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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