Week 54 (Sept. 12, 2012)

Week two of September means week two of DC’s Zero Month and the release of some excellent titles and their corresponding origins.  Its a good week to be a Batman fan as Batman, Batman & Robin, and Batgirl come out this week, alongside the inaugural issue of Team 7, and the final issue of The Shade.  Here’s how they all stacked up:

  • Batman #0 was a flashback to Bruce Wayne’s first forays into vigilante justice.  Taking place after the events of Detective Comics #0, he has amassed all the skills he’ll need, but now is trying to amass the tools and the techniques to become the effective symbol he is destined to be.  Foiling a bank robbery by his most iconic villain under a different persona and hiding his crusade from the inquisitive Lt. James Gordon, Bruce does all this without donning cape and cowl.  What is intriguing about this issue is that it is a zero issue, but sets up a storyline the the ending solicitation bills for 2013.   I am very curious as to whether that ties into the ending of the “Death of the Family” storyline or the one that is to follow it.  Either way, Scott Snyder has created an origin story rife with possibilities.  In the backup, James Tynion IV writes a tale that picks up one year after the events of the main feature.  By now the Batman has become entrenched in Gotham lore, winning over Commissioner Gordon and, as we will see, four other persons who will become entangled in his dark legacy.  First off, we see a young super genius named Tim Drake in his prep school’s principal’s office about to be expelled, then a young hood going by the name Jason (Todd that is) in the midst of a bungled robbery, thirdly a young acrobat that is part of the star attraction of Haly’s Circus, The Flying Graysons.  The final youngster stands by her dad, the Commissioner, as he flips the switch for the first time on an iconic searchlight pointed at the skies of Gotham.  All four kids look up at the Bat Signal at the same time, never knowing that it was heralding their future.  A powerful story, made more so by Andy Clarke’s stark artwork.

    Four Robins’ Future Shines Bright

  • Green Lantern Corps #0 developed the character of Guy Gardner very well in this his origin tale.  I hate Guy Gardner.  I am not a fan.  However, I will amend that when Peter Tomasi writes Guy, somehow he gets me to empathize with the lughead.  This issue is no exception.  Born into an Irish cop family that goes back generations, he is the black sheep that disgraced his family name, and as a result is alienated from his father who, stereotypically is portrayed as a drunkard retiree.  Topically, Guy is very abrasive and totally fits the part of the screw up.  However, like any character that has survived in comics as long as Guy, there is something redeemable underneath.  In his case, tenacity and an intrinsic sense of what is right.  Tomasi delivers that in this issue, in both the powered and unpowered portions of Guy’s life.
  • Batman & Robin #0 follows on the tail of both of the previous entries this week, delivering an excellent origin from the Bat Family as well as a stellar book from Green Lantern Corps writer, Peter Tomasi.  Like Guy Gardner, having Tomasi on this issue is important, as it gives the origin of Damian Wayne (Robin) from birth to his introduction to comics in Batman #655. Damian is a sociopathic ten year old, so he is a very difficult character to write engagingly.  Grant Morrison wrote him initially in the grace and style that is quintessentially Morrison, and others that have taken him on in smaller doses have had varying success.  Tomasi is by far the most adept since Morrison.  At issue’s beginning Damian is quite literally baptized in blood by his mother, Talia Al-Ghul.  From then onward he is molded by her to become a new Alexander, to one day conquer the world.  He is indulged and given his heart’s every desire, except for one thing: the identity of his father.  That is the goal that drives him throughout his entire cognizant youth, mastering every discipline his mother subjects him to in the hope that the day will come when she will tell him who his father is.  Though he is spoiled and over-entitled, there is a drive within him that makes him akin to his father, Bruce Wayne, and despite the lavishness, his mother does create an abusive environment in the manner in which she raises him, giving him also a traumatic childhood, like Bruce.  I love Damian.  I always have and I am sure that I always will.  This issue is a blessing to Damian fans, because it not only presents a well written origin, but one that feels true.

    Five Year Old Damian Dons His Father’s Mantle

  • Batgirl #0 presents a third look into the origin of an integral member of the Bat Family: Batgirl.  I love Barbara Gordon.  I was part of the cheering section when they gave her back the helm of Batgirl at the time of the Reboot.  Gail Simone has a really good track record writing her and for this issue Ed Benes provides guest artwork.  Though he has taken a lot of flack for his overly idealized depiction of some female characters, I think his Barbara is done tastefully and beautifully.  Simone paints Miss Gordon as a loving daughter, raised by her single father, Commissioner James Gordon, idolizing him and using him as a model of strength and honor.  Her White Knight.  When she gets college aged, another man, this one Darker, enters her life and from him she learns a new kind of strength and independence.  Facing a nightmarish situation, she takes what her father has taught her, puts it to use, and then finds herself drawn into the world of her other idol, Batman.  From issue #1 of this series, I said that what Simone did extremely well was presenting the psychology of Barbara so the reader could feel what it was like to be her.  This issue does that exceptionally well, showing how her thoughts matured, evolved, and shifted through different phases of her life, ending with one of the most nightmarish, iconic images associated with her past.

    Ed Benes’ Killing Joke

  • Before Watchmen: The Comedian #3 begins the formation of what readers of the original series will recognize as the Comedian.  Coming out of the war in Vietnam for a vacation State-side, Eddie is beginning to see the changing of the times from the seemingly placid 50’s to the turbulent 60’s.  He is a man of intensity, but deep down has a side that longs to feel human.  With these two forces pulling at his soul, and amidst the race riots in Los Angeles and the anti-war protests, he snaps and realizes a fundamental thing about the world and life in general: its all a big joke.  The joke is what makes him so terrifying in the original comics and what made his actions so visceral.  He can do horrible things, because he sees the morbid humor in them.  Brian Azzarello really gets the character and with each issue brings us closer and closer toward the vision of Alan Moore’s original anti-hero.
  • Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E #0 presents the origin of Frankenstein as we would expect: with a modified version of the Mary Shelley novel.  Created by Dr. Victor Frankenstein in a manner seemingly connected to the modus operandi of Anton Arcane, Frankenstein is pieced together from bits of cadavers with perversions of science and brought to life through nightmarish meta-science.  From there he goes on a journey across the world, hunted by his creator, learning about what it is to be human and what morals exist inside his troubled soul.  It follows the general plot of the book skeletally, while being elaborated upon and changed drastically to fit what the character has become in the comics of the past ten years.  Matt Kindt does a decent job cobbling together a cogent backstory that fits the literary origin and maintains the comic sensibilities simultaneously.
  • Team 7 #0 felt very much like what most zero issues are like outside of what DC has been doing.  Zero issues in the past have been little teasers to spark interest in the title, but not really give anything substantial.  That is very much the case with this one.  Way too much set up and very little pay off.  Even though five out of ten characters on the team have been in other titles, writer Justin Jordan still bogs down the plot introducing them.  That’s fine, but when done in one issue with ten separate characters involved, it can be really top heavy.  The basic premise is that with a literal explosion of superpowered beings in the course of two years, the world government scramble to set up countermeasures against the threat they could pose.  That is the basis for Team 7.  Included in the mix are Amanda Waller (of Suicide Squad), Slade Wilson (Deathstroke of Deathstroke), Dinah and Kurt Lance (Black Canary and her ex-husband from Birds of Prey), Cole Cash (Grifter of Grifter), Alex Fairchild (Father of Caitlin Fairchild of Superboy and The Ravagers), and then three other people.  I think that after this issue, the true strength of the series will manifest.  It will either work or lack excuses for why it doesn’t.
  • Spinning our of Team 7, Grifter #0 was really confusing, although perhaps by design.  Coming of the previous title, Grifter opens up with Cole going on an infiltration mission with his brother, Max, and his boss, John Lynch.  After having read Team 7 I found it strange that Lynch was running ops with his agents considering his standoffish presentation, and also that Max was involved, considering he wasn’t on the original roster.  This was cleared up pretty quickly as it was revealed to be a simulation run by the Daemonites to hone Cole into a weapon they could employ against Lord Helspont.  Rescued from their conditioning machines by a mysterious man called Warick, Cole’s destiny starts to seem preordained.  Issue #1 last year made his capture and escape from the Daemonites seem completely random, but this issue makes it seem orchestrated.  I wonder if this has anything to do with what original writer Nathan Edmondson intended for the character, or whether Rob Liefeld is taking it in his own direction.  Either way, it was interesting, but not the best issue by any stretch.
  • Deathstroke #0 carries on this pattern, pertaining yet again to a member of Team 7, and like Grifter, written by Rob Liefeld, who also provides art as well.  This one I would consider a success.  Deathstroke, aka Slade Wilson, is one of the DCU’s most incredible, versatile villains and has a rich history stemming almost entirely from the seminal New Teen Titans series from the 80’s.  Liefeld wisely sticks very close to this origin, deviating only slightly to shoehorn in this Team 7 nonsense, which I’m sure he was forced to do by the powers that be.  Despite the ludicrousness of his being involved with that team, all the pertinent events are there.  Meeting and being mentored by Capt. Adeline Kane in boot camp, falling in love with her, marrying, and having two sons by her, becoming a government super-soldier, rescuing his comrade and future manservant Evergreen when he is taken prisoner by a foreign power, and ultimately becoming a premiere mercenary/assassin.  Its all there.  His wife and their youngest faking their death, and his eldest son, Grant, becoming an assassin and falling in the line of duty also are depicted, continuing his decline into villainy.  But what made me so excited was the revelation at the end, that once again finds its roots in New Teen Titans, involving a plot to put down Deathstroke for good by his estranged wife and their youngest son, Joseph.  Joseph Wilson, aka Jericho, is perhaps one of my all time favorite superheroes under the age of twenty.

    Jericho and Adeline Wilson

  • Demon Knights #0  comes after several origin stories that this title has served up already and still finds a yarn worth wringing out.  Though it is rife with meaty characters to expand upon, the choice of origins is right in the title: Demon Knights.  Etrigan, the Demon, bound by the sorcerer Merlin to forever dwell in the flesh of English knight, Jason Blood, provides a two-fold origin.  Though we saw the binding in this series and in the original Jack Kirby Demon series, the rationale had gone untold.  Paul Cornell takes a stab at it, giving an explanation that is intriguing in the ironically altruistic motive employed by Merlin, as well as the pairing itself.  Jason is a lowly knight that goes unnoticed and unmerited by the Court and Etrigan is a demon in Hell that is largely abused and undervalued.  Both have it up to here (I’m motioning pretty high with my hand)  and decide to assert their worth.  Etrigan by singlehandedly slaying entire battalions of demon warriors to gain the loyalty of legions.  Blood attempts to use Merlin’s spells and lays hands on Arthur when they go awry.  They are paired as we know, but despite not liking one another there is an accord between them because of that kindred spirit that exists between them.  I have loved the Demon for a long time as the anti-heroic medieval paradigm of chaotic valor.  This issue makes me love him even more.
  • Superboy #0 is ice cold awesome. Six months ago in Superboy #6Superboy met up with Supergirl and she called him Kon-El, which she told him (or maybe alluded) meant “abomination.”  This issue opens with exactly what that means.  On Krypton they had what Star Wars nerds would call “Clone Wars.”  The clones bred cheaply and inefficiently  for menial tasks , rose up and wrecked havoc, doing things that eventually led (long after their downfall) to the cataclysm that befell Krypton.  The clone that did this had a name: Kon.  Kon tamed the mindless hordes of clones and molded them into a fighting force that almost brought an entire civilization to its knees.  It was for this reason Harvest initiated Superboy’s birth and as the issue progresses writer Tom DeFalco has the main events from the first several issues replayed with Harvest and his lackey, Omen’s, commentary overlaid.  There are allusions too that are left up in the air, such as the traitor in Kon’s ranks that betrayed him and crushed his uprising, and also the subliminal programming Harvest has subjected Kon-El to, training him and conditioning him against the Man of Steel and what remains of Krypton’s legacy.  I am VERY interested to see how both those plot-points manifests itself in future storytelling.

    KON!!!!

  • Ravagers #0 was really enjoyable, considering that Beast Boy and Terra are two of my favorite Teen Titans of old.  Though they are not Titans currently, writer Howard Mackie retains a lot of what made them awesome in the past.  I neglected to do a review of the fourth issue of Ravagers, which in many ways pave the way for this zero issue.  I wrote one retroactively and if interested, here is the link: https://offthepanelcomicreview.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/week-49-aug-8-2012/  Following in the wake of Superboy #0, Ravagers opens in N.O.W.H.E.R.E. with Harvest overseeing the processing of the abducted young men and women his organization is assimilating into the “Ravager Program.”  The first on the block is Gar Logan, who we watch become Beast Boy, as his metagene is activated. During his transformation, Harvest’s technician, Non, registers the connection to the Red that has manifested in Beast Boy.  No mention of Brother Blood is made, which depresses me a bit, since that intimate connection between the two was really intriguing in the past two issues.  Next up is Tara Markov, aka Terra.  Here she already has her geokinetic powers and maintains her tough girl attitude from her original incarnation in New Teen Titans.  Beast Boy on the other hand, has been in a state of traumatized uncertainty since his first appearance up through his and Terra’s escape from N.O.W.H.E.R.E., so he has yet to gain his iconic jocularity.  There initial interaction is one of Terra acting in Gar’s defense against some of the more senior kids in the Colony.  She, however, remains hostile toward him, true to her loner nature.  When she yet again acts in his defense later on and nearly dies, Beast Boy unlocks his own primal furor and rushes to her aid.  Together they slaughter scores of their fellow teens, ensuring their place in Harvest’s Ravagers.  I like both characters and I like the thought of them together.  In New Teen Titans that was pared short before it could happen, and in the television show the betrayal was one that cut Beast Boy deep to the quick and defined his humanity greatly.  This origin issue defined the nature of the bond between them beautifully, and also alluded to the existence of the Doom Patrol, as Gar references a memory fragment of Niles and Rita, who are most likely Niles Caulder and Rita Farr.  Interesting . . .

    Terra and Beast Boy

  • He-Man and the Masters ofthe Universe #2 didn’t seem to accomplish too much in and of itself.  The mindwiped Adam is on a journey to try and discover the meaning behind his dreams of another life.  On this trek he is captured by the forces of Kronis (Trap-Jaw).  In his captivity he comes in contact with a young woman, Teela, who emancipates him after Adam is forced to fight his captors for his freedom.  She also has no memory of anything that happened before, when Adam was prince of Eternia and she was one of the eponymous Masters of the Universe.  This could be one of those series where you have to climb up a few arduous steps before it gets better, but up through this issue I am still whelmed.
  • The Shade #12 is the final issue in the year long odyssey writer James Robinson has taken us on in the life of the Shade, a character he resurrected and redefined in the mid 90’s.  That journey was rooted deep in his past, as we have seen for the past eleven months, and created a mindblowing present for him.  That journey ended with issue #11, and though it is marked #12, this issue is at its heart a zero issue.  Taking place in and around the England of 1838, we see the Shade in his human life as Richard Swift, Victorian merchant and loving father and husband.  In Robinson’s 1990’s series Starman, featuring the Shade as a villain and sometime anti-hero, we are shown vague images of his former life and are given the broad strokes of what turned him into the dark creature we’ve read about.  This issue provides the finer bits of the story, bringing in his arch-rival, Simon Culp, and leading in a very round about way to the culmination of events that would baptize  him in shadow, forever transforming him into a creature of darkness. Looking back on it all, the Shade recognizes what he did and why he did it, but uses those missteps taken when first he became the Shade to guide him as he reinvents his life in a new time and place.  James Robinson has a flair for the dramatic and the literary, which is why his presentation of this issue as a Victorian flavored log works so well.  Though it was only twelve issues, this series was like going home, bringing back the heart and excellence of Starman, cancelled now for eleven years.
  • American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #4 dwells on Hobbes, Felicia, her son Gus, and the secret vampire organization called “The Firsts” escaping their stronghold when an army of Carpathians descends upon it.  The Firsts represent the last members of vampiric species nearly wiped out by the king of the Carpathian breed, Dracula, while he was still active.  The leader, Benedict, believes that the Carpathian attack was a ploy by Hobbes to trick the Firsts into complacency with his plan to attack Dracula’s coffin.  Hobbes attempts to prove that Dracula is making his play against them to solidify his position now that he has been awakened.  This issue did two things very well: exploring the history of the very enigmatic character of Linden Hobbes, and how he became involved with the Vassals of the Mornings Star, and introducing a plot that is the closest thing to a vampiric doomsday scenario, dependent upon Dracula reaching a device built by his followers called the “second throne.”  Once again, Scott Snyder has taken his concept of American Vampire and cranked it up to 11.  The miniseries ends next month with the fifth issue and I am on pins and needles.
  • Saucer Country #7 follows its previous issue in a very similar fashion.  As I reviewed one month ago, issue #6 was Prof. Kidd detailing the history of the Alien phenomenon and what the human mind constructed the occurrences into.  It read very much like a History Channel special, giving empirical information such as dates, people, places, and scientific fact that spawned the theories we have read or heard about. In a previous issue we were introduced to the Bluebirds, a secret society that studies and attempts to mimic UFO flight technology and engineering.  This issue is narrated by one of these people and does exactly what issue #6 did.  It takes the real life encounters with the unexplained and shows how that influenced different aspects of the government, research, and historic events.  A true part of the story was the use of the term “Foo Fighters” to describe UFO’s before they were associated with extraterrestrials.  The path from their first mention in WWII through the decades to the eventual use of flying wing technology and gyroscopic flight, takes the reader on a journey that sets up another key facet of this series’ very complex premise.
  • Warlord of Mars #21 begins the five part story arc that encompasses the third book in Edgar Rice Burroughs original Barsoom Trilogy, that also bears the title of this comic: “The Warlord of Mars.”  In it, after John Carter has liberated the black “First Borns”, and all of Mars for that matter, from the ancient despotic goddess, Issus, his wife, Princess Dejah Thoris becomes trapped in a time locked chamber in the  Temple of Issus with Thuvia of Ptarth, a Red noblewoman, and Princess Phaidor of the Therns.  While he awaits the end of the year for her emancipation he overhears a plot by the rogue First Born, Thurid, and Hekkador of the Therns, Matai Shang, to break into the chamber by secret means to free Shang’s daughter, Phaidor, and abduct Dejah Thoris.  John Carter works to stop this, but is unable, setting up the plot for the next four issues.  This was an excellent novel and so far writer Arvid Nelson has set the comic adaptations up spectacularly.  I doubt this will be an exception to the rule.

And so ends Week 2 of Zero Month.  I have to say that I was blown away by some of these titles.  The DC Reboot has left some holes in the various titles, but slowly this month’s issues are patching them up.  Can’t wait till next week.  See ya then . . .

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

Illustration Credits:

Batman #0: Art by Andy Clarke, Colored by FCO Plascencia

Batman & Robin #0: Drawn by Patrick Gleason, Colored by John Kalisz, Inked by Mick Gray

Batgirl #0: Art by Ed Benes, Colored by Ulises Arreola

Deathstroke #0: Drawn by Rob Liefeld, Colored by Juan Fernandez & Ross Hughes, Inked by Adelso Corona, Cory Hamscher & Art Thibert

Superboy #0: Drawn by R.B. Silva, Colored by Tanya & Richard Horie & Hi-Fi, Inked by Rob Lean

The Ravagers #0:  Art by Ian Churchill & Norm Rapmund, Colored by Hi-Fi

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