kennedy Johnson
People are constantly shitting on Superman. I remember the diatribes in college by friends who thought he was “overpowered” and “boring.” You’ve heard the arguments. I’m not saying they are wrong, but it’s a myopic way of looking at one of the most iconic superheroes ever created. Do you know who gets Superman? Phillip Kennedy Johnson. He needed to shake something up to make his story work. First, he folded in the very awkward Superman and the Authority mini-series written by Grant Morrison last year. It’s not the smoothest thing, but he makes it work. Johnson also evokes some of that Roger Stern/Dan Jurgens era Superman stuff by sending him into space for a year, turning the powers down, and pitting him against Mongul and Warworld. I thought everything that needed to be said about those two things had been done in the Superman comics. I was wrong. Johnson told one of the best Superman stories of the modern era, taking us back to his roots as a crusader for the downtrodden. This time its slaves from various ransacked planets turned into laborers and gladiators for the sick twisted religion on Warworld. It’s rooted in humanism but not afraid to be cosmic & weird with it. If you think there aren’t new Superman stories to tell, read this run and come see me after.
Daredevil by Chip Zdarsky
I just don’t like Daredevil. But Chip Zdarsky made me love him and his world. While Zdarsky’s Batman run is still TBD, his Daredevil work is phenomenal. He plays with elements from deep in the continuity but keeps things fresh and changing. This isn’t just a Daredevil story; it’s equally a Kingpin/Wilson Fisk book. While Matt Murdock is wrestling with whether or not the city needs a masked vigilante, Fisk is the mayor. He’s starting to realize this is a job with real material responsibilities. But Fisk is also a sociopath, and slight disrespect sends him into a murderous rage. By the end of the first act of Zdarsky’s run, he sent New York City into full-scale war. Yet, he takes his time in getting us there. The gangs that control the city and their relationships are established. We get to know the cops, who often feel like another cartel. Zdarksy even manages to make villains like The Owl and Stilt-Man genuinely scary. For that, he deserves all the awards. I can’t say I will continue to be interested in Daredevil when Zdarsky leaves, but I love this and can’t wait to see where he goes next.
Review of Daredevil by Chip Zdarsky Volume One
Rogues by Joshua Williamson and Leomacs
I have a thing for villain-led books (see my review of Suicide Squad above). The bad guys are often more complex and engaging than the heroes they fight. It makes sense. Heroes are simple. Villains are complicated. This DC Black Label book (i.e., outside of continuity) takes place ten years from now, where The Flash’s Rogues Gallery plus some friends are washed up. Captain Cold is on probation and working in a factory. His sister, Lisa (formerly The Golden Glider), is a social worker trying to do good. The Trickster is a hack magician, and Mirror Master is in rehab. It’s sad. But Cold has a plan. Years ago, he heard that Gorilla City had a stash of gold that could change his and his pals’ lives. So, a heist is planned, and like all heists, it goes off with several hitches. While Williamson’s Dark Crisis has left me cold, this book did not. One of the best of the year, very much supervillain noir with some real humanity in the story.
Review of Rogues
Catwoman: Lonely City by Cliff Chiang
Best book of the year, and that’s not because Cliff Chiang complimented my review on Instagram. It helped the book’s ranking, but…this is not a paid endorsement. It’s another Black Label book set in the future, this time a dystopian Gotham City where Two-Face is “reformed” and the mayor. Selina Kyle (Catwoman) has just gotten out of prison following a stint that started with her arrest the night Batman died. His last words to her were to find something called Orpheus, and she couldn’t ignore her late lover’s request. It takes building a family, not a team, consisting of Killer Croc, The Riddler & his daughter, Poison Ivy, and more. These are the heroes of the story up against a police force that has modeled their look after Batman, making an abomination of Bruce’s legacy. Lonely City is a story about the hope you have to have when you are fighting the institutions that keep us down. The “antidote” to Miller’s cranky The Dark Knight Returns, this is a must-read and makes me clamor for more from Chiang.
Review of Catwoman: Lonely City
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