This first week of March brings together a very decent batch of comics to kick off the month’s crop. Superman #17 concludes the massive “H’el on Earth” event, Green Lantern #18 brings the “Wrath of the First Lantern” into the Realm of the Dead, Green Arrow #18 strides on towards redeeming the title, Swamp Thing and Animal Man FINALLY get their true conclusion to the “Rot World” crossover, and Before Watchmen: Rorschach also reaches its conclusion. So much ending and so much marching on. Here it goes:
- Superman #17 was a little late, but delivered a blowout finale to the “H’el on Earth” crossover event. At issue’s beginning NOTHING is going the right way for the heroes of Earth. H’el’s craft has been fueled by the Sun’s electromagnetic field, which if not returned immediately would cause our solar system to collapse in on itself, ergo the Oracle arrival to witness the death of our world. A high paced, thrill-a-minute issue, there is very little that can be said that doesn’t spoil the amazing events chronicled and concluded within. What can be said is that the Justice League here is written head and shoulders above the team’s portrayal in their flagship title by Geoff Johns. It’s almost like comparing a college thesis to a first grade science report. Maybe now that Lobdell is on the verge of leaving Red Hood and the Outlaws he can take over Justice League and salvage it like he did Superman. Lobdell truly shows his brilliance throughout this “H’el on Earth” event and artist Kenneth Rocafort draws it gorgeously in his incomparably style. Literally, there is nothing that resembles is artwork in detail or in the surreal ambiance it elicits. Truly A-grade material.
- Green Lantern #18 focuses almost entirely on Hal and Sinestro’s current exile in the “Dead Zone.” There have been little snippets alluding to the fate of the two Lanterns after being sucked into the black ring at the end of the Green Lantern Annual this past August, but this issue finally reveals what the Dead Zone is, why they are there, and what its relevance to the existence of the First Lantern are. As these last issues of the four Green Lantern titles progress, it is getting more and more apparent that the end is nigh. The fundamental forces of the Universe are the enemies that dog our heroes as they progress toward that apocalyptic event that will be Green Lantern #20, out this May, and the end of the Green Lantern Universe as we’ve known it since 2005. Simon Baz and Sinestro find their places in the coming showdown with Volthoom, the First Lantern, but Hal’s is perhaps the most frightening. In the aforementioned Green Lantern Annual there was a prophesy in the Book of the Black that Hal Jordan will be the greatest Black Lantern. This issue caps off on the precipice (literal and figurative) of his fulfilling that prediction. Geoff Johns started this series from Rebirth like a rocket and it’s still soaring high with this phenomenal issue. Series artist Doug Mahnke, who has been on the title since 2009 is absent this issue, replaced by Adrian Syaf, who draws the real world segments, and Szymon Kudranski, whose eerie art style aptly provides the Dead Zone portion. Overall the issue tantalizes and informs in wonderful, captivating fashion.
- Detective Comics #18 accomplishes two monumental things. Firstly, and to lesser degree issue-wise, this installment of Detective Comics tells us that DC is playing for keeps with the death of Damian Wayne last week in Batman Incorporated #8. It comprises a very small part of the plot, but the small scene of Bruce visiting the grave of his son is very powerful. This is a man who buried his parents at a very young age, and now as an adult man scarred by that traumatic event and having dedicated his life to preventing such tragedies from happening again, he has to bury his ten year old son with whom he was just beginning to bond on a level I doubt he has since losing his parents. Writer John Layman hints all of this beautifully in a mere two pages comprised of nine panels. Brilliant. The rest of the issue is dedicated to the aftermath of the Penguin’s part in the “Death of the Family” storyline. Whisked away by the Joker, Penguin has been away from his empire and his holdings for a little too long and left them in the overly capable, but equally untrustworthy hands of his chief lieutenant, Ignatius Oglivy. Layman presented in the first issues of his run the establishment of himself as Gotham’s favorite son once again. With that image, he keeps Batman at bay, preventing him from bringing punitive action against Penguin for his part in the Joker’s plot. However, with his wealth and holdings withdrawn he is not able to evade Batman in the ways he had previously enjoyed. Oglivy and Batman constitute two rivals whose indefatigability finally break the Penguin as he has never been broken before. For those who view the Penguin as a keystone Batman villain, this first arc by John Layman tells a massive Penguin epic that promises to be one for which he will be remembered for years to come. In the backup feature with art by guest artist Henrik Jonsson, Victor Zsasz gets his origin told for the first time, cementing his place in the New DCU canon. Integrally tied into his origin is the Penguin, playing a part in his ruination that led him into the psychotic breakdown that lead to his obsession with chronicling his kills. Their past and Penguin’s current state of vulnerability waxes ominous for Oswald Cobblepot in future issues of Detective. Time will tell where and how far the Penguin will fall.
- Before Watchmen: Rorschach #4 was, in my opinion, a little bit of a let down. The series had promise as a blunt, hard edged look into an episode of Rorschach’s life that best exemplified his core essence. Maybe that was the point and it just goes to show how pointless and nihilistic our modern society is. Azzarello started the series out with a killer of women called the “Bard” carving poetry into the dead bodies of his victims. On the other side of things, Rorschach goes up against a criminal kingpin called “Rawhead” owing to the massive scarring on his head from Vietnam. In between fights with the underworld, Rorschach meets a cute waitress at his favorite all night restaurant, the Gunga Diner and they make plans to go on a date. This waitress, Nancy, is approached by a man we know immediately to be the Bard at the end of the third issue. Logically one would assume that there would be a connection, even a tertiary one, between Rawhead and the Bard so as to facilitate the two things happening at the same time. Azzarello does not deliver on that and it is rather trite and arbitrary, which may be realistic, but is far from literary or cinematic, making the story fall apart at the end with little to walk away with. Lee Bermejo doesn’t disappoint throughout all four issues and is the only consistently quality factor.
- Swamp Thing #18 is the true conclusion to the “Rot World” event as well as Scott Snyder’s run on the title. Scott Snyder is the one who truly got this series off the ground and imbued it with the genius that made it the success it was. Creating with Jeff Lemire the idea of the Red to go alongside the concept of the Green which Swamp Thing has served since the 80’s, as well as taking perrenial Swamp Thing antagonist Anton Arcane and molding him and his into the avatars of a third force, the Rot, Synder has reimagined and reinvigorated what was once an incredible title into an even more complex, engaging series. With the help of the Parliament of Rot, Swamp Thing and Animal Man are sent through a portal through the very fabric of death itself back to before Anton Arcane finished his bid to turn our world into Rot World. In this way, Alec Holland is returned to Abby before her uncle can kill her. And by that same token he is able to actualize in her the potential for which she was born and that which will prevent the Rot from inheriting the Earth. This issue was truly spectacular, with both triumphant events readers have been anticipating for almost two years and tragic events they’ve been fearing to witness. Scott Snyder crescendoes with this final issue of his run, nailing it down and assuring the continued survival and success of the title while also adding his name to the list of visionaries who have been custodian of it, namely Len Wein and Alan Moore. Artist Yanick Paquette also concludes his run on the series, which was another factor that led to its success. His floral panels made in nonlinear layouts made the title free flowing and organic looking. His depiction of Abby Arcane was both strong and sensual which taken with Snyder’s writing made her a captivating heroine. Paquette also drew the warrior king version of Swamp Thing which quite frankly dwarfs anything that had come before it. This run, now ended, was one that will have its legacies and be remembered as one of the best runs on this very underutilized property.
- Animal Man #18 was less of a conclusion to “Rot World” than its sister issue in Swamp Thing. Buddy Baker, the Animal Man, is sent back by the Parliament of Rot, like Alec Holland, to the moment that would precipitate the downfall of the Red. In so doing he saves his daughter, the true avatar of the Red, but loses something ewually important to him. Jeff Lemire is staying on the title so he does not wrap up his story with this issue, so perhaps it didn’t have that dynamite ending, but it also was the weaker of the two titles. Also Steve Pugh’s art has never been anything to write home about. This will probably be the last single issue of this series I will buy.
- Earth 2 #10 returns to the realm of Nabu and the revelations of Khalid Ben-Hassin’s past concerning the Helmet of Fate, housing the power of Nabu. Wotan has been hired to obtain this artifact for an unknown group and kidnapped Khalid as those with him at the time, Jay Garrick and his mother, to be used as hostages to assure his cooperation in procuring the Helm. On the other side of the world (hard to say) Alan Scott mourns the death of his boyfriend, Sam Zhao, and learns that his death was not collateral damage, but actually the reason for the deadly train crash. Writer James Robinson maintains his reputation of excellence with a very engrossing plot that is its own self contained universe and continuity. Nicola Scott’s art continues to be gorgeous, making the characters spring from the page. Well worth the read.
- Worlds’ Finest #10 is very much likened to Detective Comics #18 above, as it continues its ongoing plot while at the same time taking a moment to pay tribute to the departure of Damian Wayne. Though they met only briefly, Helena still felt like Damian was her little brother and his death pangs right alongside the deaths of her mother and father, the Catwoman and Batman of Earth 2. But, as Batman taught her when she was still Robin, one soldiers on. Helena breaks into Michael Holt’s laboratory after the aforementioned industrialist and ex-boyfriend of Karen Starr (Power Girl) sent a mercenary group to Karen’s island laboratory/home. While Huntress employs stealth and planning, Power Girl unleashes a biblical list of calamities upon a handful of Holt facilities with careless abandon that imperils the lives of scores of people. The end brings about a curve ball that may prove enlightening considering all that has transpired between the two Earths. Paul Levitz is amazing, truly, and Kevin Maguire renders his script (solo this month) with his usual ease.
- Batwing #18 picks up from the tense cliffhanger from last month’s installment with the Chinese mercenary, Sky Pirate, “nuking” Batwing’s hideout and the civilian side of Batwing, Police Inspector David Zavimbe, facing off against his former childhood friend, Racheal Niamo, now the mercenary named Dawn. This issue shows the cost taking a stand against corruption can have in an environment as corrupt as the Congo. David Zavimbe is facing off against hell as he tries to prove that justice can’t be bought or traded for any price. With only one more issue to go in his run on the title Fabian Nicieza is pulling out all the stops and making this a must read title on the periphery of the core Bat-books.
- Green Arrow #18 gives us the second issue of the new and improved Green Arrow title. Oliver Queen has been dealt a really rough hand. His company has been seized, he’s lost his wealth, he’s been framed for the murder of his father’s friend and the corporate regent of Queen Industries, Henry Emerson, and what’s more, he’s been marked for death by a black archer known as Komodo with ties to both the island he was marooned on as well as his father’s past. In this issue we learn the identity of Komodo as well as a little inkling of what he is after. In the meantime, Oliver gets more hints as to his father’s past that by no means come anywhere close to answering the most pressing questions facing him. Only the eyeless mystery man, Magus, knows what is truly happening and as is usually the case with such enigmatic figures, withholds information, telling Oliver to go to Black Mesa, Arizona to get the answers he seeks. Another departure from the first sixteen issues, is the descent into rock solid reality. The events within have consequences that cannot be written away nor held at bay. In this issue especially, writer Jeff Lemire shows that he is playing for keeps with dark, horrific events precipitating a very ominous future for the Emerald Archer. Jeff Lemire is in rare form with these first two issues and Andrea Sorrentino’s art finds a complimentary place with a title in need of its stark, shaded lines.
- Phantom Stranger #6 continues on the the Stranger’s quest to locate his kidnapped family. His first stop last issue was an all out brawl with the Specter. This issue has him going to Las Vegas in search of them and getting involved in a card game with the three sons of Trigon: Belial, Ruskoff, and Suge. The main body of the issue is like a telecast of the World Poker tournament. The story reveals the characters of the demonic brothers as well as the Stranger himself through their playing of the game, but doesn’t advance the overall plot very far. The ending, however, is quite intriguing and terrifying if one is a fan of the series. Dan Didio has done a very good job of taking this nebulous, very alien character from the DC pantheon and re-imagining him in a manner that both maintains his integrity and makes him relatable to the reader at the same time. With the Trinity War on the horizon this series promises to be a keystone title in the future of the New DCU.
- Smallville: Season Eleven #11 continues the “Haunted” story arc with Clark and Bart attempting to find the answer to the Black Flash and how to stop the Speed Storms that are springing up in Bart’s wake, killing innocent people. The duo go to meet Jay Garrick, the old member of the Justice Society, and the first speedster of the modern era. His forecast for what is to come in not encouraging and all signs point to the death of Bart to allay the death toll. But of course Clark will find a way. On the other side of the Multiverse, we go to Earth 2 and see how Chloe Sullivan from that world is the sole survivor of so many other meteor freaks. Also how, despite his relationship with Lois Lane, Chloe seduced Oliver Queen. Between the two of them, they may even be able to topple the super-powered despot, Clark Kent, aka Ultraman. Bryan Q. Miller keeps the Smallville series alive not only adding to the mythos of the show, but building upon it and answering questions posed in its early seasons, seemingly left to the wind with the cancellation after Season 10. And yet it goes on, and brilliantly so.
- Legends of the Dark Knight #6 presents three more tales of the Dark Knight. The first one written by Jeff Parker and entitled “Gotham Spirit” shows Batman putting down a liquor store robbery. Reading it one wonders why you even bothered. There is nothing poignant or out of the ordinary about it. Maybe that’s the point. You can’t always have a Poison Ivy, Mister Freeze, or Joker causing trouble. Sometimes its just procedural. That may be the point, but it wasn’t really what someone picks up a comic to read. The next story written and drawn by Michael Avon Oeming tells of Batman fighting a dragon in the sewers beneath Gotham. Yes you read that correctly, a real, honest to goodness dragon, complete with scales, teeth, and leathern wings. Only the fire is missing from this mythic beast. However, its not quite as mythic as it seems, but rather engineered by a man for Killer Croc. Croc wanted something that was his that he could love and would love him in return, like a man and his faithful dog, so he could salvage something real. Even Batman can’t help but be moved by the pathetic nature of Croc’s wish. The third and final story in this issue has the Penguin hiring a supernatural old man to take out his competition. From his white suit to his full on albinic pallor, this man is perhaps one of the most unsettling characters to grace a Batman comic, and as the story progresses that assertion is proved ten times over. Even Batman doesn’t fully grasp the horrors he represents. That Batman can withstand them proves that the Dark Knight is a master of his own inner terror. As ever, hit and miss vignettes for the mythology of Batman, but well done.
So ends the first month of March with an encouraging handful of truly excellent comics.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
Green Lantern Annual #1: Art by Ethan Van Sciver, Colored by Hi-Fi
Detective Comics #18: Art by Jason FAbok, Colored by Jeromy Cox
Swamp Thing #18: Art by Yanick Paquette, Colored by Nathan Fairbairn
Worlds’ Finest #10: Art by Kevin Maguire, Colored by Rosemary Cheetham
Green Arrow #18: Art by Andrea Sorrentino, Colored by Marcelo Maiolo