Week 37 (May 16, 2012)

Looking at the list this week, the only things that really have me excited are the Bat-books.  Of the “Night of the Owls” books, Nightwing and Red Hood and the Outlaws are two of my favorites.  Conversely, Justice League  is close to the bottom, so this could be an interesting week.
  • Justice League #9 . . . I won’t beleaguer the point, but just give the barest of impressions.  The portrayal and conceptualization of the main characters in this title is sophomoric and fundamentally flawed. I think Johns is trying to do interesting things with them, but is failing.  Give it up an just level them out, already.  His Superman is less abrasive than in past issues, so perhaps he is making overtures, but the rest are still way off, Batman at the forefront.  On a positive note, I do like his inclusion of old school, lesser known villains like “The Key” and “Weapons Master.”  The Key was a Golden Age DC villain, who also was an early antagonist of the JLA early on in the team’s Silver Age genesis, so his inclusion was a rather inspired choice.  Are these two faithfully adapted?  I can’t rightly say and I don’t care.  They are classic, but abstruse enough that Johns has free license with them.  If there is one thing Geoff Johns needs to understand, its that you can tinker with imperfection, or knock around with almost perfect, but messing with things that don’t need fixing is not avante-garde or cute.  If fans have come over time to love and cherish something, leave it the F**K alone!   The SHAZAM! backup was trying, but still didn’t get off the ground for me.  See my previous point about leaving things be . . .
  • Green Lantern Corps #9 was a hot button issue.  With the arrest of John Stewart by the Alpha Lanterns the consequences of his actions several issues ago when he killed his fellow Lantern, Kirrt Kallak, come to bear.  Writer, Peter Tomasi’s exploration of this event is really thorough, yet open ended.  With two planets and another fellow Lantern on his list of previous kills, his reticence to admit what he did is understandable.  At the same time Guy Gardner admits that but for a serendipitous happenstance, he almost took the life of another Green Lantern once.  Its a tricky situation that is justified from one perspective, but also left in doubt as to whether it was completely necessary.  Even though Tomasi’s opinion is hinted at, he leaves it open for reader debate.  But despite all of the aforementioned debate, one thing is not in question.  The Guardians of the Universe are EVIL.  The plot and machinations they are currently laying are underhanded, amoral, and just plain chilling.  This issue really paves the way toward something sinister through the whole cadre of Green Lantern books.  A really well crafted issue.
  • Batwoman #9 remains one of the best series being released.  Kate is on the verge of breaking the case of what exactly “Medusa” is and what that organization has planned for the missing children of Gotham.  Aiding her is the former Medusa Agent, Sune, who really gains an interesting slant in this installment.  She is very cooperative, leading Kate right to the doors of Medusa, but is she too cooperative?  The multiple POV method of storytelling writers J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman employ is tantalizing, but also maddening, because of how good the stories are when totaled up.  Jacob Kane and Maggie Sawyer’s stories were a little short this month, and they are the heart of the title: Batwoman’s father and her lover (respectively).  I would have loved to see more of them this month, but there’s always next month.  Also in the “unfortunate” column is the departure mid-arc of artist Amy Reeder, of whom I am a hugefan.  I won’t say that I dislike her replacement, Trevor McCarthy, but I do like Reeder’s pencils much more.  With two more issues in this arc I must admit the bit is being champed by yours truly.

    That’s “friendly” . . .

  • Nightwing #9is entitled “The Gray Son.”  That said, this issue cuts deep to the heart of the Court of Owls, Gotham, and Dick Grayson and how all three intersect.  Though John and Mary Grayson were nomadic circus folk, the Graysons are inextricably tied to Gotham as evinced by the appearance of Dick’s great-grandfather, the Talon we have come to know as William Cobb, and most recently the events of this issue.  Though he is the villain, Cobb’s travails are the stuff of Horatio Alger, and one can’t help but sympathize with him.  The Gotham of the turn of the century wasn’t the most friendly place for the downtrodden and the current one isn’t much better.  So the question becomes who is best suited to fix Gotham, Batman or the Court?  Dick stands halfway between these two camps and his, seemingly, is the deciding vote.

    Gotham’s Gray Son

  • Catwoman #9 was almost a misnomer.  Sure the eponymous Catwoman is present, but the story centers almost entirely around the Talon dispatched to kill the Penguin.  This Talon, one Ephraim Newhouse, was retired in 1665 by the Court for his over inflated sense of honor and its detriment to his duties.  He is, however, awakened just like the overly ostentatious Talon of the 1850’s (shown in Batwing #9) to “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”   And like another “Night of the Owls” issue (now I’m referring to Batman & Robin #9), there is a connection between the Talon and the prey.  Retired in dishonor, Newhouse’s ceremonial Talon knives were not interred with him.  Four were in a private collection pilfered in issue #8 of Catwoman by our heroine and the fifth is in the possession of . . . the Penguin.  That’s not the reason the Court signed his death warrant, but definitely a nice incentive for his expiration.  Also like Batman& Robin #9, Catwoman finds a kinship between herself and the Talon she is facing, as Robin did with his own 1770’s Talon.  To some these coincidences might seem contrived or trite, but I like the interconnection of themes and motifs.  “Night of the Owls” is really delivering on the promises it made.
  • Continuing on through that storied “Night” is Red Hood and the Outlaws #9.  I love this title, but its “Night of the Owls” tie in was a little lackluster in that particular aspect of its story.  This issue does usher in the New DCU debut of Mister Freeze, which is quite exciting, and he couldn’t have been rendered better his first time out than by the masterful pencil of series artist, Kenneth Rocafort.  As ever, Starfire and Roy Harper provide the heart and soul of the series, foiling the dark vengeance of Jason Todd, and here we see them trying to save Mister Freeze from the Court’s assassin, if only they could fight their own urge to kill him.  These two aspects worked well for me. Unlike the other “Night of the Owls” episodes, almost no time or effort is dedicated to giving us backstory on the Talon in this issue.  He is Chinese, his name is Xiao Loong, and he was a performer at Haly’s Circus, but that is revealed in passing.  Who he is and when he was initiated are not specified, which is detrimental in my book to the later characterization we see.  Of all the Talons, he is the most moral and human.  He retains a large degree of culpability and as I stated before, I want to know why?!  What in his past led him to be so different from his compatriots that he could question his purpose and assume guilt?  We’ll never know, but I won’t blame writer, Scott Lobdell.  He’s given us too many insanely amazing issues of this series, as well as Teen Titans and Superboy.  He certainly deserves a pass.

    1.21 Gigawatts?! WHAT THE HELL IS A JIGAWATT?!

  • Birds of Prey #9 was unfortunately the loser of the “Night of the Owls” thus far.  The Talon in this issue is Henry Ballard, who served the Owls in the 1840’s.  They never specify his target, which is strike one for me.  One can assume it is Poison Ivy since he attacked her first, but that could be a coincidence. The plot after that lacks any significance since you really don’t even know what the the Birds of Prey are fighting for or to protect.  Thus no consequences, which is strike two.  There are several other small annoyances that could total strike three, but I’ll leave it at those two.  Not to say that this issue didn’t also have a few virtues.  First of all, though it makes absolutely no sense to anything, this Talon hallucinates and his versions of the Birds that he perceives are quite interesting.  Katana looks like an oni-musha, Black Canary like a cross between Otto von Bismark and Mrs. Miller from McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and our friend Starling as one of Mrs. Miller’s Old West prostitutes.  Also, please sit down for this one, artist Travel Foreman, of former Animal Man fame, did a really good job providing art for this issue.  I never thought I would utter those words, but his style actually works quite well here.  Overall it was a passable book, but nowhere near good enough to be a true “Night of the Owls” tie in.
  • Blue Beetle #9 promised to be a crossover in the New Guardians plotline of the Reach (the intergalactic conquerors whose scarab the Blue Beetle wears) invading the Blue Lantern homeworld, Odym.  This doesn’t appear to be the case.  Jaime Reyes just runs into Kyle and his “friends”, Bleeze the Red Lantern and Glomulus the deputy Orange Lantern, while the aforementioned Green Lantern is getting his power battery from his apartment.  However, in the process the four “heroes” smoke out a bounty hunter sent by the Guardians of the Universe to bring back Kyle to await their justice.  While its interesting, it does very little to connect the two series, as I had expected.  It does sort of tie into the larger plot of Green Lantern: The New Guardians, further separating the New Guardians with Glomulus, Bleez, and Kyle splitting up in three different directions, each more enigmatic than the last.  Truly interesting, but not as complete of a crossover as others.
  • Supergirl #9 continues from the explosive ending of the previous installment.  The Black Banshee has come for his daughter, Siobhan, with a club full of innocents and Supergirl in the crossfire.  The strength of the story lies in the new slant on the classic Supergirl villain, Silver Banshee. Always evil in the past, here she is portrayed as an altruistic victim of bad breeding, and a true friend to the alienated girl from the stars, Supergirl.  In fact,  that being the case makes the situation all the more endearing as the Girl of Steel fights to preserve the only person who understands her on this strange new planet.  Good work, Mikes.  George Perez’s art is succeeded by the returning series artist, Mahmud Asrar.  I do love the master artist’s pencils from last issue, but Asrar’s work is equally appropriate to the title and its still nice to see him back.
  • Wonder Woman #9 was a Greek drama on multiple levels.  I think more so than any previous issue, this one is steeped heavily in its mythological roots.  After last month’s issue where Wonder Woman bartered for the release of her charge, a young woman impregnated with Zeus’ child, from Hades with the guns of Eros, the god of the Underworld then turned around and shot our heroine in the heart with them securing her love and her hand in marriage.  This issue reaps the whirlwind of all that!   The wedding is about to take place and the invitations have been sent to all the gods and demigods of Olympus.  As the invites reach their intended recipients we get a glimpse of two new gods: Ares, called War, and Aphrodite.  It may just be me, but I find it funny that War bears a striking resemblance to the series writer, Brian Azzarello.  Am I the only one who sees this?  One thing that none of us see though is Aphrodite.  Portrayed as the most beautiful woman alive, she is a naked woman whose face and more striking attributes are always blocked by something or conveniently off panel when we catch a glimpse of her (barely).  What truly defines the issue is the “wedding ring” that Hades has for Wonder Woman, what it represents to her, and what it promises for next issue.  Please stay tuned . . .

    Seriously, look up a picture of Brian Azzarello and tell me I am wrong . . .

  • Legion of Super-Heroes #9 was perhaps the most straightforward issue that write Paul Levitz has EVER done.  Not saying that is a bad thing, but its certainly strange.  One thing that he is famous for is the cross pollination of his Legion storylines.  Writer extraordinaire, Dennis O’Neil, refers to his method as the “Levitz Paradigm”, where in one issue Plot A is the main plot, with references to a smaller Plot B, and a hint of the even smaller Plot C.  Next issue, Plot A has been resolved and Plot B is the main focus, with Plot C taking a larger but still minor role, and the hint of Plot D surfacing, and so on down the line.  In this he made good on the promise from issue #1 of a Dominator invasion.  That was about it for the issue.  One could argue that “Plot C” from last issue, the resurrection of the Fatal Five, was moved up to “Plot B” status, but it still felt like it was just barely hinted at.  I like this issue a lot, however, and look forward to the next issue.  Paul Levitz is amazing and I will read anything that’s stamped with his name.
  • The Shade #8 picks up a thread from last issue regarding the demon that claimed to have fought in Paris back in 1901.  This issue goes back to that encounter in “Gay Paree”, and links it to the house of Caldecott.  The artwork in this one-shot background story is provided by Jill Thompson, who really grounds it realistically in the overarching Starman mythology.  Her lush pencils lend the opulent feel of Belle Epoque France to the issue, but it also makes it thus far, the most authentic to the 90’s series by James Robinson.  The first several issues drawn by Cully Hammer came close to mirroring Tony Harris’ work, but something about this issue’s art brought back a renewed nostalgia in me.  Overall, I love this Shade limited series.  We’re two thirds of the way through and already I am feeling oncoming loss.

    Paris, City of Beauty and Pleasure

  • Also from writer, James Robinson, is DC Universe Presents #9 featuring Vandal Savage.  Though James Robinson is one of the great geniuses of comics, this first issue of a three issue arc bears a striking similarity to “Silence of the Lambs.”  A senator’s daughter is abducted by a serial killer whose M.O. is almost identical to another killer, the immortal Vandal Savage.  Time is running out and the FBI send the only agent they have who has even a chance of getting his help in finding her to visit him in prison.  That agent is Vandal’s daughter, Kassidy Sage.  Bernard Chang, artist from the Deadman arc returns to provide interior pencils for this arc.  Its still too early to tell, but I’m betting that despite the deja vu I will like where this story goes.  I have great faith in James Robinson.
  • Saucer Country #3 is taking shape.  Paul Cornell stated in a Vertigo Newsletter that he wanted to explore the mythology of UFO’s and their unique place in American culture.  Well, he’s doing a pretty darned good job of it, miring the past three issues in mystique, yet revealing just enough to tantalize the reader down the “rabbit-hole.”  I chose that metaphoric phrase aptly, because in this issue, while under hypnosis, one of the characters relives his abduction and shields the unthinkable images of his ordeal by substituting the aliens’ visages with those of rabbits.  I think that this is the message that Cornell wants to send.  The characters and the readers are drawn down the rabbit-hole into a world that defies the rational mind.  Paul Cornell cut his teeth on “Doctor Who” and other science fiction stories, so he is within his element and this series promises to be a crown jewel of Vertigo’s monthly line-up.
  • The Shadow #2 is really taking shape.  I was initially uncertain about Garth Ennis’s vision of The Shadow, but this issue lays most of those misgivings to rest.  Lamont Cranston and his lovely lady and partner, Margo Lane, are winging their way to Hong Kong to intercept the surviving Kondo brother, agent of the Japanese Empire.  As it proceeds mayhem inevitably ensues and we enter into the familiar territory our pulp hero has always occupied.  Though it takes a darker turn than the original radio serial, the ambiance is the same. This is due largely to Ennis’s writing, but also to artist, Aaron Campbell, whose pencils defined the pulp series Green Hornet: Year One.  Of the new wave of noir titles, this one is definitely the best.

And thus ends the third of five weeks in May.  See you, same Bat time, same Bat channel . . .

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

Batwoman #9:  Art by Trevor McCarthy, Colored by Guy Major

Nightwing #9:  Drawn by Eddy Barrows & Andres Guinaldo, Colored by Rod Reis & Peter Pantazis, Inked by Eber Ferreira, Ruy Jose & Mark Irwin

Catwoman  #9: Art by Guillem March, Colored by Tomeu Morey

Red Hood and the Outlaws #9: Art by Kenneth Rocafort, Colored by Blond

Wonder Woman #9: Drawn by Tony Akins, Colored by Matthew Wilson, Inked by Dan Green

The Shade #8: Art by Jill Thompson, Colored by Trish Mulvihill

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