This week ushers in the first true week of 2013 comics. Featured among them are the flagstone comics of the DC line, Action Comics and Detective Comics, as well as Swamp Thing, Earth 2, Worlds’ Finest, and an annual from one of my all time favorite titles Green Lantern: New Guardians. Let’s see what they have in store for us:
- Action Comics #16 is a little confusing and, though the penultimate issue of Grant Morrison’s run of this title, is something of an interim issue. To be fair, things do happen, but the majority of the issue is dedicated to the tying together of disparate threats from the fifteen previous issues into what will become the blowout finale next month. Starting in the future with the Legion of Super-Heroes outlawed in their own time and attempting to sneak back to the “present”, the issue then cuts to a point in the Action Comics timeline after Superman has already died once during an event referenced as “Doomsday” when the skies turned red. Conceivably this is Morrison reintegrating the iconic “Death of Superman” event into the New DCU canon, but the details are very sketchy. As of last issue (Action Comics #15) Superman hadn’t been to Mars, which was the plot of Action Comics #14, so this issue, having Superman just coming back from Mars is a little disjointed and trippy. The Anti-Superman Army is reintroduced with all members present and accounted for and their relationship to the “Little Man” fully revealed. This is most apparent in the case of Lois Lane’s niece, Susie, who has absolutely no reason to hate Superman or want him dead. Xa-Du and Krypto make their first reappearances since #13 in October, and Superdoom makes his after his multiversal introduction in Action Comics #9. In the backup feature, the Legion once again takes center stage saving the Earth Gov president-elect from an assassination attempt by a Naltorian man claiming that if president-elect Takaneda lives the future will be forfeit. They do not heed his warning (despite the fact that Naltorians have the known ability for accurate precognition) and after the fact, he is revealed to be Universo in disguise. This issue was really good, setting up a great amount of material that most likely will be left in the air upon Morrison’s exit from the title in February. That said, writers will no doubt be feeding off Morrison’s fodder in storylines for years to come. Perhaps even decades. Next month’s issue is double sized and knowing Morrison should be a bombshell.
- Detective Comics #16 is a twofold plot. On one side you have Batman attempting to stem the madness in Gotham ancillary to the Joker’s return. For whatever reason, the Joker’s madness strikes a chord with some people, evoking serious psychosis. This was evinced in Detective Comics #4 when Batman crashed a demonstration in Gotham Park of Batman protesters picketing against his supposed “skinning” of the Joker. There are all sorts of rival Joker groups, but Batman sets his eyes on a particular group called the “League of Smiles.” From what we see of the League here it is a comprised of some truly twisted individuals, and even the most benign among them remain deeply disturbed. Across the aisle, the Penguin has been requisitioned by the Joker for his larger goals and in the absence of Oswald Cobblepot, his assistant Ignatius Ogilvy, now referring to himself as Emperor Penguin, has been gobbling up territory and strengthening his base so as to bar the Penguin from regaining his vast empire after the Joker releases him. In fact, Ogilvy uses the madness generated around the Joker’s return to hit the rival syndicates, weakening them, and blame it on the Joker. I spoke in earlier reviews of John Layman’s run on Detective that there was no rhyme or reason as to the plots issue to issue. Now it becomes clear that he has been building up the rise of Emperor Penguin from within the ranks of the Penguin, like a cancer or perhaps more appropriately a parasite. This series has met its maturation point and hits its stride.
- Swamp Thing #16 following the revelation last issue of the state of Gotham and Batman’s succumbing to the Rot, writer Scott Snyder redeems the situation by showing the contingencies Batman left in place for the coming of Swamp Thing. Though he knew Gotham would fall, Batman also knew of one legacy he could leave Alec Holland that would give him the edge needed to stand a chance against the Rot in the coming conflict. With it, Swamp Thing makes his way to Anton Arcane’s stronghold leading to next month’s finale of “Rot World: The Green Kingdom.” Snyder’s plot is tight and utilizes the structure of Gotham beautifully to facilitate an incredible Swamp Thing issue under the banner of “Rot World.”
- Animal Man #16 brings this title to its penultimate chapter in “Rot World: The Red Kingdom.” Buddy Baker and his ragtag group of defenders from the Red have linked up with Frankenstein and his undead army against the Rot, and once there is a decent fighting force behind him, they make a “Hail Mary” play to release a prisoner so dangerous Anton Arcane held him imprisoned outside of his domain in the faraway dead city, Metropolis. Thought to be Superman, it turns out to be the new Green Lantern of our sector, Medyphyll, replacement for all the human lanterns. Coming from a race evolved from plant-life, the Guardians gave him the ring so that he might have an edge as a being with a close connection to the Green. Though he is weakened by the Rot’s presence, he is able to regain his footing and give the “Red Army” the final edge they need to attack Arcane in his capital, which is precisely where the issue ends as the greatest battle begins with the Rot. On the sidelines, Animal Man’s daughter Max is tricked by William Arcane into sacrificing herself to save the lives of her mother, brother, and grandmother. The next issue promises to be a killer issue alongside Swamp Thing #17.
- Earth 2 #8 is a one shot issue that takes the world of the second Earth into a very interesting direction. As with Justice League #1, Earth 2 was invaded by the forces of Apokalips. Though the timeline is hazy, I believe that Earth 2 was invaded first, with the Apokaliptian forces lead by Steppenwolf, and Earth 1 was invaded next by Steppenwolf’s nephew, Darkseid. The war with Apokalips was far more devastating to the residents of Earth 2. Five countries were completely wiped off the planet in massive fiery blast, hundreds of millions of people were incinerated in a matter of minutes, and and of course, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were murdered before the war was brought to a close. Well after the fact, in the present of this series we are shown that the evil architect of all the carnage, genocide, and destruction, Steppenwolf, is not only alive, but stranded on Earth 2 in the nation of Dherain. Through King Marov’s intercession Steppenwolf is protected by international treaties and allowed to thrive within the borders of Dherain. In exchange, Marov is able to extract Apokaliptian tech to supermodernize his small nation. However, as tension grows between Steppenwolf and Marov, Steppenwolf’s greatest weapon is revealed and promises to drop jaws. With the end of this issue an ominous threat is revealed and then relegated to the background once again like a Sword of Damocles dangling over the overarching narrative and driving the reader mad wondering when it will fall.
- Worlds’ Finest #8 follows two exiles from Earth 2 living on Earth 1, Huntress and Power Girl. Writer Paul Levitz started this pilgrimage in a guarded way by introducing one of these exiles, Helena Wayne (aka Huntress), as Helena Bertinelli in the limited Huntress series. In it Huntress fights traffickers of young Arabic women from North Africa to Italy and the European market led by the warlord Ibn Hassan. In this issue, Levitz shows that no good deed goes unpunished. After breaking up his operation and losing him hundreds of millions in revenue, his men finally catch up with Helena and put her in the hospital. Power Girl intercedes and seemingly solves the problem of Ibn Hassan and the bounty on Huntress’s head removed, but her hospitalization gives the opportunity for her in her delirium to return to her childhood and show how her father, Batman, imbued in her an iron will and “never-say-die” attitude, and her mother, Catwoman, gave her love and strength of mind over body. She had super-star parents who were tough on her, but loved her just as much as any parents could. The overall plot is kind of trite, as Helena gets hurt, being only human, and Power Girl fixes everything being both rich and an invincible Kryptonian, but the underlying story facilitated by it of her past and the rich environment and parents that sculpted the woman she became is really what makes this issue so stunning.
- Green Lantern: The New Guardians Annual #1 is a really interesting annual, sort of like the Superman Annual #1. Though it bears the name of the series it represents, it has little to do with the overall story in the main series run. Just as with the Superman Annual, which had more to do with Grifter and Red Hood and the Outlaws than Superman, this Annual does more to set up the series Threshold #1 than forwarding the New Guardians storyline. Carol, Kyle, and their allies Saint Walker and Arkillo are sent on a mission by Carol Ferris’s overlords in the Star Sapphires to the Tenebrian Dominion. The Tenebrian Dominion is the empire governed by Lady Styx, rebooted from her previous insectoid form to a black feline one, as introduced in Blue Beetle #0. To infiltrate one of the most secure sectors of Space the New Guardians enlist the aid of Jediah Caul, the Green Lantern deep cover operative inside the Tenebrian Domain. Unlike most Green Lanterns, Jediah is very amoral and subscribes to a dog-eat-dog, survival of the strongest philosophy. Once he gets them in, the annual introduces the concept of “the Hunt,” a game in which enemies of the state are released with a bounty on their heads and the chase televised with their death open to any citizen of the Dominion. Tony Bedard takes a break here, with the annual written by Threshold scribe Keith Giffen. Art is provided by Andrei Bressen, relief artist of Green Lantern: New Guardians, and Threshold back-up artist Scott Kolins. Though Giffen is new to the series and also considering he won’t be writing its characters for the foreseeable future, he nailed it. The unlikely friendship and comradery between Saint Walker and Arkillo was especially well done. Carol Ferris was also written in a very engaging, empowered way. I enjoyed this annual and look forward to seeing the new title that it so exceptionally introduces.
- Batwing #16 marks the title getting good again! The previous arc, begun by Judd Winick dealt with a crazy cult leader and descended into a really crazy place. With this issue new series writer Fabian Nicieza brings the plot back into the realm of real problems in Africa. This time its police corruption and the the power of private individuals over national politics. Here the son of a foreign investor who has a proclivity for sex and murder is acquitted over and over due to police buy offs. The title character, David Zavimbe, who moonlights as a vigilante and licensed operative of Batman Incorporated, is caught in the middle considering he is also a Tinasha police inspector. As Batwing and as an officer of the law he must find justice despite the overwhelming tides that are rushing against him and the innocent people he’s vowed to protect. With this issue, a war is declared. Nicieza’s writing is superb and hits a chord with the blunt realities of the “dark continent” in the post-colonial era. Though its solicited on the cover as done by Fabrizio Fiorentino, the actual artist is Allan Jefferson, a man I had never heard of, but whose art is crisp, fresh, and very appropriate to the tone of the book. This marks the beginning of something good.
- Green Arrow #16 is yet again a place holder. Green Arrow concludes his business bringing down the underworld arms dealer and dog fighting kingpin, Harrow. Not really any good, and I think that writer Ann Nocenti is checked out on the title, ready to move on to other projects, namely February’s Katana #1. I am on the verge of dropping this title, but next month’s issue taken over by Jeff Lemire could turn it around like the character has several times in the past. Green Arrow is one of the characters that has been written the worst and written the best so many times over his long history of publication. You either do it perfectly or completely crap. I pray that Lemire gets it, like others have gotten it, and resurrected the title like so many of the greats had done before him. Lemire may indeed add his name to the list of Mike Grell, Dennis O’Neil, and JT Krul. This issue, however, is forgettable.
- Phantom Stranger #4 takes us further down the rabbit hole that is the life of Philip Stark, aka Phantom Stranger, aka Judas Iscariot. Going clothes shopping with his wife, suddenly he finds himself whisked to the House of Mystery by John Constantine. Phantom Stranger made an appearance in Justice League Dark #14, and this issue gives the other half of that encounter from the Stranger’s perspective. I absolutely hate John Constantine and not in an “I love to hate him” sort of way, but rather an “if he died I would either cheer or just not care.” Phantom Stranger is an unfettered transcendental force that is free of most Earthly constraints and not one to trifle with. Constantine found perhaps the ONE way to not only guarantee his own safety while parlaying with him, but also the one string that he can use to make the Stranger dance like a puppet. So that’s one headache Phantom Stranger has to deal with, but once back to the store in which he was snatched another calamity rears its ugly head, bringing the narrative back to Pandora and another universal force on par with our protagonist. Dan Didio conceived the plot on this one, but the scripting is taken over by J.M. Dematteis, another phenomenal writer of paranormal comics. Also, though I don’t normally comment of cover art, Jae Lee (Before Watchmen: Ozymandias) looks to be providing cover art for the next couple of issues and this particular issue’s looks stunning. If down the road he were to take over interior art, that wouldn’t be completely inappropriate and would add a great deal.
- Legends of the Dark Knight #4 returns to a three part anthology format, like its inaugural issue, with tales from T.J. Fixman, Andrew Dabb, and Jonathan Larsen. Fixman’s installment, entitled “A Game To Die For”, tells of an up and coming superhero named the Praetorian who nabs the Joker and awaits Batman to pick up the Clown for return to Arkham. In the interim the Joker, tied up and seemingly helpless, plays his masterful head games that distort Praetorian’s reality and raise some interesting questions about his past. Suspenseful and psychologically charged, this story is very much in line with Christopher Nolan’s non-Batman films and just as complex considering its short duration. The second installment by Andrew Dabb deals with a film crew coming to Gotham to make a movie based on that city’s storied nocturnal protector. Of course since it takes place inside the DCU the film crew has no idea who the Dark Knight is or why he does what he does and that is at the heart of the story. The main actor who is cast to portray Batman has reservation as he doesn’t know what motivation to take to get into his character and understand him. Of course upon the beginning of filming things karmicly are destined to go awry, which manifests in the form of Joker and Harley Quinn crashing the party. Asking Harley why her and the Joker are doing what they are doing to innocent people, the actor gets the reply, “Why does anyone? Us, the capes . . . cause its fun and we get to dress up,” and when he asks Batman the same question he is rewarded with no answer at all. However, the Dark Knight’s evasion is rather Zen in nature, because while there is no intelligible answer, the truth behind his motivation is everything that the film crew has endured up to that point at the arbitrary whims of two psychotics. Finally from writer Jonathan Larsen comes a tale of Two-Face that features some very telling things about the nature of both Two-Face and Harvey Dent, two consciousnesses sharing a body. Involving a very radical surgery, the plot of this story is too good and two complex to sum up. However, this story does present a very twisted conundrum inherent in the nature of Harvey’s split personality. As ever this title gives thoughtful exploration to the very complex character that is Batman.
- Smallville Season 11 #9 moves into a brand new arc entitled “Haunted” which could stem from two plot points and perhaps even both. On one side of the narrative, Lex Luthor has been using cutting edge psychotherapy techniques to dive into his subconscious and claim the memories of his sister, Tess, who’s consciousness has taken up residence in his shiny dome. At the heart of this is her knowledge of Superman’s identity. On the other side, Superman hooks up with an old friend of his, Bart Allen, aka Impulse (Basically the Flash of this world), and the two have their infamous race across the world. Bryan Q. Miller maintains the feel of the original TV show in this comic extension, introducing classic characters in interesting new ways. Psimon is introduced in this issue as a failed experiment by Lex Corp. During the race across the world, Impulse and Superman stop an art robbery at the Louvre by a band of Gorillas lead by an Alpha gorilla and a disembodied brain. Yup, you guessed it. Here we meet the Brain and Monsieur Mallah, which Miller takes a cue from Grant Morrison’s 1990’s Doom Patrol series by making homosexual/trans-species lovers. Lastly, but certainly not of least interest, is the introduction of a black, spectral speedster that is chasing Impulse. Again, for those who follow DC with some frequency, you know who this is, rounding out what promises to be yet another interesting arc in Smallville Season 11.
Thus ends the first legitimate week of 2013 comics. The comic year looks rife with possibilities. And next week we get into a whole slew of “Death of the Family” titles as well as a very promising new title in Threshold. See you back here next week.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
Action Comics #16: Drawn by Rags Morales & Brad Walker, Colored by Brad Anderson, Inked by Andrew Hennessy & Mark Propst
Earth 2 #8: Drawn by Yildiray Cinar, Colored by Alex Sinclair, Inked by Ryan Winn & Ruy Jose
Worlds’ Finest #8: Art by CAFU, Colored by Rosemary Cheetham
Batwing #16: Drawn by Allan Jefferson, Colored by Pete Pantazis, Inked by Phyllis Novin, Le Beau Underwood & Juan Castro
Legends of the Dark Knight #4: Art by Giorgio Ponrelli, Colored by Antonio Fabela