It has been a LONG time since I have posted, due to some scheduling conflicts and a REALLY busy summer, but it’s good to be back talking about comics, and DC’s Villains Month is a perfect time to get back in the swing of things. So far this first week has produced some interesting specimens as well as some really out-of-the-box concepts for the hallmark villains of the DC universe. That said, less talking, more comic book reviewing:
- Forever Evil #1 starts off the post Trinity War mega event across the entirety of the DC Universe. The Crime Syndicate of America from Earth-3 has descended upon our world from a portal opened by Pandora’s Box. As a result the Justice League has been “killed,” though it is not depicted nor explained, and the CSA have set about creating a Secret Society to claim the world in the name of evil. It doesn’t so much seem like a Secret when they are doing it out in the open . . . From the four corners of the globe their acolytes are recruiting the evilest minds the planet can offer, from Gorilla Grodd to the Scarecrow, to create a new world order. The issues opens on Lex Luthor, newly emancipated from prison for services rendered to the government, trying to coerce Thomas Kord (possible father of Ted Kord) to relinquish his controlling majority of Kord Industries with horrific, thinly veiled threats and bribery. In mid-flight the helicopter they are riding in crashes leaving only Luthor alive. The power goes out and all hell breaks loose. The Crime Syndicate proudly proclaim, “This World is Ours.” That is when the prisons are opened and evil is truly unleashed like an open floodgate. Throughout the rest of the issue we see the twisted version of the Justice League systematically subvert the last vestiges of super-powered defenders to proclaim their own order upon the globe. With issue’s end the part that Luthor will play in the proceedings is very ambiguous. Geoff Johns does a pretty decent job writing this story, which is interesting considering his blunt, overwrought attempts at the main Justice League title over the past two years. Aiding him in art is David Finch, who helped him launch Justice League of America eight months ago. Of the two, I think that David Finch is the one that most excites me on this title. Johns had his day in the sun, but has either lost his touch or gotten too power mad in his new executive position. Either way, I am infinitely enthusiastic about this issue, as it expands the multiverse by one more world, giving birth to the Crime Syndicate: Ultraman, Superwoman, Owlman, et al. Owlman is perhaps the one that has the most interest to me, especially after the way he was portrayed in the DC animated movie Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. We shall see if this event and the New 52 does justice to the former incarnations of the Crime Syndicate and Earth-3.
- Action Comics #23.1:Cyborg Superman is written by Supergirl writer Michael Alan Nelson following the shocking revelation of the Cyborg’s identity at the end of Supergirl #23 following his capture and rending the flesh off Supergirl in order that he could regain his Kryptonian body and his lost memories of his identity. After stripping her flesh through molecular dissolution and regaining his, he is revealed to be none other than Zor-El, father of Supergirl. In this issue we see a man obsessed with perfection and obsessed with proving his intellect over that of his younger, seemingly brighter brother, Jor-El, in the face of Krypton’s destruction. Undertaken out of pride, his efforts were also undertaken in order that his entire family could survive. Using half understood Brainiac technology, he tries to save his native Argo City, only to see it collapse and his fellow Kryptonians slowly die. When Brainiac returns he bestows upon Zor-El what the man himself had attempted: to force perfection upon him. Many parts of Zor-El are completely replaced to make him more efficacious and that which is organic was rewritten genetically to resemble his “superior sibling,” hence his looking so much like Superman and not his blond, more round faced self. What remains of the issue is an exploration of what cold logic and mechanized calculations deem “perfect.” The Cyborg Superman issue encapsulates beautifully what Zor-El has become after Brainiac altered him and sets the stage for what is to come in the aftermath of his restoration in the pages of Supergirl #24.
- Batman #23.1: Joker is a real treat. Under the pen of the great artist Andy Kubert, scion of the legendary Joe Kubert, we see him (to my knowledge for the first time) write an incredibly introspective look at the Joker, glimpses of his past, and what makes him tick. Opening on a traumatic childhood, we see a horrendous display of abuses heaped upon him by a violently insane aunt, including scrubbing his face and body down with bleach and coarse brush, in essence explaining his white skin and his psychopathy. Cut to the the near-present (years before he cut his face off) where the Joker raises a baby gorilla he kidnaps from the zoo to be his son. Truly touching, he gives the gorilla everything he was denied as a child including genuine love. He molds the ape into his own likeness, but not with any malice towards his “son’s” feelings. However, since there is no mention of the gorilla in the present, the reader knows it won’t last. The Joker witnesses his son’s death and from what follows the reader knows that this creature was literally the closest relationship the Clown Prince of Gotham has ever had, and indeed, the Joker begins crying. But he quickly breaks into laughter and makes grossly morbid jokes about the whole thing. Kubert shows us that the Joker is capable of emotions, but because of the incredible trauma of his youth, whenever they are too much to bear his brain reverts to a manic state of euphoric laughter to compensate. Truly amazing storytelling, befitting his father’s legacy. Kubert wrote this, but the art was done by another of my favorite artists, Andy Clarke. Clarke’s art has made the backups of Detective Comics soar and his treatment of this entire issue augments and accentuates Kubert’s plots brilliantly. This is a Villains Month issue that is not to be missed.
- Batman & Robin #23.1: Two-Face written by Peter Tomasi and drawn by Guillem March chronicles the fate of Two-Face during the beginnings of Forever Evil. Batman is “dead” and Gotham has gone dark. For the former Gotham district attorney and current crimelord there are two paths to take: save Gotham or let her burn. A tough call that is made simpler by a coin toss. Interrupted by the Scarecrow, a third option is presented, or rather a second choice to be made. Scarecrow represents the Secret Society who wish Two-Face’s allegiance in subjugating our world. So the more pertinent question becomes: join the Society or fight the Society? Another coin toss. As Gotham cries out, Two-Face’s reactions to it, coupled with a few flashbacks to his past, really fleshout the man he has become and where his loyalties and druthers find themselves. If his psychoses were simple to understand he wouldn’t have been sent to Arkham all those times, and Tomasi really feels out that space in his story, showing the true depth of his madness. He also throws in some old friends from his pre-Reboot stint of the Batman & Robin title as well to shake things up. If you like the character of Two-Face and await what Tomasi plans for him in the formerly titled Batman & Robin series, this issue is a must read.
- Detective Comics #23.1: Poison Ivy, like Two-Face above, deals with Ivy’s emergence into a Gotham a without power, law, or the Batman. As it has ever been depicted in such conditions, it is ANARCHY! It is in this that Poison Ivy is reminded of the disgusting nature of humanity. Among the insanities she witnesses is a scene of domestic abuse that she intervenes upon. In doing this she is taken back to her childhood and her own battered mother finding solace in her garden, with peace of plants. A horror would later await both in that garden, scarring young Pamela for the rest of her life and starting her path towards becoming Ivy. That path is laid out through her entry into academia and the internship at Wayne Enterprises that brought about her physical transformation into the floral female terrorist she has become. Derek Fridolfs writes this issue with the help of artist Javier Pina. Poison Ivy can be written very two dimensionally, and this story skirts that territory with a semi-intricate explanation of her motivations, but still lacks some key element of why she is as generally misanthropic as she is depicted by issue’s end.
- Green Lantern #23.1: Relic introduces us to the eponymous “Relic,” a petrified remnant from the Universe that preceded ours. Since he awoke in Green Lantern: The New Guardians #22 he has been an enigma that has cryptically stated his good intentions while attacking viciously and unprovoked the Lanterns he dubs “lightsmiths.” His goal is stated as “saving the Universe.” This issue, written by Green Lantern scribe, Robert Venditti, chronicles his life in the universe that preceded ours and how that universe functioned. The lightsmiths were wielders of the emotional spectrum, with all the same colors and emotions we have seen since Geoff Johns introduced them after the “Sinestro Corps War” in 2008. However, despite their constant warring, the universe was built upon the light they used and instead of cities, civilizations, and infrastructures being built out of physical resources, the light constructs of the smiths served that function. However, the greatest scientific mind of that universe saw that like physical resources the light came from somewhere and was not infinite. It could run out and eventually would if it was used wantonly as it had been. His warnings fall on deaf ears and it is because of this that the universe before ours ceased to be and he who was mocked as a “relic” in his universe, became a relic of his universe. Upon awakening in ours he became aware of the likenesses of our universe to his and the presence of “lightsmiths.” This time around he knew precisely the danger they posed to reality, and that arguing verbally with them was not the best course if anything was going to be done to save another universe. Hence his cryptic tone, hence his blatant belligerence, and hence the “Relic” that we have seen thus far The “Blackout” event is less than a month away and already the dimming described by him that preceded the cataclysms that claimed his universe has already been witnessed by the different Corps of Lanterns. Venditti has set the stage for a true test of the Lanterns the likes of which (even under the pen of Geoff Johns) we have never seen the likes of. Aiding him is artist Rags Morales who worked with Brad Walker, the Green Lantern: The New Guardians artist who first depicted Relic, on Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run. Truly an issue to procure if you call yourself a fan of Green Lantern.
- Green Arrow #23.1: Count Vertigo could almost be another issue of Green Arrow. With the usual GA team on deck that is no insult. This series is a delight, really tapping the limits and possibilities of the character to their peak potential. However, being a Villains Month issue the dynamic creative duo focus their literary lens on Count Vertigo, by far the most iconic of Oliver Queen’s nemeses depicted since the reboot. Being in a rebooted universe, little is known about the man behind the disorienting device. This issue remedies that, telling the story of Werner Zytle, son of the late deposed Count of Vlatava. He is raised in Canada by his abusive mother who blames him for the fall of their family’s fortunes in the motherland. She later sells him to a scientific research firm, prompting his implanting with the device that grants him his power. It is here that his true power, both in spirit and body, takes hold. From here he is able to reclaim his destiny, starting with his freedom, then regaining his homeland, and finally in the reunion with his mother he reclaims his past and identity. He is very much a Mordred character, raised by a single, overbearing mother to fulfill a destiny not of his choosing and ultimately becoming a monster that consumes the mother figure and becomes a plague upon humanity. This is very much the case with Vertigo and though the issue is not structured like most of its fellows this week, it functions excellently in advancing the plot of Green Arrow and maintaining the integrity of the series, unlike many of the stand-alone stories out this month. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but then again Green Arrow is one of my favorites.
- Justice League #23.1: Darkseid almost completely rewrites the entire concept of the New Gods. I am not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Since Justice League #3 I have been up in arms against Geoff Johns’ blatant disregard for Jack Kirby’s seminal creations and the perfection of his Fourth World mythology. Since then, Brian Azzarello’s work with the denizens of New Genesis have been slightly better. High Father was done a little heavy handed, but the essence was there. Scott Lobdell returns the character of Orion to a place that is well within the character’s original context and feels genuine. And then we come to this issue, written by Greg Pak. It begins by depicting Uxas and Izaya, mortals living upon the world of the (Old) Gods, scratching out meager existences. On this world the monumental gods frolicked and warred with one another in complete disregard for the lives of those tiny mortals living beneath them like insects. In this version, Izaya is married to Avia, as was so in the original Kirby books, but this time around Avia is the sister of Uxas. Izaya and Avia are devout believers and worshipers of the oblivious, elemental gods that plague them. Uxas is more pragmatic and “blasphemes” them constantly. He is cunning and engineers the ultimate death of these gods that brings about utter ruin to the planet, but also endows him with the powers of the gods he kills, forging him into Great Darkseid. Izaya is granted the powers of those stricken gods that escape Darkseid, rewarding his faith with the powers that baptize him as Izaya, the High Father. The planet is destroyed, but remade into the two planets of New Genesis and Apokalips. The final eight pages introduce a character from Pak’s Batman/Superman title, Kaiyo the Chaosbringer. This little sprite appeared at first to be a minor demon, but it seems very probable that she is in fact a New God of Apoklalips. What’s more, her exploits in the last couple of pages make it seem probable that she is the lost daughter of Darkseid that he world-hops to find, prompting his appearance in Justice League’s first arc. This issue put me off at first, because of the “heresy” of its divergence from Kirby’s Fourth World. However, in retrospect, it was a well written, intriguing concept that accentuates Pak’s previous work in the firs three issue of Batman/Superman and sets the stage for interesting future developments with the New Gods.
- Earth 2 #15.1: Desaad appropriately segues to another New God of Apokalips and someone whose sadism might even rival that of Great Darkseid. Writer Paul Levitz who introduced Desaad into the New 52 in his Worlds’ Finest title chronicles the mad god’s advent to our Earth after the events of Earth-2 #1. His goal is really two-fold, filling in blanks in the story of what Desaad has been up to since coming to Earth-1 as well as how that has affected things the reader witnessed since the first issues of Worlds’ Finest, and secondly proving how sick and perverse the mind of Desaad truly is. One interesting thing that I think blew me away the most was in Desaad’s search for minds to corrupt and turn toward his dark aims, he stumbles upon an artist at a drafting table. Desaad goes to the man’s home and emerges from a Boom Tube, renowned for the thunderous cacophony it makes prompting its name, and yet the man doesn’t turn around. When Desaad looks over his shoulder, he stops short and seems apprehensive if not actually afraid, and decides to leave this man alone. One would ask, what is going on, but the savvy comic reader who knows not only something of comics in general, but more importantly the character of Desaad and the other New Gods, will notice something very key. The man at the table looks EXACTLY like a young Jack Kirby, creator of the Fourth World, of which Desaad is a denizen. The hair cut, the physique, the thick eyebrows, the posture. All so blatantly Kirby. When we see a close up of his work over his shoulder from Desaad’s perspective the rough sketches have all the hallmarks of Kirby’s illustrative style. Through meta-storytelling, Paul Levitz sets a real hook in the reader, inserting the King of Comics into a world featuring his own creations. What his existence in this world will mean for Desaad and the other New Gods is a mystery, but one that I will faithfully follow to find out the answer to.
- Superman #23.1: Bizarro was a slightly strange twist on the character, albeit a short lived one. Sholly Fisch, who cut his teeth in the big leagues on the backup features of Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run, writes this issue with the help of artist Jeff Johnson. In it we return to a seminal moment where Lex Luthor and Superman meet for the first times in the third issue of Action Comics. Largely due to experiments Luthor conducted under military purview the young Superman was hurt to the point of bleeding (something VERY difficult to achieve under most circumstances) and as a result he used Lex as a hostage to procure escape. Through this encounter Luthor gained two things: a personal animosity for the Man of Steel and a sample of his blood. Using further contracts with the U.S. Military he attempts to augment a normal human being by re-splicing Kryptonian DNA gained from the small sampling of blood into their own genome. The result of this is, of course, Bizarro. To my knowledge, Bizarro was always either a clone or a refugee from a dimension where everything is backward. Fisch makes a good sampling of Bizarro’s reversed Superman powers, i.e. Freeze vision and incendiary breath, but doesn’t quite pull off a Bizarro yarn that feels authentic. Bizarro’s rampage lacks most of the quintessential “misunderstood monster” motif that characterize almost all of his appearances in the past. This is an okay issue if the reader is just looking for Bizarro powers, but if they want Bizarro, the childlike villain speaking in opposites and conflicted in a limited understanding of the world and morality, this definitely is not the Bizarro story for them.
- The Flash #23.1: Grodd is similar to, but slightly different from the Action Comics: Cyborg Superman and Green Arrow: Count Vertigo issues, in that it functions as a within the main story of the Flash series to continue on into later issues. However, unlike both Cyborg Superman and Count Vertigo this doesn’t grant the reader any further insight into the past of Grodd. What it does, however, is juxtapose his thoughts and philosophical beliefs against the depiction of the aftermath of the Gorilla invasion of the Gem Cities he lead which terminated in Flash #17. Since then Solivar has taken over leadership of Gorilla City and worked painstakingly to not only make amends for the actions of the delusional despot, Grodd, but begun the process of making real steps to not only forge lasting peace between humanity and Gorillas, but have the Gorillas enter into the larger world we all share. This is not something Grodd can abide and the manner of his return from the Speed Force is revealed, as is his overall place as an essential villain in the Flash andt he larger DCU. Brian Buccellato, colorist and co-writer of the Flash, pens this issue with the help of artist Chris Batista. Batista’s art is quite different than that of the usual Flash panoply of artists, including Buccellato’s co-writer on the title, Francis Manapul. This is good in my opinion, because the Flash himself isn’t even seen in the issue and Batista’s art really depicts the Gorillas well. Definitely a thoughtful, well written, well drawn issue.
- Batman: The Dark Knight #23.1: The Ventriloquist was simply okay. I am a huge fan of Gail Simone on the Batgirl title and I attribute its success almost entirely to her writing, reserving a generous helping of credit to Barbara Gordon herself, who is one of my favorite comic book characters. Top 10, without a doubt. This origin of the Ventriloquist fell a little flat for me. Sure it’s interesting and sure Shauna is a very complex, psychotic person with a very troubled past. However, for me the Ventriloquist is Scar-Face and Dummy. There is something so “Batman” about them. I say Batman, and although Shauna and Ferdie are currently appearing in Batgirl, I still think that the mundane nature of the original Ventriloquist works more effectively with unpowered vigilantes than this new version. The original Ventriloquist, Arnold Wesker, was a non-powered guy with dissociative personality disorder, projecting his primary, dominant persona into a ventriloquist dummy done up like a 30’s era gangster named Scar-Face. The premise fell well within the realm of reality and created a complex villain mired in a psychosis rife with situational drama. Wesker and Scar-Face might disagree, but being that Scar-Face is the dominant persona, Wesker is going to be hampered in foiling the inanimate object, because his own drive is what is empowering the dummy. Later there was a beautiful, blonde woman (Peyton Riley) who took over as Scar-Face’s ventriloquist, but still follows the same paradigm. When you have a woman like Shauna who has telepathic abilities that she exploits years before she got her dummy, Ferdie, you kind of remove the intrinsic importance of the ventriloquism schtick from her psychosis. Sure she named her dummy after her deceased twin brother, and yeah she was a product of a negative environment growing up, but that in no way enhances the nuanced concept of the Ventriloquist. Basically, this issue and the iteration of the character in the New 52 reinvents the wheel, with more bells and whistles, but less functionality. I like Gail’s work, but with a heavy heart I say that this issue can be passed on with no loss for any Bat-Family fan.
- Batman: Black & White #1 is a title which returns in the New 52 to presents several intriguing short stories depicted completely in monochromatic black and white panels. With the writing talents of Chip Kidd, Maris Wicks, John Arcudi, and Howard Makie, and the artistic talents of Neal Adams, Michael Cho, Sean Murphy, Joseph Quinones, and Chris Samnee, many unique perspectives are shed on the Dark Knight and his myriad interpretations. Foremost of these is Neal Adams’ piece, both written and drawn by the Batman maestro who helped create Ra’s Al Ghul and the Man-Bat. In his Batman: Zombie story, the impact of Batman as a fighter of evil is explored in great poignancy through the social issues of our day and just how effective a Dark Knight can be against the day to day evils of the 21st century. His writing is razor edged and his art is at the top of its game. Chip Kidd and Michael Cho’s Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When comes in second in my opinion, giving a Darwyn Cooke-esque, Silver Age story of Robin and what truly makes him a worthy contemporary for the Batman. What’s more, even Superman has to tip his hat to the Boy Wonder by story’s end. John Arcudi’s Driven, drawn by Sean Murphy, is an interesting tale of Batman and his relationship with his most iconic accessory: the Batmobile. The other three stories are good, but these three especially epitomize innovation in the realm of Batman.
- Codename: Action #1 is basically a Cold War, nerd boy fantasy mash-up. It takes place in an ambiguous period during the Cold War following a strange amalgam of characters throughout its globe trotting plot. In the background are two Golden Age comic book characters resurrected in a slightly more modern context. In America there is the costumed adventurer, the American Crusader, and in Europe there is the British aerial operative, Black Venus. American Crusader finds his vintage in 1941 as a crimefighter that gained powers from stray radiation from a device he was working with called an “atom smasher.” Black Venus was a war nurse turned aviator during WWII famous for her black bodysuit and aviator goggles, who first appeared in comics in 1945. In the foreground of the plot we see a new secret agent complete his tests of initiation, earning the designation Operative 1001. He is then teamed up with Operator 5, the fifth agent ever initiated into the “Intelligence Service,” and a living legend. Facing all four of these characters is a global diplomatic meltdown of epic proportions. The French threaten war against the Soviets if they interfere with North African assets, the Japanese threaten war if the Russians movie into their territorial waters, the Chinese threaten war if the Japanese mobilize their armed forces, and the Soviet Union threatens to launch nukes if anyone doesn’t accede to their demands. The kicker is that the Intelligence Services have intel that the Soviet General making the threats at the UN is in fact not the actual General due to a subcutaneous tracking device they implanted the real one with. So the plot thickens . . . Writer Chris Roberson kicks off this series, with no shortage of help from artist Jonathan Lau, in great style and panache, eliciting all the romance and intrigue of Cold War spy thrillers and the action of costumed superhero comics in a shaken, not stirred, suave superhero spy masterpiece.
- Trillium #2 begins at the strange middle of the first issue with the meeting of two diametrically different people, whose shared intrepid nature is the sole bond that connects them in what is shaping up to be a REALLY innovative series. Nika Temsmith, the intergalactic scientist from the year 3797 searching for a cure to a sentient virus, meets up with the English explorer William Pike on Earth in the year 1921, who himself is searching for purpose after losing his in the Great War. Ironically what brings them together is the Incan temple that Pike and his expedition have just discovered after centuries of abandonment. In Nika’s own time, a virus with the capacity for thought and higher reasoning is at war with the human race and reduced our population to mere hundreds of thousands spread across the galaxy in weakly sustained colonies. Seeking to find a cure she goes through a “primitive” alien race’s pyramidal temple emerging on Earth in 1921. As can be logically deduced from the time gap, the English both speak are not even close to being mutually intelligible. So the entire issue is merely them trying to communicate and ascertain who each other is and what each other desires. Slowly as events unfold they get an idea of the situation and the revelation is powerful to behold. Jeff Lemire writes and illustrates this series MASTERFULLY!
And so ends the first week of Villains Month and my first week back on “Off the Panel.” Hopefully, you folks enjoyed it and will come back to enjoy future issues with me.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
Action Comics #23.1: Cyborg Superman: Art by Mike Hawthorne, Colored by Daniel Brown
Green Arrow #23.1: Count Vertigo: Art by Andrea Sorrentino, Colored by Marcelo Maiolo
Justice League #23.1: Darkseid: Art by Paulo Siquiera & Netho Diaz, Colored by Hi-Fi
Earth 2 #15.1: Art by Yildiray Cinar, Colored by Jason Wright
Trillium #2: Art Jeff Lemire, Colored by Jose Villarrubia