J. Caleb Mozzocco, Author at Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources

Branding shmanding, ‘Teen Titans: Earth One’ is pretty good

TEEN TITANS EARTH ONEThe cover of Teen Titans: Earth One Volume One, as it’s referred to on its title page, bears the all-caps blurb, “THE NEXT CHAPTER IN THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLING EARTH ONE SERIES.”

What exactly is “the Earth One series”? I’m a little confused. So too is its publisher.

The line of original graphic novels launched in 2010 with J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis’ Superman: Earth One. The premise seemed to be the reintroduction of the character in a modern setting for a new audience. (Not unlike Marvel’s millennial Ultimate imprint then, but in a more bookstore/library-friendly format.)

That was followed with a sequel and Batman: Earth One, by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Now the Teen Titans get a turn with this book by Jeff Lemire, Terry and Rachel Dodson and Cam Smith. Despite the blurb, the graphic novels aren’t connected in any way other than design, format and, perhaps, intended audience.

The “Earth One” designation remains particularly perplexing, given the baggage the phrase is freighted with, its ever-changing meaning and the fact that these books are presumably targeted at readers who don’t know or care about the oft-rebooted DC Multiverse’s various parallel-Earth settings.
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The living dead wear dresses in ‘Magical Girl Apocalypse’

magical girl coverThe current cultural interest in zombies seems to be, like the creatures themselves, deathless. Rather than abating, the trend simply finds new ways and places to appear, whether that’s Archie Comics’ entry into horror, a new take on DC’s old war titles, or manga-ka Kentaro Sato’s bizarre Magical Girl Apocalypse.

A recent import from Seven Seas that gives the zombie-apocalypse scenario the unusual agent of a magical school girl, the series is perhaps well-timed, given the resurgence of interest in Sailor Moon, most Americans’ first and strongest introduction to the Japanese trope, that has accompanied her new television show.

Sato’s comic is an odd one in how familiar it is … save for that one big innovation. It’s not even the first manga I’ve read about a zombie apocalypse that starts at a Japanese high school; Daisuke Sato and Shouji Sato’s superior Highschool of the Dead has a similar premise, and much of this first volume features scenes and character types almost identical to those in HOTD‘s first volume.

That isn’t to say it’s a retread, however; it differs in several significant ways — it’s far gorier, it’s less interested in fan service (and some of what’s there seems almost to be a parody of the ludicrously endowed characters that appear in some manga, including HOTD), it’s less interested in characterization (the cast expanding only to shrink almost immediately in a series of gory deaths) and, of course, there’s that magical girl.

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A Month of Wednesdays | Some All-News, New 52s and more

doopAll-New Doop (Marvel): It’s perfectly appropriate for any series starring peripheral X-Men character Doop to be a weird one, however, the miniseries collected in this trade paperback is weird in a weird way.

Doop was created by writer Peter Milligan and artist Mike Allred for their iconoclastic (and somewhat -controversial) 2001 X-Force run, which was then relaunched under the name The X-Statix. The premise involved a group of celebrity-wannabe mutants who used their powers for fame and fortune by starring in a reality show; holding the camera was a mysterious, gross, floating, potato-shaped green creature that spoke its own, indecipherable language and answered to the name Doop.

Milligan imagined a dramatic behind-the-scenes life for the character in a two-part, 2003 Wolverine/Doop miniseries, and writer Jason Aaron ran with the joke, including Doop as a member of the faculty at the Jean Grey School during his Wolverine and The X-Men run. For the most part, Doop functioned as a background joke, one more signifier of the zany environment of the new school for young mutants, though Aaron did pair with Doop’s co-creator Allred for a one-issue story that focused on the character as a behind-the-scenes, floating potato-thing-of-all-trades.

Milligan returns to the character for this miniseries, in which Allred only provides the covers, while David LaFuente draws the majority of the art. Milligan takes Doop’s behind-the-scenes portfolio to an extreme, marking him as a character capable of traveling through “The Marginalia,” entering and exiting the comic-book tales in order to influence their outcome.

The story Doop influences here is “Battle of the Atom,” the Brian Michael Bendis-helmed X-Men crossover that involved Cyclops’ X-Men team, Wolverine’s X-Men team and an X-Men team from the future engaged in a fight over what to do with the teenage original X-Men plucked out of the Silver Age and currently hanging around the present.

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Does size matter?: ‘Moon Knight’ Vol. 1

moon knightMarvel recently released Moon Knight Vol.1: From The Dead, collecting the first six issues of writer Warren Ellis and artist Declan Shalvey’s run on their newly launched Moon Knight ongoing series. As it turns out, it also collects the entirety of Ellis and Shalvey’s run on their newly launched Moon Knight ongoing series, as the pair left the book after those six issues.

Under most circumstances, creators departing almost as soon as they started would be a pretty clear sign that something was wrong behind the scenes, and would, in general, be regarded as a very bad thing. And Ellis and Shalvey leaving the book so soon is a bad thing, if only because they did such terrific work on it.

As odd as it may seem, they’re not leaving any story business unfinished, and the trade reads complete as is — there’s no cliffhanger at the end, no dangling plotlines, no characters in the lurch. That’s because Ellis didn’t write the book as if it were an open-ended, superhero serial narrative, but approached each of those six issues as a done-in-one, complete story. In all honesty, Ellis and Shalvey could have quit after three issues, or two or one, and Moon Knight would still read as a complete narrative with a beginning, middle and end.

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Balloonless | Tim Hanley’s ‘Wonder Woman Unbound’

cover of wwuThere’s a lot more than gender differentiating Wonder Woman from her fellow first generation superheroes that have, against all odds, survived to the modern day. More so than even Superman and Batman, the only other heroes whose comics have been in continuous publication since their creation, Wonder Woman is a character with sharp, often difficult to reconcile (or even wrestle with) contradictions built into her.

Foremost among those contradictions is the fact that, as Tim Hanley alludes to in the subtitle of  Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine, the character is universally known, to the point that she’s practically omnipresent in pop culture, but that knowledge tends to be pretty shallow.

That is, everyone knows Wonder Woman, but relatively few know much of anything about her. Her name and costume, her bullet-blocking bracelets and magic lasso, maybe her invisible jet, but that’s about it, really. Curious indeed.

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The beginning of the ‘End’ is a lot like ‘Futures End’

earth2-worlds-end

Do you like Batman? Sure, everyone loves Batman, which is what makes this new series Earth 2: World’s End so great. It’s got Batman in it! Well, not Batman so much as Batman’s dad. And not the “real” Batman’s dad, but an alternate dimension’s Batman’s dad … who has taken over for his son as Batman II. So, it stars a legacy version of an alternate version of Batman.

That’s one aspect of World’s End, which joins Batman Eternal and The New 52: Futures End on DC’s slate of ongoing weeklies, that I found particularly striking.

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35 months late, a ‘Batgirl’ reboot done right

batgirl coverIt would be awfully hard to overstate the enthusiasm out there for Batgirl #35. As soon as the new creative team of Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr and Brenden Fletcher was announced, social media was buzzing; hell, it was singing. Fan art of the new costume began appearing online immediately, and cosplayers started dressing the new Batgirl based on nothing more than the initial promotional images and cover.

I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen this much enthusiasm for a DC Comics production. Universe-shaking developments — deaths, resurrections, infinite crises — major crossovers, and new series from the hottest creators are generally greeted with a dose of cold water from a certain faction of fans. DC readers tend to fall somewhere between “cautiously optimistic” and “openly hostile” when it comes to the publisher’s big decisions. But, for whatever reasons, I’ve seen none of that cynicism regarding the new direction of Batgirl.

Which is a long way of saying that expectations for this particular issue of this particular series are, in most quarters that care about such things, sky-high.

There are only ever three things that can happen with expectations: They can be met, they can fail to be met, or they can be exceeded. And, in general, the higher the expectations are, the less likely they are to be met.

So, as a comic book, how is Batgirl #35 …?

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‘Futures End’ Month, Week 4: Did they save the best for last?

Still better than the New 52 costumes.

Still better than the New 52 costumes.

In the fullness of time, all things come to an end: Futures, worlds, even month-long publishing initiatives. And so Wednesday brought with it the final batch of Futures End specials from DC Comics.

Of this week’s 10 releases, I read four, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of those were pretty good … and at least two of them even tied in to the events of The New 52: Futures End, the weekly series that nominally gives the one-shots a reason to exist.

Heck, one of them tied in to the series, which saw the release of its 21st issue this week, strongly and directly enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned up in  one of the eventual trade collections of Futures End.
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‘Futures End’ Month, Week 3: More tie-in adjacent, really

fwoooosh

Hey, I didn’t know vampires could breathe fire! Comics really are educational!

September marches on, Wednesday by Wednesday, which means so too does DC Comics’ theme month. This year the publisher has suspended publication of its New 52 titles, replaced them with Futures End one-shots, and slapped new and improved (i.e. smaller) lenticular 3D covers on them, each bearing a “#1.”

One could certainly question the logic in tying all of the New 52 books, even the extremely popular ones like Batman, to a middling weekly series set in a possible future that will never come to pass and that seems to be a fairly reliable mid-list seller. But this week’s crop of one-shots demonstrates that, despite the fact that each book has the words “Futures End” in the title, many of them have somewhere between nothing and very little to do with the actual plot of the event series.

In the previous two installments of our weekly look at these specials, I recapped the basic plot of Futures End. But this time, I see I need not even bother. DC shipped 11 of the books this week, but I only read five — and the only thing those issues shared in common is that they’re set five years in the future (not that they had much of anything at all to do with Futures End).

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Power couples: ‘Superman/Wonder Woman’ and ‘Astro City: Victory’

superman-ww-astro-city

Superman is the world’s greatest superhero, Wonder Woman is the world’s greatest superheroine. They have so much in common — their superpowers, their costume colors, their hobbies, their social organizations — that they seem perfect for each other … if only it weren’t for that nosy reporter friend, or girlfriend, or wife, or object-of-his-affection that’s kept the Man of Steel more or less spoken for over the course of his 75-year career.

I suppose that’s why Superman and Wonder Woman so often become a couple in various out-of-continuity stories like Kingdom Come and Injustice, and a large part of why DC Comics decided to use its 2011 reboot as an opportunity to make the pair a super-powered power couple, one of the more dramatic, non-sartorial changes in either characters’ milieus the reboot has so far introduced.

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‘Futures End’ Month, Week 2: Introducing the untie-in

You took the agonized scream of rage right out of my mouth, "Futures End" Harley Quinn.

You took the agonized scream of rage right out of my mouth, “Futures End” Harley Quinn.

This month marks the third anniversary of of the New 52, and, as was the case with each September since the 2011 relaunch of DC Comics’ superhero titles, that means the entire line is being unified under an umbrella theme … or gimmick, depending on how charitable you are.

In 2012, it was “Zero Month,” with each book telling a story set in the hero’s first year of rebooted continuity. Last year, it was “Villains Month,” featuring fancy 3D covers, decimal-point issue numbers and stories starring DC’s antagonists. This year, its a little from column A, and a little from column B: There are more of those fancy covers, but all of the stories are set five years into the future.

As I did last week, I’ve grabbed a handful of new Futures End one-shots, more or less at random, for review. This week DC released 10 Futures End one-shots, of which I have five sitting in a little stack next to me as I type. Last time, I tried ordering the reviews from worst to best, but I had trouble doing so this week, as there wasn’t really a stand-out like Grayson. Rather, these five seemed to cluster around a baseline of mediocrity, with a few being slightly better, others slightly worse.

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High marks for Monte Beauchamp’s ‘Masterful Marks’

masterful marksBlab founder and editor Monte Beauchamp’s latest book, Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World, bears a subtitle that begs to be parsed, almost as much as it begs to be read.

He’s gathered a Murderers’ Row of great contributors and collaborators to tell the life’s stories of 16 cartoonists, in the most obvious format to do so — comics, of course.

But what, exactly, constitutes a cartoonist? Some of those included might have worked at one point in the field, but made their greatest marks in other areas: people like Walt Disney, Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel and Hugh Hefner (whose inclusion will likely be the biggest surprise to more readers; and, make no mistake, the book is made as much for the casual reader as the expert, armchair or otherwise). Others you might not think of as cartoonists at all, like Edward Gorey or Al Hirschfeld.

And changing the world — the whole world?! — is a pretty bold claim, certainly bolder than changing, say, a genre, or a medium or an industry. Certainly Disney and Osamu Tezuka qualify, as do Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who introduced the superhero as we know it, and Jack Kirby, who reimagined the superhero, made countless contributions to the form and who created or co-created characters and concepts that today make billions of dollars.

But what about Harvey Kurtzman, Robert Crumb and the aforementioned Hirschfeld? Are their influences and innovations on equal footing?

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‘Futures End’ Month, Week 1: ‘Grayson’ is great

new 53 fe 1In the near future, some sort of sentient operating system has awoken and taken over the world, transforming its inhabitants into cyborgs that then either kill or assimilate the rest of the population. To try to prevent this apocalyptic nightmare, Batman Bruce Wayne sends Batman Terry McGinnis into the past to stop that operating system from being created.

I know parts of that plot might sound familiar, but notice the presence of Batmen in it, so obviously I am describing The New 52: Futures End, DC Comics’ weekly series set five year in the future, where McGinnis is trying to alter his past to save his future.

I wonder if DC could send someone back in time, whether they would have altered the storyline of Futures End a bit. It’s always difficult to tell exactly how well a particular series is selling — in part because of the insane way the direct market sells comics, in part because publishers don’t typically release numbers — but one expects DC might have had higher hopes for Futures End, given that this year’s theme month of September is devoted entirely to tie-ins to the storyline, as the company has suspended much of its New 52 line and replaced it with 52 42  Futures End one-shots.

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Sensational idea, less-than-wonderful execution: ‘Sensation Comics’ #1

sensationLast week saw the return of Sensation Comics to store racks, as DC Comics repurposed the long-defunct title for a new Wonder Woman anthology series, featuring stories by rotating creative teams that debut online as part of the publisher’s digital-first initiative. It’s a strategy the company previously used for similar anthologies Legends of the Dark Knight and the soon-ending Adventures of Superman.

It’s a great idea, and one well past due. Unlike Batman and the Man of Steel, Wonder Woman has long been confined to a single solo title, with fewer miniseries, specials and one-shots, and is more often subject to drastic new directions, due to a perceived notion the character needs to be “fixed.”

The current Wonder Woman series is a good example of this, with Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and company reintroducing the character with an “Everything you thought you knew was wrong!” origin, accompanied by a weird and dark backstory for the Amazons, and a London setting for the heroine.

Last time I checked in with Wonder Woman, the title character was the demigod daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta and had become the goddess of war, dispatching her foes with magic swords — and when she’s really in a pinch, she takes off her power-dampening Amazon bracelets, which allows her to “power-up” into a sort of glowing Super-Wonder Woman.

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Anxiously ever after: Emily Carroll’s ‘Through the Woods’

through the woodsA few of the short, scary stories in Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods evoke elements of classic fairy tales. Some are quite direct, like the young woman in the conclusion who dons a red hood and cape to walk through the wilderness, avoiding a wolf. Others are more indirect, like the possibly murderous, Bluebeard-like husband in “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold,” or simply in the patterns of repeating events, like what happens to the three sisters in “Our Neighbor’s House” or  to the pairs of characters in “His Face All Red” and “My Friend Janna.”

However, there are two sharp and immediate differences between Carroll’s stories and the fairy tales they sometimes evoke.

First, Carroll’s stories are told in comics form, although more artfully constructed than what you might expect to find on the new racks each Wednesday (her book comes courtesy of a Simon and Schuster imprint, rather than a traditional comics publisher).

Second, they’re terrifying, some of them more H.P. Lovecraft or August Derleth than August Derleth or Wilhem and Jacob Grimm at their, well, grimmest. For example, the Little Red Riding Hood allusion in the conclusion, part of the set of stories that bookend the five gothic (in the traditional, literary sense) short stories that form the bulk of Carroll’s collection, ends with the wolf, if that’s really what it is, appearing in the dark outside the girl’s window.

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