Starting out February right we have the conclusion to “Rot World” in Swamp Thing and Animal Man and a Valentine’s Day Special for all the lovelorn denizens of the New 52. Also another first attempt in the rodeo of trying to wrangle Green Arrow into a decent title again. So much going on, let’s get to it:
- Detective Comics #17 brings to a close the story of the Merrymaker. Since Detective Comics wasn’t roped into the “Death of the Family” event, John Layman used this two issue space to do something Joker themed and yet tangential enough that he had complete control over it. Thus sprung the concept of the League of Smiles and its architect, the Merrymaker. I’m a little sad that it was only two issues, as it turned out to be a really cool concept. However, I’m not sure what else Layman could have done with it, so its length isn’t entirely inappropriate. I do hope that in the future the Merrymaker makes a reappearance, because as a Joker offshoot he is intriguing. However, a lot of it is the pageantry surrounding him, owing to the resemblance he bears to other characters in Batman’s rogues gallery, i.e. Hugo Strange. In the backup feature, also written by John Layman and drawn by Andy Clarke we are shown the origin of the Merrymaker while also being made privy to his fate after the main feature concludes. Layman’s writing is beginning to grow on me. His authorial sense of humor is really refreshing and makes his issues on this title quite engaging to read. Things are beginning to fall into place and I am forced to retract my earlier reservations as to his competency as a Batman writer.
- Animal Man #17 presents the first half of the conclusion to “Rot World.” Animal Man and Swamp Thing have independent of one another come to Anton Arcane’s capital of Behemit, to battle the onslaught of the Rot into our world. The battle to end Arcane’s nightmarish reign is brutal and costs many lives, but this issue only presents half of the story. This chapter, while important, really only constitutes a great deal of fighting and panning out the immense scale of the battle with the Rot. Ending with the revelation of Abby Arcane and Max Baker’s fates following the flashback sequences in both Animal Man and Swamp Thing, this issue finds its conclusion in Swamp Thing #17.
- Swamp Thing #17, along with Animal Man #17, are hailed as the “Rot World: Finale” but in fact they are not. Or if they are, it is a lackluster finale with no gravitas or meaning. Continuing from where Animal Man left off, this second installment of the finale has Swamp Thing and Animal Man plumbing the depths of their resolve to win the day from the cocksure, smug Anton Arcane who cannot conceive that there is any way that he may lose. And in reality, for the duo to win they must shatter their own dreams and destroy that which they love most to free the world from the Rot. Also of interest is the meeting of the avatars of Red and Green with the Parliament of Decay, which is far different from how one would expect them to be, given the events of the past year and a half. This issue is intriguing, certainly, but the lack of any sort of conclusion is deceptive. It would seem that any true ending to this saga with come with the 18th issues of both series.
- Earth 2 #9 returns to the main cast of characters after last month’s sojourn to Dherain and the ascension of Steppenwolf to the throne. Kendra Munoz-Saunders meets with a young middle eastern man named Khalid who is the host to Nabu and the helmet of Fate. As yet he appears to be too frightened to wield this power and become Doctor Fate. Returning to Jay Garrick after the fall of Grundy in issue #6, we find the speedster returning to his mother’s home in Lansing, Michigan only to be greated by a a World Army faction headed by Wesley Dodds there to capture him and bring him in. This title is interesting because it constantly is beset with different shades of moral ambiguity. There are characters like Jay that are just plain good, but then there are characters like Hawkgirl, Dodds (aka Sandman), and Al Pratt (aka the Atom) who are slightly more nuanced and hard to read. And then of course there is the genocidal lunatic, Terry Sloane, who murdered tens of millions of people in the blink of an eye and yet still claims to be a hero. Though the issues bounces around between Hawkgirl, Jay Garrick, and the World Army, the issue really seems to be setting up the entrence of Dr. Fate and the introduction of Khalid. James Robinson continues to exhibit his prowess as a JSA writer, innovating the characters and concepts yet retaining the heart of each that has maintained them over seventy years of storytelling. Artist Nicola Scott returns after her hiatus last month on #8.
- Worlds’ Finest #9 picks up after Huntress’s hospitalization following an assassination order by a human trafficker she inconvenienced in her introductory miniseries about a year ago. Karen Starr, aka Power Girl, had her taken to her private island for rest and recuperation, which young Miss Wayne is in desperate need of. But . . . wouldn’t you know it, a paramilitary, special forces mercenary group picks that time to raid Karen’s laboratory and threaten the lives of her staff in the process. All this while Power Girl is away on her previous errand. So Helena has to suit up, and like her father and mother taught her vis-a-vis the flashback last issue, she pushes past the pain to do what’s right. In this issue the flashbacks show Helena and Karen getting their costumes and Helena’s crossbow and Helena once again breaking up a white slavery ring. The flashbacks aren’t as poignant as they have been in the past, but the main story is pretty incredible, especially considering the final panel’s revelation. Paul Levitz is a genius and as ever George Perez’s pencils are rock solid. The pairing of their writing and art makes this series one of the best currently being put out.
- Phantom Stranger #5 was rather apocalyptic. Last issue the Phantom Stranger, who in his downtime exists as Philip Stark, working stiff and family man, comes back from an unwelcome conversation with John Constantine to find that his family has been kidnapped and his kids’ babysitter killed in a ritualistic, occult-looking fashion. So of course his first thought is that its the first person he wronged in this series’ inaugural #0 issue: The Spectre, aka Det. Jim Corrigan. The issue is basically a drawn out slugfest between two transcendental forces: Cold Destiny vs Fiery Vengeance incarnate. Lots of stuff blows up and some serious fundamental issues are discussed. Very few comics are as high brow and low brow at the same time. There is some serious sacrilege going on with the Spectre claiming to be God and God turning out to be a cairn terrier. Also the Question makes his first speaking appearance, but I am still annoyed by his immortal overhaul. He was a great character before and thus far I am not sold. Although this is the first time he’s appeared as an actual character, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt. With great art and writing from Brent Anderson, Dan Didio and J.M. DeMatteis this issue was overall superb.
- Green Arrow #17 did it! I have disliked this series, except for the “Daughters of Lear” storyline. This issue resurrects the dark edge of what Green Arrow should be. I think the complete crap numbers of their past sixteen issues coupled with the unbridled success of the television adaptation Arrow has finally got them back on track. Ollie’s lost his company, the steward that his father left in charge of Queen Industries, Emerson, begins to tell him a bombshell about his departed father when BANG he gets a black arrow through the chest. Three pages in and Oliver is framed for murder! You want to read it now, don’t you? This series started with Oliver cushed out and leading a pretty carefree life of whimsy, moonlighting as a jet setting vigilante. This issue has him lose everything except his bow and what he learned on the island. THAT is the what Green Arrow should be, a twisted individual regressed to his most primal state after a life or death ordeal on a desert island becoming a silent hunter in an urban jungle. Check! Though this is just a single issue, this is the most genuine issue published since the launch of the New 52. Jeff Lemire not only showcases the effects the island had on Ollie, he also brings the island into the narrative itself with the black archer and a mysterious group also being connected to that island. Andrea Sorrentino was initially the artist for I, Vampire, which I disliked a great deal, his artwork which is very stark with non-gradient transitions between shadow and light, really brings a sharp edge to Lemire’s script. Just an awesome issue. If you were disheartened by DC’s crappy initial issues of this series or you like Arrow, buy this book.
- Batwing #17 finds our hero a hunted man. Police Inspector David Zavimbe and his alter ego Batwing have stood up to corruption in the Congo police and been marked for death. Industrialist, Phillip Marksbury, has put a contract out on Batwing when the latter put his son, Ancil Marksbury, in prison for multiple assaults and homicides. Answering the call is a Chinese mercenary called Sky-Pirate, but more interestingly, Rachel Niamo, aka Dawn, David’s childhood friend from the refugee camp, who he fought beside a few issues ago. This issue has so many twists and turns, its uncertain how it can end with David and those closest to him escaping its consequences with their lives intact. Fabian Nicieza nails it! And Fabrizio Fiorentino renders it beautifully with some of the most luscious art currently coming out. I am more terrified about the future of this series than I am about the “Death of the Family” arc in Batman. THAT’S saying something.
- Legends of the Dark Knight #5 does something different then the past four, focusing on a different character than the Batman. Slam Bradley, private detective, is on the job observing an abusive hood beating his mistress. In the process he get framed for murder and runs afoul of Black Mask, the mafia kingpin of Gotham. Plus the Batman thinks he did it as well and also is trying to bring him in, where the corrupt police will kill him. So the legend here as told by the incredible writing (said sarcastically) of Joshua Hale Fialkov is that Batman is a complete idiot. Phil Hester provides insubstantial art. Terrible issue. Skip it.
- Smallville Season 11 #10, provides two major plot lines. First, Clark is made aware of the Black Flash, or the Black Racer as he’s also referred to, who has been stalking Bart Allen for sometime now. In his wake, he has been sapping the life from other, normal people prematurely aging them and leaving them as desiccated husks. The origins of this dark speedster are hinted to have something to do with a failed LexCorp experiment. To help Bart, Clark and his allies at STAR Labs create two cosmic treadmills for Bart and Supes to use to lure out the Black Flash. On the other side of the narrative, Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow, and his wife, Chloe Sullivan Queen, attempt to find out the true nature of the multiversal cataclysm that lead Chloe’s Earth-2 equivalent to come to our Earth, to do so they use a device Lex Luthor used to transfer Hank Henshaw’s consciousness into the robotic body in the first arc of this series. Chloe merges her consciousness with the waning memories of her dead counterpart. This series really does work episodically like the television show did, presenting a complex, yet engaging superhero adventure in the manner of a seasonal program.
- Young Romance: New 52 Valentines Day Special #1 presents six tales of love throughout the New DCU, just as the title promises. The first story, is one of Catwoman and the Batman brought to us by Catwoman writer Ann Nocenti and guest artist Emanuela Lupacchino. In it Catwoman pulls a heist, but afterwards feels none of the usual satisfaction, reminiscing about the first time she met Batman . . . on Valentines Day. Her and her brother Billy were dirt poor and decided to steal tv’s and stereos from the families living in their projects. Of course, the Batman would have choice things to say about that, and of course Catwoman would be too stubborn to giveup without a fight, but also true is that she is not so devoid of decency that she wouldn’t learn from that and become better. Next up writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Inaki Miranda tell a tale of Aquaman’s wife, Mera, living in his father’s old lighthouse in Amnesty Bay, Maine, learning of the deep love between the ravishing daughter of a one of the previous lighthouse keepers from the 1860’s and a handsome, devoted ships captain. Though they didn’t have a happy ending in their lifetime, Mera and Arthur through their actions and love for one another might just be able to make a happy ending for the departed lovers. In the the “Knightfall” storyline Batgirl met a street punk named Ricky who is gimped by the sadistic villainess. She learned that he wasn’t all bad and to help him avoid trouble while asking him for information, she planted a kiss on him. In the Batgirl story of this issue, writer Ray Fawkes and artist Julius Gopez have Ricky sloppily jacking a car so that Batgirl would come and he could talk to her about that kiss. The segment is a very honest, bittersweet love story, that at the same time is open ended leaving room for the possibility of a happy ending, but not making it likely. In the story entitled “Seoul Brothers” Stormwatch writer Peter Milligan and artist Simon Bisley tell a story about Apollo and Midnighter. I hated this story simply because it featured Midnighter. He is just awful and his part in this story makes it awful. The less said the better. Apollo isn’t a bad dude and deserves much better. Perhaps that’s what Milligan is saying, but I don’t really care in the long run, and neither Milligan nor his predecessor Paul Cornell could sell me on the characters. This story didn’t help matters either. Nightwing writer Kyle Higgins tells a story of his title character’s love life on the rocks, but interesting developments as he meets an African American heroine code named Ursa. It bears (pun intended) inquiry as to whether this story will find resolution in the main title, as Higgins is writing this and may be setting something up for later. Finally, Superman and Wonder Woman are on a date when Wonder Woman’s family matters creep their way into their romantic evening and the Amazing Amazon has to come to the rescue of her Man of Steel. Upcoming Action Comics writer Andy Diggle pens this one, with the promise that “even more complications arise in this couple’s Young Romance in the pages of Superman #19.” If that’s not a hint, I don’t know what is. Overall, this was a really great, well plotted jaunt into the love lives of some of the best DC characters.
And so ends the first week of February. Some issues fell flat, but there were some real gems coming out of it as well. Overall a decent week in comics.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
Detective Comics #17: Art by Andy Clarke, Colored by Blond
Earth 2 #9: Drawn by Nicola Scott, Colored by Alex Sinclair, Inked by Trevor Scott
Phantom Stranger #5: Drawn by Brent Anderson, Colored by Ulises Arreola, Inked by Philip Tan & Rob Hunter
Green Arrow #17: Art by Andrea Sorrentino
Batwing #17: Art by Fabrizio Fiorentino, Colored by Pete Pantazis
Young Romance: New 52 Valentines Day Special #1: Cover Art by Kenneth Rocafort, Colored by Blond