This week is exciting as it brings out the conclusion and aftermath of one of the most talked about storylines in recent years, “Death of the Family.” Superboy brings us one step closer to the apocalypse of “H’el on Earth.” The debut issue of the series Katana comes us, reintroducing us to an old friend from the old DCU. This week has a great amount of potential.
- Batman #17 was a much anticipated issue bringing the titantic “Death of the Family” arc of Batman and other Bat-titles to a culminating point of mutual closure. Hyped to be one of the biggest things to happen in Batman ever, few failed to be intrigued. I’d read early reviews that gave it perfect ten ratings or praised it to the heavens. I’m gonna disagree. Not because it wasn’t awesome, but I feel like the hype was built up for something that this issue had no possibility of delivering. What Snyder did with “The Court of Owls” was perfect. It changed EVERYTHING, but at the same time kept the status quo. In “Death of the Family” NOTHING changed! It didn’t even live up to its name. The Family isn’t dead. The events of the issue are not going to compel any of the “family” to cut Bruce out or change their relationship. He’s withheld things from them before and manipulated them for his own ends a million times. Why do you think Dick became Nightwing, Jason put on the Red Hood and cut Bruce out of his life, and Tim bugged out and got his band together? Batgirl is a free agent regardless, and Damian’s alternative is a woman who low jacked his spinalcord and cloned his replacement. None of them are going anywhere or going to alter their relationships with him at all. The Joker does pretend to do some horrific things to them at the beginning of the issue, but the fact that it didn’t happen made it pretty annoying as a plot twist. Now that I have gotten my dislikes out of the way, I will say that the basis of the Joker/Batman relationship was tight. The creepy pseudo-sexual obsession with Batman, coupled with the fetishism of the different medieval roles that various players in his life fulfill was pretty interesting. The twisted things he did to the inmates and guards of Arkham was really unsettling and disgusting, which is a surefire way of hooking your audience into a very dark, haunted setup. When Batman whispers something in the Joker’s ear towards the middle and you see the abject horror on the Clown Prince’s face, THAT was a moment! The Joker laughs at everything and is so effing psycho nothing can touch him. In fact that’s what makes him a quintessential Batman nemesis. When your shtick is making criminals terrified of you, the worst possible antagonist is one that not only isn’t afraid of you, but one who thinks its hilarious to mess with you and goes out of his way to do so in the most horrific ways possible. Reversing that and showing this paragon of laughter feeling genuine terror is golden. Also the anecdote about Bruce basically telling the Joker, turn around and you can know who I am and the Joker refusing to do so because it would defeat the very purpose of their “game”. Pure genius. THAT is a defining moment that will go down in the annals of Batman lore. So did I like it? I loved it. Was it a perfect 10? Not by a long shot. If they had said “This is a Batman story that’ll have you talking,” I’d’ve accepted that. But they were writing checks that the storyline couldn’t cash. If they’d’ve done any of the twisted things Snyder set up, I would have been mad, but I would have accepted the storyline’s validity as it had been hyped. I don’t know whether Snyder was behind the marketing, but the powers that be mismarketed this one terribly. “Court of Owls” they said would be good and it exceeded the mark because one didn’t know what to expect. In this one they told you what to expect and didn’t deliver on any of it. Period. I liked it, however, so don’t get me wrong. I can appreciate things as long as they follow through on their intrinsic principles.
- Batgirl #17 also was a little lackluster considering all that has been happening recently. Barbara Gordon has been through hell and one could imagine that she would be messed up after having come face-to-face with the Joker, the man who paralyzed her for years and sexually assaulted her immediately afterward. That is something that original series writer Gail Simone would have plumbed and drawn her readers into with great humanity. This issue’s writer, Ray Fawkes, glazes over that having Barbara track down Joker thugs still out there while her brother, James Gordon Jr., continues to explore his own twisted agenda, even visiting his mother in the hospital to terrorize her after her own ordeal with the Joker. It also features the follow up to Batgirl’s encounter with the street punk Ricky in last week’s Young Romance Valentine’s Day special. The results of their second meeting are as disappointing as the rest of the plot, but considering the insubstantiality of its content and the fact that they took the effort to write a story introducing it in the Special might mean that it will evolve over the course of forthcoming issues. Not the best issue.
- Batman & Robin #17 was, as ever, really good. Following the nightmare that the “family” went through in so named “Death of the Family” crossover event, this series doesn’t seek to deal with hollow actions as coping mechanisms, but rather shows the humanity of the players involved. The entire issue is a collection of the nightmares that haunt Bruce Wayne, Damian Wayne, and Alfred Pennyworth, but also dreams which give them hope for the future. Peter Tomasi is a writer that truly gets the characters he is writing on a very intimate level and portrays them as such. Every thought, every action, every word uttered by one character to another is infinitely telling about the people he is depicting. Patrick Gleason’s art works on both the levels of displaying the minutest emotion and displaying the most horrific events in the most straightforward, conversational manner. Awesome series, awesome issue. This is one Bat-book that shouldn’t be missed.
- Before Watchmen: The Comedian #5 doesn’t really do much to elaborate upon the character of Eddie Blake. We already know that he’s insane and that he did some pretty inhuman things while fighting in Vietnam. The only real thing that this issue accomplishes is showing how Vietnam facilitated a transition between Johnson and Robert Kennedy to Richard Nixon. This isn’t the strongest book in the Before Watchmen line. Writer Brian Azzarello accomplished some really poignant things in the first three issues of this title, but seems to have been floating through these last two, as if trying to fill out a six issue quota. I can only imagine that he has something incredible in store for the next issue that will close out the miniseries. Eddie Blake was a keystone figure in the course of the original Watchmen plot and it was precisely because of how insane and harsh he was. If these past two throw away issues facilitate a poignant ending then they will have been worth it after all. Azzarello is a very competant writer so I retain hope.
- Superboy #17 ticks the doomsday clock of the “H’el on Earth” event closer to apocalypse. In the first issue of Superman almost two years ago, the Herald blew the Horn of Confluence. It made no sense at the time and had many of us scratching our heads for months and months, but now we see that the horn was blown to bring forth the Oracle to witness the death of our world. H’el, a seemingly omnipotent survivor of Krypton, has created a device called the Star Chamber to use our solar system including the sun as a giant battery to grant him and his ally Supergirl the power needed to travel back in time and save Krypton . . . at the expense of all life on Earth and seemingly the rest of the seven other planets. Superman squares off against H’el, Wonder Woman throws down against Supergirl, the latter of which is enthralled to H’el and his scheme to restore their homeworld at any cost, and Superboy encounters the Herald, but the nature of their confrontation is not entirely hostile as the other two brawls very much are. In the midst of that, the Herald makes light of the “five anomolies” which may be a reference to what the “H’el on Earth” event creator, Scott Lobdell, has alluded to with his “Thirteen Scions of Salvation.” Its a possibility. Superboy really is a powerhouse in this issue. Created as a living weapon, he started out his series as a condundrum, exhibiting a great amount of introspection and curiosity about the world he is abruptly born into and a near sociopathic disregard for the human life that populates it. In this issue, as well as those immediately preceeding it, he fights so hard against forces infinitely more powerful than himself, but exhibits uncanny resolve and disregard for his safety and his life for the preservation of our world and humanity at large. He is finally able to call himself a hero and definitely deserves the title. Tom DeFalco nails this issue with excellent writing and substantial help from series artist R.B. Silva.
- Katana #1 inaugurates a new ongoing series featuring the character, Katana, aka Tatsu Yamashiro. Wielding a katana called the “Soultaker”, and possessing the spirit of her departed husband, Tatsu travels to San Francisco’s Japan Town to seek knowledge tattooed on the skin of an untouchable girl. In pursuit of this knowledge, she is set upon by members of the Sword Clan, enemies of her departed husband and by extension herself. Ann Nocenti writes this series and she does a very good job of setting a very somber, succinct tone. Yet while the tone was particularly well done, I was unimpressed by the first issue itself. While the mythology and the main character were established quite well, the story itself remains sluggish and unclear as to why the reader should care about the events that transpire. Simply my opinion.
- Demon Knights #17 is basically one big rescue attempt by the remaining Demon Knights to free Jason Blood from another of their number, Vandal Savage, who tortures the human side of the Demon Etrigan while preventing him from becoming his infernal other half with a muting spell. Two issues into his run on the series, writer Robert Venditti proves to either be a literary chameleon or a very similar writer to series creator and original writer, Paul Cornell. Bernard Chang’s artwork also keeps the feel of the book fairly stable, maintaining the look and feel of the medieval DCU.
- Threshold #2 futher develops what promises to be a massive title with its own central panoply of characters as well as those passing through from the larger DCU. In the first issue we are introduced to Ember, Stealth, Ric Starr, and former Green Lantern deep cover operative Jediah Caul. In this issue the Blue Beetle, aka Jaime Reyes, is dropped into the Hunted event, raising hairs on several people’s necks, not least of which, Jediah Caul, because of the Reach’s aversion to Green Lanterns. So much so that any Reach operative (Beetles) are programmed to kill a Green Lantern on sight, or rather scent. Also making the scene are Tom T’Morra (Tomorrow), a mysterious woman named Sleen, and a re-imagined Captain Carrot, here called Capt. K’Rot, as well as fellow Zoo Crew member, Pig-Iron. What writer Keith Giffen makes blatantly apparent throughout the whole of the narrative so far is that these characters DO NOT like each other, but are forced, despite rules and the design of the game, to cooperate for mutual gain. This even extends to those outside of the Hunted. K’Rot, Sleen, and Pig-Iron are thieves drawn in by a contract for Scarab tech, and allying themselves, at least temporarily, with Caul for mutual benefit. What results from these very strange circumstances is something between a Mexican Standoff and a Battle Royale on a planetary scale. In Giffen’s backup feature Larfleeze, the sole Orange Lantern, at the behest of his kidnapped biographer, Stargrave, goes to the Star Rovers to help him get his stolen mementos back after unknown intruder(s) absconded with them. The Star Rovers are in fact the same smugglers that Kyle Rayner, Carol Ferris, Arkillo, and Saint Walker dealt with in the Green Lantern: New Guardians Annual that sold them out to the Lady Styx. In this they do not seem to be any more trustworthy then before. But when you are as crazed a hoarder as Larfleeze, desperate times call for desperate measures. Up and down, this series is promising to be a really engaging, dynamic story with killer art and masterful storytelling.
- Ravagers #9 concludes the two issue arc of Rose Wilson and Warblade attempting to save a sequestered mountain town in Colorado from a metavirus that causes those exposed to spontaneously combust in a very painful fashion. Rose herself, though purportedly inoculated against it, begins to exhibit symptoms, spelling disaster for this very uncharacteristic rescue attempt. However, at the end of issue #8 the runaway Ravagers led by Caitlin Fairchild arrive on the scene. At first they attempt to fight Rose and Warblade until the aforementioned baddies’ altruism is revealed by the citizens of the town. The issue is so-so, but the aspect that makes it relevant is the interplay between Rose and Caitlin who were once friends before parting ways on ideological differences. Despite being a pyschopath, there remains something human in Rose Wilson and this issue zeroes in on that.
- Ame-Comi Girls: Supergirl finishes the preliminary round of introductions in the series and gets to the heart of the matter. On old Krypton a cataclysm is on the verge following the discovery by Jor-El and Zor-El, the preeminent scientist on the planet, that Krypton like several other worlds was created by an entity called Brainiac for the purpose of growing and harvesting cultures for her information banks. The fate of Krypton is linked to the fate of ours with the revelation that Earth is another Brainiac world that is ripe for harvesting. Shortly before Krypton’s destruction Jor-El and Zor-El sent their respective daughters (both named Kara) to Earth in the hope of stemming the attack on Earth and in turn putting an end to Brainiac’s reign of terror. Kara Zor-El (Supergirl) was the oldest of the two and was supposed to arrive first to prepare her younger cousin, Kara Jor-El (Power Girl), for the assault. Ironically, Power Girl having arrived first is now an adult and her older cousin, prepped for battle, is still a teenager. In any event, all the players are on the board and battle lines have been drawn. All that remains is for the battle for Earth and by extension, the cosmos, which will be in the Ame-Comi Girls ongoing series coming March 6th.
- Saucer Country #12 erupts in a tremulous time for the main characters of the series. Governor Arcadia Alvarado is poised to be both the first hispanic president and the first woman president, assuming she wins the election. So far she has beat out her democratic opponent in the primaries, Sen. James Kersey, who has agreed thereafter to be her running mate. Now she is up against the sitting President Wardlow. Kersey lost his lead in the democratic primary because of the revelation that he was also involved in an extraterrestrial abduction. This issue showcases his recollections that have implications not only for Alvadado’s campaign, but also Wardlow’s presidency. In the background the enigmatic female spokeswoman for the Bluebirds reaches out to the Alvarado campaign with sketchy promises for information, and after revealing his relationship with the tiny nude couple from the Pioneer space probes, Prof. Kidd finds himself on the rocks with Gov. Alvarado and the fallout puts him in a very precarious situation. Paul Cornell keeps the suspense tight as his alien mythological drama delves deeper into one of the most speculated topics of the modern age.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
Batman #17: Drawn by Greg Capullo, Colored by FCO Plascencia, Inked by Jonathan Glapion
Batman & Robin #17: Drawn by Patrick Gleason, Colored by John Kalisz, Inked by Mick Gray
Superboy #17: Drawn by R.B. Silva, Colored by Richard & Tanya Horie, Inked by Rob Lean
Threshold #2: Art by Tom Raney, Colored by Andrew Dalhouse