Ending the first motnh of 2013 comics, this week packs a LONG list of incredible titles and interesting storylines. The Batman & Robin and Green Lantern Corps annuals are overflowing with possibilities pertaining to their individual series. Two Before Watchmen titles bring us closer to the end of that line and a brand new appreciation for the seminal work by Alan Moore. And then “Throne of Atlantis”, “H’El on Earth”. and “Death of the Family” each take a step forward with chapters of their crossover taking us one step further into their stories. So here we go:
- Aquaman #16 delivers part four of the “Throne of Atlantis” crossover event, following the capture of the League and the the further invasion of Boston by the forces of Atlantis. With the opening of the Trench several issues ago, which Arthur had sealed in the first arc of this series to contain the unstoppable fishmen horde, Aquaman must once again head back to the ancient lair of these creatures to rescue Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. While doing this Arthur learns something invaluable that connects both to the Trench beings themselves and the the scepter of the Dead King that Black Manta stole in the “Others” story arc. This appears to be the precursor to the event’s conclusion as the culprit of the missile attack on Atlantis is revealed and the scepter makes its reappearance in unsafe hands. Aquaman tends to teeter between being a phenomenal series and being not as good. This issue leans in the direction of awesome. There is a new mythology being built and some really interesting events foreshadowed. Geoff Johns is introducing plot points and concepts that promise to mature into storylines that could be talked about for decades. Or they could just fizzle like some of the things he’s been doing of late. We’ll see.
- Batman Inc #7 is a tour-de-force. The series in its second and final arc has showed how Talia Al-Ghul has arranged the most perfect and intricate plot (at least that I can remember) to take out Gotham in a slow, protracted way that is seemingly impossible to stop and agonizing for Batman to watch. Grant Morrison started writing the Batman title a little over seven years ago in 2005 and has slowly built up his own micro-Bat universe that we now see has been nothing less than a train of dominoes that that he is now tipping over. So much of what he has introduced is now being destroyed. Prophesies are unraveling, and Damian is coming to realize the truth behind his mother’s plan and appears to be the best candidate to save his father, his father’s city, and all his father’s allies from the insanity of his Hecuba-esque mother. As Peter Tomasi wrote in Batman & Robin #0, Talia raised him to be a new Alexander, to conquer and pacify the modern world. She conditioned him to perfection at the age of eight. It is my assumption that though her plan to destroy Gotham is flawless, it is not immune to her own handiwork, vis-a-vis Damian. This series gives me chills and is Grant Morrison at his finest. Artist Chris Burnham brings his A-game to the artwork, drafting it beautifully. I want to know how this all ends SO BAD, but I also don’t because when it does Morrison will be off of the Batman character, which is something that I never want to see. The ultimate conundrum . . .
- Flash #16 was a delight to read. Last issue Barry Allen was rendered unconscious and had to be rescued from Grodd by his girlfriend, police officer Patty Spivot, and other allies. In his delirium his mind had gone through every possible outcome of how to beat Grodd and the moment he woke up the issue ended. This issue opens with him deciding on a plan that we are not made privy to as well as a touching scene between Barry and Patty talking about what he has to do and the depth of their feelings for one another. I love Patty Spivot a lot, and I have a feeling that the writer/artists of this issue do too. In another part of the issue they portray Flash’s wife from the previous incarnation of the series, Iris West, in a less than flattering manner when it comes to her relations and manipulations of Barry. I hope that Barry and Patty have a decent amount of time together before the possibility of a relationship with Iris is put back on the table. After parting ways with Patty the confrontation with Grodd commences and it is one that is both poignant and thought provoking in Barry’s approach. The issue ends before the true meaning of it is made clear, but what is shown is intriguing to say the least. Writer/artists Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato write the Flash better than anyone (I’m looking at you, too, Geoff Johns) and they depict him visually amongside the greats.
- Red Lantern #16 is the final Green Lantern title before the culminating Green Lantern Corps Annual. Atrocitus digs deep and finds the humility and strength to resurrect the Manhunters, the soulless robot army of the Guardians that murdered his family and wiped out his sector of space, and use them as his instrument of revenge against their former masters, the Guardians. On the Red Lantern homeworld of Ysmault, the Red Lantern custodian of the Central Power Battery, Ratchet, digs beneath the planet’s surface to ascertain the cause of the leeching of power from the Corps main battery. What he finds cuts to the deepest secret of the Red Lantern Corps’ formation, as seen in Red Lantern #0. On Earth Rankorr faces off against the street punk that murdered his grandfather. His goal is to kill this man, concluding his initiatory vengeance that caused the ring to choose him. With the help of Bleez, the Corps’ first lieutenant, he does so, but retains enough human compassion to temper his rage, once again raising the question of the nature of his ties to the red ring on his finger. I love Bleez and her portrayal in this issue remains complex and fascinating to behold. So many interesting things occur in this issue, including Atrocitus’s trip to Maltus, the first home of the Guardians, and what he finds there the Guardians hid away out of fear. I am not certain what it is, but I have a very shrewd idea. This issue, like those that came before it, is proof that Peter Milligan is one of the best comic writers out there. In the latter half of this series Miguel Sepulveda has taken over the art and I hate it so much. This issue had a guest artist, Andres Guinaldo, who to me was a breath of fresh air. His art was very soft and rounded giving genuine feeling to the narrative and emotion to the very tough decisions that many of the characters had to make. Red Lantern is a top tier title because of the rich material and the talented creators that mine it and hone it to perfection.
- Green Lantern Corps Annual #1 ushers in the next major event in the saga of the Green Lantern Corps. Just as the Green Lantern Annual #1 ushered in the current “Rise of the Third Army” event, this annual inaugurates the “Wrath of the First Lantern” event. With “Rise of the Third Army” the Guardians have descended into pure evil, assassinating their own corps in order to replace them with thoughtless drones, just like the Manhunters before them. But its not just their police force they are going to convert, but every sentient being in the universe. A handful of Green Lanterns have found the Guardians out and rush to stop them before they can succeed in slaughtering their fellow corpsmen like lambs to the slaughter. This annual was INSANE, bringing together all or most of the plot points from four Green Lantern titles to a single converging point. In four books the Guardians’ evil scheme has been experienced by multiple, isolated parties. By issue’s end, these parties are united against the Guardians, regardless of how they fair. The fate of Mogo is also determined in this issue, and though the final verdict on how the planet Green Lantern fits into the Guardians’ heinous scheme, I remain optimistic and have to say, “Welcome back, Mogo. You’ve been missed, Big Guy!”
- Batman & Robin Annual #1 is another key chapter in the evolving relationship between Bruce Wayne and his son, Damian. Bruce is a very rigid person with a methodical nature centered around an equally rigid moral code. Damian was raised in a more amoral atmosphere, but with the same rigidity and methodicalness. That similarity yet diametrical difference between father and son has caused a lot of friction and misunderstanding. But to the younger Wayne’s credit, when give the choice of staying with his father and live a life counter to his upbringing or go back to live with his mother who would give him his heart’s every desire, the ten year old doesn’t even pause. He chooses the hard path of righteousness that his father has blazed for thirty odd years. In this annual, Damian displays an emerging duality in his nature. On one side he has Alfred whisk his dad away on a scavenger hunt across Europe of significant moments in Wayne history that he has discovered while trying to understand his father’s connection to his past. Going from London, to Barcelona, to Athens, Bruce learns things about his parents that even he didn’t know. Their loss was what prompted him to go on his crusade of vengeance that has consumed his life since that fateful day in his youth. But that same crusade is also what blinded him to so much of his parents’ story. So Damian reconnects him to his beloved parents in perhaps the kindest gift any son could give a father. However, with Damian there is always a catch. This time around, the scavenger hunt is a ruse to get Bruce out of Gotham so he can put on a makeshift Batman costume and be the Batman of Gotham for a week. Interestingly enough, his costume is a smaller version of the trench coat Batman look that writer Grant Morrison has three times shown Damian to wear in the future when Damian becomes Batman. This annual was really a heartfelt piece that compliments everything that Tomasi has done in the series thus far, accentuating the soul of two very interesting characters.
- Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #5 delivers the penultimate chapter of the saga of Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias, the smartest man alive. He’s already decided that if the world is going to continue through the nuclear age he has to be the one to save it from human shortsightedness. How he arrives upon the nightmarish scheme we see in the original Watchmen series is depicted in this issue and quite well. I am curious as to whether his inspiration was mentioned in the original series or if Alan Moore talked about his own inspiration, because Len Wein’s explanation was spot on. The lead up to Adrian’s undertaking of the project and the years that went into building up the infrastructure for it (14 by my count) are chronicled in minute detail, as is the implementing of the Keene Act that banned masked crime fighters. Len Wein is one of the best writers in this Before Watchmen line and proves it in the analytic manner he composes the story, as well as the innovative way he spins the anti-heroic character considering the many sins Ozymandias commits on his path of altruism. Jae Lee has been one of my favorite comic artists since I first saw his work on the Marvel Inhumans series years ago. He’s been tied up with the Dark Tower series for several years now and its a delight to see him out and stretching his wings on a DC series. The next issue of this series is going to tie the whole thing up and I am a’quiver with anticipation for the conclusion of a very intense story of one of the most iconically antipathetic characters in comics history.
- Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill is a one-shot Before Watchmen tale about one of the least known, gaudy characters springing forth from Alan Moore’s original 1980’s series. In it writer Len Wein humanizes the character of Dollar Bill, telling us his name and the semi-relatable tale of the man who had everything and could achieve next to nothing. Seemingly the opposite of what a superhero should be, William Brady has the looks, the stamina, and the charm to conquer the world, excelling in sports and graduating from Dartmouth. However, when the real world and bad luck check his success and reduce him to an unemployable mess, fate steers him inadvertently into the world of costumed adventuring. Watchmen was a series about “realistic” superheroes and Dollar Bill fits that mold wonderfully in what he is and how Wein portrays him. Despite him being likened to people that I dislike in my everyday life, the inner monologue and down-to-earth perspective presented made me actually like him more than a little and mourn his passing at books end. Being that he is a Minuteman, the original vigilante group from the 30’s and 40’s, his dying isn’t that big of a spoiler, especially if one has already read The Watchmen and knows the full sordid tale of his demise. Steve Rude provides art and lettering on this book in a very nuanced manner that is very appropriate to the title. I include that he is also the letterer, because the way he letters the captions with the colored, emboldened first letters for each separate box is a feature characteristic of Golden Age comics of the time that this book is meant to take place, circa 1940’s. This touch, along with his art style makes this one shot seem very authentic and believably vintage. If one is a Watchmen fan, this is one-shot a must read issue.
- Superman #16 picks up with H’el reliving his initial time with Superman’s parents, Jor-El and Lara, on Krypton months before its destruction. These flashback sequences, of which there have been a few throughout the “H’el on Earth” crossover, are intriguing, as they paint H’el as a chivalrous man of the people, while at the same time calling into question the characters of Superman’s father and mother. H’el’s scheme to restore Krypton at the cost of our entire solar system and it tens of trillions of inhabitants is nightmarish, and yet, though they have yet to come out and said it outright, H’el insinuates that Jor-El and Lara knew of and endorsed this plan. Can that be, and if so what does it say about Superman’s heritage? On that same topic, through conversation between the two, we are shown that Supergirl is unaware that H’el’s plan will eradicate all life in our solar system and that H’el is consciously lying to her to gain her support in completing the plan. And complete it they do, because by issue’s end the Star Chamber they have constructed is activated and the Oracle is awakened in another part of space to come and “bear witness to the end of a world.” Kenneth Rocafort’s art makes this issue visually stunning and Scott Lobdell clearly helms the entire “H’el on Earth” crossover from this title, as every issue of Superman has been the wellspring of vital information concerning H’el’s plot and history. Next month’s Superman #17 is solicited to bring this whole event to a close. I, for one, cannot wait . . .
- Talon #4 picks up in the bowels of the Hudson Financial Building as former Talon, Calvin Rose, concludes his business of defunding the Court of Owls numerous investments through this shell financial institution. Of course, as we saw in previous issues, the Court has unleashed an asset of theirs so horrific that he was not even given the status of Talon, nor the same considerations as the rest. With his release, the Court tips their hand as to how desperate they are to stop Calvin and his comrade-in-arms, Sebastian Clark, from further interfering in their affairs. Also thrown into the mix is Calvin’s former lover, Casey Washington, who leads her own underground army of fugitive members of other world cabals. Originally Calvin severed their relationship for fear that further interactions between them would lead the Court to her and her daughter. The end of this issue tests that assumption, as well as the mettle of both Calvin and Casey in the face of the Court’s riskiest gambit. James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder craft the plot exquisitely and Guillem March, as with everything he does, renders it beautifully up each and every page. This series is one of the cannot miss titles of the DC lineup.
- Batman: The Dark Knight #16 wasn’t anything special. Batman stops a string of kidnappings and assumes they are perpetrated by the Penguin. Upon closer inspection, mind control devices are involved meaning its the Mad Hatter. The Mad Hatter shows up. That’s it. There is next to no plotline to speak of. Perhaps Gregg Hurwitz is gearing up for something, but apart from some gratuitous violence, leaves nothing to lure readers into buying the next issue. Gregg Hurwitz I think was brought on to take over the supposedly lackluster writing of series artist David Finch and cowriter Paul Jenkins. Hurwitz’s writing is far less substantial than the original writing team, as evinced by his strawman Scarecrow storyline and this empty first issue of the Mad Hatter plot. The one saving grace of this issue was the guest art by Ethan Van Sciver.
- Teen Titans #16 brings to a close the “Death of the Family” tie-ins of both Red Hood and the Outlaws as well as Teen Titans, since Joker kidnapped Jason Todd and Timothy Drake together. Last week’s Red Hood and the Outlaws #16 didn’t deal with the “Death of the Family” plot head on, but rather a roundabout way through the associates of the two former Robins coming together to locate their respective teammates. This one focuses on Tim and Jason as they face off against the Joker, culminating in that oh so familiar defeat and awakening to the Joker holding a platter that all the other affiliated series have ended on with the promise of resolution in Batman #17. I have no idea what that portends, but this issue found its heart in two diametrically different sidekicks of the Batman coming together like brothers against a common enemy. You can tell that there is a lingering dislike and rivalry between the two that belies a deep fraternal affection for one another. They also gel quite well when the chips are down and lives are at stake. Scott Lobdell and artist Brett Booth hit a homerun this issue, in my humble opinion. Also, as a post-script, I thought it fascinating that Lobdell threw in the teaser page, that not only introduced properly (there was a passing mention in Teen Titans #13) Trigon and his intentions to invade our sphere. Also introduced is his daughter Raven (who was introduced as a girl in Phantom Stranger #1), here seen in her demon’s garb, which I think trumps her original outfit ten times over. An original member of the New Teen Titans, I hope that her future appearances lead to her joining the team as she had in most of the title’s previous incarnations.
- Justice League Dark #16 flounders a little bit, in my opinion. In the “magical world” that is anything but, we see that the aboriginal denizens of magic have been forced underground by the humans who have adopted superscience to cull and repress the magical element, eventually dominating the whole of this sphere of existence. The last hope of the magical beings is their lost king, the Hunter, who escaped to Earth via the Books of Magic and promised to return. Timothy Hunter is his descendant and his coming could herald the return of magic. The story is interesting for sure, but the delivery was a little bland and lacking the panache and charm that this title began with in spades. Jeff Lemire is a good writer, but the direction he’s taking the characters in could be better.
- Masters of the Universe: The Origin of He-Man was less exciting and reveiling than its predecessor, The Origin of Skeletor. With the Skeletor introduction, not only did writer Joshua Fialkov do something completely different by making Skeletor, then Keldor, the older brother of King Randor, He-Man’s father, but also wrote a very compelling story for his transition from loyal and loving older brother to insane, skull faced dictator. The narrative was compelling, innovative and took the reader by surprise. This origin story of He-Man says NOTHING! He-Man isn’t portrayed in any other way than he has been in the past, and apart from Skeletor being his uncle, nothing is different. This special not only doesn’t need to be read, but shouldn’t have been written as it gives nothing new, interesting or insightful to the proceedings.
- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #6 concludes the miniseries with the combined forces of the Masters of the Universe awakening from Skeletor’s amnesia spell and the final battle with Skeletor commencing. As He-Man stories go it wasn’t terrible. The series started off and continued to do some innovative things so I will admit I was expecting more from the conclusion, however, it did live up to expectations. One thing that surprised me and I guess I will give credit to being edgy and innovative was that King Randor, Teela, and everyone else knew that He-Man is also Prince Adam. Also it is revealed through passing that the amnesia spell was cast by Orko who betrayed the Masters. THAT would be something I wish that they would have shown considering that Orko is one of the most benign characters in the He-Man mythos. His betrayal would have been a juicy plot point that other He-Man faithful, like myself, would have really enjoyed seeing. Either way, this new version was pretty good and it appears there will be an ongoing He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series beginning in April, featuring a return of both writer Keith Giffen and artist Pop Mhan.
- Batman Beyond Unlimited #12 begins with Superman Beyond, written by JT Krul and drawn by Howard Porter. Superman enlists the aid of Martian Manhunter to discern the cause of the Trillians trying to kill him. The rationale behind their vendetta is revealed and is far different and much more benign than I had thought. If what Superman recalls is accurate, their anger is unwarranted and only serves to depict them as a cruel race. However, in fairness to the Trillians, their side of the story hasn’t been told yet and circumstances might be slightly different from what Superman remembers, considering it took Martian Manhunter to recover those forgotten memories. Next on the docket is a Justice League Beyond: Origin of Micron feature. The son of a Gotham City paramedic, Micron was exposed in utero to radiation that caused him from birth to be able to shrink and expand to different sizes. Cursed through childhood with being different and having to move often because of it, as an adult he makes his way to Metropolis to join the Justice League Beyond. A pretty cut and dry origin with little ambiguity or twists to it, the story still resonnated through the very personal voice with which it is told. Finally, Adam Beechen privides the next chapter in his Batman Beyond “10,000 Clowns” storyline. It is actually more of a small taste, not accomplishing much narratively, except giving Batman (Terry McGinnis’) inner monologue on the state of affairs that find him against the ropes at the hands of the Joker King, the thoughts that lead to his rallying, and reintroducing Max back into the storyline after her abduction several issues ago, as well as revealing the identity of her captor. Overall, this issue was entertaining, but didn’t accomplish any great revelation in any of the three segments. However, the coming issues promise to do so based on what this issue did present.
- Arrow #3 begins with a tale of Ollie trying to juggle his friendship with Tommy Merlyn with his nights as Starling City’s hooded vigilante. Its an interesting story, but not very innovative or complex. The next cashes in on the “found footage” genre of storytelling made popular recently with the movies Cloverfield, Chronicle, Apollo 19, and others. Three kids get a video camera and a van and attempt to get footage of the Hood in action. Finally, the third tale fills in the past of Helena Bertinelli, aka the Huntress, and the events that drove her to the jaws of vengeance seen in the series this past November. Though intriguing, I wouldn’t say these inhanced the enjoyment or immersion into the world of the television show as effectively as the previous two have achieved in months past.
- All-Star Western #16 picks up with what seems to be a premise spawned from a dare. How do you make a dude in a wheel chair a total badass? Well, with a character like Jonah Hex, half the work is done for you. After facing off with Edward Hyde who had kidnapped and forcefed his serum to Hex’s associate Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, Jonah faced off against the genocidal lunatic and was soundly thrashed. With Arkham institutionalized until the serum ran its course through his system, Hex was left wheelchair bound to convolesce in the good doctors mansion. Like any predator, Hyde isn’t one to let his prey escape permanently and comes for a reckoning with Hex who even one month later is still chair ridden. Also of interest is Hex’s time time in the Arkham home. In the past, we have heard the shrill cries of Arkham’s aged mother from the upper levels of the house, but never seen her. This issue finally gives us an up close view of the woman and her demented frame of mind, namely her taste for the literary. This issue was quite an interesting way to draw the saga of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s time in Gotham to a close, as well as perhaps a keystone moment in the history of the Black Diamond and its whereabouts in the present of the DCU. The backup feature Tomahawk also reaches its concluding chapter as the eponymous native warrior leads a unified assault of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Shawnee, and Ojibwe tribes against the remaining British forces that shelter the American commander, General Lancaster, who butchered the families of Tomahawk and his fellows. They win the day and kill the American and British soldiers present, but the final words of Lancaster ring true through the inevitablity of history. The time of the Native Americans on their land is drawing to a close. The rising tide of European settlers will replace them, and we the reader know this to be historically the outcome. The true heart of the feature is the strength of the warriors’ spirit to stand against the encroaching tides.
- The Unwritten #45 shifts focus from Tom Taylor’s trevails in the previous arc to Richie Savoy and Didge Patterson in real world Australia. Savoy has set out to establish his own story and breakaway from being a supporting character in Tom’s story. It would appear that he has been successful in that endeavor to a degree, but is beset with the troubles that come from being the main character of a story, especially in the face of the calamity of the fictional world caused by the “Wound” sustained in the War of the Words. However, his existentialist woes are cut short when Didge asks him to advise on a very strange murder case she is investigating involving what appear to be zombie attacks. As with many strange occurrences in this title’s four year run, the zombies are conjured into existence through the written word. The who is established by issue’s end by the why and logistics are yet to be seen. Mike Carey and Peter Gross continue to amaze in this issue with some really dynamic storytelling and very compelling characters, developed slowly and carefully over years of subtly crafted storylines.
- Joe Kubert Presents #4 rounds out the week with yet another sojourn by Kubert into the tale of “The Redeemer”, another tale of “Angel and the Ape” by Brian Buniak, and further anecdotes of Sam Glanzman about his time on the “USS Stevens.” In “The Redeemer” Kubert goes from the year 2557 A.D. to the end of the Civil War and the Redeemer, Jim Torkan, trying to piece his life back together after his life in the South is destoryed following the surrender of Lee’s forces. The post-war South and the frontier in the western territories were laden with great injustices and moral quagmires that could corrupt even the purest heart. The Redeemer, true to his name, is a man whose virtue in the face of such situations dictates the redemption or fall of mankind. But he is a man with human weaknesses, so the question remains as to whether he can remain pure of heart in a morally corrupt world. “Angel and the Ape” concluded their current case and comedically grants Angel greater knowledge of her partner, Sam, a crusading gorilla. In the “USS Stevens” Sam Glanzman tells of an eccentric “asiatic” crew member on the boat called Buck, who was a practioner of Eastern philosophies like Zen Buddhism and an aficionado of quantum physics and relativity theorems Crafting a makeshift weapon that crew members sometimes fashioned from scrap metal aboard shop called “sheath knives”, Buck attacked the captain of the boat and earned himself a transfer off ship. The night before, supposedly someone on another boat swore they saw Buck floating in front of the Stevens where a figurehead would normally appear. The story clearly was told for the sole purpose of rationalizing the feasibility of whether this sighting was real or fabricated, considering his former peculiarities, as well as the man on the other ship’s ignorance of Buck’s eccentricities. The issue concludes like its predecessors with a very novel, retro feel of a bygone era of comic writing.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
Ending a long, but memorable week of comics, the books that came out just reaffirm how incredible this medium is. Next week February promises a continuance on some incredible stories told this first month of 2013. Can’t wait to read them and share my impressions with all of you.
Aquaman #16: Drawn by Paul Pelletier, Colored by Rod Reis, Inked by Sean Parsons
Batman Inc #7: Art by Chris Burnham, colored by Nathan Fairbairn
Red Lanterns #16: Drawn by Andres Guinaldo, Colored by Rain Beredo, Inked by BIT
Batman & Robin Annual #1: Drawn by Adrian Syaf, Colored by John Kalisz, Inked by Vincente Cifunetes
Teen Titans #16: Drawn by Brett Booth, Colored by Andrew Dalhouse, Inked by Norm Rapmund
All-Star Western #16: Art by Moritat, Colored by Mike Atiyeh
Joe Kubert Presents #4: Art by Joe Kubert