Week 62 (Nov. 7, 2012)

The first week of the month may be the best, because so many consistently good title come out.  Flagship titles like Action Comics, Detective Comics, as well as seminal classics like Swamp Thing, Green Lantern, and Worlds’ Finest.  This promises to be a fun batch of issues.

  • Action Comics #14 is pure Morrison.  Taking place on the planet Mars, the colonial terraforming mission is attacked by the Metaleks and only Superman is in a position to save the men and women besieged there.  Through this issue, Grant Morrison not only delivers a background on what the Metaleks are, what they want, and where they come from, but also begins the road to the end of his meteoric run, which portends to be MASSIVE!!!  The “Multitude” which has laid waste to thousands of planets is at the root of this issue’s plot and only Superman’s father, Jor-El, had ever successfully staved off this angelic horde.  Can he do the same? Almost since issue #1 a clear path has been laid and a monumental threat alluded to.  As can be expected from Morrison’s mindbending, psychedelic style, the main architect of nearly all the mayhem we’ve seen thus far is a denizen of the fifth dimension . . .  Stay tuned.

    A Look Into the Past

  • Green Lantern #14 redeems the ending of the last issue a little bit.  The Justice League aren’t as awful and petty as they appear in writer Geoff Johns’ other series, but still not exactly the best written in terms of dialogue and characterization.  However, the plot of this issue is tight and I enjoyed it a great deal.  Whatever I might say about his other projects and the motivations behind them, this series is one that has maintained and built off of the inherent excellence of the title.  The same really can’t be said for some of his other titles.  Simon Baz goes toe-to-toe with the Justice League and despite only having been in possession of his Green Lantern ring for a little more than a day gets the upper hand on Superman, Flash, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  Not bad for a poor kids from Dearborn, Michigan.  Meanwhile, across the Universe, Black Hand and the Guardians that have been locked away for eons by their megalomaniacally insane brethren begin to interact, intimating that there may be a very strange teamup in the works against the Guardians of the Universe and their nightmarish Third Army.

    RISE . . .

  • Detective Comics #14 takes a very strange turn in the second issue of writer John Layman’s tour of the book.  With his first issue last month he started a conspiracy with the Penguin attempting to keep Batman preoccupied with a string of random crimes to distract the Dark Knight from his plot to assassinate Bruce Wayne.  Well following on the heels of that intriguingly paradoxical plotline, Layman shoots out to left field with a seemingly unrelated plot of Poison Ivy commiting eco-crimes across Gotham and Batman trying to stop her.  Its well written, no doubt about it, but also confusing as one tries to grasp onto a solid plotline or conflict.  Given time hopefully one will appear.  Layman has a very methodical and detail oriented voice that fits the Batman title like a well tailored suit in a film noir movie.  Jason Fabok’s art is beautiful in the main feature, and while Layman and Fabok introduce a surprise husband for the leafy villainess at the end of the main story, Layman gets help from Andy Clarke with a stark and stunningly rendered backup feature that explained how these oddly paired ne’er-do-wells came to be “wed.”
  • Before Watchmen: Moloch #1 does . . . it . . . AGAIN!  Its been awhile since there’s been a debut issue in the Before Watchmen line, but yet again the editors, and especially writer J. Michael Straczynski, have delivered in spades.  To Watchmen faithful, Moloch the Mystic is known as an integral part of the graphic novel itself as well as a hallmark villain from the heyday of the group’s past in superheroics.  In the original Alan Moore series from the 80’s, Moloch is primarily shown in a very pathetic light after he’d renounced his criminal ways.  This book shows him once again in a very sympathetic  manner from traumatic childhood through his criminal days and finally to his last release from prison after finding Jesus and rehabilitation.  J. Michael Straczynski has a real knack for not only generating a very emotional involvement between the story and the reader, but also creating a very vivid environment that is authentic to the time and place it takes place.  This series is only a twofer, so at issue’s end we are halfway through his story in this preceding tale of the Watchmen universe.  Can’t wait for round two.
  • Swamp Thing #14 continues on from issue #13 and the Swamp Thing Annual following Swamp Thing’s departure from the Green Kingdom, haven of the last surviving plant and floral life on the planet after the Rot’s dominion of the Earth, in search not only of Anton Arcane who is responsible for the death of his own niece and Swamp Thing’s lover, Abigail Arcane, but also proof that Abigail is in fact dead.  We saw her plane crash into the mountains as a direct result of Anton’s monstrosities, but we also see here that she did survive past that point.  Her return to her homeland, Blestemat (which incidentally in Romanian means “Accursed”), is still shrouded in mystery and we are shown further images of that portion of her journey as well, prolonging our own wish to know what has befallen her.  Upon Swamp Thing’s departure from the Green Kingdom, Boston Brand, aka Deadman, instructs him to turn his sights first to Gotham where it is rumored a weapon exists called the Soul Grinder (see Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #13) which could potentially defeat the Rot.  With this revelation Scott Snyder is steering to a convergence between this title, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. 

    The Girl of Rot and the Boy of Green

  • Animal Man #14 also figures into the “Rot World” event and in the Red Kingdom Animal Man and his allies come under fire from the turned superheroes that have succumbed to the Rot.  Teamed up with him are Steel, Beast Boy, and Black Orchid, the foursome set out for Anton Arcane’s castle to rescue Animal Man’s daughter, Maxine, the current avatar of the Red.  In the process, like Abigail Arcane in Swamp Thing, we see a few snippets of Max’s flight from the Rot following the end year long jump in time that Swamp Thing and Animal Man experienced when they attacked the heart of the Black.  An interesting tidbit is the little boy that four year old Max meets amid the desiccated wasteland of undead nightmares.  We’ve seen him before and his appearance marks a truly frightening turn in the crossover event.  Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder are geniuses and this event is going to set up the next several years of storytelling in these two titles.
  • Earth 2 #6  is an interesting title because of the similarities and the differences existing between our universe (Earth 1) and the universe of Earth 2, following the different courses of the Apokalips invasions of each world.  In this world, with the death of all the superheroes: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc, a World Army and World Council govern the planet.  However, after several years another threat that is akin to the Animal Man and Swamp Thing plots above rears its head and superheroes are once again needed.  In the aforementioned titles the Rots is referred to as the Black.  On Earth 2 the Grey is a force of withering rather than decay and its avatar, Solomon Grundy, has been resurrected to quite literally kill the planet.  Answering this threat are the newly minted Green Lantern (avatar of the Green which represents all live, plant and animal), Flash (who hails from Lansing, Michigan!), the enigmatic Hawkgirl, and the Atom who is a special agent of the World Army.  It’ll take all of them, but most especially Green Lantern to thwart the accelerated death of the planet.  This issue concludes that monumental endeavor, but unlike the ending of Justice League #1, which featured the first gathering of superheroes on our world, this gathering has a very thought provoking epilogue.
  • Worlds’ Finest #6 was one I have been dying to read for some time.  This title is akin to Earth 2, because following the events of the former title’s first issue, the Robin (Helena Wayne) and Supergirl (Kara Zor-El) of that second earth are brought to ours and must adapt into the new identities of Huntress, nee Robin, and Power Girl, nee Supergirl, to survive.  As a Wayne, Helena has information about her “not father” and his financial holdings that mirror her real father’s on Earth 2, so some borrowing has occurred.  Well, on this earth at this time the current wearer of the red, green, and yellow is Earth 1 Batman’s biological child . . . Damian Wayne.  Damian Wayne is a psychotic and very, very territorial.  His “not sister” (that fact unbeknownst to him) siphoning money off his dear old dad doesn’t sit right with him and as ever with Damian, violence ensues.  I love Damian so much and seeing the two children of Batman going toe-to-toe is a pleasure.  Especially considering that the writer of this battle royale is none other than Paul Levitz, one of my current favorite writers who made his name on writing teen angst since the early 80’s.  And on top of that, with help from Kevin Maguire and George Perez both pulling art duties on the issue, it nothing short of a dirty pleasure.  This title has been golden since issue #1 seven months ago.

    Now Kids, No More Fighting . . .

  • Batwing #14 brings David Zavimbe one step closer to discovering the truth behind the enigmatic cult leader, Father Lost.  After breaking up a human sacrificial ritual that also was crashed by the equally enigmatic crimefighter, Dawn, Batwing learns her true identity, Rachel Niamo.  Rachel was an orphan at the refugee camp David crashed at after his child soldier days.  Following up on this lead, a conspiracy within the victims of Father Lost’s attacks leads him further down the rabbit hole, to the jackal’s layer, to mix some metaphors.  Judd Winick’s run on this issue ends with this issue, strangely mid-arc, but has been stellar across the board.  I look forward to seeing how new writer, Fabian Nicieza, concludes the Father Lost storyline and continues Batwing’s African crusade.  Winick and Nicieza both constitute tried and true members of the Bat-books’ bullpen, so I think that the transition might brook some changes, but not affect the quality of the future issues adversely.
  • G.I. Combat #6 splits its narrative as always, starting out with Peter Tomasi’s Haunted Tank feature.  After rescuing his grandson, Scott, from Afghanistan Lt. Jeb Stuart and the Haunted Tank make for more chilly climates.  The purpose of the Tank’s (haunted by Scott and Jeb’s ancestor, the Civil War general J.E.B. Stuart) return to operation is spelled out in the return of its greatest foe, along with Jeb’s:  the newly minted Fourth Reich.  Great writing alongside Howard Chaykin’s distinctive artwork.  And in the flagstone Unknown Soldier feature the culprits behind the hacking of a nuclear power plant as well as the endgame of their plot begin to make themselves known.  It also spells desperate trouble for the Unknown Soldier.
  • Smallville Season 11 #7  progresses the budding association of the Batman and Superman as their interests cross with Intergang’s spreading to Gotham and Joe Chill’s associate with the group.  Superman wants to shut them down legitimately and Batman wants to hit them hard, but more importantly get at Chill, his parents’ murderer and even the score.  Obviously Superman isn’t going to be down for that, so the two met as enemies.  However, after their association develops into one of mutual gain, Superman gets shot with kryptonite bullets and the only person with the skills and equipment to save the Man of Steel’s life is . . . Batman.  Adding new dimensions to the dynamic of the “World’s Finest” this issue is a game changer.
  • Legends of the Dark Knight #2 presents one solid plot line this issue, as opposed to the three part anthology that comprised the first issue.  Told by writer B. Clay Moore, a slew of “Batmen” are slain by Killer Croc after seeking out the elusive lizard.  These Batmen are regular people with no connection to Batman or crimefighting at all.  Someone with a grudge against Croc is abducting upstanding members of Gotham society and brainwashing them into hunting him in his subterranean hunting ground. So what happens when Bruce Wayne is brainwashed into thinking he’s Batman . . .  Though this isn’t as good as the previous issue, its still a really thought provoking Batman story that cuts to the heart of the character’s essence.  Also the art of Ben Templesmith makes the issue seem like a giant acid trip, and when the premise is people losing touch with reality and their identities, that kind of discordant imagery really sets the mood and puts the reader deep in the plot.

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

Illustration Credits:

Action Comics #14:  Drawn by Chris Sprouse, Colored by Jordie Bellaire, Inked by Karl Story

Green Lantern #14:  Drawn byDoug Mahnke, Colored by Alex Sinclair & Tony Avina, Inked by Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin, Tom Nguyen & Keith Champagne

Before Watchmen: Moloch #1: Art by Eduardo Risso, Colored by Trish Mulvihill

Swamp Thing #14: Art by Yanick Paquette, Colored by Nathan Fairbairn

Worlds’ Finest #6: Art by Kevin Maguire, Colored by Rosemary Cheetham

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Week 61 (Oct. 31, 2012)

October ends with some oversized books and four annuals.  I have to say this proves to be a Halloween full of quite a few treats, but hopefully no treats.  Vertigo puts out a holiday anthology called Ghosts to commemorate the witching season, and four of my favorite comics have their annuals: Action Comics, Batgirl, Swamp Thing, and Justice League Dark.  Here we go.

  • Aquaman #13 brings to a close the “Others” arc in a rather quick fashion.  I did enjoy the story, however, as it humanized Arthur, showing the bond he has formed with the members of the “Others” as well as his culpability in the death of Black Manta’s father.  He even states that Manta didn’t lay a hand on his father, or cause the heart attack that killed him, but Arthur did go seeking Manta’s blood and killed his father with his own hands accidentally. What this issue also does is pave the way to the debut of Arthur’s brother, the sitting king of Atlantis, Orm, better known as Ocean Master.  Dark things are brewing in the world of Aquaman and are solicited to come to a head in December with the Justice League/Aquaman crossover, “Throne of Atlantis.”
  • Action Comics Annual #1 was an annual that I don’t think was necessary to read.  Perhaps I am being harsh, but it didn’t seem to jibe with the feel of the title overall or the other Super-books.  Grant Morrison’s run on the title is ending in February/March-ish, so this could be backup writer, Sholly Fisch, setting up a storyline that will succeed Morrison’s in early 2013.  Following the first arc of Morrison’s run, Superman stopped a man named Ramsay from abusing his wife.  In this annual, Ramsay volunteers for a project to get dosed with kryptonite radiation in an attempt to provide a countermeasure to Superman.  Thus, Ramsay becomes the New 52 “Kryptonite Man.”   John Henry Irons, aka Steel, makes his reappearance and cements his relationship with Superman as a comrade.  In the backup feature, which is usually written by this Annual’s feature writer, Fisch, Max Landis (writer/director of the movie Chronicle) pens a pantomime story of a man who escapes from a breached S.T.A.R Labs submarine to a deserted island with exceptional powers.  He is does with radiation and ends up removing his face, revealing a skull . . . that is now “atomic.”   While Kryptonite Man and Atomic Skull enter the New DCU, I thought it could have been better on all fronts.

    Atomic Skull

  • Batgirl Annual #1 was pretty stellar.  Showcasing the beautiful artwork of Admira Wijaya, Gail Simone brings back the Talon she introduced in the Batgirl “Night of the Owls” tie-in as well as Catwoman to shake up Barbara Gordon’s world.  If that weren’t enough, a mysterious organization is strong arming vagrants from the slums to commit a rash of arsons.  Featuring three very strong women with three different shades of morality, Simone somehow gets each to connect with the others in interesting ways.  I truly hope that this heralds further interactions by the three together, because as I have made no secret about my love for Barbara Gordon and Selina Kyle, Simone adds depth to the female Talon of the 1950’s and even gives us her name . . .  Exceptional art and writing, making for an exceptional annual.
  • Swamp Thing Annual #1 starts out in the “here and now” of the series, in the very bleak events of “Rotworld” after Alec Holland learns of his lover, Abigail Arcane’s, death.  Following this blow, the annual takes Holland back into a repressed memory of when he first met Abigail when they were young and in love.  It also showed his very first meeting with her uncle, Anton Arcane.  This is one of those issues that is just a pleasure to read if you enjoy the series it encapsulates.  To be quite honest, this annual felt like a better origin than the zero issue last month.  Becky Cloonan’s lent her art to Scott Snyder’s twelfth Batman issue a few months ago, and lends it yet again, really setting the atmosphere with her unique style, but framing several key sequences in the vein of Yanick Paquette.  This was my favorite book of the week.

    The Beautiful Abigail Arcane

    A Love Affair Between Life & Death

  • Justice League Dark Annual #1 concludes the “Books of Magic” storyline as well as pulls out all the stops.  Nick Necro has carefully laid out his plans and now those plans are coming to fruition.  To counter them, Constantine and Madame Xanadu pulls in some extra help: Timothy Hunter, Andrew Bennet, and most shockingly, Princess Amaya from the series Amethyst.  The seeds for this last appearance were sown in the final pages of the zero issue of Sword of Sorcery, but I personally never saw her being drawn into the title like this.  Jeff Lemire is a very gifted writer and the way he plays out the dark, mystical plot is quite unexpected.  When the Books of Magic are revealed they manifest in a way that not even Constantine could fathom.
  • Joe Kubert Presents #1 is a six issue miniseries that was initiated by legendary comic writer/artist Joe Kubert to present comics in a style that he wished were more prevalent in today’s market.  In this inaugural issue he presents two tales he wrote and drew, as well as two stories written and drawn by two of his friends and colleagues, Brian Buniak and Sam Glanzman.  Kubert brings to the table a Golden Age Hawkman story about the barbarity of humanity and the danger posed by our civilization if our destructive natures aren’t curbed, as well as a black and white uninked pencil segment called “Spit” about a young orphan who is literally spit on by the world, setting out as a cabin boy on a whaling ship.  Both of these segments represent a style that is so quintessentially Joe Kubert, who’s art is such that its immediately recognizable, like that of Jack Kirby or John Romita Sr.  Brian Buniak brings back a short feature he called “Angel and the Ape” about a knockout blonde and a gorilla who have a detective agency and solve crimes in a campy 1960’s setting.  One thing that Kubert has become known for in many of his solo projects is war stories, and while he didn’t do one himself in this issue, his friend Sam Glanzman submits one about his reminiscences of service in WWII on the U.S.S. Steven, a naval destroyer.  This feature cuts deeper than the rest, because you can sense the reality and the melancholic beauty that Glanzman is evoking from his haunted past.  I agree with Kubert that comics like these are rarely seen anymore on the stands and harken back to a time when things were simpler in presentation, but perhaps a little more poignant too in the simplicity with which they are portrayed   It is also worth noting that while Joe Kubert began this project sometime in the past year he passed away two and a half months before this first issue came out.  His passing makes the point of the series even more resonant, like his one last gift to the world before leaving it was showing us a glimpse at what he loved about the medium he dedicated his entire working life to, and the promise of what that medium could be.

    The Life of Spit

  • Masters of the Universe: Origin of Skeletor was one of those stories that it hurt to read, but in a good way.  I was a HUGE “He-Man” fan when I was four years old and looking back and revisiting the television show as an adult I can still find things that intrigue and entertain me within the somewhat cheesy 80’s cartoon.  For instance, the episodes of the original series where it is revealed that He-Man’s mother, Queen Marlena, is actually a United States astronaut who flew her experimental spacecraft through a wormhole and crashed on Eternia or the episode when Teela goes in search of her real parents only to discover that the Sorceress of Castle Greyskull is in fact her mother.  These plot points totally caught me off guard as an adult and made the series fresh again. This new DC series takes the premise of He-Man and re-imagines it a little bit, continuing in the tradition of creating interesting relationships and circumstances within the Eternian drama.  He-Man’s greatest villain is portrayed as the older, bastard brother of his father, King Randor.  Keldor, the blue skinned son of King Miro and an unknown Gar woman, loves his little brother, Prince Randor, and craves the love of his father, which he always falls a little bit short of.  The issue chronicles the conflict within him between the love he had for his brother and the need to be his own person and live his own life at the cost of loyalty to his father and brother.  I have never been a fan of I, Vampire, but Joshua Hale Fialkov writes a very compelling story of an anti-heroic character and Frazer Irving renders it artistically in much the same mood.  This issue is why, even as a twenty-seven year old man, I am still a boy watching He-Man with an entranced smile on my face.

    The Death of Keldor and Birth of Skeletor

  • Phantom Lady & Dollman #3 was not the greatest comic.  I am a fan of the writing of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, but this issue didn’t really accomplish anything.  They go up against a super powered villainess named Funerella, who herself is undead and can raise and control the dead. They fight her, but nothing really comes of it or goes toward the resolution of the main plot.
  • Batman Beyond Unlimited #9 accomplishes some very interesting storytelling. In Superman Beyond, the elderly Man of Steel emerges from his Fortress of Solitude in special armor to stop Lucinda Luthor and the  computerized copy of her father, Lex’s, consciousness from destroying mankind, after they put a meteor field around earth comprised of pure kryptonite.  In the process he reinvents himself with a new identity into a new civic role to reacquaint himself with the new world that has developed in his absence.  In the Justice League Unlimited Beyond segment the apocalypse engineered by Kobra draws closer and the endgame begins to unfold, and Bruce’s last ditch strategy is implemented by Terry when all else falls through.  Enter an OLD “friend” . . .  Finally, in Batman Beyond‘s “10,000 Clowns” another chapter brings the reader further into the unmitigated chaos that the Joker King has descended upon Gotham.  To combat this, Terry has all hands on deck.  Vigilante, Catwoman, and two former Robins step in to help him as thousands of Joker suicide bombers attack nearly every echelon of Gotham’s infrastructure.
  • The New Deadwardians #8 concludes the miniseries in truly grand, nuanced style.  Chief Inspector George Suttle tracks down the villain, Salt, and in the final confrontation with the madman uncovers the conspiracy that led to the Restless invasion of Great Britain.  Following this revelation, Suttle’s handling of the situation as well as the government’s is rather interesting, adding further layers to the already multifaceted plot.  I have loved this series from issue #1.  I truly hope that this miniseries spawns another, because George Suttle, his maid, Louisa, his aide, Officer Bowes, and his lover, Sapphire, are all very round and complex characters deserving of further exploration, as does the Deadwardian Age.  I put out my prayers to the “gods” of comics to have mercy on their readers and give us another New Deadwardians series.
  • American Vampire #32 builds off the surprise ending of last issue, showing Hattie Hargrove’s journey from when last we saw her, escaping from the Los Angeles coven as an experimental guinea pig and returning as their queen.  There is little to say about the issue itself, but that it is PHENOMENAL!!!  It is quite obvious Scott Snyder has been building toward this issue and the one to come for sometime.  I don’t know what is real and what is sleight of hand, but either way this arc has been another step on the uninterrupted ascent of this series’ incredible run.  Snyder’s writing is peerless and Rafael Albuquerque’s art is appropriately eerie and stark.
  • Vertigo Comics: Ghosts #1 is a Halloween inspired special anthology that deals with the appropriate topic of Ghosts, featuring nine stories by some of the most innovative talent in comics, including some of my favorites: Amy Reeder, Phil Jimenez, Paul Pope, Gilbert Hernandez, Geoff Johns, Jeff Lemire, and apropos a previous entry, an unfinished penciled story by Joe Kubert.  The stories range from a tale of a young man being haunted by the ghost of himself from a life that might have been, to the Dead Boy Detectives, to satanic chili connoisseurs, to a tale of ancient Aztecs.  Like all Vertigo anthologies there were some stories that were stunning and others that fell flat.  Overall, this one had some quality storytelling complimented by equally beautiful art.

    Brotherly Love Beyond the Grave

And thus ends the month of October with a fifth week of very special issues.  Next week we start November fresh with some stellar titles like Action Comics, Green Lantern, Swamp Thing, and Worlds’ Finest. Hope to see you back here.

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

Illustration Credits:

Action Comics Annual #1: Art by Ryan Sook

Swamp Thing Annual #1: Art by Becky Cloonan, Colored by Tony Avina

Joe Kubert Presents #1: Art by Joe Kubert

Masters of the Universe: The Origin of Skeletor: Art by Frazer Irving

The New Deadwardians #8: Art by Guillem MarchI.N.J. Culbard, Colored by Patricia Mulvihill

Vertigo Comics: Ghosts #1: Art by Jeff Lemire, Colored by Jose Villarrubia