Oct. 9, 2013

This second week of October has some much anticipated titles among its numbers.  The oversized Batman #24 has been burning a hole in people’s calendars for three months now as “Zero Years” has rolled onward towards an unknown, tantalizing end.   Superman/Wonder Woman has been causing controversy since late August after artist Tony Daniel let his mouth run away with him at Fan Expo in Toronto.  And with the killer first installment of “Lights Out” in Green Lantern #24 last week Green Lantern Corps #24 gives another taste of the unthinkable plot that is heralding a new age in the Green Lantern books.  Also comes the inaugural issue of the new Vertigo series Coffin Hill. So much awesome for one week.  

    • Batman #24 is a monumental Batman piece, both in size and importance to the reimagined Batman mythos. Writer Scott Snyder undertook a revamped origin story for the Dark Knight entitled “Zero Year,” which will in essence preempt Frank Miller’s “Year One”, doing the same job but tailored to the New DCU. To cut his teeth, Bruce Wayne squares off against the Red Hood Gang. In the past the Red Hood Gang and its eponymous leader have been fairly small time dealers, mostly pulling petty B&E’s and bushleague bank robberies. In Snyder’s vision the gang takes on a more sinister nature and magnitude. Their leader Red Hood One still wears the shiny red bell jar helmet, offset further up on his head so his evil grin is visible, and the suit and red cape, as before.  All of his subordinates wear suits sans cape and nondescript red Zentai masks. Also menacing is the fact that a ridiculously large percentage of Red Hood members are regular folk blackmailed or coerced into doing Red Hood One’s bidding. Snyder definitely read or watched “Fight Club,” because Red Hood One is taking on a very Tyler Durden vibe, creating an anarchist movement that infiltrates every echelon of society. Wearing various disguises and also in his Bruce Wayne persona, “Batman” has fought a back and forth war with the Red Hoods, but with the revelation that his uncle, Philip Kane, was arming the gang from Wayne Enterprise depots the struggle enters its endgame. Philip is a slippery businessman, but in actuality his part in the gang is like most members’, coerced by the enigmatic leader. Bruce finally is able to piece together Red Hood’s ultimate plan and sets a counter-plot into motion to block its fruition. Through this plan of Bruce’s Scott Snyder ties up many things begun from the inception of his Batman origin arc.  Close to the beginning, Bruce remembers his father, Dr. Thomas Wayne, inquiring what Bruce loved about Gotham. That question, which Bruce now poses via televised interview to all Gothamites encapsulates and validates the entire concept of who and what Batman represents. After the final sequence of Batman #23 with the icon scene of the bat crashing through the window in front of the shaken Bruce, weare finally shown for the first time in “Zero Year” continuity the fully realized Batman persona. By issue’s end, the defeat of the gang is delivered, as is the ultimate fate of Red Hood One.  I had a conspiracy theory that Red Hood One wasn’t the Joker, but some other Batman villain, i.e. the Riddler, or ironically Black Mask. That proved to be false.  It’s heavily insinuated to be the Joker. However, as he did with his other major arcs, “The Court of Owls” and “Death of the Family,” Snyder obscures that concrete facts to speculation and the identity of the man who fell into the vat of chemicals and his role in the gang remains unclear. Scott Snyder’s completion of the first leg of his “Zero Year” story is nothing short of amazing and provides a SOLID foundation for the New DCU Batman for as long as that continuity stands.  In the plot itself, Philip has a giant boulder of mica schist stone that cannot be broken and is hard to shape placed in his office.  He relates that these immutable characteristics make the mica ideal to build on.  There is probably a deeper meaning to the plot somewhere in that analogy, but I didn’t catch it.  What I did interpret it as, however, was a metaphor for the strength of the story as the basis for all Batman stories to come. Greg Capullo’s art is peerless. His rendering of Snyder’s complex storylines is clear, concise, stark, and moving.  Rafael Albuquerque, regular Batman backup artist and co-creator of American Vampire with Synder, provides the art for the denouement scene of this issue that puts to bed the Red Hood arc and sets up the coming Riddler arc, entitled “Blackout.” Overall, this issue blows all other Batman stories out of the water.

      What Does Gotham Mean to You?

      What Does Gotham Mean to You?

    • Batgirl #24 opens on the second installment of the “Batgirl: Wanted” plot arc.  After “killing” her psychotic little brother, James Jr., Barbara has taken off her Batgirl uniform and decided not to wear the Bat symbol, because of her actions.  Also following this event, her father, Commissioner James Gordon puts out an all-points bulletin on Batgirl and (unbeknownst to him) his own daughter.  Babs wants nothing more than to put her nocturnal past behind her and find happiness.  She attempts to do so by hanging out more with her bohemian roommate, Alyssa, and dating a former gang member, Ricky, who she met as Batgirl.  But of course the universe won’t allow a member of the Bat-family to know any modicum of peace.  Batgirl’s former nemesis Knightfall’s menacing machinations sight both Ricky and her father in the crosshairs.  After the traumatic events of Batgirl #23 two months ago Babs has to weigh her sense of guilt against her sense of duty.  Gail Simone writes this series like it’s her own, and truly her Barbara is the only one I want to read for the foreseeable future.
    • Forever Evil: Arkham War #1 takes a closer look at the mayhem in Gotham following the fall of the Justice League and the advent of the Crime Syndicate.  The Syndicate has rallied the evilest minds on the planet to their banner and in exchange for obedience they are given privileges to do as they like.  The Gothamite villains (mostly Arkham inmates) were given free reign over Gotham with Penguin named mayor.  Penguin in turn divided Gotham into districts each under the control of a powerful Arkham inmate.  Writer Peter Tomasi laid the groundwork for this series with two Villains Month issues: Scarecrow and Bane.  Both were pretty lackluster, but what they did do was set the tenor of these two characters for the purposes of this series.  Both Scarecrow and Bane have appeared in several Bat-titles since the inception of the New 52 and been written by multiple writers including Paul Jenkins, James Tynion IV, David Finch, and Gregg Hurwitz.  While neither Scarecrow or Bane have been altered in major ways, their modus operandi are tailored to fit the desired ends for this series’ plot.  With Bane bringing a moderately sized army of highly trained Santa Priscan mercenaries to Gotham war is on the horizon and Scarecrow is serving as the Paul Revere of Gotham, readying the “freaks” for a war with the fanatical juggernaut.  In the opening strokes of his plan Blackgate Prison falls to Bane, as do the Talons incarcerated therein in cryogenic stasis.  Professor Pyg reappears for the first time since Grant Morrison wrapped up his opening run of Batman & Robin.  The horrific experiments going on in his district proves the full depth of his depravity.  With Gotham Memorial Hospital and its medical supplies in his sphere of influence, his allegiance is integral with war looming and could shift the balance. Bane is a tactical genius as well as a badass with an army of two thousand fanatically loyal foot soldiers battle hardened in one of the worst places on Earth.  However, he’s going up against the equally keen mind of the Penguin and a collection of the sickest men and women in the DC universe, and the Crime Syndicate doesn’t care who comes out on top.  On the contrary, they welcome it, as the conflict will purge the weak from their midst. Neither side can rest on their laurels and what is about to ensue is a grandmaster chess tournament in the decimated streets of Gotham.  Tomasi and artist Scot Eaton have the entire Batman pantheon at their disposal, as the cover hints, and appear to be making good use of it.  This series is shaping up to be a tangent of Forever Evil that shouldn’t be missed.
    • Green Lantern Corps #24 continues the unthinkable events of “Lights Out” into its second installment.  No one thought that Oa could be destroyed, and yet after the final moments of Green Lantern #24 that is precisely the jagged pill the entire Green Lantern Corps are forced to swallow.  Green Lantern Corps #24 picks up the pieces from that horrible moment and focuses on how the Corps of Will will face this most personal, dispiriting defeat and pick themselves up to fight for the last thing they have: each other.  Relic has proven that he is not able to be defeated by the full might of the Green Lantern Corps, having already seriously wounding hundreds.  To affect an evacuation John Stewart and a contingent of handpicked Lanterns take the fight to the ancient juggernaut, not to defeat him, but to distract him so the bulk of the Green Lantern Corps can find refuge elsewhere.  Cowriters Van Jensen and Robert Venditti plot this issue so exquisitely in the heartbreaking situations they create and decisions these Lanterns make in the “do-or-die” last moments of Oa.  One Lantern makes the ultimate sacrifice, validating their ring’s choice of their worthiness and then some.  What this issue and its fellows represent is the ending of an era and the beginning of an ENTIRELY new Green Lantern status quo.  When Geoff Johns took over the title, resurrecting it after a decade of neglect, he changed the rules of the game as it had been known for forty-odd years, creating or retrofitting new lantern corps for each hue of light.  Robert Venditti is basically doing that again with the advent of Relic and this “Lights Out” plotline.  Only time will tell if it is successful, but so far I am impressed with the gravity and pathos he has imbued thusfar.GreenLanternCorps24-1

      GreenLanternCorp24-2

      Death of a Lantern, Death of a World.

    • Nightwing #24 concludes the first arc of the series following the massive paradigm shift of “Death of the Family.”  After the Joker enacts the final coup de grace to Dick Grayson’s dream of resurrecting Haly’s Circus (the circus he and his parents performed in before their fateful accident) Dick decides to move to Chicago.  For the most part it was because he needed to distance himself from Gotham and the cold machinations of Batman, but the larger part was the revelation that the man who killed his parents, Tony Zucco, was alive and well, living in the Windy City.  When Dick blows into town he finds a city that seems relatively “clean” compared to Gotham.  Considering that we’re talking about Chicago irony abounds and sets a picture of how bad Gotham must be.  However, as the plot unfolds over the first several issues it is shown that Chi-town is still as corrupt as it’s always been with Mayor Wallace Cole protecting Zucco with a false identity and an advisory position.  With that kind of grift going on an anti-heroic persona called the Prankster makes the scene, revealing the corrupt dealings in very theatrical, dramatic ways that often times skew toward the violent.  The best example being his forcing an alderman who stole millions of dollars to bring several thousand to a specific location and throwing him into a pit with wolves.  If the alderman burns the money bill by bill he can keep the wolves at bay.  However, the bills burn at a certain rate which makes their quantity versus the time it would take the police to find him a very close call.  They get there in time to save him, but the bills had run out and the alderman is missing an arm when he’s pulled out.  Such is the Prankster.  But while he may seem like a Robin Hood styled anti-heroic outlaw revolutionary figure, this issue displays how untrue that assumption is as well as the Prankster’s REAL aim.  Nightwing is the only person who can stop the chaos erupting from Prankster’s vendetta and what’s more the person helping him is Tony Zucco!  Kyle Higgins has been writing this series since issue #1 and has stayed on the title for a very simple reason:  He can WRITE Dick Grayson like the best of them.  His Nightwing is compelling, complicated, and very personal.  He takes the reader through the plots he faces as though they were inside Dick’s head and had his entire life as their precedents for reaction.  Will Conrad provides gorgeous art that is different, but equally appropriate to his predecessor, Brett Booth’s.  With Higgins is on this title, it is not to be missed.
    • Worlds’ Finest #16 enters the series into an interim period, taking a break from the Apokaliptian menaces left in our world after Great Darkseid’s invasion of our Earth in Justice League 1-6.  The main threat in the series, Desaad, who posed as the errant industrialist Michael Holt, not only tore apart Helena and Karen’s lives, but also stole Karen’s company Starr Industries.  After the events of issue #15 Desaad has emerged victorious, but also taked to the wind, his whereabouts and activities unknown.  What is known is the detrimental effect that final encounter had on Karen Starr, aka Power Girl, depriving her of her powers.  At issue’s opening Helena is staking out arson at fashion shows and Karen is recovering her company from Desaad’s human cronies and attempting to get her powers back.  Following this paradigm shift the issue follows the two tracking a bald young woman of ambiguous heritage, covered in what look like tribal tattoos.  She is the one setting the fires and she also has the abilities to manipulate jet black constructs, either shadow based or generated from her tattoos.  Paul Levitz sets up events, but doesn’t provide too much information as to where the plot is going or its overall relevance to overarching stroylines he’s been working toward for 17 issues.  Considering his talent and the incredible job he’s done so far, Levitz is allowed to have an issue or two to just muck around.  Even in his down moments, he puts out a helluva good comic.
    • Superman/Wonder Woman #1 is an exceptional surprise.  After months of negative reactions on the internet, the issue is finally out and it’s amazing!  The whole hubbub arose from an unfortunate turn of phrase artist Tony S. Daniel dropped at Toronto Fan Expo that this book would hopefully encourage female readership by emulating the “Twilight” franchise with some romance, a little sex appeal, and action.  This seemed to offend both male and female readers with the comparison to awful storytelling and especially offended female fans with the concept that they were being pandered to.  Comment aside, the title seemed to have infinite promise so for the past several months I’ve kept an attitude of “wait and see” optimism.  I maintained that same attitude during the also “Twilight” compared redux of Lobo and was rewarded with possibly the WORST DC comic I have EVER read.  Just awful.  Superman/Wonder Woman, on the other hand, turned out to be a very thoughtful, intelligent examination of the burgeoning relationship between the Man of Steel and the Mighty Amazon.  I have to state my bias up front, though.  I wasn’t excited about the pairing of Wonder Woman with Superman initially, feeling that DC was pandering to their readers with overzealous fanboy fantasies.  Geoff Johns pulled it out eventually by highlighting that both characters are strangers in a strange land.  What this series’ writer Charles Soule does is take a deeper examination of that relationship.  Topically, the two have outsider status in common, but apart from that they are very different.  Superman, as an extension of Clark Kent, is a very reserved Zen character who exists under the radar, not drawing undue attention to himself or making a show of his innate abilities.  Wonder Woman on the other hand is the daughter of Zeus, born into a proud warrior race that exalts strength and ability.  Therein lies a diametric difference between the two superheroes.  Wonder Woman is slightly put off by his reservedness about himself, but more so about their relationship.  However, both try to gently acclimate themselves to each other’s ways, because while they are different they do love each other.  Superman and Wonder Woman are paradigms of masculinity and femininity respectively, but also American icons wearing the colors of our flag in their costumes.  In just this first issue, Soule maintains both these aspects of the characters, but puts a very refreshing dimension to these facets.  Superman is a very masculine character that exhibits hallmark traits of the male psyche, such as doing the heavy lifting or going into danger first, but he also is the more demure party in the quieter moments and passively lets a lot of things happen around him.  Wonder Woman is rendered as a very feminine character, but is also portrayed as the more assertive figure both in the active courting in the relationship as well as the more outspoken heroic figure.  They are opposites, but at the same time complement each other in most ways.  As American symbols they harken back to the ideal that America is an immigrant nation.  An interesting happenstance in the American experiment was people from very different ethnic communities coming together in mutual attraction across wide gaps of cultural differences.  Diana is very much an immigrant from a society that has strong traditions and customs.  Clark’s an interesting case, as he was born on another planet with its own unique culture, but from infancy he was raised in Kansas with only secondhand understanding of his heritage.  So Diana represents first generation immigrants, and Clark represents the split second generation juggling their host culture with that of their forbearers.  Diana’s rooting in the mindset of her proud Amazon heritage confounds her as she looks at both the subtleties of Clark’s Midwestern sensibilities and his isolationist Kryptonian ones.  It even hurts her to think he might be ashamed to be associated with her publicly, but instead of assuming the worst, she seeks to close the gap by showing him her culture and keeping an open mind about that American culture he grew up with and perhaps later his Kryptonian one.  The latter part might be something dealt with in another issue, but that remains to be seen.  In terms of characterization, this is a Wonder Woman issue.  In terms of story development, this issue dealt much more on the Superman/Clark Kent aspect, working toward fleshing out the development of the indie news blog Clark is working on with Cat Grant.  However, the issue’s gravitas for Superman fans comes with the revelation of the villain at the issue’s end.  I am surprised that “he” showed up in this series and not another of the Super-books, but the possibilities inherent in his advent only enrich the title.  Needless to say, Charles Soule’s writing is impeccable. Art-wise, Tony Daniel takes that lead and brings it home.  His Superman and Wonder Woman are gorgeous creatures, but that’s no surprise.  Daniel drew both in Justice League #13-14, and drew Superman in Action Comics #19-21.  The sum total of two consummate professionals is pure comic excellence.

      The Worlds of Superman and Wonder Woman.

      The Worlds of Superman and Wonder Woman.

  • FBP (Federal Physics Bureau) #4 resumes while FBP agents Jay Kelly and Adam Hardy are still in the bubble universe that is on the verge of collapse, endangering everyone caught inside.  That collapse is hastened by Jay’s planting of explosives in key areas within the bubble.  Jay and Adam were sent in to extract James Crest, CEO of Crest Corps, currently undergoing S.E.C. investigation.  But before he extracts his target, Adam goes for a face-to-face with his “partner.”  Jay attempted to kill him upon entry and Adam wants to know why.  Though Jay can’t give him the answers he wants, he begins the slow revelation of a conspiracy to exploit the nature of the unhinged laws of physics.  Following the conclusion of the bubbleverse incident writer Simon Oliver delves into the very real subject of the privatization of government services.  Here it is the privatization of “Physics Protection.”  The characters of Adam and his boss Cicero Deluca take on new depth in this issue, showing how they deal with the mounting pressure put on their agency a following the SNAFU of Jay’s betrayal.  Both in the science-fiction aspects and allegory to our current political temperature, FBP is a series to watch.

    The New Name if Physics Protection.

    The New Name if Physics Protection.

  • Coffin Hill #1 is either a tantalizing first issue to an amazing series or a hollow, abstruse beginning of a contrived one.  It’s hard to say, because there is a MAJOR disconnect between the present and the past with next to no logical segue.  In 2013 we meet police rookie Eve Coffin who catches a serial killer called the “Ice Fisher” who targets young women.  She goes home and is shot by a friend’s boyfriend and nearly dies.  Flashing back to 2003 we see a teenaged Eve who was the scion of a venerated New England family with a haunted reputation.  As she describes it via narration: “Old blood. Old money.  Old secrets.”  Following her past exploits we see a posh world of lavish, debauch parties steeped in old world mysticism.  We also see a very neglected childhood with WASP-ish parents that disdain her existence and whose marked dislike emboldens the bad behavior that fuels it, creating a vicious cycle of familial discord.  Escaping this, she and her friends enact a ritual from an old family spellbook Eve swipes from her parents’ study.  The results are bloody, but enigmatic.  Cut back to the present with Eve quitting the force and moving back home to Coffin Hill.  As the quality of this series’ story is up in the air, so too is the writing of Caitlin Kittredge, although her framing of dialogue and the plot she chooses to reveal are very well written, if not well done.  Artist Inaki Miranda is the most consistent variable within the comic.  Her art is sleek, sumptuous, and evocative of the haunted ambiance created by Kittredge’s script.  In retrospect this could be a phenomenal first issue.  If the plot doesn’t develop, it could be remembered as a strawman issue.  I will continue reading and find out which.

    The Life of Eve Coffin.

    The Life of Eve Coffin.

This week did not disappoint in the quality of the issues carried forward from August nor in the inherent promise of their subjects.  At its least enjoyable moments there was still the promise of payoff in the future.  That’s a good week!

 

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

Batman #24: Drawn by Greg Capullo, Colored by FCO Plascencia, Inked by Danny Miki.

Green Lantern Corps #24: Art by Bernard Chang, Colored by Marcelo Maiolo.

Superman/Wonder Woman #1: Drawn by Tony S. Daniel, Colored by Tomeu Morey, Inked by BATT.

FBP #4: Art by Robbi Rodriguez, Colored by Rico Renzi.

Coffin Hill #1: Art by Inaki Miranda, Colored by Eva De La Cruz.

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Oct. 2, 2013

Villains Month is over and October ushers in a return to the deferred storylines of August.  Right out of the starting gate there are some fantastic issues that prove the power and momentum that DC and Vertigo have built over the past several months.  Forever Evil, Action Comics, Detective Comics, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Batman: Black & White, and Trillium really bring it this month in action, intrigue, and history altering glory.

  • Forever Evil #2 continues with our Earth’s decent into chaos as the Crime Syndicate of America from Earth-3 take it for their own.  In the literal shadow of their advent, our world’s darkest minds flock to them in droves to get what bounty the CSA will grant them in return for their service–Malum Aeturnus–and those few heroes left alive rally to meet the Syndicate in battle.  The most intriguing case between these two camps is perhaps the most dangerous man from Earth-1: Lex Luthor.  Opening this issue, Lex delivers a very thought-provoking interpretation of Darwinism that sets him apart from both the opportunistic villains and “cowardly” masses that accept drastic change idly.  In this way he either proves his mettle as humanity’s savior, filling the position he begrudged Superman for occupying these past several years, or simply demonstrating his intractable individualism and anyone that tries to cast their shadow on him.  In this case, the shadow cast is both literal and metaphorical.  As ever, you want to hate him until he does something very noble, at which point you then want to love him until he come full circle to being despicable yet again.  Either way, his goals in toppling the CSA from their haughty perch and prying their hegemonic grip from humanity’s throats forces him into the role of protagonist.  His competition is getting slimmer and slimmer as Forever Evil progresses and heroes fall left and right.  Between Justice League #23 and Forever Evil #1, the Crime Syndicate dropped the entire Justice League, and seemingly the Justice League Dark and JLA, leaving Earth without their greatest heroes.  Next, in the opening movements of Forever Evil #1 the first protegé of Batman and most senior surviving hero, Nightwing, is subdued and captured by Owlman.  After that the Teen Titans, basically the junior Justice League, step up to the plate only to fall to the wayside.  I won’t spoil the surprise, but they too fall short of matching the Syndicate’s mettle, and really are defeated by only one member of the evil cabal, leaving Luthor as one of the top contenders to take down the Earth-3 invaders.  However, in the periphery other “villains” from Villains Month are stepping up, showing their innate humanity or their inability to be cowed by the whims of others.  Black Adam rises in Kahndaq and the Rogues have the Syndicate’s forces in Central City on their heels, so on at least three fronts there is hope.  However, the real threat to the Syndicate, made very clear in this issue is themselves.  As ever, Ultraman (evil Superman) has to be the biggest, baddest guy on the block and lords his perfection over the others, Owlman (evil Batman) schemes in the shadows and secretly cuckolds the Earth-3 Krpytonian by sleeping with his wife, Superwoman (evil Wonder Woman).  Johnny Quick (evil Flash) and his lover, Atomica (evil female Atom), are uncontrollable forces of destruction that do not play by anyone’s rules, least of all Ultraman.  Power Ring (soooort of evil Green Lantern) is perhaps the greatest question mark as he is a terrified weakling that so far hasn’t done anything and doesn’t want to.  In any event, the evil Justice League of Earth-3 are the greatest threat to themselves, with conflicting plans for our world, conflicting philosophies in general, and outright vendettas against each other.  With the end of this issue there are some crazy reveals that beg for the third installment and keep the reader on their toes.  First and foremost, David Finch’s art is superb and his harsh lines belie the evil nature of the subject material.  But beneath the very heavily inked lines there is a subtle, gentleness and beauty that shines through.  He was the best choice to render this script visually.  I have been very antagonistic of Geoff Johns’ writing since he began the New DCU two years ago and mismanaged title after title that he has written, such as Justice League, it’s SHAZAM! backup feature, and a few others I won’t pontificate upon.  However, this series gets back to what he does well: villains.  Sinestro, the Rogues in The Flash, Black Adam in 52.  These are all characters that were two-dimensional at best that he made into complex, compelling antiheroes.  This series features the concept of eternal darkness and absolute evil and shows by contrast the natures of the DCU’s villains.  Many pale in comparison, and like Lex, show signs of valor despite their many, usually glaring flaws.  Forever Evil is marketed as the first imprint wide event and it deserves to be.  This is a title that will live on and in some ways validate the atrociously wretched job Johns did on the first arcs of Justice League.

    They Did a Bad, Bad Thing . . .

    They Did a Bad, Bad Thing . . .

  • Action Comics #24 picks up the second part of the “Psi War” storyline after the events of Superman Annual #2 and Superman #23.  So far, it has been revealed that Brainiac left some hidden mementos when he attacked Metropolis in Action Comics #1-7.  After abducting a segment of the city and shriniking it, he altered twenty people within, who became an urban legend aptly called, “The Twenty.”  The Twenty were mentally enhanced to test the augmentation of humans to fit a very specific purpose: providing physical hosts for the digitized “souls” of Brainiac’s extinct race, the Coluans.  In the aftermath, Lois Lane is transformed by one of the Twenty into such a vessel shortly before being launched out a window and put into a coma.  From there we were introduced to the “Queen,” a nubile blond bombshell that bathes in a golden liquid, seemingly generated by the psychic drones in the H.I.V.E.  One such drone, the escaped Dr. Psycho, was first seen in Superboy.  Also from Superboy is the reinterpreted, reintroduced character, Psycho Pirate.  In the past, Psycho Pirate was a masked man whose bizarre harlequin mask gives him the ability to exploit people’s emotions.  This time around the mask he wears is an artifact called the Medusa mask, which true to the imagery its name elicits has numerous psychically generated snakes coming off of it.  The mask allows this man, also a member of the Twenty, to control not just the emotions but also enter the mind of any person on the planet he wishes.  At the end of Superman #23 it is the Psycho Pirate that rescues Superman from the Queen and the massively disproportioned Green Lantern villain, Hector Hammond.  He takes Supes into the main chamber of the H.I.V.E. to show him the collection of psionic slaves the Queen called her “Swarm.”  The Swarm was what she was going to use to enslave humanity for the second coming of Brainiac.  Psycho Pirate was one of those slaves, kept in a place of honor with several other members of the Twenty.  It is his goal to free all of them, but to break the hold the departed Queen has on them Psycho Pirate needs more power than he and the mask he wears allow him.  That is where Superman comes in.  Superman’s enhanced biology also allows his mind enhanced psionic output, even though the Man of Steel doesn’t know how to utilize it.  He’d help out the Psycho Pirate if he asked, but of course that would be too easy.  Instead Psycho Pirated lives up to his name and takes what he needs by force.  The psionic snakes from the mask bite into Superman at various points on his body like asps and inject him with venomous visions of some of Superman’s darkest fears: humanity turning fully against him, his adoptive parents the Kents despising him, and never leaving his dying homeworld of Krypton.  Through these intense visions and horrifying sights Psycho Pirate feeds off his emotions, as his former self, pre-Reboot, used to.  Though Scott Lobdell is given cover credit, it is actually Mike Johnson, who also wrote Superman #23 (“Psi War” Part 1), who did the honors on this one.  It’s hard to say whether “Psi-War” is Lobdell’s “brain child” (pun intended) or Johnson’s, considering that Johnson has written the only two official installments with no internal credits or nods to Lobdell, but Lobdell wrote the prelude in Superman Annual #2, so . . .  Either way, the writing and set up are stellar, as is the artwork depicting it, rendered by Tyler Kirkham and Jesus Merino.  Superman had a ROUGH start at the beginning of the New 52 with some atrocious storytelling, but Action Comics, Superman, Superboy, and Supergirl are all top-notch titles at present.  This issue encapsulates all of that incredible innovation perfectly.

    All the Queen's Men

    All the Queen’s Men

  • Detective Comics #24 concludes the “Wrath” storyline begun three months ago, but held up by Villains Month.  Beginning with a slimy business mogul named E.D. Caldwell attempting to buy out Wayne Enterprises, Bruce Wayne has to contend with that situation leaving Batman to deal with a hi-tech cop killer called “Wrath” who bears a likeness, albeit greatly intensified and armored, to Batman. Of course, these two antagonists in Batman’s life are one and the same and Caldwell wants to gain WayneTech weaponry to add to his arsenal in his crusade against the Gotham City Police Department.  This concept, it turns out, is actually a redux of a character first created in the 80’s by Mike Barr and resurrected in 2008 by Tony Bedard.  The character’s name was Elliot Caldwell and his parents were gunned down by Gotham cops leaving him with a burning rage for Gotham’s finest.  In this way, the mirror-darkly image of Batman called Wrath provides a polar opposite version of the Dark Knight.  Batman does have many nemeses that are opposite to him in some way, the Joker’s manic escapades being the most obvious.  However, Wrath is literally the flip version of Batman’s birth.  Young Bruce Wayne’s parents were gunned down by a criminal named Joe Chill and through the trauma that event evoked in his young mind he was set on an inescapable course to punish criminals and stamp out criminality.  Caldwell saw his parents gunned down by police at an equally young age as Bruce and as a result he grew up with a festering hatred for police and law enforcement, constantly seeking vengeance to assuage that child’s anger.  In this issue Layman makes the cops that killed Caldwell’s father corrupt and the slaying of his father unjustified.  In this way, he isn’t just a straight psychopath, but a boy with real, valid grievances that are twisted by “Unbridled Wrath,” which also happens to be the title of this issue.  Though he is subdued in this final issue of the arc, the damage incurred during his rampage is considerable and his defeat gives fodder to future villainy with his introduction at the end to another up and coming Gotham mega-villain.  John Layman and Jason Fabok knock this issue out of the park with some intense storytelling that is both powerful and resonating.
  • Green Lantern #24 begins the MASSIVE “Lights Out” storyline, not to be confused with the “Blackout” storyline coming up in Batman and throughout several DC titles.  Though the character Relic has only been in comics five months, he has already cemented himself as one of the most titanic characters in the Green Lantern mythos.  He first appeared in the tail end of June’s Green Lantern: New Guardians #21 and from there crusaded against White Lantern Kyle Rayner, Star Sapphire Carol Ferris, and the newly emancipated Templar Guardians under the auspices of “saving the universe,” though failing to elaborate on that point.  So great was his belief in his righteous cause, he went to the new homeworld of the Blue Lantern Corps, Elpis, and laid waste to it, the Blue Lantern Central Power Battery, and the Corps itself, leaving Saint Walker the last surviving Blue Lantern.  Representing Hope, the Blue Lanterns have had their faith pushed the breaking point.  First the Reach destroyed their original home on Odym, forcing an exodus to Elpis.  Now the seemingly unstoppable Relic has destroyed their new world and them.  Their hope is undiminished to the end as they give their unconscious chief Lantern, Walker, to Kyle and Carol and stay behind on their world to hold off Relic as long as they can and sacrifice their lives to maintain . . . Hope.  As stated, Relic was very terse about his motivations throughout his initial interactions in our universe.  With his appearance in Green Lantern #23.1 we get his entire history and a clearer picture of his motivations.  When living in the universe that preceded the Big Bang and the creation of our current universe Relic was a scientist whose brilliance and council helped the “lightsmiths” co-exist and govern that universe.  There was always tension between the various lights and he worked to keep the peace, but also came to realize that the light they so wantonly used was a finite resource, the depletion of which would result in a cataclysm of untold proportions.  His words went unheeded and indeed the universe collapsed in on itself and was forced to begin anew with the advent of our universe.  He somehow was protected in the anomaly from which he emerged in Green Lantern: New Guardians #21 and upon emerging realized that he would need to stop the “lightsmiths” of this universe to prevent history from repeating itself.  Being that he was shunned in his universe, he eschews the possibility of explaining his actions to the new light-wielders and merely enacts his plans.  He destroyed the Blue Lanterns.  With this issue of Green Lantern he descends on Oa and the Green Lantern Corps.  The fight proves to be just as futile as that which the Blue Lanterns provided.  The question of defeating Relic isn’t even posed, but rather asking whether the Green Lanterns can survive him.  Robert Venditti seems to be the architect of this “Lights Out” concept and considering the material that he had to follow after Geoff Johns’ blowout finale of a legendary eight year run, he is really bringing his A-game to the table.  This is perhaps the biggest thing that has EVER occurred in the Green Lantern titles, even bigger than Johns’ “Wrath of the First Lantern” storyline, which itself was unprecedented in scale.  Billy Tan’s artwork keeps pace with the monumental events chronicled within, emoting the tragic wonder and epic grandeur of all that is happening in the Green Lantern universe.  They promoted this event by saying, “Nothing will ever be the same again!  Trust us: WE MEAN IT!”  That trust is earned with the unbelievable events of the last two pages of this issue.  If you are a Green Lantern fan, READ THEM!

    An "Earth" Shattering Developement . . .

    An “Earth” Shattering Developement . . .

  • Green Arrow #24 does not disappoint.  This issue picks up after  the September hiatus with Ollie Queen on his way home from Vlatava after saving the enigmatic Shado from Count Vertigo’s dungeon.  During that month off writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino used Villains Month to give a look into the past of Green Arrow’s newest nemesis.  With Vertigo’s past now revealed, Lemire sends Ollie and company back to Seattle only for them to run back into the path of the Eastern European dictator.  After their last encounter Vertigo’s distortion device ruptured GA’s inner ear, essentially throwing off his balance and his aim, taking a hero whose main skill is archery and invalidating it.  What is left?  Even his closest friends and allies are dubious as to whether he has anything viable left that could allow him victory over Vertigo.  This issue is written as though Ollie were a real person and Lemire his biographer.  Ollie is flawed and fallible, but has deep wellsprings upon which he draws in times like his current predicament that make him worthy of his own comic title. He may be an effete rich man, but he doesn’t solve his problems with money.  At least he doesn’t anymore, after DC put a competent writer on the title going onward from issue #17.  Lemire also writes the supporting cast of characters with equal complexity.  Shado is a prime example in this issue.  Previously, she has always been depicted as a very veiled, Zen warrior embodying eastern philosophy, the feminine mystique, and complete oneness with the martial arts.  In short, she is a fox-like character that is always a step ahead of Ollie and most other characters and rarely caught off guard.  This issue continues that depiction to a point, but stresses that she is an acolyte of the Arrow clan, meaning a master of archery.  Lemire has set up a group called the Outsiders (not the previous Batman created group pre-Reboot) that are comprised of heirs to the various disciplines: arrow, sword, axe, spear, fist.  Shado is an unparalleled archer.  When she comes up against a true practitioner of the Fist (also a rebooted character from DC’s past) she is shown to lack true mastery of the other disciplines and is revealed to be human and have very real weaknesses.  It’s the humanizing aspect of his storylines as well as the mythologies that spring from them that make this series soar.  One thing also that separates this title from others is the way it adhere’s to the surrounding climate of the DCU.  Villains Month was enjoyable, but a total ratings stunt to sell more issues and get people excited about buying comics they normally wouldn’t.  The month-long PR event was jarring to most series, causing a MAJOR disruption in storytelling, but not for Green Arrow which took it and used it to seamlessly continue the title’s forward momentum.  Next month there is another imprint wide event called “Blackout” taking place around the “Batman: Year Zero” storyline in the Batman title where apparently there is a massive blackout in Gotham six years prior when Batman first dons his cowl and all the titles are going back and having “pre-hero” versions of their respective protagonists living their lives through this blackout and miraculously being in Gotham during it.  Again, jarring and implausible.  Before this issue’s end, Lemire has already set events up in such a way that you’d believe that Batman was having a “Blackout” event because of Green Arrow and not the other way around.  That’s talent!  In the realm of visuals, Andrea Sorrentino’s artwork was meant for a title like this and his Green Arrow is the only one I want to look at for the foreseeable future.

    A Battle of Two Dragons.

    A Battle of Two Dragons.

  • Batwing #24 depicts Luke Fox’s continued trials and tribulations while donning the Batwing armor.  It’s not just being Batwing that is difficult, but balancing that life with a full family life.  Bruce Wayne has a very detached life, allowing him great anonymity to fit his nocturnal lifestyle.  Luke is a part of a very loving, close-knit family and distancing himself from his family when they are in need is not an option.  Following his father, Lucius Fox’s kidnapping and his subsequent rescue, Luke finds himself torn three ways.   Batman and his allegiance to the Batname force Luke to follow-up on the assassin Lady Vic, sent by an enigmatic client to off some “bats.”  His family need him close as they recover from mechanized assassins blowing up most of their home and abducting Lucius.  His former girlfriend Zena’s father passes away and needs his support as she copes with her loss.  A veritable labyrinth, but somehow in this issue Luke navigates it.  I am beginning to forgive this title for its abrupt about-face.  I maintain that it is complete nonsense to take the Batman of Africa and bring him back to the United States, and Gotham no less, where there are literally dozens of costumed vigilantes, and 75% of them in the Bat-family.  However, writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray are doing interesting things with Luke, so for the time being I will hold back my indignation and acknowledge that this is a very well written Bat-title.
  • Earth 2 #16 reaches a fever pitch.  Writer James Robinson is only onboard for a few more issues and he is pushing his story to the limits.  The war between Steppenwolf and the World Army has begun and despite the size of their force, the World Army finds themselves on the losing side.  Steppenwolf almost singlehandedly defeats the brunt of the World Army invasion force.  On the sidelines the World Army “supers” (Atom Smasher, Red Arrow, and Sandman) meet with the independent wonders (Green Lantern, Flash, and Doctor Fate) on the outskirts of Dherain.  They initially fight it out until the three “Hunger Dogs” of Apokalips (Bedlam, Beguiler, and Bruutal) step in and wipe the floor with all of them.  When this issue returns attention to them, they awaken from this beat down bruised, but alive!  The question on all of their mind, “Why were they spared when they could have easily been killed and taken out of the game?”  There is no answer expressly given, but in the meantime they get back up and attempt to evacuate civilians from the war zone after the World Army officially calls a retreat.  Green Lantern goes to take out his rage on Steppenwolf and buy his friends some time.  Steppenwolf isn’t going to be taken down, or at least not by Alan Scott.  He SOUNDLY defeats the Green Lantern raising the question of whether Scott will survive this round like he did the last or if this is the end for Earth’s Green Guardian.  However, in his gloating of this day’s victory Steppenwolf DOES meet his end and the identity of the person who takes him down and the rationale behind it is what cements this issue as a MUST READ for the month and possibly the ENTIRE series!  James Robinson is riding the clock on this one, coming to his end of his run very quickly, and he is making every second count.  As ever, Nicola Scott’s artwork contributes mightily to the impact of this issue and the series thus far, on which she has been on from issue #1 and drawn the majority of issues with only a handful of exceptions.  This series definitely needs to be read through the end of Robinson’s run and possibly further.

    Superman's "Dark-Side."

    Superman’s “Dark-Side.”

  • Swamp Thing #24 returns Alec Holland, chosen Swamp Thing, back to his investigation into the identity of the man called “The Seeder.” Since Charles Soule has taken over the title he has focused on the divide between Holland’s humanity and his duty to the Green.  These two motivations tear him in two different directions, often causing existential crises which he must navigate very carefully.  The Seeder represents the greatest threat to that, because while his endeavors are altruistic, i.e. creating verdant oases in the middle of arid desert granting people an end to hunger, Swamp Thing must shut them down and rob those people of the life-giving means that are a godsend to them.  This seems callous, but the Green is a balance and such works throw that balance off.  If the Green is exploited in such a way, causing forests to grow in a desert, elsewhere a bed of seaweed that sustains an ecosystem will die or a grove of trees in the wetlands.  It is a very hard job, but Swamp Thing is forced to execute it to maintain harmony and balance, even at the cost of human lives and great suffering.  The Seeder comes forth and we find out that he is none other than Jason Woodrue, noted botanist and in previous DC continuities a sort of male Poison Ivy, who actually was the villainess’ mentor.  Here he was given his strange powers by the Parliament of Trees in exchanged for saving the life of Alec Holland, who was murdered by Anton Arcane, as seen in Swamp Thing #0.  He was not given full power over the Green, as Alec was, but a more rudimentary ability of manipulating seeds to do what he wished, hence his name.  Swamp Thing and the Parliament come together to put an end to his hijinks, but when he fights back against both, they see how powerful Woodrue has become, even without full mastery of the Green and decide to have a tournament between Woodrue and Holland to see who should be the Avatar of the Green.  Writer Charles Soule has taken this title into a new direction that is logical, but very much unique from Snyder’s run on the title.  This issue the regular artist, Kano, is replaced by Andrei Bressan, whose art I have always loved, but which takes a very new style here.  It might be that he has a different inker or colorist, but his art in this issue does conform to the themes and overall mood of the Swamp Thing title.  There is a little bit of Bernie Wrightson in the way Swamp Thing is rendered, paying homage to his origins and rooting the series deeply in the aspects of the character that are eternal.
  • Batman: Black & White #2 provides yet another round of truly excellent Batman stories rendered in stark black and white with plots that are anything but, from the writing and artistic talents of Dan Didio, J.G. Jones, Rafael Grandpa, Rafael Albuquerque, Jeff Lemire, Alex Nino, Michael Uslan, and Dave Bullock.  In Dan Didio and J.G. Jones’ story “Manbat Out of Hell” we have the narration of a child talking about how their father made them feel safe, making the monsters that lurked in the dark go away juxtaposed over images of Batman interceding as the Man-Bat, Kirk Langstrom, breaks into a second floor window of a foster home.  Batman fights the “villainous” werebat, pulling him off the man inside in front of two horrified children.  When his subduing of the creature is met with increased horror from the children Batman realizes that they are Langstrom’s kids and the man he “saved” was an abusive attendant that preyed upon those same children.  The narration was Langstroms children talking about their hero who protects them from monsters: their dad, Man-Bat.  Didio’s story is infinitely complex and touching, showing how appearances often belie reality and true virtue and villainy.  Rafael Grandpa’s story, “Into the Circle,” tells of the Joker setting up a heist with a motley crew of small time Gotham hoods on stately Wayne Manor.  Seemingly straightforward, Grandpa throws a major curveball in the final five panels.  His artwork is what truly electrifies the story, taking an understated, subtle plot and adding intrigue and enigma that tempts the reader from panel to panel.  His art is hard to categorize, but has a simultaneous harshness and gentility within the very same lines.  Simply fantastic.  Rafael Albuquerque’s story, “A Place In Between,” takes Batman into the underworld on the ferry ride through the River Styx.  As it progresses Batman is confronted with his greatest sins as he tries to cope with the reconciliation of his intentioned goals and the actuality of his past actions.  Spoiler Alert: He isn’t dead, nor is this real, but Albuquerque gives thoughtful perspective to the reader and the Dark Knight as to the “success” of Batman’s mission and what things weigh on his conscience.  Albuquerque’s inkwash illustrations are truly gorgeous to behold as you go on the ferry ride with the Caped Crusader.  Jeff Lemire and Alex Nino’s story “Winter’s End,” is an excellent companion to the Didio/Jones story, “Manbat Out of Hell,” becasue while in the former story the reader is tricked into thinking the narration of Langstrom’s daughter is Bruce talking about his dad as his hero.  “Winter’s End” is narrated by Bruce, talking about the last winter he spent with his father before the tragic events that severed them forever.  In his recollections he talks about how safe his father made him feel, despite how scared he should have been.  The narration is put over the current day adventure of Batman into the heart of a man-made blizzard by Mr. Freeze imperiling the life of Commissioner Gordon. The actual events of the story are so-so, but the backstory of Bruce’s childhood is what really impacts the reader.  The final tale of the Batman, Michael Uslan’s “Silent Knight . . . Unholy Knight,” is rendered visually by Dave Bullock as though it were a silent film.  In it a serial killer called the Silent Knight, dressed in medieval armor and wielding a sword attacks families of three just like Bruce’s in an attempt to call out the Dark Knight.  It works.  Uslan scripts the story exactly like a silent film with mostly pantomime panels that visually tell the story with only the occasional caption panel with barebones dictation to relate what cannot be conveyed visually.  Bullock’s artistic style mimics that of Darwyn Cooke and evokes the glory of the Golden Age Batman, really nailing the necessary ambiance of the original Batman.  Taken altogether, these stories paint a broad picture of who Batman is, what he represents, and the many things he embodies to a wide range of people throughout the world and over time.
    Conning the Conmen.

    Conning the Conmen.

    BatmanBlack&White2-2

    Golden Age Batman on the Silver Screen . . .

  • Trillium #3 returns to the flip book format of the first issue (sort of) and segments the two journeys of Dr. Nika Temsmith from 38th century and William Pike from 1921. Nika is drawn back into her time and quarantined after being “rescued” from the Atabithian village where she ate the trillium flower and passed through the pyramid emerging in our world a few years after WWI.  With the sentient virus, the Caul, entered into the solar system the human refugees have sought shelter in the vastness of space and the military have tabled Nika’s negotiations with the Atabithians in favor of raiding their villages and taking the trillium crops that could provide humanity with a vaccine the Caul cannot adapt to.  This would in essence destroy the Atabithian species, as they rely upon the trillium flowers for their own existence.  To save them and to save humanity, Nika must escape captivity by her own people to prevent more than one apocalypse.  Meanwhile, in our “recent” past William is rejoined by his brother, Clayton, after Nika goes back through the pyramid to her time.  Of course Clayton does not believe William’s stories and as a result attempts to blow a hole in the sealed entranceway of the Aztec temple to prove there is nothing strange behind it.  The confluence of events brings forth an ending that defies expectations and takes the imperativeness of the plot to unimaginable levels.  Writer/artist Jeff Lemire is a genius, and his visual storytelling compliments his written work perfectly.  The use of flipped pages to demarcate past from future can be jarring at times, but creates a much more believable experience demonstrating the strangeness of the tenuous link between the two disparate time periods.  This series is what the Vertigo imprint was founded to print.  Such a series is the quintessence of what Vertigo comics have been, currently are, and (God willing) shall be until the end of human civilization. Trillium-Teaser658
  • Hinterkind #1 is yet another debut in the new wave of Vertigo titles.  This series also has a post-apocalyptic feel to it.  Human civilization as it has been known has ceased and the planet has reclaimed its surface from us, like any landlord whose tenants have abused the leased property.  The urban jungles of New York are taken over by a literal jungle growing over the streets and buildings and creating new ecosystems where wild animals reign free.  In one of the beginning scenes, human survivors hunt a Zebra in lower Manhattan.  Humanity has developed isolated colonies throughout the country that are linked only by radio.  The opening scene shows the Albany colony falling to an unknown force.  Following this the doctor of the Manhattan settlement, Asa Monday, decides to make the two month trek to Albany to ascertain what happened.  Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis are revealed to have gone dark, just like Albany, making the fall of each all the more suspicious and worth investigating.  His niece, Prosper Monday (the huntress that killed the Zebra at the beginning) wishes to go with him, but is denied.  Upon finding out that her best friend, Angus, has grown a rat tail inexplicably the two depart the colony anyway to see what is going on in the wide world.  What they find are even more incredible wild beasts like Ligons (lion/tiger hybrids), but what’s more, mythical beasts such as ogres and giant gothed-out fairies.  Writer Ian Edginton says that in essence he wants to tell a post-apocalyptic fairytale that makes legends realistic and show that humanity isn’t the dominant species on this planet and maybe never was supposed to be.  The series continues the tradition of upholding  the promise of comics as an intelligent artistic and narrative medium.  Edginton has me hooked for at least another issue, if not many more down the road.
The Urban Jungle.
The Urban Jungle.
  • Vertigo Presents: The Witching Hour was perhaps the greatest disappointment from Vertigo in some time. In the past when they had done topic anthology books like Ghosts, Time Warp, Strange Adventures, etc, they have gotten innovative creators to come onboard and spin poignant, entertaining short stories.  Looking back on those previous books, I can bring to mind several stories that resonated deeply and blew the mind of those reading them.  Jeff Lemire’s story about the death of Rip Hunter wasn’t something that spoke to the nature of reality, but it was deeply moving as to the nature of the human nature.  Gail Simone wrote a fantastic short story about candy that could transport people to their most perfect moment and the sweet, but finite nature of memories.  Witching Hour has almost none of the aspects present in the previous Vertigo anthology books.  Whereas before, there were well-known comic writers and artists producing stories, or indy creators bringing their A-game, this collection features stories from mostly indy writers that are topical at best and convoluted at the worst.  There isn’t even an adherence to a theme.  Ghosts featured stories about . . . ghosts.  Time Warp wasn’t strictly about time-travel but also the concept of the passing of time.  Strange Adventures dealt with space travel and human exploration in the final frontier.  Witching Hour begins with some stories about witches, but then there are stories about a mission to Mars and a woman with a parasitic spider in her brain.  What?!  Vertigo is slipping a little . . .

So ends the first week of October and the first in four weeks of resumed storylines in the regular continuities.  I will miss the fun Villains issues, but it’s also nice to have old “friends” back with the resuming of continuing plot arcs.  Can’t wait for next week’s batch which include the oversized issue of Batman #24 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.  It promises to be good.  See you then . . .

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

Forever Evil #2: Drawn by David Finch, Colored by Sonia Oback, Inked by Richard Friend.

Action Comics #24: Art by Tyler Kirkham & Jesus Merino, Colored by Arif Prianto.

Green Lantern  #24: Drawn by Billy Tan, Colored by Alex Sinclair, Inked by Rob Hunter.

Green Arrow #24: Art by Andrea Sorrentino, Colored by Marcelo Maiolo.

Earth 2 #16: Drawn by Nicola Scott, Colored by Pete Pantazis, Inked by Trevor Scott.

Batman: Black & White  #2: Art by Rafael Grandpa & Dave Bullock.

Trillium #3: Art by Jeff Lemire, Colored by Jeff Lemire & Jose Villarrubia.

Hinterkind #1: Art by Francesco Trifogli, Colored by Cris Peters.

Sept. 25, 2013

With this last week of September comes the last installments of Villains Month.  Personally, I am really excited about the Sinestro, Doomsday, Man-Bat, and Parasite issues, and intrigued by several others out this week.  So far Villains Month hasn’t been a disappointment.  There have been some truly amazing stories told and I look forward to seeing what this week adds to the phenomenal work already done.

  • Justice League #23.4: The Secret Society acts as the bridge between Forever Evil and the rest of Villains Month. Mired in secrets, writer Geoff Johns is clearly setting up reveals for the final or penultimate chapters of his Forever Evil series and stringing readers along for the ride. There is a very engrossing narrative in this issue, with the meat of revelation coming from what is said outside of the story juxtaposed against little things mentioned in dialogue. The issue opens with Alfred Pennyworth of Earth-3, the Outsider, telling the reader that he and Owlman each have a secret. Going forward we see how a Wayne family of four, consisting of Martha and Thomas Wayne and their two sons running for their lives through an alleyway. They are stopped at gunpoint and told to empty out their pockets and their purse . . . in the name of the law.  Since this is Earth-3, of course the benevolent Wayne family would be degenerate criminals. What happens next is masked from sight, and the narrative jumps to the “present” with a fully realized Owlman, who has subjugated Gotham entirely under his absolute control, racing across rooftops, in pursuit of the Joker and searching for his errant side-kick, Talon. The Talon is in fact still Dick Grayson and his parents were still murdered. Alfred mentions offhandedly that Owlman should never have told Dick the truth, which insinuates that Owlman killed them to make Dick into something else.  Alfred also says that Dick was the closest thing Owlman had to a brother, something that even Bruce couldn’t provide him.  It was said before both in Justice League #23 and Forever Evil #1, but Owlman is NOT the Bruce Wayne of Earth-3.  He’s the Batman archetype that fills that role, but Bruce was killed with his parents at the beginning, or so it would seem.  Owlman is Thomas Wayne, and taking into account the mention by Alfred of Bruce not being the brother he needed, the revelation that Alfred killed both Thomas’s parents, and the shot at the beginning of four Waynes running for their lives, it can be deduced that Thomas is Thomas Wayne Jr.  The double intrigue for me comes with the earlier introduction of a Thomas Wayne Jr in Scott Snyder’s inaugural arc of Batman entitled the “Court of Owls” in which Bruce’s supposed brother becomes a near Owlman facsimile in our reality. I wonder which came first, Snyder’s Thomas Jr or Johns’, because as far as I can recall, Owlman of Earth-3 has always been Bruce Wayne in past CSA stories.  Either way, Dick is an integral piece in this puzzle for many reasons and it’s that bond that is so crucial in Owlman’s undoing. The Joker, being an antagonist of Owlman and a denizen of Earth-3, is conversely a force for good. He is a force of chaos that stands to topple absolute power unilaterally wielded in Gotham by Owlman. He is also a man that despite his madness is touched by human suffering and fights to free his city of it. But in a world with absolute evil omnipresent, a hero like the Joker is a very stark hero indeed, as evinced by the five “gifts” the Joker gives to Owlman. Not long after their ultimate encounter the skies turn red and Owlman is informed by Ultraman that something is attacking their world. Another jump in time brings the reader to the moment which began the New DCU starting with the events of Justice League #1. The Outsider and Atomica enter our world by unknown means with the rest of the Crime Syndicate of America left on Earth-3. It was this glimpse that we saw at the end of Justice League #6 a year and a half ago when the Outsider began recruiting for the Secret Society. What this issue did that was the most interesting was qualifying the capture of Nightwing by the CSA and what it really means in the long term. I have developed mixed feelings about Geoff Johns’ writing of late, but he’s legitimately got me excited about Forever Evil. Don’t screw it up, Geoff.JusticeLeagueSecretSociety1

    JusticeLeagueSecretSociety2

    The Joker. This is What a Hero Looks Like on Earth-3.

  • Action Comics #23.4: Metallo is the second Superman themed Villains Month issue that Sholly Fisch, Action Comics backup writer during Grant Morrison’s run, attempts. Like Bizarro in the first batch of villains, this one played to Morrison gold, but fell a little flat.  John Corben has always been a psychotic, but this issue did nothing to elaborate on that or do anything interesting. Corben was in a coma after the events of Action Comics #8, and this issue picks up on General Sam Lane’s attempts to wake him up with as many government and military resources as he can muster. Corben continues his sociopathic tendencies, eliciting nothing interesting to readers, but rather making us question why the HELL Sam Lane has so much faith in such a giant loser. But even Sam Lane’s patience is pressed as the issue unfolds.  After reading this, I don’t feel enlightened or entertained, which seems like a wasted effort.
  • Aquaman #23.2: Ocean Master was somewhat unpleasant to read, but that isn’t to say that it wasn’t extremely good. On the contrary, it was a very honest, stark look at the character of the deposed king of Atlantis and Aquaman’s little brother, Orm. Growing up beneath the sea and never experiencing the upper world, coupled with the tragic events of his ill-informed, disastrous invasion of the United States, he has a very misanthropic attitude towards humanity and this issue showcases that quite vividly. But like any person sat down to look at a passionate figure that stands up against the evils that their own way of life perpetuates, it is both intriguing and hard to see him HATE humans so much and so stubbornly. “We aren’t all like that,” you might say, but unfortunately enough people are to warrant his hatred and this issue portrays that very well. However, his inability to see outside of his hate does remain a serious issue that taints his credibility as a mouthpiece for his cause. In these Villains Month issues I find myself asking throughout several, “Is this person really that bad or do they still have something left inside them that makes them not evil?”  Again, I maintained from the start that Orm was a noble man that ruled justly, because of his honor and moral stength. Throughout this issue and considering what happened to him after the Atlantean War he is tested to the breaking point, but whether he breaks or weathers the storm is something that will have to be discovered by reading this issue. A moment in this issue appropriate to this topic is the encounter he has with a guard who recognizes his bitter succeptibility to dehydration and goes out of his way to make sure Orm is given water to prevent discomfort and the later meeting with him following the opening of Belle Reve when that same guard is badly hurt. It is in that encounter along with the issue’s last panel after he rebukes a terrified mother’s entreaties to saved her eight year old son from being murdered by escaped Belle Reve convicts that Orm’s character is TRULY revealed to readers. Once again Tony Bedard steps in and writes Geoff Johns’ Aquaman stories for him, as he did with the Black Manta issue. You can feel Geoff Johns’ influence in the plot, but the writing has all of Bedard’s subtlety and skill. Geraldo Borges provides pencils on this special issue and proves to be an apt choice, mimicking the beautiful style of Ivan Reis, who began this title with Johns solidifying the feel of it. Overall, I love the character of Orm (Ocean Master) and I am impressed with how Bedard and Johns have treated him in it. Definitely something worth reading.

    A King's Mercy

    A King’s Mercy.

  • Green Lantern :23.4: Sinestro is another issue, like Ocean Master above, that aptly captures the essence of greatness and the cost of that destiny.  Sinestro is perhaps one of the most complex characters that has emerged in modern comics.  On one side he was the greatest Lantern that ever lived (unless you are of the Hal Jordan camp), epitomizing great strength of mind, body, and will, but conversely he is also a man who is very haughty, callus, and harsh.  Writer Matt Kindt takes up the history of Sinestro from the perspective of Lyssa Drak, former Yellow Lantern and archivist of the Book of Sinestro (the Yellow Lantern’s official history and ledger). Though far from objective, she was imprisoned by Sinestro when he became a Green Lantern again, so she has reason to dislike him as much as she does to revere him.  Through her eyes we see Sinestro before he received his ring and the path he took once he embraced his new role as intergalactic watchman. That path is circuitous to be sure and fraught with both misdeed and virtue. From the moment he gets the ring he makes tough decisions that he judges are for the greater good, and truly despite small evils his people and those of his sector of space are better for it . . . for a time. But as he continues to sacrifice and work toward the betterment of his planet Korugar he moves down a dark path that begins to separate him from his “humanity.” Kindt shows his marriage to Arin Sur, the sister of his best friend in the Green Lantern Corps, Abin Sur (predecessor of Hal Jordan), and how even his deep seemingly unending love for Arin could not match his devotion to “protecting” his people through tyrannical means. I am not sure if Kindt is a student of history, but his writing of this issue really rings true in its parallels to the rise of many dictators in our own planet’s history. But despite his despotic overtones, Lyssa makes a very compelling point. Throughout the many troubles that have befallen them during his lifetime, Sinestro was always there when he was needed. Despite the destruction of his homeworld by the First Lantern, the survivors of Korugar will need him in coming days. The question remains if he will return to guide them when they need him the most?
  • Batman/Superman #3.1: Doomsday was a very complex story and one I am not quite sure I understood entirely. Luckily, I know that this issue is functioning as a precursor for a Doomsday arc in the Batman/Superman title, which is likewise being done by this issue’s creative team, writer Greg Pak and artist Brett Booth.  Both bring out their A-game and further the mythological development of Old Krypton.  Opening on a Kryptonian holiday called “Remembrance Day” the Brothers El seem to be of at peace with the observation, but their wives are quite the opposite.  Alura Zor-El is more of the mind to remember the carnage it embodies.  Lara Jor-El, who was at the forefront of the incident the holiday commemorates, is also cynical of its true purpose, choosing to call it “Doomsday.”  As she begins to recount her tale the time frame is uncertain, but can’t be more than five or six years prior considering the physical depictions of the characters past and “present.” Lara rushes home in full Kryptonian armor  bearing the crest of her husband’s family proudly on her chest, and gets Jor-El to safety before going after a monstrous beast that is tearing the capital to pieces.  We know from the sight of it that this is the beast called “Doomsday.” It is strong. It is unstoppable. It is without conscience, thought, or motivation besides wanton death and destruction. There truly is no defeating the beast and it bears down on Lara after a long fight she and many other heroes of Krypton make against it.  She is going to die, before salvation comes in the form of Col. Dru-Zod and his chosen elites. The actual ending of this story is cut off as the very young Kara Zor-El, future Supergirl, is awoken and cries out in terror, prompting her father, Zor-El, to go in and talk to her. When he tries to explain what happened to the monster and later to General Zod, sugar coating it, she demands to know the truth and not just kid stories. For whatever reason Zor-El tells her a story of the “Last Knight of the House of El” and his battle with this beast on another world.  It is told like a fairy tale and the details exaggerated, but what writer Greg Pak really does is reassert the “Death of Superman” story from 1992 in battle with Doomsday. Though it still is a kid story and has a “happy ending” Kara accepts it and acknowledges that she will someday be a knight like in the story. What follows is where my uncertainty enters. After her father leaves, the “ghost” of General Zod comes out of Kara’s closet and begins speaking with her about the truth of the Doomsday attack. From his rhetoric there is an ambiguity of whether Zod knows anything about where the beast came from, if he is responsible for its creation and unleashing, is not responsible but just thankful for it, or whether he IS the beast, as well. His ghost takes the shape of Doomsday several times making it seem like the latter most possibility is the case, but his words seem to vacillate back and forth. What is certain is his intention for Krypton is to make it strong through trauma and keep his people’s spirits sharp through hardships that will ensure their vigilance. Though she’s only a child, Kara stands up to one of the greatest boogeymen of Kryptonian history like a champ.  This issue sets up a great many things to be clarified in future comics, but it also reinforces a great many things we have seen of Krypton’s past just before its destruction.  Lara is shown to be the valiant soldier and her husband Jor-El to be the visionary scientist and dreamer. Zor-El is characterized as a selfless, loving father.  Kara is a tough-as-nails daughter of El that doesn’t give an inch, even as a tiny girl, literally facing down the monster that lives in her closet. Great issue on all fronts.BatmanSupermanDoomsday1

    Warrior Women of the House of El.

    Warrior Women of the House of El.

  • Detective Comics #23.4: Man-Bat brings to a point one of the starkest side stories in the Bat titles since the Reboot, that of Kirk Langstrom and his atavistic bat serum.  It turns him into a giant bat man capable of flight, superhuman feats of strength, and other bat related abilities.  John Layman introduced Langstrom and his wife, Francine, into the New DCU in the landmark 900th issue of Detective Comics.  In that issue he also revealed the lengths Francine would go to stay close to her man, even dosing herself with the bat serum.  Touching at first, her motivations prove to be less than affectionate.  She was hired to get close to him and steal his formula.  Modifying it a bit, she became stronger than him and also became addicted to it.  Cut to the opening of this issue and Francine flying into a park and abducting a small child from a jungle gym for feasting.  Thankfully, a more controlled Man-Bat enters the fray and emancipates the child.  Kirk is able to defeat his ex-wife and save the day, and in light of the disappearance of Batman and the descent of Gotham into chaos he decides that with his serum he can be the Bat Man that his city needs.   To paraphrase the rest of the plot, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  The desire to be a hero doesn’t necessarily yield one, especially when a de-evolutionary serum is thrown into the mix.  Frank Tieri writes this issue with Scott Eaton on pencils, and overall the product feels like an extended backup feature from Detective, which is definitely a compliment.  Man-Bat has been crafted into a very compelling character striding the line between hero and villain with great alacrity.

    Harsh Justice

    Harsh Justice.

  • Superman #23.4: Parasite was REALLY good.  I’m not the biggest Parasite fan, but this issue had me hooked.  I’ve been looking forward to both Aaron Kuder’s story and art.  The art is solid, obviously, but Kuder also has a way with words.  When describing Suicide Slums, in which the main character, Joshua Michael Allen lives, Kuder compares it to “If Gotham and Detroit had a love child, this would be it.”  Allen is a dirtbag bike messenger that just coasts through life leaching off others until he gets assaulted by a giant plasma monster.  Afterward, his leg is broken and his livelihood taken from him.  When S.T.A.R Labs calls to examine him he is inadvertently transformed into a shriveled purple monster with serious periodontal issues and an insatiable hunger.  Soon he realizes that the only way to feed the hunger is to suck the life force out of the people he comes in contact with . . . killing them.  This barely sates his ravenous appetite until the Parasite comes into contact with Superman and is SUPERcharged with the power dripping off the Man of Steel’s enhanced Kryptonian biology.  When Supes hits Parasite with his heat-vision the blast that would level buildings and kill most living things actually makes the burgeoning supervillain balloon and take on many of Superman’s abilities.  Being a smart cookie and owing to Allen’s noob status as a villain Superman eventually figures out how to contain him and he is sent to Belle Reve.  However, he leaves Parasite with a taste of Kryptonian power and like a man-eating shark, Parasite’ll feed on other things to survive, but seek out his desired prey just for the taste.  That prey is Superman.  With the opening of prisons in Forever Evil #1 Parasite is once again released upon the outside world and free to feed.  Aaron Kuder performed a miracle with this issue, basically ramrodding a complete origin story into a twenty page comic, and what’s more he makes it both succinct and entertaining, not at all rushed or half-cocked.  There are no questions left about what happened to Parasite or what his motivations are.  Seasoned comic book writers have tried and failed this month to do what Kuder did here, and to my knowledge this is his first time writing.  Well done all around, Mr. Kuder.  You’ve made me a believer and a fan of Parasite.

    That Happened.

    That Happened.

  • Batman #23.4: Bane was yet another issue that falls under the category “a means to an end.”  All this issue did was set up Bane’s connection to the coming series Forever Evil: Arkham War.  Bane is going to Gotham with his army of mercenaries from Santa Prisca to take vengeance on the Court of Owls and presumably on Batman, even though the word is out that Batman and the Justice League are dead.  It is never broached as to whether Bane is aware of the rumors or not, so I choose to assume that he doesn’t know or he would have mentioned it.  Breaking Batman is one of the things he holds onto to make himself feel adequate.  Should he know that someone else killed Batman I think he would have gone into a berserker rage and made sure to put them on his list.  Peter Tomasi is a fantastic writer, but in this issue he really didn’t do anything new or provocative.  Let’s chock this up to” too much on his plate” and move on.
  • Batman & Robin #23.4: Killer Croc was a very pleasant surprise. I am not overly aware of writer Tim Seeley’s former work, but I am a fan of artist Francis Portela so I gave it a shot. It opens with a Gotham City SWAT team moving through the sewers in full tactical gear. Their aim is not mentioned. However, from a culvert at their feet Croc’s eyes are visible to us, but not to his . . . guests’. Needless to say, Croc waits for a good moment and gives many of them the last surprise of their lives. A few do escape, wounded, and stumble upon vagrants living in the sewers.  Asking for help, they are brutally assaulted by the homeless masses who are acolytes of Croc.  While all this brutality goes on in the issue, Seeley injects several flashbacks to Croc’s youth as a kid with a nasty skin condition that gives him crocodiles skin, making him an outcast with children his own age and with his aunt who takes care of him. Growing up he is still treated like a freak and his gentle soul exploited by bad people.  As the narrative continues in the present the two surviving SWAT cops try to make it out, only for one to find a dead one armed police detective strung up blocking their exit. This is the turning point of the issue.  Croc didn’t kill this man, the SWAT cops did!  They were a dirty unit and the one armed cop, Det. O’Hoolihan wouldn’t play ball with their racketeering so they shot him and tossed his body into Gotham Harbor.  But later they got a note telling them to come to sewer at the harbor with money in exchange for evidence against them.  Obviously, it wasn’t O’Hoolihan who sent the message. Obviously it was Croc, setting a trap and savoring the kill of each and every man and woman in that unit, often times in front of one another so the survivors could dread their turn after seeing the bloody mess he made of their fellows. Their terror is palpable and not just a little bit satisfying to the reader. So Croc finally, after mangling the final cop, puts him out of his misery as the latter screams to know “what it was all about?” The assumption, considering Croc’s criminal record and hatred of the law, is that he just jumped at the opportunity to kill some cops and have some fun.  But after all the flashbacks to Croc’s alienating history based solely on his bestial appearance and his narration of human being being themselves cruel animals that fall under the most primitive drives, there is one last flashback to Croc’s childhood with his abusive aunt.  Sitting on a stoop getting berated by local kids, a one armed cop walking his beat brings Croc some ice cream and tells him that he is not only not a freak, but that he has the potential to be something great if he believes in himself. When there is such a scarcity of people in the world that show genuine kindness and mercy, the loss of such people over petty things like grift money and corruption is a jagged pill to swallow, and Croc, realizing that life isn’t fair, made it a little bit more so by staging his little hunt in the sewers and turning the hunters into mewling game. After the killing and the bloodletting cease, he has his people in the sewer take down O’Hoolihan’s body, make a funeral pyre and give him a Viking funeral into the harbor.  All the while, as a eulogy to a good man, Croc tells the outcast people of Gotham under his protection the same lessons that the departed policeman told him. People will tell you that you are nothing and spit on you, but you can prove them wrong and show them what true strength looks like. I’m not the biggest fan of Killer Croc, but Seeley’s story about the man turned into a beast by society’s shunning, but maintaining a strict sense of honor and loyalty to virtue really resonated and Portela’s artwork was an integral part in conveying the ferocious anger and consequent sadness of the title character throughout the harsh moments of his life. This issue was an unexpected gem.Batman&RobinKillerCroc1

    Evil Can Be Killed, But Kinnness Never Dies.

    Evil Can Be Killed, But Kinnness Never Dies.

  • Batman: The Dark Knight #23.4: Joker’s Daughter was unnecessary. The concept of Duela Dent has been intriguing in the past, but writer Ann Nocenti kind of went off the reservation on this one. Duela is a messed up girl that had an idyllic childhood and yet still grew up twisted. So far it still retains promise. But then she runs away and tries to live in a subterranean community of former Arkham inmates and vagrants  They don’t listen to her until she finds the Joker’s face floating in the water, from when he jumped into the underground river in Batman #17. She of course puts it on and magically people start listening. I think what bothered me most was the pretense that she stands for something when really the subtext is that she stands for nothing. The Joker doesn’t stand for anything, and in the event that he has a pet project his actions, insane though they may be, work towards actualizing the desired end. Her actions and historical contexts fall far from reconciling one another. Annoyance aside, there is nothing substantial to take away from the issue.  A real pity . . .
  • Justice League of America #7.4: Black Adam was a pleasant surprise as well, when it shouldn’t have been relegated to being a surprise in the first place.  Black Adam is a fantastic character and has fantastic potential.  With Geoff Johns’ incredible foul up of his SHAZAM! backup feature in Justice League the concept of Black Adam also falls under suspicion. However, like all the other issues conceived of by Geoff Johns and written by someone else, this issue comes off beautifully. Sterling Gates does the honors on this one and Edgar Salazar provides pencils. We had been told of Black Adam’s past in his North African nation of Kahndaq in the pages of Justice League #19, wherein four thousand years ago an invading force under the rulership of a man named Ibac the First took control of his country and murdered his people by the thousands.  Teth Adam whose sworn duty it was to defend his people did so and turned Ibac and his men to stone as a reminder to those that would oppress the people of Kahndaq. Though the statues remain, Kahndaq has sunken into chaos not unlike the Egypt and Syria of our reality. And like those countries there is a schism of action by those being oppressed. The characters of Amon and Adrianna are reintroduced into the New DCU to illustrate this schism. These two characters were once Osiris and Isis in past incarnations of the Black Adam story when they said the name of the Wizard, but this time are just normal middle eastern siblings trying to make the world right through non-powered means. Adrianna is a non-violent protester that used social media to broadcast the struggle to world audiences. Amon has gotten involved in a militant movement called the “Sons of Adam,” who still view Black Adam as their nation’s savior. Black Adam was reduced to dust in his confrontation with Captain Marvel in the pages of Justice League, but as seen in Justice League #22 that same superhero deposited the collected ashes in the Kahndaqi desert out of respect. The Sons of Adam intend to read a passage from a lost scroll of the Egyptian Book of the Dead to resurrect him so that he can aid their people. The military crash the ritual and Adrianna who was tipped off follows to warn her brother. Amon is shot before he can finish the incantation, which Adrianna does for him, bringing forth Teth Adam from the land of the dead. Adam makes short work of the army and goes to the dictator of Kahndaq to do as he did millennia ago. Amon seemingly dies and the pacifistic Adrianna takes up a fallen AK-47, while casting off her beliefs in non-violence. Black Adam cuts a very different figure from his shoddy representation in Justice League’s back up stories. The pettiness is gone. Upon being awoken and his followers prostrating themselves before him he chides them to never kneel to anyone. When he faces the current day despot ruling Kahndaq (who chose to take the name Ibac for its connotations) Black Adam crushes him with the stone throne of that first tyrant. Not long after that Black Adam sees the Crime Syndicate’s announcement to the people of Earth-1, “This World Is Ours.” His reply? A very angry exclamation of, “This world belongs to NO ONE.” Black Adam is a very violent man, but he is a fair man. He can be very harsh, but he is a proponent of freedom and individualism. Geoff Johns really blew it when he first wrote him into the New DCU. I would love to know who actually came up with the depiction here, because while I want to believe that Johns is still capable of writing compelling characters like this, he has a VERY bad track record over the last two years. Either way, this issue was very informative and definitely an important issue for the overall storyline of Forever Evil.JLA-BlackAdam1

    The Face of Freedom.

    The Face of Freedom.

  • Wonder Woman #23.2: First Born is one of those rare issues this month that basically could be an issue of the regular series. The Count Vertigo issue was the only other example that comes to mind. Both First Born and Count Vertigo are written by their regular series writer, Brian Azzarello in the case of First Born, and drawn by regular series artists. The only thing that separates them from regular issues is the absence of their titular heroes. Wonder Woman doesn’t appear in a single frame. There is a prophesy illustration with a skeleton that might be her’s, but that hardly counts considering the lack of costume or armaments to prove it’s actually her. What it does is depict Apollo gaining custody of his eldest brother, the First Born’s unconscious body, and having his trio of modern day urban oracles channeling the forgotten god’s history. We’ve heard the story piecemeal over the past year since the awakening of the First Born, but this issue strings those pieces together and gives us a visual narrative of it as it unfolds.  Zeus has a son by his lawful wife, Hera, but a witch foresees that this child would one day rule Olympus alone, so Zeus had him killed to protect his throne. The baby didn’t die, but rather was raised by animals and became a terror of mankind. When he finally grew to manhood and had built an empire and an army at his back he assaulted Olympus to take what was his. Zeus soundly defeated him, took his weapons and armor and consigned him to the bowels of the Earth to be forgotten. When he awoke the prophesies began anew. Zeus proclaimed that if he ceased to be or left Olympus the throne would be open for the First Born to take, if he could manage it. There also was a prophesy that there would be a great war and great fire before the throne was decided. In the final image one man is standing, one man is burning, and a woman is watching. The woman is thought to be Wonder Woman, and the men are Apollo and the First Born, but the identity of the man standing and the one burning is not certain. Brian Azzarello has a very singular vision of this title that has stretch over two full years. This issue cuts to the very heart of both the main character of Wonder Woman and the mythological relevance of her place in the DCU. What also is exciting is that this issue feature the VERY first depiction of Zeus himself. He has been talked about endlessly, and his desertion of the throne of Olympus has caused no end of strife, but we have never seen him. Here we see a figure that is very much like Hera when we first beheld her. In the beginning she was totally nude, but for a cloak of bright green peacock feathers. In this issue, Zeus is a vibrant, muscular, bearded man wearing a cloak of feathers (they seem to be either eagle feathers or swan feathers) and nothing else. The depiction seems apt, considering Ancient Greek depictions of masculinity vis-a-vis naked soldiers and athletes. Overall, very well done and intriguing storytelling.
  • Adventures of Superman #5 

    provides two tales of the Man of Steel by writers Nathan Edmondson and Kyle Killen, and artists Yildiray Cinar and Pia Guerra.  In Edmondson and Cinar’s tale, “Infant in Arms”, an alien ship crashes to earth outside of Jackson, Missouri.  The military try to blow it up before its occupant can exit, but Superman steps in and reveals that like himself, the extraterrestrial ark holds an infant that looks exactly like a human baby but for her purple skin.  A dying sentry within the ship informs Superman that she is Princess Aria, but is able to say no more before death takes him.  Soon militants from her world come to kill her.  Superman not only must keep her safe, but also take care of her and her many infantile needs.  The story has no real ending, but gives endless possibilities for one.  Killen’s story depicts one of the most tragic realities of Superman’s life and something that most people are reticent to admit: Superman is not infallible.  Two boys who idolize Superman sit in a parked car on railroad tracks. The driver, Mike, is convinced that Superman will save them and they will be able to meet him.  His companion Henry is not so sure.  It is not said outright that they are brothers, but the implication at the end infers it greatly.  The issue proceeds with Lex Luthor perpetuating flashy crime after flashy crime and Superman stops them each in turn, but in doing so he fails to stop the train and Mike is killed in his car, waiting.  When Luthor is asked in prison by a guard whether losing to Superman gets boring, Luthor demonstrates that he isn’t actually losing, and betrays the genius of his strategy.  Luthor never would engage in an endeavor that he would fail at outright.  In the short term he does lose and is imprisoned for short periods of time, but in the long run, by distracting Superman with his elaborate crimes he prevents the Man of Steel from saving people and those left behind are filled with resentment.  True to his vision, Henry ends the issue by going through Mike’s room, ripping down all his Superman paraphernalia and burning them outside his home.  “In that way you can think of me as Johnny Appleseed spreading a healthy disdain fro Superman’s nonsense.”  The scary thing is that Luthor is correct.  People don’t want to believe that Superman can fail, and when he was depicted in a manner of not being able to save everyone in this summer’s Man of Steel movie, people went NUTS over it!  Superman isn’t Supergod, he’s SuperMAN.  Outside the comic and inside, people seem to be unable to accept his limitations and that very weakness in humanity is a commodity that Luthor capitalizes on like any ruthless business man.  The Adventures of Superman title is really amazing in the very poignant tales it weaves of Superman and this issue epitomizes that promise.

    The Evil Genius of Lex Luthor

    The Evil Genius of Lex Luthor

  • Jupiter’s Legacy #3 takes a very sharp turn.  After gaining superpowers in the 1930’s by visiting a mysterious island that adventurer Sheldon Sampson sought out after seeing it in a dream, he and his companions became the guardians of America through the decades.  The title centers around these aged paragons of heroics and justice faltering in the 21st century as their children become drunken reprobates and partiers and the country yet again stands on the brink of financial ruin as it was in the 30’s when they got their powers.  The question that pervaded the first two issues is what they should do about it.  The Utopian (Sheldon Sampson) believes that it is not their job to enforce policy or intervene in politics, only watch and support the elected officials and let them do whatever they feel is right.  His brother Walter, who is both a genius and a telepath, believes that they need to intervene and aid the elected officials and make sure the corrupt ones don’t sour the barrel.  There are legitimate points on either side, but in the first two issues writer Mark Millar tends to depict Walter as a voice of reason and fairness.  He doesn’t draw the line on liberal or conservative or democrat or republican, only what things need to be done to fix the current economic downfall.  Contrarily, Sheldon is portrayed as a starry eyed idealist that defines laissez faire and reacts harshly to anyone that would burst that bubble or question his mandates.  He is also a very harsh father that takes a hardline of his son and daughter’s behaviors and openly calls them disappointments.  This issue flips that concept on its head.  Sheldon’s daughter Chloe was revealed to be pregnant last issue and the father of her child was the son of one of the Utopian’s former villains.  This man, Hutch, works primarily as a high end drug dealer.  The issue begins with Hutch meeting the Utopian and being told rather civilly that he won’t be allowed to have a part in Chloe or her baby’s lives.  However, elsewhere plots are brewing and they quickly develop as Sheldon is lured into a trap set by his own allies who K.O. him after he is pummeled by a meteor they hurdled at Earth which he intercepts.  Others including Walter go to his home and murder his wife, Grace, and attempt to murder Chloe and her unborn child, but for the intervention of Hutch, who warps his lover, child, and himself across the world numerous times until they are untraceable.  In the meantime a legion of super-powered “friends” beat the fallen Utopian to a pulp until his son Brandon arrives to deliver the final deathblow to his father.  While doing so, there is of course the inevitable “I didn’t fail you, you failed me” speech, and to an extent everything Brandon said has merit, but not to the extent that his actions invoke.  The death of his mother and the attempted murder of his pregnant sister are abhorrent and they cast a very bad light on the figure of Walter who seemingly was a pillar of reason before.  Many things can be said of Mark Millar’s writing, but regardless of what faults there are, one guiding truth is that his plots are very socially aware and deliver very moving point/counterpoint arguments within.  One man is a monster in one issue only to be made into a martyr in the next and one man cast as a saint turned into an inhuman monster.  Children are misled and turned against their parents.  Youths falter through self doubt and confusion in the quest for significance.  Jupiter’s Legacy is a very compelling series in only three issues that begs to be read for both Millar’s very stark, complex drama and the gorgeous illustrations by fellow Scotsman, Frank Quitely.  Even for those who do not like Millar this is a series that should be given a chance free of prejudice.

    Fathers and Sons.

    Fathers and Sons.

  • The Wake #4 

    continues Scott Snyder’s ingenious limited series delving into the science of the supernatural.  His work on the seminal American Vampire series not only catapulted him into comics superstardom it provided a refreshing breath of fresh air to the vampire genre made stagnant and putrescent by hacks like Stephanie Meyer and other teen romance writers.  Uniting with artist Sean Murphy, who aided Snyder on his American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest limited series, the two tackle another underutilized cyptozoological wonder: mermaids, or to be more fair, mer-folk. Mer people have existed in one form or another in many mythologies throughout the world regardless of culture.  This issue contains a fascinating myth of a fabled Dutch city and its run in with a mermaid.  While this series is only four issues into a ten issue run Snyder is still holding many cards close to his chest.  However, the story so far is that marine biologist Lee Archer is brought into a super secret deep sea drilling station by a government agency with a ragtag group of scientist and criminals to examine and contain a fishman caught near the rig.  This is the factual basis of merfolk lore and like the vampires of Snyder’s other series, endowed with many scientifically explained features while simultaneously shrouded in numerous mysteries.  Snyder makes them seem perfectly plausible, but also incredibly wondrous like many creatures one would find near the ocean floor that actually exist.  The merman is not as weak as they anticipate and it frees itself and calls its fellows down on the station.  The remnants of the expedition are overrun and attempt an escape.  This issue has them finding temporary sanctuary in the emptied but pressurized pipeline leading from the drill to the station.  But the mer people are on either side and there is no escape.  However, the aforementioned fable of the Dutch city of Saeftinghe gives Lee an idea that could just save them.  The idea stems from a very real experiment the Navy has been conducting over the past several years outside of the comic that has maimed many marine mammals, most notably whales and dolphins.  Snyder doesn’t justify its usage and through Lee actually makes a compelling case for its cessation.  However, when dealing with evil marine men that are ravenous killing machines certain exceptions can be made.  It’s only four issues in but the story and art make it a package deal of entertainment for the intellect and the soul.

    The Legend of Saeftinghe.

    The Legend of Saeftinghe.

  • The Unwritten #53 brings forth the fourth installment of a five issue Unwritten/Fables crossover. An evil ebon cloaked entity calling himself Mr. Dark has descended upon the land of Fables, taking lives, possessions, land, and even families. Snow White is made into a darker version of herself and made his consort, her husband the Big Bad Wolf is chained in a dungeon, and Snow White and Big B’s children adopted as Dark’s. Boy Blue and Rose Red are murdered. The Fables live in the Enchanted Grove, constantly living in fear.  To remedy this the magic users of Fabletown summon Tommy Taylor and his friends Sue Sparrow and Peter Price to intercede. Since they fall outside the stories that comprise Fabletown, they are an unknown variable that could throw Mr. Dark off his game. Last issue, both Lizzie Hexam and Pullman were drawn from the ether and told Dark exactly who Tommy is and what he is. They also revealed that there are other worlds and other stories outside that are open for conquest. The stakes are high and everyone settles their affairs before the final battle with Dark. Prince Ambrose (The Frog Prince) has the Enchanted Grove cut down for Gepetto to sculpt into an army of animated wooden soldiers. Once cut down the Grove can never be regrown. As the battle commences more Fables loose their lives setting the stage for the apocalyptic finale that will determine the future of two series. No pressure. The Unwritten has been a jaw dropping comic since its first issue. Coupled with the iconic Fables this title establishes its place in comic history.

  • T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 

    begins the next incarnation of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents under the IDW imprint. The DC iteration that wrapped up two years ago was phenomenal. Two issues in and this new series appears to uphold that tradition. The DC series written by Nick Spencer was a swansong to all that had been before. The original runs beginning in the 60’s and marching forward through the 80’s and 90’s are all honored and Spencer’s Agents inherit their T.H.U.N.D.E.R. devices and code-names from the original bearers, essentially using them to end the cycle of violence that begat them and become the final Agents of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Those survivors from the beginning of T.H.U.N.D.E.R either bow out or are put down. The starkest moment comes in the last issue of the first half of Spencer’s run when the daughter of the original Dynamo, Len Brown, and the Iron Maiden has her mother murdered by a woman the ironclad villainess had grossly disfigured in a terrorist attack. All loose ends were sewn up. This series, conversely, begins at the beginning as The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves try to find agents to wield the devices created by the world renowned genius, Prof. Jennings, who mysteriously vanished before explaining them.  Last issue they selected Len Brown to wield the Thunder Belt to become the agent code-named Dynamo. Inserted via airlift into Kashmir, Dynamo and the agent code-named NoMAN attempt to invade the Iron Maiden’s cave lair. Randomly injected into the narrative is a hazy memory of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Director Kane’s childhood of daring-do with her red headed sister, Kelly. Seemingly irrelevant, its significance come through later in the issue. Meanwhile, Dynamo meets two T.H.U.N.D.E.R. moles within Iron Maiden’s ranks, and eventually the lady herself. As it was in the first issue of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents from 1965 Iron Maiden captures Dynamo. Both issues of the series end enticingly on high drama cliffhangers. Writer Phil Hester really does have a knack for writing this complex super-hero/espionage/sci-fi title. I highly suggest picking up both the first and second issues of this series and get in on the ground floor.

So ends the week and Villains Month.  Next week we get back to the ongoing storylines put on hold from August.  Though it’ll be nice to get back to normal, it’ll also be sad seeing these characters and their compelling albeit villainous deeds relegated to uncertainty.  It was a good month.

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

Justice League #23.4: The Secret Society: Art by Szymon Kudranski, Colored by John Kalisz.

Aquaman #23.2: Oceran Master: Drawn by Geraldo Borges, Colored by Rod Reis, Inked by Ruy Jose.

Batman/Superman #3.1: Doomsday: Drawn by Brett Booth, Colored by Andrew Dalhouse, Inked by Norm Rapmund.

Detectice Comics #23.4: Man-Bat: Drawn by Scot Eaton, Colored by Jeromy Cox, Inked by Jaime Mendoza.

Superman #23.4: Parasite: Art by Aaron Kuder, Colored by Tomeu Morey.

Batman & Robin #23.4: Killer Croc: Art by Francis Portela, Colored by Tomeu Morey.

Justice League of America #7.4: Black Adam: Drawn by Edgar Salazar, Colored by Gabe Eltaeb, Inked by Jay Leisten.

Adventures of Superman #5: Art by Pia Guerra, Colored by Matthew Wilson.

Jupiter’s Legacy #3: Art by Frank Quitely, Colored by Peter Doherty

The Wake #4: Art by Sean Murphy, Colored by Matt Hollingsworth

Sept. 18, 2013

In this third week of Villains Month quite a few big names get their spotlight in individual issues:  Lex Luthor, Black Hand, Ra’s al Ghul, Penguin, and the new kid on the block whose made his meteoric mark across all four Super-titles, H’el.  This should be good.

  • Action Comics #23.3: Lex Luthor presents a very comprehensive vision of Lex Luthor, depicting events between his emancipation from the Hypermax Prison (which he himself designed for himself) and the opening moment of Forever Evil #1.  The issue begins with a very iconic image that sets a comparison between Lex and his arch-rival, Superman.  It is split down the middle with the left half bearing Lex ripping open his orange prison jumpsuit to reveal a white undershirt and the right showing him donning his pristine business suit.  Whereas the imagery borrowed from Superman has him ripping open his suit to show his heroic costume and nature, or straightening his tie to hide his identity and resume anonymity, Lex’s duality portrays the exact opposite.  Ripping off his prison oranges he is prematurely exiting his punitive captivity through backroom dealing and corruption showing the ignominy of his nature, and putting on his suit he prepares to enter the limelight, not stray from it.  The issue then continues to show his paranoid narcissism, malice, and lack of humility   Luthor’s first thought when he is clear of the prison is, “Where is Superman?”  The point being, “Why isn’t the Man of Steel here to see me leave the prison? Obviously I am the most important thing in his life, so why isn’t he here?” From there Luthor goes about ruining a fellow businessman’s life for sport and animalistic territoriality, while also staging an elaborate test to draw out the Man of Steel, if in fact he is still on Earth or close enough to take notice of the goings on that Luthor has set into action.  He has the best plastic surgeons on the planet remove the massive scars Superman burned into the left half of his face when he put Luthor into Hypermax.  And then when the massive calamity he engineered reaches its apogee, he stands at a crossroad of action: Step in and save the day, stealing Superman’s thunder or hold back and let events unfold leaving Superman to blame for not intervening.  Both are appealing choices for Luthor, but his choice and the inevitable monologue that comes with it in explanation underscore just how cunning and brilliant he is, and how multi-tiered his machinations are when all elements are stacked one atop the other.  Charles Soule writes the character keenly with all the guile and artifice requisite for this pillar of DC canon, balancing the many aspects we’ve come to expect from the greatest criminal mind on the planet.  Ray Bermudez provides art on the issue, and even if everything else is thrown out, his renderings of Lex make the issue soar.  Throughout the issue Luthor exhibits many different emotions: disgust, condescension, anger, frustration, smug success, thoughtful introspection.  Bermudez depicts each on the bald headed megalomaniac with masterful skill.  How this rendition of Lex will figure into Forever Evil, we will just have to see, but it’s truly something exciting to ponder.

    You'll believe a man can walk . . .

    You’ll Believe a Man Can Walk . . .

  • Green Lantern #23.3: Black Hand is the second issue penned by Charles Soule that came out this week and the less impressive of his works, unfortunately.  His writing of it is good, but the material given him was a little sparse.  Black Hand figured prominently into Blackest Night, of course, and from there he played his part in the “Secret Origin of the Indigo Tribe”, and later the “Wrath of the First Lantern” where he seemingly was locked away in the Dead Zone. However, as the issue begins his black ring makes it to Earth, deus ex machina, falling into the ash piles behind his families’ mortuary where the unclaimed bodies of the crematorium are dumped.  Through this is he able to regain a body, but not memory.  Slowly as he walks the Earth and feeds upon death he regains his mind and his power.  Once his memories reassert themselves, so too do his old enmities leading him to a revenge he has sought for some time, but never had the chance to enact.  That revenge come with the visiting of a very special grave and the resurrection and desecration of a body that is sacrosanct to his greatest foe.  There are good ideas written about in this issue, but the presentation of them is drawn through a drawn out plot that is filled in which cheap zombie theatrics that play off the Walking Dead hysteria.  What I loved about Blackest Night was that it didn’t play to cheap zombie fetishes as Marvel Zombie was wont to do.  The undead were utilized in thoughtful, provocative ways that were chilling and manipulative to those whose loved ones were brought back.  This issue was just cheap, unintelligible masses of reanimated corpses mindlessly causing havoc.  Granted this is a single 24 page issue so there wasn’t a lot that Soule could do, but I also feel like his hands were tied by restrictions from doing something worthwhile placed upon him by editorial, as it may have stepped on Geoff Johns’ toes.  Merely a theory.  I will say that the use of dead bacteria in a policeman who was recently vaccinated to kill said officer was quite interesting.  Considering the massive undead quotient in this issue, the use of former Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. artist Alberto Ponticelli was quite apt.  His depictions of both black hand and the ambling dead are ghastly, really setting the morbid mood.
  • Superman #23.3: H’el is the much awaited follow up to Scott Lobdell’s “H’el on Earth” storyline in which the eponymous villain attempts to save his destroyed planet of Krypton by converting all matter in our solar system (including Earth) into energy to power a chronal incursion into the past so that himself, Superman, and Supergirl could prevent the sequence of events leading to Krypton’s doom.  His plan is thwarted, and yet somehow at the end of the final issue of that arc, H’el is transported back to Krypton around the time he wished.  In this issue, writer Scott Lobdell picks up right where he left off with the help of artist (and Lobdell’s authorial predecessor on the Superman title) Dan Jurgens.  H’el is in a coma and with no name, severe scarring and mutilation throughout his body from the rigors of untested space travel, and a giant shard of kryptonite in his chest that would kill the average Kryptonian, he proves to be quite the scientific enigma. Such a riddle calls for the appropriate mind, and Krypton’s answer is the young, up-and-coming Jor-El.  Like Sherlock Holmes, Jor-El is able to deduce almost everything there is to know about H’el from his condition, including that he is Kryptonian, had recently been in outer space despite the fact that no spaceship or wreckage was found anywhere on Krypton, and that he also had to have come from the future.  His cunning in deducing the improbably with such clarity of mind is mind-boggling.  H’el, though unconscious, is aware of what is going on via astral projection of his psyche in an externalized form, owing to heightened mental capacities endowed by the previous events from “H’el on Earth.”  It is through this that he is granted the TRUE revelation as to his origin, his history, and the lie that led him on his genocidal bid to resurrect his race at the cost of the human race and any others existing in our solar system.  He even comes to learn the meaning of his name, “H’el.”  This issue is so visceral if the reader took the whole journey of “H’el on Earth” and saw the man H’el was throughout that series.  His passion and his goal of resurrecting Krypton came from a wellspring of love for his people that completely cut his psyche off from acknowledging any other lifeforms’ significance in the universe in comparison.  Now we see a complete diametric flip.  Like flipping a light switch that turns light to utter darkness and vice-verse, we see the flipping of a switch with H’el following his apocalyptic moment of remembrance transforming him from savior into destroyer.  All this leads directly to October’s Action Comics Annual #2.  Lobdell hits this one out of the park.  He has become the quintessential architect of the New 52 Krypton and this issue is a keystone in that foundation.

    H'El is Born

    H’El is Born

  • Swamp Thing #23.1: Arcane presents the third and last of Charles Soule’s issues to come out this week.  This time he takes on the villainous lord of the Rot who was last seen in Scott Snyder’s final issue of Swamp Thing, after which Soule took control of the title.  Though Snyder put him into exile and Soule left him there in the three issues of Swamp Thing he has written so far, now he is granted the chance to look back and work his magic on Arcane himself and Arcane’s lovely yet deadly (pun intended) niece, Abigail.  Firstly, Soule depicts masterfully the kind of purgatory that would most amply punish a man like Anton Arcane, former avatar of the Black.  A man who thrives on death and decay is consigned to forever green fields with flowers, trees, babbling brooks, and small adorable creatures such as rabbits poking about.  No matter what he tries, nothing dies and nothing decays.  Life never stops.  Even his own self mutilations do not last.  When Abby, bearing the mantle and powers of avatar of the Rot, comes to him in glory she asks that he tell her about what happened to her mother.  In his story we learn the origin of his birth, the advent of his connection to the forced of death and decay, and how he came to defile through perverse affection the body of Ilse Arcane.  However, despite the profanity of his deeds, there is a dark twist to the true end of Abigail’s mother.  Soule may not have written or engineered the current iteration of Arcane or Abigail, but he writes them both as though he had.  Jesus Saiz provides art on this issue providing soft beautiful lines when necessary and terrifying horrors the rest.
  • Batman & Robin #23.3: Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins is another Villains Month issue written by James Tynion IV and drawn by Jeremy Haun, whose art was last seen in the Batman: Riddler issue one week ago. This issue differs from the Court of Owls issue in that the story presented of Ra’s al Ghul seems to be more of a means to an end than an actual story. It begins during the Fifth Crusade with a Teutonic prince entering a dark tower in the east to ferret out the fabled demon that lived within. Cut to the present another outsider, this one an unnamed representative of the Secret Society, comes to the dark tower with an offer of membership to join the Society and have a part in the reshaping of the world that is to come. Ra’s won’t even consider it until this Society lackey tells him more about why this is something that he would do. The narrative then goes through several stages of recounting his history and making a hodgepodge of versions from the past come together in a single back-story that will be his “official” history going forward. The origin as a vengeful husband and physician to a corrupt sultan as presented by Ra’s creator, Dennis O’Neil, is maintained. Next they factor in Ra’s involvement with the All-Caste and the Well of Sins, as written in Red Hood and the Outlaws by Scott Lobdell. Next Tynion sets the up a string of events throughout history that establish Ra’s as an architect of history through the engineering of calamities. Like in the film Batman Begins they have him being responsible for the Great Fire of London, as well as addicting the Chinese people to opium in the 1700’s, creating the cholera epidemic in New York in 1832, and orchestrating the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. The final touch is bring in Talia’s failed Leviathan rebellion against her father for leadership of the League from Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated title, establishing the last major event to occur in recent days. With that out of the way, Tynion has the freedom to do with the character as he likes with all or most of the questions of who Ra’s al Ghul is answered. This issue has a lot of similarities with Tynion’s Court of Owls piece, delving heavily in flashback and anecdotal explanations of megalomania, but unlike it the Ra’s al Ghul issue feels very mechanical. The Court of Owls, while just as far reaching as Ra’s in the comics’ reality, is relatively young from the reader’s perspective, less than three years to Ra’s thirty years in comics, so while Tynion and Court creator Scott Snyder are still making things up as they go, Ra’s’s history is being cut and cobbled together from several different time periods from several disparate creative voices. The Court felt very smooth and homogeneous, because there are no preconceived notions surrounding that organization, owing to its fledgling nature, and contrarily the Ra’s al Ghul story suffers from many preconceived notions and the feeling that there is a great deal of shoehorning material into a small space to make a presentation that honors varying concepts from his past presentations. While interesting, it’s far from my favorite Villains Month issue.
  • Justice League Dark #23.3: Eclipso resurrects the evil shadow demon, reworking him in a similar manner to most of the better characters and concepts in the New 52.  His entrance to the New DCU was very erratic, coming piecemeal in several disparate titles such as All-Star Western, Team 7, Demon Knights, Catwoman, and Sword of Sorcery.  The lattermost title had Eclipso’s origin not dwelling in the Judeo-Christian inspired role of God’s first angel of vengeance, but rather as the unholy offspring of Houses Diamond and Onyx of Gemworld.  There his name was Lord Kaala. When he returns to the place of his birth from his exile in our world, he does so in the body of Alex Montez, his second host in DC canon.  This issue opens with Eclipso infiltrating the life of his primary host . . . sort of.  Originally Eclipso was bonded to Bruce Gordon, a scientist specializing in solar energy.  This time around writer Dan Didio maintains the character of the first host, while changing his name to Gordon Jacobs.  Purportedly, Bruce Gordon’s name came from a mash-up of Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon.  The name is definitely a worthy change.  Whereas before Gordon was infected by a shaman on a remote South Pacific island wielding the black diamond, this time around he is a disgraced energy prodigy whose failed “Solar City” experiment cost him his reputation, his sanity, and the woman he loved.  This led to his obsession with finding the fabled black diamond whose properties he hypothesizes might aid in his research.  What it ends up doing is opening a dangerous door into unfathomable darkness.  Bruce Gordon was a decent man whose possession by Eclipso was a horrible accident.  Gordon Jacobs’ on the other hand was both premeditated and of his own choosing.  Through embarked upon by paying heed to honeyed words from an infernal entity’s lips, he is still the one who inflicted the wounds with the black diamond that set Eclipso free.  Whereas Bruce Gordon was an unfortunate innocent cursed by chance, Gordon Jacobs condemned himself in a devil’s pact.  Didio teams up with Philip Tan again, after the two worked on Phantom Stranger together several months ago.  Didio’s writing and Tan’s artwork combine to create very eerie storytelling that is worth looking into, especially considering the transient nature of this enigmatic villain who slips into titles where seemingly he has no place.  Yet there he is in 19th century Gotham, medieval Europe, an other dimensional gem world, Gotham of the 21st century, Hell, a prison in the middle of the ocean.  You never know when or where he will next appear, so it’s best to know thine enemy.

    JLD-Eclipso

    The Many Lives of Eclipso

  • Justice League #23.3: Dial E is the biggest enigma of Villains Month.  I admit to not having read the final eight issues of the series, but even still the plot of this special issue was all over the place and hard to pin down.  The main character of the first thirteen issues, Nelson Jent, was completely absent in the story.  The other operator he met halfway through the first arc of the title, Manteu, also is absent.  The villains they encountered are absent.  There is a group of four teenaged kids, two girls and two boys, who get their hands on a dial.  The blonde girl, Gwen, who stole the dial, spins it and becomes a villainess called “Suffer Kate” with the power to make those around her choke for breath. The issue then unspools with the kids alternately turning into various versions of various schizophrenic conceptual characters.  Ironically, the only concept they didn’t use was the strange masked villainess that Brian Bolland drew on the corner throwing candy bars.  Nelson is also depicted on the cover, though not in the story.  The biggest draw to this issue is that every single page is done by a different artist, none of whom bear any stylistic resemblance to the others.  These artists include the likes of Matteus Santolouco, Jock, Jeff Lemire, Frazier Irving, Alberto Ponticello, and Dan Green.  It’s fun to look at, but not much fun to read unless you crave a heavy dose of insanity.

    JusticeLeagueDialE

    Brian Bolland’s Amazing Cover Art

  • Batman #23.3: Penguin is a pretty straightforward Penguin story.  The Penguin is the ultimate abused psyche that climbed to power and influence with intelligence and hard work.  In this way he is admirable and someone worth emulating.  However, this issue also underscores the opposite and what Oswald Cobblepot lost on his way up to the top.  Penguin was always a man to be feared, but following the events of the “Emperor Penguin” storyline in Detective Comics that reputation has plummeted to next to nothing.  The issue opens up with that misconception illustrated very colorfully, that the Penguin is weak after his cockfight with his former protege, Oglivy.  This misconception proves to be fatal for those that thought it and the consequences bolstering his image as someone not to be trifled with.  It also draws attention of the wrong sort upon him by the governor himself who plans dramatic changes for Gotham to cut crime and make the city more wholesome.  Clearly this would cut into the Penguin’s pocket and cause him issues.  However, the twist comes in Penguin’s relationship to the governor, Carter Winston.  At school due to his freakish appearance, Oswald was bullied ruthlessly.  Handsome, rich, popular Carter was the only one who stood up for him without really having a reason to.  So the stage is set to see how these old school chums will sort out their affairs, what power and influence mean to those that have it and those that don’t, and what a reversal of fortune can mean to both.  Frank Tieri writes a very Machiavellian plot that really explores these very harsh principles that unfortunately govern human society, no matter the age.  Christian Duce provides art and like Bermudez’s work on this week’s Lex Luthor, Duce’s rendering of Penguin is all that matters in the issue.  Cut the rest out and his Penguin drawings will be worth the cover price.  The sinister, angular, sophisticated savagery that he imbues into the Gotham crime boss are stunning.  This issue was pretty darn good, and Penguin doesn’t even make my top ten list of Batman villains.  That says something.

    The Original Bird of Prey

    The Original Bird of Prey

  • Detective Comics #23.3: Scarecrow is a pretty round about issue that doesn’t really talk about the Scarecrow as a character, but more facilitated the coming limited series Forever Evil: Arkham War.  Before this, Scarecrow had been depicted as Secret Society stooge running around evangelizing DC villains left and right to the cause of the Crime  Syndicate.  This issue has Scarecrow running around, this time organizing the demarcation of Gotham into spheres of influence among the big names of Arkham: Mr. Freeze, Riddler, Poison Ivy, and seemingly Croc. In this way the issue is interesting in its scope, but not in its relevance to Scarecrow.  It does bear mentioning that Gregg Hurwitz’s origin of Scarecrow in his first arc on Batman: The Dark Knight could hardly be improved any, so the lack of elaboration here isn’t surprising.  Peter Tomasi writes the actual issue pretty well, despite it’s unorthodox story structure.  Artist Szymon Kudranksi provides the eerie art to coincide with the haunting subject.
  • Batman: The Dark Knight #23.3: Clayface was one of the worst issues I have read in some time.  Clayface is a character I don’t care about.  Occasionally he is done well, as in the Batman: The Animated Series cartoon or in the few instances that Scott Snyder has used him. Gregg Hurwitz’s usage has only been so-so in the current run of Batman: The Dark Knight.  Despite not liking the character, I bought this issue with those past examples in mind and because John Layman, whose run on Detective Comics I feel is one of the best ever, was writing it.  Bad idea.  The whole premise of the comic is Clayface is a loser that won’t amount to anything. He was a loser as an actor and so he became Clayface (which Layman didn’t even provide a back-story on) only to continually get shortchanged, make dumb decisions that cheated him out of his paydays.  When the Secret Society shows up he waits for his call and it doesn’t com, seemingly because he’s a loser and not worth their time.  He attempts to do something to get their attention, only to get in their way and mess up an operation they were running under the radar, prompting him to be back in a bar with his proverbial tail between his legs.  Then he gets wind of a job and signs on for what inevitably will be another SNAFU from his inept personality.  Perhaps this is a pessimistic view and the moral is that no matter how rotten he messes up, he picks himself back up and tries again.  That’s a sunny outlook, but one that is predicated off the understanding of learning from one’s mistakes.  Clayface is depicted time and again doing the exact same things and falling into the exact same traps.  This precludes the “pick yourself up and try again” proverb and points to the “stupidity is doing the exact same thing and expecting a different outcome” adage.   This in no way dents my faith in John Layman as a writer, but it does unfortunately hurt my idea of Clayface as a character.
  • The Flash #23.3: The Rogues ranks up there among the issues put out during Villains Month that NEEDED to be told.  The Rogues are a cornerstone of the Flash title that holds the concept up and comprises a inextricable part of the overall mythos.  Separately Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Heatwave, Weather Wizard, Golden Glider, and the Trickster are decent characters, but together they combine to create a whole larger than the sum of its parts.  Together the Rogues form a sort of family that behaves much like any family does, acrimoniously sometimes, but often with love and respect for one another.  Since just before the Gorilla War was incited by Grodd, Lisa Snart (a.k.a Golden Glider) had taken over leading the Rogues from her older brother, Leonard Snart (a.k.a Captain Cold).  Cold wasn’t so keen on the idea, but the Rogues voted and so it was.  The issue opens with Lisa leading the Rogues on a bank heist into a vault through subterranean tunneling after hours.  The job is aborted when the structures of surround buildings, both occupied at the time, are nearly compromised and the lives of those people are jeopardized.  It wasn’t a popular move, but the Rogues don’t kill innocent people.  It’s part of the code they live by.  Afterward, the strain of their situation catches up with them.  Jobs tend to keep the Rogues focused on forward motion, but during periods of lag the ghosts of their past catch up with them, namely the nature of their powers.  One of the interesting things co-writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato did when they took over the Flash is convert the gadget equipped Rogues to super-powered villains, internalizing their abilities inside them, with no external sources, i.e. Cold’s freeze guns, or Heatwave’s flamethrowers, Weather Wizard’s weather wand, etc.  Their bodies now generate their respective powers autonomously.  When Captain Cold initiated this through the use of a device called a “genome recoder” he unleashed nightmarish results on his teammates in varying degrees.  Heatwave is a walking burn victim, scarred from stem to stern, Mirror Master is trapped perpetually in his Mirror World, and worst of all Lisa is in a coma that she can’t be awoken from and is only able to exist as the Golden Glider by astral projection.  It is because of this that Cold isn’t as well liked at the moment by the other Rogues and why he maintains the icy disposition that he does.  Taking responsibility for ruining your family’s lives is a hard pill to swallow.  Writer Brian Buccellato does a masterful job of really making you feel the pain of each Rogue in accepting their fate and the consequences that lie in trying to change that fate.  As stated before, the Rogues have a code they live by, so though they are villains and aptly deserve their place among the panoply of DC baddies that are getting their own issues this month, the Rogues are far from evil and it is that anti-heroic nature that sets them apart from most of their fellows.  At issue’s conclusion, the family of Rogues, after a healthy, cathartic shouting match come together as a family and make a stand.  The conclusion of the issue prompts its continuance in a series entitled Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion.  Thus stated, in the absence of heroes, as with the Gorilla War, the Rogues are stepping up to the plate and doing what they do best . . . spitting in the face of anyone who dares try to tell them what to do.

    Honor Among Rogues

    Honor Among Rogues

  • Teen Titans #23.2: Deathstroke was another issue that only dealt topically with the subject and gave a cliffsnotes version rather than a cohesive story.  The plot jumped around like a dog with fleas.  First it’s at one point in Deathstroke’s life, then on the next page it jumps to a few minutes later, fine.  But then it jumps back twenty years, then to an unrelated point in his life ten years later, then ten years later than that, then the present, then the birth of his son, then he’s home with his daughter.  Trying to keep up makes the reader wish for a Dramamine.
    It’s clear that writers Dooma Wendschuh and Corey May are new to the comic writing gig.  I know that they are responsible for the writing of the video games “Assassins Creed” and “Batman: Arkham Origins,” but I think writing single issue comics is something they need time to acclimate to. They don’t have a ten hour game to exposes a plot over.  Moritat’s artwork is amazing, however, and truly makes the issue worth at least looking at.
  • Justice League of America #7.3: Shadow-Thief adds another new face to the New DCU. Although Shadow Thief isn’t a new villain, the woman portraying it is. The Shadow Thief was originally a man named Carl Sands who got his powers from a device called the dimensiometer and used his abilities for crime. This time around Shadow Thief is an Israeli intelligence operative named Aviva.  Right off the bat she foreshadows (pun intended) that working in her occupation can cause you to lose your soul.  Like General Zod last week, the Frederick Nietzche quote, “battle not with monsters lest ye become one,” is very apt. Her past paints her as paranoid, reactionary, and already a monster before she donned the black shadow skin that gives her the powers inherent to it.  As a Mossad agent she killed her superior officer to unilaterally launch  a missile strike that did neutralize enemy combatants . . . along with killing hundreds of innocent civilians.  She didn’t shed any tears.  This led her to flee Israel and get work with A.R.G.U.S in the United States until she came into contact with a Daemonite who inadvertently put her in a position that cost her the lives of her mother and younger brother. From there she also accidentally donned the shadow skin and discovered she could control shadows, travel through shadows across the globe, and become insubstantial like a living shadow.  With this she wages a war against aliens. But she also realizes she is becoming more like the aliens she fights and the skin, which she has to rip off when she is done with it every time, is becoming harder and harder to separate. One day it won’t come off at all.  But she doesn’t stop, because she can’t. She’s already lost everything that could save her. Now she is adrift in a sea of all her worst traits. Time will tell what the Void will do to her.
  • Wonder Woman #23.1: Cheetah is another comic that I just could not get into.  It just grated me in the wrong way and I feel like it brought out the worst instincts in me as a person.  Perhaps that was what writer John Ostrander was going for when he wrote this, as the Cheetah is the worst, animalistic instincts that come from the bowls of the character, Barbara Minerva.  I also feel like it is an examination of the different conceptualizations people have of feminism.  Wonder Woman is perhaps the greatest feminist icon in the comic medium and a paragon of strong women that extends outside of comics as well.  It is something that has haunted the character almost from her inception, putting her on a pedestal of scrutiny that many female characters in comics, television, film, and other forms of literature rarely are subject to.  She has to be perfect and has to be a role model for girls, but what exactly should she embody and convey to the women who read her?  That’s the question with no answer.  It also is a major reason that apart from the Linda Carter TV show, there has never been a live action adaptation of the Amazing Amazon.  However, focusing back on the character herself  the general assumption is that Wonder Woman is a “real” woman who embodies strength, wisdom, honor, and integrity of a female warrior race.  Cheetah in this comic began her association with Wonder Woman as her friend and confidante.  She was a professor of antiquities, Dr. Barbara Minerva, who helped curate magical artifacts for A.R.G.U.S.  Since Wonder Woman was brought into governmental affairs by Col. Steve Trevor, she also was involved in the arcane aspects of A.R.G.U.S’s collecting.  Ostrander posits that Minerva was raised by her Aunt Lyta in worship of the goddess of the hunt as the Amazons did before them and that the Amazons were goddesses themselves.  Wonder Woman laughs at this, because from her perspective, the thought is ridiculous.  Amazons (who could be viewed symbolically as empowered women) were not and are not goddesses or any better inherently than anyone else.  They are equal to men or women found in the world of men.  This results in an immediate reaction of unbridled anger at the deeply fostered beliefs in Amazonian divinity embedded in Barbara’s psyche.  That process of indoctrination and being raised in what could be described as a Hellenistic cult is truly horrifying, considering that she was made to hunt her own brother while her mother was forced to watch by Lyta, all to prove a point about the strength of women descended from Amazons.  However, years later after turning into the Cheetah and literally becoming an acolyte who kills in honor of the goddess of the hunt, she realizes the futility of her insane aunt’s proselytizing.  Wonder Woman was right about Amazons, she was right about worshiping the hunt and violence as a solution, but she accepts that this path has led her into being a monster that consumes that which feeds it, namely returning to where it all began and hunting her Aunt and giving the “glory” of the insane woman’s death to the goddess which that same priestess worshiped above all others.  What separates a noble warrior like Wonder Woman from a cold blooded killer like Cheetah and her aunt is compassion, wisdom, and understanding, always trying to understand those that oppose you and treat with them before resorting to hostility.  When Geoff Johns first wrote Wonder Woman I did not like her at all, because she did not embody these key principles.  I feel that since then it has been made clear that what we see here is the Wonder Woman that needs to be depicted and that these traits are what makes her not only a strong woman, but just a very strong character in general.  If you take those characteristics away from her, as DC creators (looking at you Johns) tried to in the beginning, you turn her into a ravenous beast like Cheetah.

    The Beast Within

    The Beast Within

  • Arrow #11 marches closer and closer to completing the storytelling omitted from the first season of the television series.  Inside is the story of a low level enforcer for the mob doing horrible things to scratch out a living for him and his family.  Following this is perhaps the most anticipated side story of the season.  Laying in a hospital bed, Malcolm Merlyn recounts the journey that led him to become the Black Archer.  While it’s very short, only ten pages, there is a a great deal of revelation in those ten pages, including the desired vengeance for what happened to Malcolm’s wife that led him down the road to his “Undertaking.”  The issue ends with a look at a formative episode in Roy Harper’s life before the start of the show.  Roy maintains that he can be more than what he is and after his abduction in the episode “Salvation” he tries actively to fulfill that potential.  In his segment in this issue we see him given a chance and blowing it completely, but despite that he learns that even the people he wrongs still have faith in him.  It also explains how he got his distinctive red hoodie.  If you love the show Arrow this comic is definitely a worthwhile bookend that fleshes out the plots even further.

There were some really incredible stories told this week, and quite a few that failed to measure up.  What didn’t quite pan out was more than made up for in the comics that exceeded expectations and fulfilled their subjects’ potential.  After this there is only one more week in September’s Villains Month.  I can’t wait to read the final batch of issues and share my thoughts.  Hope to see you then.

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

Action Comics #23.3: Lex Luthor: Drawn by Raymund Bermudez, Colored by Ulises Arreola, Inked by Dan Green.

Superman #23.3: H’El:  Drawn by Dan Jurgens, Colored by Hi-Fi

Justice League Dark #23.2: Eclipso: Drawn by Philip Tan, Colored by Nathan Eyring, Inked by Jason Paz.

Justice League #23.3: Dial  E: Cover art by Brian Bolland

Batman #23.3: Penguin:  Art by Christian Duce, Colored by Andrew Dalhouse

The Flash #23.3: The Rogues: Art by Patrick Zircher, Colored by Nick Filardi

Wonder Woman #23.1: Cheetah:  Art by Victor Ibanez, Colored Wil Quintana

Sept 11, 2013

Two weeks in and Villains Month is heating up.  There are some grade A characters being represented this week and expectations are high.  The much sought 3D covers can only take them so far.  Here’s hoping this week maintains the momentum built last week.

  • Action Comics #23.2: Zod begins the exploration into the mystery that is Zod.  To be fair, I believe I went into this issue with extremely high hopes.   For those readers that have read my thirteen page review of this summer’s Man of Steel film, they know that Zod is dear to my heart and only the most faithful adaptation to the integrity of the character would do.  His entre into the New 52 came in the final installment of Action Comics’s backup feature, “World of Krypton” as Jor-El and Cadet Lara Lor-Van are saved from an overzealous Colonel who would overthrow the government by the loyal commander of Krypton’s military forces, Dru-Zod.  Even though this appearance is  short there was still promise in the way it was written by Scott Lobdell and Frank Hannah.  This issue, written by Greg Pak, is a little more heavy-handed and portrays Zod as a monster forged in youth by his battle with actual monsters in the Kryptonian wilderness.  Though it’s neither stated nor inferred in the text of the issue, it is reminiscent of the Frederick Nietzsche quote: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster.”  Throughout his rise through Krypton’s military and his befriending the Brothers El he came off a little strangely in my opinion.   In Man of Steel there was a harshness that belied a deeper nobility in the Kryptonian general and a certain efficiency.  Waste not, want not.  Unless something had to be done, Zod didn’t do it, but if it was necessary, he did it and did it right.  The Zod I imagined in the “World of Krypton” also had a nobility about him that came from utilitarian ideals and a love of Krypton.  In this version by Pak, I don’t believe he follows the same footfalls as the other two versions I mentioned.  I believe he IS as monster and lacking many of the quintessential qualities of a patriot of Krypton.  I will reserve my judgement for what looks to be his next appearance under the pen of writer Charles Soule in Superman/Wonder Woman #3.
  • Aquaman #23.1: Black Manta is a penetrating look at perhaps the greatest antagonist of Aquaman.  While he is  no longer the man who murdered Aquaman’s infant son, Arthur Curry Jr, he is still tied to Aquaman in a mutual circle of death and hatred.  It is revealed that Manta accidentally killed Arthur’s father by inducing a heart attack, and in retribution Aquaman attempted to kill him only to accidentally murder Manta’s father.  What results is a deadly spiral of two sons attempting to avenge the inadvertent killings of their fathers.  This issue is billed as being conceived of by Tony Bedard and Geoff Johns, but words by Bedard.  Considering that most of the actual interactions and dialogue in this issue are taken verbatim from Forever Evil #1 I am assuming that Bedard merely filled in the captions to give Manta’s perspective.  What is clear is that Manta’s “evil motivations” is nothing more than killing Aquaman.  After that, there is no malice left to rule the world, or continue to kill or oppress.  Just avenge his father’s death with his own hands.  Enter the Crime Syndicate who subjugate the world and proclaim, “The Justice League is dead!” and offer Aquaman’s trident as proof.  Essentially, a man whose sole motivation for continuing on was vengeance is denied that very impetus.  So if he cannot avenge his father’s murder anymore, he can replace that hatred with vengeance against those who robbed him of his chance at retribution.  Though this is Villains Month, this issue imbues Black Manta with a twisted humanity that makes him very relatable and almost noble.  Though it’s just a brief glimpse, this issue tells everything that is really necessary in the understanding of this iconic comic book character’s New 52 iteration.

    Spiral of Hatred

    Spiral of Hatred

  • Green Lantern #23.2: Mongul is an interesting issue that redefines the character while maintaining his essence.  In this issue the moon sized War World, Mongul’s vessel, appears suddenly in the territory of the Oblivoron Federation.  When the admiral of the Federation armada demands the surrender of the War World, he is beamed aboard the artificial planet and brought before Mongul.  Mongul then leads the Admiral around his “home”, displaying its defensive capabilities and the oddities that he has amassed from his travels across the cosmos.  All the while he waxes philosophic about the art of war, conquest, and ruling, while simultaneously giving glimpses at his past, demonstrating his principles through their context toward the immensely powerful being he has become.  Though the issue is almost entirely him just pontificating to his humbled “guest” it keeps the reader’s attention with the stark imagery juxtaposed against the quasi Sun-Tzu/Machievellian rhetoric.  Mongul is changed a bit in the New 52 from former tellings, but remains true to the inherent nature of his past characterizations.  This is largely because the issue was written by Mongul’s co-creator, Jim Starlin.  Admittedly, Len Wein was the writer who first wrote him and Starlin the artist, but this time around Starlin finds himself penning the character with the help of famed artist, Howard Porter.  The look and the feel of the character endures, and as the title he appears in foreshadows, the issue ends with War World closing in on a Green Lantern Corps chapter house.  It stands to reason that we will see him in the not to distant future in the pages of Green Lantern Corps.

    "We Shall Never Surrender!"

    “We Shall Never Surrender!”

  • Batman & Robin #23.2: The Court of Owls is a fantastically woven tale of the Court, of course, but more so of Gotham itself and how the Court has entwined itself irrevocably into the very fabric of the city’s infrastructure, its culture, and the people who populate it.  James Tynion IV (writer of Talon and protegé of the Court’s creator, Scott Snyder)  pens this issue brilliantly.  His writing tends to alternate between good and uninspired.  This issue REALLY captures the essence of the subject organization, driving home to those familiar with the Court why they are so immensely powerful, and does the same for those who may never have read about the Court, while also introducing them in a very conversational tone.  The issue begins in 1974 with a murder orchestrated by the Court, then cuts to the present day with Gotham tearing itself apart after the events of Forever Evil #1.  Watching all of this is a youngish, yet senior member of the Court (wearing his owl mask, of course) explaining to his daughter (masked herself and looking to be around 9 or 10 years old) why they have nothing to fear from the havoc that is tearing Gotham asunder.  The Court has weathered civil discord, plagues, riots, and the like many times before and only come back stronger.  The issue then alternates between the present and the past, showing how the Court has asserted its power time and again as the father owl tells his daughter more about the principles that bind them to Gotham’s very foundations.  These trips into the past range from 1974 all the way back to 1862, featuring the exploits of the Gotham Butcher.  Each episode drives home further the point that the Court can never be fully extinguished so long as a single stone of Gotham remains.  It also foreshadows a looming threat from the further past known as . . . the First Talon.  Considering the sinister nature of the Talons (assassins of the Court) we’ve seen so far, especially the Gotham Butcher, for the First Talon to be that frightening to members of the Court, it must be something quite horrifying.  Tynion writes it extremely well, but he gets a lot of help from artist Jorge Lucas, whose art is very gothic, with beautiful lines hashed out or blackened to give the impression of shadows and darkness in all areas and all times of day throughout Gotham.  No one is safe anywhere or anytime from the Court . . .

    Who?

    Who?

  • Batman #23.2: The Riddler was very blase.  I had high hopes for the issue, considering that Edward Nygma is playing such an integral role in Scott Snyder’s “Batman: Year Zero” storyline, however the problem lies in the delivery.  As the title page reveals, the issue’s story was conceived of by Scott Snyder and Ray Fawkes, but was written by Fawkes.  You can feel the presence of Scott Snyder’s style in the skeleton of the story, in which a recently escaped Riddler makes his way to the Wayne Enterprises Building and stages a very elaborate break-in.  His goals and the means in which he infiltrates the building is very Snyder-esque and you know that there is a lot of possibilities inherent in it.  The problem is that Ray Fawkes has a certain way of writing that isn’t always the best and unfortunately for this issue he really makes the character obnoxious and uninteresting.  The Riddler is a character that skews that way naturally and it takes a careful hand to write him in such a way that he is engaging and interesting, not pretentious and grating to the reader.  Unfortunately, Ray Fawkes hasn’t displayed any such talents in his time on Batgirl or Pandora.  The Riddler is a character I have enjoyed in the past, but not overly so, so the fact that this issue wasn’t written the best didn’t sadden me too much.  I did enjoy the art by Jeremy Haun, which was very reminiscent of Phil Noto.  An okay issue, but definitely not a “MUST get.”
  • Detective Comics #23.2: Harley Quinn was a giant contradiction and I say that in a way that is not condemning or negative.  I don’t really know whether I liked it or hated it, but I like that I don’t know.  That uncertainty underscores the essential nature of the character as depicted in this issue.  Writer Matt Kindt really hits on the contradictions of the character herself that seem irreconcilable, yet form the bedrock of who she is.  To the casual observer Harley Quinn is the ditzy blonde that epitomizes the stereotype into which she aptly seems to fall.  However, before the grease paint and the red and black costuming, she was a brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. Harleen Quintzel.  The issue shows her as a young overachiever who used her intelligence and immense drive to escape a traumatic, lower class childhood.  As a rising star in psychiatry she went to Arkham Asylum to cut her teeth on the sickest minds in the world.  After awhile of grinding her gears, she tried a revolutionary tactic of infiltrating them as a new “inmate” and studying them and treating them under the radar.  While occupying this persona and experiencing life from their perspective, everything she pushed herself to be and all the hard work and diligence fell away and she learned what it felt like to be truly free, releasing Harley from within Harleen’s confined, regimented psyche.  The rest plays out in a giant cathartic explosion of chaos and self-discovery.  This is the part of the issue I really liked.  The part I wasn’t too fond of was her actions in the present, disseminating handheld gaming devices to that masses laced with explosives that kill both adults and small children.  She also murders at least one cop, if not dozens in a pretty brutal fashion.  As stated before, I really enjoyed the look into how she split from a paradigm of order to a paragon of chaos, but her brutal actions in the present that are extremely harsh and without any rationale given in the narrative jarred me quite a bit.  I think this does cement her as a more feminized Joker-like character than she has been in the past, but I am not sure if her actions as they stand push her past the limits of her anti-heroic depiction in Suicide Squad.  I will give Matt Kindt a thumbs up for a very thought-provoking issue.
  • Justice League #23.2: Lobo was an issue that didn’t need to be written.  Worse, it didn’t even need to be thought.  The controversy surrounding this issue was something I tried not to jump into, being that DC was saying that the man we have seen since the character’s creation in the late 80’s was NOT in fact the real Lobo, but rather an imposter.  A BOLD proposition, but I chose to hear them out and not get bent out of shape until there was an actual reason.  Well, this issue presented nothing new.  Nothing interesting.  Nothing different.  To be fair, there are differences, but not good ones. Lobo, as created by Keith Giffen, was a big, muscular, space biker that was the last of his race (him having murdered his entire species) who bounty hunted across the universe for some spending money.  He did BAD, morally repugnant things, but you read him because of his penchant for over the top violence and his pseudo-swear words like “bastich” and “fragging.”  He won you over.  What writer Marguerite Bennett replaced him with is a thinner, more morose facsimile with a stupid looking pompadour.  Worst of all, she gutted his endearing vernacular for a schizophrenic, hipster style, no longer calling people “bastiches” when he does his business, but rather one who says, “Sorry. Not Sorry.”  Once or twice that might simply be tolerable, but by the fifth time you pray that the “fake” (REAL!!!) Lobo would come out of nowhere and cut the hipster bastich’s fraggin’ tongue out with something blunt.  Sorry, new Lobo.  Not sorry.  I don’t know whose fault this utter piece of tripe is, Bennett’s or DC’s execs who have been REALLY throwing out terrible ideas of late, but this experiment is a failure.  Sorry, DC.  NOT sorry!
  • The Flash #23.2: The Reverse Flash tells the tale of one of Flash’s most iconic villains reimagined for the New 52.  The Rogues represent a perennial  challenge to the Flash, but its the Reverse Flash that truly underscores the dark side of the Speed Force, the transcendental energy stream from which they both draw their power.  This issue, like so much of what co-writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato have done with this title takes the character of the Reverse Flash and reworked him in innovative, intriguing ways, while at the same time staying true to the spirit of what came before.  In their run Barry Allen (the Flash) is no longer married to the character who was his wife for decades, Iris West, and indeed as the series opened they had never been in a relationship.  Barry instead is dating fellow Central City forensic investigator, Patty Spivot.  Reverse Flash also finds himself in the shuffle of things with a new take and a new persona.  Whereas once he was Eobard Thawne or Hunter Zolomon, in the New 52 he inherits a third persona: Daniel West, brother of Iris.  However, like the two aforementioned Reverse Flashes, Daniel’s abilities and goals are heavily centered on time travel.  Thawne was a criminal from the 25th century who came back in time to our “present” with the use of Barry Allen’s original costume, slightly modified.  Zolomon was a paraplegic who after being refused help via time manipulation by Barry Allen’s successor and former sidekick, Wally West, took it upon himself to attempt time travel only to end up becoming a twisted psychotic whose powers were actually time-based and did not rely on speed at all.  This Villains Month issue tells us how Daniel got his abilities, tied integrally into the Speed Force, and how his past coupled with these abilities drove him insane. I don’t know if I have ever read anything about Iris’ brother, or if Daniel is in fact the father of Wally, but the representation of Daniel in this issue is complex, compelling, and despite his mismanaged rage and many flaws, you sort of find yourself rooting for him.  Francis Manapul has been the only one to draw the Reverse Flash since his introduction to the New DCU, even when all but the last page were drawn by someone else.  This special issue was drawn by Scott Hepburn, whose style very closely mimics Manapul’s lines, and its shocking ending is truly a hallmark in the New 52’s three year history.  This is not an issue to miss.FlashReverseFlash
  • Earth 2 #15.2: Solomon Grundy is the second issue written by Matt Kindt this week and comes off a little weaker than his Harley Quinn issue, though written in a similar fashion.  The last time we saw Grundy, Earth 2 writer James Robinson had Alan Scott’s Green Lantern strand the hulking zombie on the Moon.  This issue has him shooting back to Earth like a meteorite, but with no explanation of how that comes to pass.  Once back, he begins to do as he did when we first met him a year ago when Robinson introduced him as the avatar of the Grey (Rot), reducing everything living he touches to ash.  As he cuts a wide swathe across the American southwest, Kindt cuts the narrative back to Slaughter Swamp of 1898 to introduce Solomon’s human life as a sharecropper and butcher in a the slaughterhouse that gave the swamp its name.  His life was lived and ended in a very horrifying manner, resulting in an equally horrible after-life.  The parts of the narrative that take place in the past are well done, but when they cut to the present there is a serious disconnect for the reader.  Grundy almost destroyed humanity just by being on the planet for a few hours when we first met him, so the ending of him wreaking havoc unopposed is very unsatisfying and raises more questions than it answers.  In this way it is very much like Harley’s Detective Comics issue, but in that case the disconnect between past and present was indicative of the character’s persona.  This issue didn’t have that same appropriateness and just came off sloppy.  Artist Aaron Lopresti did a fantastic job rendering the issue artistically and is the real draw of the issue with a decent, but not entirely satisfying plot.  However, Matt Kindt wrote several issues this month, so it is completely understandable that some will be better than their fellows.
  • Teen Titans #23.1: Trigon, like Mongul above, is another Villains Month issue that features the character’s creator coming back decades later and re-imagining them for DC’s rebooted multiverse. In this version a young, smaller Trigon is brought before a holy trinity of universal guardians calling themselves the “Divine,” who purge evil from the known universes using a cosmic anomaly known as the “Heart.”  True to its name, it resembles a giant black, pulsating heart that sucks the souls from those with evil festering inside them.  This tactic doesn’t work on the young demon lord, and actually brings about the Divine’s ultimate undoing.  From there, Trigon descends upon world after world subjugating universes and realities one after the other through the impregnating of women in each sphere with his progeny.  However, few of his children survive birth or their mothers commit suicide before they can be born.  All of his sons also prove to be unimpressive specimens, but one human woman who gives herself to Trigon willingly and gives birth to a daughter, Raven, who becomes the greatest of his scions.  Raven, as we know, has found her way into the ranks of the Teen Titans and her allegiance is somewhat ambiguous at this moment.  Also tying into the Teen Titans title is the introduction of the first bearer of the Silent Armour (currently worn by Wonder Girl) and the only being to ever fight Trigon to a stalemate.  Wolfman’s story fits spectacularly into the overall framework of the New DCU, specifically the work that Scott Lobdell has done in Teen Titans.
  • Batman: The Dark Knight #23.2: Mr. Freeze is the Mr. Freeze issue that should have been from the start. Scott Snyder is a phenomenal writer, but his New 52 introduction of Victor Fries was totally lackluster and didn’t do justice to the character at all. Perhaps the keystone motivation of the character is his love and devotion to his wife, Nora. He was a man who was literally cold as ice in both demeanor and M.O., but underneath that frigid exterior beats a warm heart filled with love. While Snyder’s introduction to Freeze began that way in Batman Annual #1, it quickly soured as Batman reveals that the Nora in cryogenic stasis wasn’t actually Victor’s wife, but a Jane Doe with whom he grew an obsession. Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray take that imperfect start and re-establish Freeze as a man capable of feeling love, albeit a very psychotic brand of love. When the crap hits the fan with the Crime Syndicate opening the prisons and Arkham Asylum and chaos reigns all throughout Gotham Freeze intercedes in favor of an Arkham nurse that showed him kindness when she didn’t have to. His father walked out on him and his mother when he was a small child and though this sense of betrayal ruined his adolescence and ultimately killed his mother, upon finding out that his father had another family and he had a half-brother, niece, and nephew he never knew about he is excited. Many psychotics would be angry and resentful about this, but Victor’s cold demeanor belies a desire for meaningful human affection and to preserve it at all costs. This presentation of Mr. Freeze rings the most true of any so far in the New DCU. What also gives this the feeling of a true second chance for character is the art from Jason Masters, who was the same artist to first render him in the New 52 in Batman Annual #1.
  • Superman #23.2: Brainiac could be the most perfect Villains Month issue yet and I would dare say, probably the best that this month will yield.  It is literally perfect, just like the subject it depicts.  There are many variables that figure into this perfect storm of awesome: 1) Writer Tony Bedard, a proven master that knows how to write complex cosmic drama, 2) artist Pascal Alixe’s art is peerless!, the pencils and inks immersing the reader into a very comprehensive vision of the complex text, 3) both Bedard and Alixe stand on the shoulders of giants, drawing off of and adding to phenomenal Superman stories of the past two years by the likes of Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Scott Lobdell, and Kenneth Rocafort, to name only a few.   The issue begins with the systematic subjugation of three worlds by the “Collector”, colloquially known as Brainiac.   On the third world, Noma, the planet’s most brilliant scientist, Victoria Viceroy, is captured by the Collector’s Terminauts and debriefed by her robotic aide, Pneumenoid, slaved to Brainiac’s reprogramming. Pneumenoid attempts to persuade her that what is happening to her world is not a defeat, but rather a triumph for her planet and its culture.  He then recounts a tale of the most brilliant mind on the planet of Yod-Colu who became aware of the Multitude, the 5th dimensional hoard created in Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run that ravage planets and erradicate their populations.  It is for this reason that the scientist Vril Dox begins to perform extreme experimentations in the “upgrading” of the Coluan species using his son as the guinea pig.  When his wife, Lysl Dox, becomes aware of his crimes against their child she brings him before the planet’s justices who listen to his defense as to the danger the 5th dimension poses to their world and what his experiments would achieve toward the preservation of their way of life.  His pleas fall on deaf ears and he is exiled into deep space.  However, as the chief scientific mind of Yod-Colu, Dox had designed the craft that imprisoned him and the computer systems administering his captivity, thus allowing him easy access to override its programming and aid him in his endeavors.  On the way back to Yod-Colu, he has the ship’s A.I. complete on himself the operations he had begun on his son, transforming him into a walking biocomputer.  He returns to Yod-Colu and extracts all vital information on Colu’s civilization, history, technology, and culture and shrinks a city (his very first), bottling it to preserve also a small sampling of its people.  The poignant detail that bears mentioning is that, despite his cold logic and emotionless nature, the portion of Colu Brainiac bottles contains his wife and son, sparing them from the horrific apocalypse the Multitude rain down on the rest of his world.  This process of data extraction and bottling a city becomes his modus operandi on many worlds between Yod-Colu and his eventual advent on Earth.  One such world, of course, was Krypton where he stole the capital city, Kandor, which he bottled and added to his collection.  This was one of the few worlds that Brainiac failed to destroy before he left, and serendipitously so, because the foremost Kryptonian scientist, Jor-El, achieved the one thing that even Brainiac’s vaunted 12th level intellect could not: defeating the Multitude.  Jor-El was the only being to EVER defeat them until his son, Kal-El, did just that in Morrison’s Action Comics run.  But even Jor-El was not brilliant enough to prevent the inevitability of Krypton’s destruction by other forces, which we are scheduled to witness in two short months in the “Krypton Returns” storyline throughout the Super-titles.  Since then, Brainaic has preemptively preserved doomed cultures in the Multitude’s path and sought out minds that could do what Jor-El did.  Enter Victoria Viceroy, a very similar persona to Jor-El, both in intellect and disposition.  The issue plays out in a natural cycle of tragic fatalism inherent in the disparity between automated logic and the spontaneity of free will.  The tragedy of the comic is very moving and thought-provoking making it all the more enjoyable.  If there was a choice of only one issue to get this week, Brainiac would be the logical choice, with the word “choice” betraying the illusion of there even being one.  That is what Brainiac would most likely tell you, without bias of course.SupermanBrainiac
  • FBP (Federal Bureau of Physics) #3 continues off of yet another incredible Vertigo series launched in a new wave of titles. The premise of the series is that the laws of physics have come undone and random anomalies occur that defy the very principles of normalcy that the reader takes for granted. To counter these freak occurrences a governmental agency is created, which gives this series its name. Last issue Agent Adam Hardy and his partner and mentor Jay Kelly of the Federal Bureau of Physics went into a bubble universe (a small alternate version of an area juxtaposed on top of the original) to rescue four people trapped inside, before the bubble bursts killing them and causing damage to the space/time continuum. No big deal. However, Jay decides to take this moment to pull a gun on his protege and end that relationship. But for effed up physics Jay would have succeeded. However, Adam is able to escape and effect the rescue of his assigned person, James Crest, a disgraced C.E.O. facing an indicted from the SEC. While all this is going on inside the bubble, on the outside the very eccentric appearing chief of the FBP, Cicero Deluca, meets with his own mentor in the latter’s television repair shop. The character of Cicero is pretty cryptic, giving the impression in the first two issues that he’s a very closed off, unilateral bureaucratic sort mixed with a “Beautiful Mind” autistic prodigy, so seeing him defer to another person, especially someone who isn’t vaunted as a world-class physicist and to witness his recognition  of his humble origins learning about science through television repair is quite humbling and humanizing. On the other side, his mentor, Yarab, a wizened old Semetic gentleman, poses a very interesting foil for the cold fact character found in Cicero. Bouncing ideas back and forth, you hear the textbook theoretics come out of Cicero’s mouth, countered or abetted by the scientifically back insightful ideas of Yarab wrapped in colloquial, old-world metaphors accentuating his didactics and his characterization. The issue advances the series further toward being a quintessentially Vertigo title, delving intelligently into the realities of our world explored through well-reasoned unrealities. Adam’s odyssey from the sins of his father to becoming an FBP agent to getting shot at by his oldest friend, Cicero’s discourse with Yarab into nightmarish quantum physics, to the horrifying actions of Jay in the very last panels of the issue cement it as one of those Vertigo runs you tell your friends about for years to come to show them what comics are truly capable of.FBP3

This week in comics was not to shabby and definitely produces some gems with far-reaching connotions.  This week definitely proves it’s GOOD to be a comic book nerd.

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

Aquaman #23.1: Black Manta: Art by Claude St. Aubin, Colored by Blond

Green Lantern #23.2: Mongul: Art by Howard Porter, Colored by Hi-Fi

Batman & Robin #23.2: Court of Owls: Art by Jorge Lucas, Colored by Dave McCaig

The Flash #23.2: The Reverse Flash: Art by Scott Hepburn, Colored by Brian Buccellato

Superman #23.3: Brainiac: Art by Pascal Alixe, Colored by Hi-Fi

FBP #3: Art by Robbi Rodriguez, Colored by Rico Renzi