This week begins December, which due to the holidays will be an abbreviated month. The fourth week of books with comprise only three titles from DC, Aquaman #15, Justice League #15, and Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #4, and I am assuming a couple indies. This week, however, starts off strong with Action Comics, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and another twofer of Before Watchmen titles. Let’s see how they stack up . . .
- Action Comics #15 is two issues away from Grant Morrison’s blowout finale on his Action Comics run. The first issue of Action was not very Morrison, but each issue thereafter has been more and more Morrison. This issue took it to the limit. The “Little Man” whom we now know to be a fifth dimensional wizard name Vyndktvx has been setting a trap for Clark over the course of a little over a year’s worth of issues. Slowly all the disparate threads that have popped up throughout the title so far are beginning to weave into a cohesive plot. Susie Lane (Lois’ evolutionarily advanced niece), Nimrod the Hunter, the Metaleks, Drekken the Evolver, and the Kryptonite Men all made appearances that were short in duration and seemingly without point. This issue has Vyndktvx bringing them all together as the Anti-Superman Army and attacking Superman throughout Time. In the present Clark is feeling the attacks with strange memories of things that never were and things that have not yet been. His landlady, Mrs. Nyxly, revealed several months ago to be a fifth dimensional princess in issue #12, not only tells him how Vyndktvx is attacking throughout the time frame of his life, but more importantly, why. Ironically, it ties into Superman’s original fifth dimensional antagonist, Mr. Mxyzptlk, who Superman’s yet to meet in this rebooted universe, but who bears the Man of Steel a great deal of affection. For that reason, Vyndktvx has decided to wage a war to destroy the last son of Krypton as a final blow to the mischievous trickster we’ve read and loved. Delving deep into the mythos of Superman’s past incarnations, Morrison is forging a very solid foundation for the character in revisionist absurdism. Though Mxyzptlk came about in the 1940’s during a time when truly bizarre and absolutely ridiculous storytelling was the norm, Grant Morrison has taken that ridiculousness and distilled it into grade A material, rife with outside-the-box perspectives and mindbendingly intriguing concepts. Though the art from Rags Morales and Brad Walker is very good, this series is really a must get for the writing more than anything else. Grant Morrison is a maestro and this first run of Action Comics will not only define the New DCU for decades to come, but also stand as a jewel in the crown that is his comics career. In the backup feature written by Sholly Fisch, we get a better look at Mxyzptlk’s history in the fifth dimension, how he came into conflict with Vyndktvx, won the love of Princess Gsptlnz (Mrs. Nyxly), was imprisoned and escaped to the third dimensional Earth One with his lover, Gsptlnz, and the creation of what might be his greatest trick yet . . .
- Detective Comics #15 was a little milquetoast in its plotline. It progressed off of the previous issue dealing with the fate of Poison Ivy, the consequential response from the enraged Clayface, and the first move of a shadowy new player into the Gotham underworld scene. Also, as per the backup feature of Batman #14 last month, Penguin is drawn into the twisted web of the Joker’s overarching scheme. The Penguin is very much a man who does what he wants and “damn anyone who gets in the way”, but the fear on his face in this issue as he prepares to do what he has been instructed by the Joker really sets the tone for not only how immense the “Death of the Family” plot is going to be, but also how utterly terrifying the Joker has become. Really this tie-in portion is what makes the issue, the rest of the issue is statically procedural. Jason Fabok’s art is really good, but supports a plot with questionable relevance to anything substantial.
- Before Watchmen: The Comedian #4 takes place fully in Vietnam and I believe was supposed to show what Vietnam did to Eddie Blake. That’s it really. Whereas most of the Before Watchmen titles seemed to take some key element or event from Watchmen and highlight it toward the actualization of the title subject, this one didn’t seem to accomplish much or at least not in an interesting way. For the awesome run it has been so far, I think one interim issue is acceptable, but not the most interesting to read. With two issues left and considering the integral part the Comedian plays in the events of the original graphic novel, I would bet the farm that the rest of the series will blow our socks off.
- Before Watchmen: The Minutemen #5 represents the penultimate chapter of the series and did things in its story that literally gave me goosebumps. Completely divorced from continuity, this issue and I am assuming the final issue as well take the Minutemen into uncharted territory with their paths completely within writer/artist Darwyn Cooke’s capable hands. A very symbolic terrorist attack on a target of great importance to America brings the vigilante group back together after years of disbanding alongside two brand new allies in a demonstration of what true heroism really looks like. This main plot point really hits to the reader’s heart and validates the concept of putting on a mask and costume while following one’s moral compass. The second thing it did that chilled was something that, if I am correct in what they are hinting at, CHANGES EVERYTHING!!! If what they are insinuating at the end of the issue is actually true, this would alter so much of what Alan Moore had done in the original 1985 opus. That would be DANGEROUS! If Cooke and his editors don’t tread carefully this house of cards that they have been building with the Before Watchmen series, which most of the hardline comic fanatics called “heresy” upon its proposal, will collapse. I am optimistic, considering the phenomenal, thought provoking work that has been done so far across the board, yet the danger is still real. I eagerly await the final issue.
- Swamp Thing #15 shoots further into the “Rot World” crossover event, picking up with Swamp Thing and Deadman at sea, face to with William Arcane and his rot infested sea monsters. The battle with the youngest Arcane is TITANIC to be sure, but the real interest in the issue comes in the flashback to Abigail Arcane’s journey to her former Eastern European home, Blestemat. Her uncle, Anton Arcane, has very effectively been re-imagined by writer, Scott Snyder, as the avatar of Rot and over the course of several issues Abigail’s links to the Rot have been hinted at and explored to a certain degree. Face to face with her uncle, amid the unprecedented incursion of death and decay into our world, her ties are explored and the magnitude of her power beginning to show through. Anton represents an unchecked aggressor from one of the three natural orders, Red (animal life), Green (plant life), and Black (death and rotting), against the others. Abigail represents what the Rot should be: a harmonious state that ends the life of the other two in order for rebirth to occur for both Red and Green. The realization of that, however, is still left in the air for further issues. Back with Swamp Thing, he makes it to Gotham in search of the Batman only to find another iconic Gothamite standing in to aid him. Scott Snyder presents a truly excellent addition to his monolithic crossover event. Artist Yanick Paquette is once again relieved of art duties by Marco Rudy, whose art is very well suited to the title, but presents a harsher edge than the florid work of Paquette. However, considering the transition from the verdant Green Kingdom in the first two issues to the desiccated wastes of the Rot, I think that the harsher edges of Rudy will do nicely and make sense to the altering vistas.
- Animal Man #15 begins with the Gorillas of the DCU (Monsieur Mallah, Grodd, etc) attacking Animal Man, Steel, Black Orchid, and Beast Boy as they attempt to take the fight to the Rot’s Parliament. Meeting up with Frankenstein and his Patchwork Army the ragtag resistence of the Red become aware of a prisoner being held in the bowels of Metropolis that is so powerful, Anton Arcane hides him away out of sight and far away, to be forgotten. Superman disappeared shortly after the Rot’s incursion, so hope runs high that he is the one imprisoned. This prisoner’s return could give the winning edge to their last ditch strike to regain their world. And as has been the case for the past two issues of this title and its sister series, Swamp Thing, in the “Rot World” crossover, the fate of Animal Man’s daughter Maxine is reviewed during the lost year between the present and the moment the two avatars of Red and Green disappeared. William Arcane guest stars in this flashback segment, further entwining the two series. I eagerly await the resolution in the New Year of the “Rot World” event.
- Earth 2 #7 presents a world exploration during the “pause for breath” following the ending of the first major threat, Solomon Grundy, and before the advent of the threat that is to come, Steppenwolf. Alan Scott was thrust into the role of global guardian moments after watching the love of his life burn to death in a train crash and the fight with Grundy and the Grey has kept his mind focused, but now that the threat is past he is forced to confront his grief. However, as a “Wonder” in a world that has been without heroes for many years, his new “fellows” won’t let him sink into himself because of the need they stand to fulfill. Hawkgirl is the mouthpiece of dissent, revealing her identity and her connection to the powers that be. Apropos, the second half of the issue deals with the Shakespearean power struggle between Commander Amar Khan of the World Army and Terry Sloan, the smartest man alive and sinister mastermind that the World Council has taken to their proverbial bosom, even after he unilaterally incinerated seven countries and killed tens of millions of people on his own authority. Khan’s got Wesley Dodds and his Sandmen in his pocket helping him play his game of political chess and as he tells Dodds, “In the game that you speak off there will be No Fair Play.” The white gloves are coming off and blood will be drawn. One man is a sociopathic, genocidal lunatic with a pearly white smile and the other is a military man with nothing to lose. Tell me this title doesn’t beg to be read.
- Worlds’ Finest #7 as always, follows on the tail of the Earth 2 premise, giving us a glimpse at two refugees from the other earth on our Earth 1: Helena Wayne (Huntress) and Kara Zor-El (Power Girl). As of last issue, the twenty-something daughter of Batman and Catwoman meets her Earth 1 counterpart, the preteen Damian Wayne, son of Batman and Talia Al-Ghul. Damian doesn’t take crap from anyone and neither does his “not sister.” That said, once she dishes, he has little choice but to believe her as the evidence is nearly incontrovertible. The two go somewhere frigid while tracing money siphoning from Wayne Enterprise funds only to be greeted by a monstrosity from Apokalips. When Power Girl traces another signal to the Congo she is met with child soldiers, one of whom holds an Apokaliptian energy weapon. One Apokalips connection might be a fluke, but the evidence is mounting that something sinister is in the works. Paul Levitz is the man, writing the super-heroine duo as incredibly as always, but really doing a thoughtful job folding Damian into the mix. Seeing his reaction as a sibling to an older sister who shares far too many of his lesser traits is entertaining to read, and feels genuine coming from my perspective as a flawed boy with older sisters of roughly the same age difference. George Perez and Kevin Maguire split art duties on the divergent storylines of each heroine, accentuating the characteristics of each with their masterful styles. Like its sister series Earth 2, this title is building toward a crescendo that smells like the sulfuric Fire Pits of Apokalips, and I for one am a moth to the flame when it comes to the New Gods . . .
- Batwing #15 is an odd duck. This is the last issue of a story arc, in this case the “Father Lost” storyline, but it is the first issue written by new writer, Fabian Nicieza. I have never seen a writer change when the arc is only one issue from completion. Nicieza wasn’t even a co-writer on the previous issues. Very strange. He does a seamless job, however, taking the plot to the end zone with a really powerful finish. Batwing falls once again under the sway of the evil cult leader right at the crux of the latter’s plan. If that weren’t enough, fellow Tinasha police officer, Kia Okura (who David Zavimbe is hinted to have feelings for), slowly becomes suspicious that he and Batwing are one. This is one of those series that doesn’t knock your socks off, but is just really comfortable and interesting to read. Fabian Nicieza is a really great Bat-title relief writer that has an innate knack for the tone of the books and can slip effortlessly into them, penning some quality issues. Fabrizio Fiorentino provides art for this issue, which is a welcome surprise. I loved his art on Final Crisis: Ink and Titans. With these two men onboard I look forward to future issues.
- Phantom Stranger #3 continues to show the tenuous balance that the Stranger walks between his role as the ethereal watcher of men and family man, Philip Stark. They touch again on his past as Judas Iscariot and the road he has to walk, but unlike the past where he has been made by fate to betray innocent people to atone for his betrayal of Jesus, this issue just has him dealing with spooks that go bump in the night. Dr. Terrence Thirteen, paranormal researcher and many times descendant of the original Terrence Thirteen of the 1880’s, calls upon the Stranger to help him beat a family curse of the Haunted Highwayman, killed by his eponymous forebearer, who has now come for him. If that sounds familiar its because that was a backup feature in All-Star Westerns #11-12. The intercession of the Phantom Stranger in this instance allows writer Dan Didio to spread the character’s wings and show what his powers can really do. Since he is not the best known character, even to myself, this is a very welcome issue that acquaints us a bit better with its subject. The Stranger also appeared last week in Justice League Dark #14, and the solicitation at the end of this month’s issue alludes that we will see that encounter from his viewpoint come Phantom Stranger #4. Until then, I await further glimpses into one of the most enigmatic comic book personages.
- G.I. Combat #7 ends the series and its two features. In The Haunted Tank the two Stuarts, Jeb and Scott, are transported to the Antarctic where the descendant of Erwin Rommel has rebuilt the Third Reich’s war machines and is preparing to bring about a Fourth Reich with a gigantic War Wheel. The battle against this neo-nazi threat is really rushed and unsatisfying. Also, as a history buff myself, I feel that writer Peter Tomasi was discourteous to Rommel and his descendants, considering that despite being a brilliant commander for the Nazi Wehrmacht, Rommel actually was a humanitarian and against most of the hardline policies of the Nazi party, never joining it politically. In The Unknown Soldier, the titular protagonist jumping out of a window with a cyber-terrorist in hand and then going to his visit his old house. Comprising only two short scenes and nine pages of story, this also was as rushed, unsatisfying ending to the feature’s eight issue run. Across the board this issue was lackluster and a terrible way to end what was a really great title.
- Smallville Season 11 #8 concludes the Batman/Superman team up in Metropolis. Going head to head with Mr. Freeze and the Prankster, the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight have been through a crucible of distrust and cross purposes, only to emerge as the friends we have largely known them to be. This arc has been so interesting, towing the line of the character status quos, but breaking in ways that keep the reader on their toes. Batman’s sidekick and personal secretary in both facets of his life is Barbara Gordon, who moonlights under the nom de guerre of Nightwing. Breaking up the “good old boys club”, Barbara brings all the sass and kick ass of Dick Grayson, but with more feminine grace and a dash of sexual tension. Her interactions with Lois Lane also bear an interesting tenor, due to their own similarities: one the daughter of a four star general and the other the daughter of perhaps the most hardcore police commissioner in the history law enforcement. Next issue promises a new storyline that from its title, “Haunted,” suggests an exploration into the broken mind of Lex Luthor that has absorbed, or at least internalized, the consciousness of the little sister he murdered, Tess Mercer.
- Legends of the Dark Knight #3 presents another very thought provoking story about the Dark Knight. Batman takes down the Joker, but on route to Arkham Asylum the mad clown slips his leash, making a getaway. Shortly thereafter, Batman gets a package from him, with a miniature revolving door and a note bluntly saying “You might as well not exist.” This is a sucker punch to Batman’s ego and he begins to lose heart in his crusade. Commissioner Gordon and Alfred come up with the solution, giving him letters from regular people that have come into the GCPD over the years addressed directly to the Batman. One from the daughter of a assault victim, one from the owner of a bar that was hit by Joker henchmen wanting free booze and money, and a third from a drug addict mugger. All of whom the Batman saved, the latter most case because going back to jail turned the con’s life around. As a result of these three cases in particular, Batman is not only able to regain his confidence, but get the upper hand on the Joker. Its sort of a “Its a Wonderful Life” of the DC Universe. No man is a failure that has friends. Write Steve Niles has a penchant for writing twisted, hard edged horror stories, so this very optimistic tale of a Batman who is shown the reason why he is needed seems to come from left field.
This week’s books were a great way to start off the month of December. Here’s hoping the the other two and a half weeks keep pace.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
Action Comics #15: Drawn by Rags MoralesBrad Walker, Colored by Brad Anderson, Inked by Andrew Hennessy & Mark Propst
Detective Comics #15: Art byJason Fabok, Colored by Jeromy Cox
Before Watchmen: Moloch #1: Art by Eduardo Risso, Colored by Trish Mulvihill
Swamp Thing #15: Art by Marco Rudy, Colored by Val Staples & Lee Loughridge
Smallville Season 11 #8: Drawn by Kevin Axel Gimenez, Colored by Wendy Broome, Inked by Diana Egea
Legends of the Dark Knight #3: Art by Trevor Hairsine, Colored by Antonio Fabela