Fun fact: this Wednesday gone was my birthday! And, er… not many comics came out that I wanted to read. DC were in fifth week, and Marvel are just not putting out much at all that I’m into right now. But I did take the opportunity to read a TPB of something relatively recent, and a surprisingly good one to boot…

Batman Annual #1

(DC / Various writers/artists)

This is a delightful throwback to a couple of different types of comic: first, it’s an annual that’s actually an anthology; and secondly, it’s Christmas-themed, so it calls to mind DC’s fantastic Christmas With The Superheroes one-shots from the late 1980s. In fact, not one but two of the stories here deliberately call to mind the classic 1970 story The Silent Night of the Batman – but that’s no bad thing, and they are at least distinctive enough from one-another. One is a Paul Dini and Neal Adams story about Batman and Harley Quinn; the other is a terrific Ray Fawkes and Scott Snyder character piece (with gorgeous art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire) that invents a new kind of Bat-signal. But the highlight of the whole thing is Tom King and David Finch’s opener, which is the origin story of the present-continuity Ace the Bat-Hound. It may well make you cry, and every time King writes Alfred continues to be an absolute joy.

Saga #40

(Image / Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Fonografiks)

Saga is pretty difficult to review in single issue form, which is going to make covering it in these posts fun. So, anyway… this is a mid-arc issue of Saga. It contains about the level of plot developments/twists you would expect from an arc at this stage. It is one of the best-looking comics you’ll see this week, because it’s drawn by Fiona Staples. It has good character moments. It is Saga, basically. Oh, but it’s relatively light on material that would make you ashamed to read it on the tube, is about the most distinctive thing I can say.

Superman Annual #1

(DC / Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Jorge Jimenez, Alejandro Sanchez, Saida Temofonte)

In contrast to the Batman annual, this is a full-issue story; but it pitches itself quite well as being entirely self-contained and separate from the main Superman storyline (despite also being written by Tomasi and Gleason) while also providing a relatively significant piece of character development. While it’s not the very best issue of this series so far, it’s almost certainly the best comic to have featured Superman and Swamp Thing together since Alan Moore’s day.

Superman: American Alien

(DC / Max Landis, Nick Dragotta, Tommy Lee Edwards, Joelle Jones, Jonathan Case, Jae Lee, Francis Manapul, Jock)

This was… disconcerting. I am no fan of Max Landis at all, and expected to find everything about his personality and attitude to be completely at odds with anything I would ever want to see in a Superman story. And yet… I enjoyed this. In fact, I really enjoyed it. It’s a fresh and imaginative take on Superman, and while it takes plenty of liberties, none of them feel especially egregious. It’s a far more successful “Ultimate” style reimagining of the character than the comparable Superman: Earth One, largely staying true to the spirit of Clark Kent while doing something a bit different. It’s snappily written, and while the surface trip through different movie styles is obvious even before reading the original pitch notes at the end, they largely work. And the art, from a range of high profile guests, is exemplary right the way through. It really does surprise me to say this, but this is the kind of Superman book you could happily give to people who either do already like the character or don’t, and in both cases they’d very probably get on with it. But I still don’t like Max Landis.