Oct. 30, 2013

With October being a five Wednesday month, this last week promises some incredible Annuals from DC, and that is NOT lip service.  Action Comics Annual #2 has been teased at with ridiculous shock endings to Superman #0 and Supergirl #0, put out over a year ago and left to simmer in reader’s minds.  Green Lantern Annual #2 promised to changed everything we know about Green Lantern books and with the past three months of developments that is not an exaggeration.  Nightwing Annual #1 delves into the complicated history of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon, which is always awesome.  Neil Gaiman puts out the first issue of a “lost” Sandman story.  Andy Kubert draws and writes a comic centering around Damian Wayne.  The promise of quality storytelling is at an all-time high.

  • Action Comics Annual #2 follows up on the end of “Psi-War” as the Man of Steel is pulled from the aftermath of the psychic fallout in Metropolis to an even more dire threat facing the omniverse at large.  Looking upon all realities and infinite universes, Superman sees waves of chronal energy ripping through all of existence extinguishing stars and the countless civilizations they fostered or were destined to foster.  Upon witnessing this, Superman is brought together with his cousin, Supergirl, and the boy partially cloned from his genetics, Superboy.  At this point the mysterious power that ripped the three Kryptonians from their respective missions reveals itself: The Oracle.  Last seen in the “H’el on Earth” plotline where our solar system was going to be rendered into raw energy to turn back the hands of time and save Krypton from its fate.  This meant the extinction of a race and Oracle came to witness it, but did not intervene.  He has witnessed the death of countless civilizations and watched wordlessly. But with the events of the Villains Month H’el issue we not only saw the origin of H’el, but also that his mission to go back in time before the death of Krypton succeeded.  Therein lies the problem.  With the survival of Krypton the rest of the omniverse is imperiled to the point that the Oracle, for the first time ever, intervenes and actively combats the forces that be.  He sends the two refugee Kryptonians and cloned “abomination” (Superboy) back to their homeworld to show them the true horror of H’el’s efforts.  H’el wants to save Krypton and to rule it.  Infused with seemingly infinite amounts of chronal energy that allowed him to go back time and time again after numerous failed attempts at saving Krypton, until one iteration of Jor-El (his mentor and “father”) in his infinite genius finds a way to do the impossible.  H’el’s attempts contradict the laws of temporal stasis and causality, barring his success all those times before. With Jor-El’s help the survival of Krypton shatters the very fabric of time-space and threatens all of existence.  And what’s more, the Krypton he saves becomes a shell of its former glory and a slave colony of proud Kryptonians heeled at his feet.  In this climate, one of Krypton’s worst becomes their only hope at righting the timestream and saving the omniverse.  Faora, second in command to the great General Zod finds herself the right hand of the Oracle, serving as his
    Faora.

    Faora.

    mouthpiece.  With her guidance, Supergirl is sent to Krypton’s distant past to cull his incursion during the Clone Wars.  Superman and Superboy are sent to the homes of the brothers El, Jor-El and Zor-El, a week before the death of Krypton. Jor-El and Kara (Supergirl) are key in those final moments and the next generation of El men are dispatched to ensure they fulfill their roles in the correct path that Krypton was meant to take.  This includes two very polarizing events.  Kon-El (Superboy) meets a younger Kara who immediately treats him as a friend, when in their past interactions (which in this case would be the future), she did her best to kill him for being a clone and an abomination by Kryptonian standards.  Kal-El (Superman) is transported to his father’s lab, where he is greeted by his mother, Lara Lor-Van, who immediately makes short work of beating him to pulp, thinking him an intruder.  Warmly embraced by a girl who had mindlessly sought one’s death, and mercilessly beaten down by the woman who gave the other life and selfless sent him to the stars for survival, Superboy and Superman define irony in their meeting of the women of House El.  With these events chronicled, Scott Lobdell firmly sets the hook on what promises to be a brutally ambitious crossover event of the Super-books in the month of November.  Since he introduced H’el this past year, the rogue Kryptonian has become an instantly iconic character, embodying all the negative aspects of a dying race and serving as a brilliant foil for Superman and Supergirl.  In many ways he is also a dark reflection of Superboy, who is himself apart from fellow Kryptonians in the genetic altering that birthed him.  H’el, while not a clone, we now know isn’t a natural Kryptonian, and bears the horrifying visage not because of his escape from Krpyton but rather from being born accidentally from genetic material sent into space and bombarded with cosmic energies.  Like Kon-El, his powers will always be different from those of his fellow Kryptonians and his mind a battlefield of constant rage.  Providing art on this issue is regular Superman artist and oft time Lobdell collaborator, Kenneth Rocafort, as well as Dan Jurgens, Lobdell’s predecessor in writing Superman and the artist who rendered Lobdell’s H’el issue in September during Villain’s month.  Across the board, this issue hits all the right notes and fulfills a promise made in September of 2012 with the appearance of Superman and Superboy in Superman #0 and Supergirl #0.  Lobdell looks to deliver on that promise with interest.

    Supermom Lara Lor-Van.

    Supermom Lara Lor-Van.

  • Green Lantern Annual #2 is a monumental installment in the ongoing Green Lantern mythos.  After the defeat of the First Lantern and the downfall of the Guardians of the Universe, the Green Lantern Corps faces an even greater threat in the form of a cyclopean figure known as Relic.  The sole survivor of the universe that existed before the Big Bang and the creation of our universe, Relic witnessed the death of his reality and awoke just before the death of another.  The cause of this cataclysm was the same both time: Light-wielders.  In our universe they are ringslinging Lanterns.  In Relic’s time they were staff wielding “Lightsmiths.”  Relic realized too late that the light of the emotional spectrum which Lanterns and Lightsmiths utilize was a finite resource within each universe and the gratuitous use of that light moves the doomsday clock closer to the hour of oblivion.  The Lightsmiths of the previous universe dismissed Relic’s research, so this time around he foregoes talk and viciously attacks the “lightsmiths” of our universe to save their reality, over their dead bodies if necessary.  What’s worse, the various entities of the emotional spectrum ally themselves with Relic to help realize his plan to refill the universal reservoir at the “Source.”  Writer Robert Venditti re-introduces the Source Wall into the New DCU, resurrecting the wall that Jack Kirby created in his Fourth World books which demarcates the edge of the universe, composed of the calcified remains of those that try to escape its bounds.  What follows in this issue as the surviving Lanterns of four corps come to blows with Relic for one last ditch battle truly changes everything that we had known about the Green Lantern books for the past eight years.  Keystone friendships come to an end, loyalties are tested, and deals are struck that alter the dynamics that have driven this comic for decades.  What Venditti has accomplished with this five part “Lights Out” crossover arc is truly inspired and well thought out, providing entertaining, innovative storylines, but also prescient social commentary.  Relic’s findings about impending climate and energy collapse, dismissed by the powers that be, bears a striking resemblance to global warming and the current state of fossil fuel depletion.  As our best scientists currently discover more about global warming or the mathematics about the consumption of oil and coal versus the remaining stores the shortsighted in power try to silence them so the cogs of the status quo aren’t halted.  Both sides of the issue and the rationale of each are portrayed equally and fairly by Venditti as he examines it through the lens of intergalactic whimsy.  Sean Chen provides exquisite art that brings the finale of this cosmic odyssey to a poignant close, matching the art of Billy Tan quite well.  Overall, if you are Green Lantern fan, this annual is a must read, regardless of your thoughts on the direction the Green Lantern titles are taking.

    The Power of Life.

    The Power of Life.

  • Aquaman Annual #1 resurrects the work of Geoff Johns’ from his “Others” arc, but this time under the pen of John Ostrander.  The Others were a group of gifted individuals that Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, joined after accepting his Atlantean heritage and becoming king of Atlantis.  To each of his teammates he gifted a different relic of ancient Atlantis.  He kept the trident, but gave the others to the Others.  It is precisely this fact that gives conflict to the issue’s plotline.  The Operative, Joshua Cole, is given his fallen teammate Vostok’s helmet for safekeeping because his mobile headquarters aboard an aircraft allows the most security.  However, that doesn’t stop it from being absconded with by literal flying monkeys dispatched by an equally literal wicked witch.  Along with the the monkeys come hoards of magically altered sea life, prompting the appearance of Aquaman.  The danger of one of the powerful talismans of Atlantis falling into the wrong hands brings the surviving members of the Others together once again, with honorary members, Sky and the Operative’s grandson, Aaron.  Once they come together the trail leads them to Morgan Le Faye, last seen in the series Demon Knights.  After the fall of Camelot and the various kingdoms that followed little has been told about what happened to Morgan.  Now we get to see how she’s holding up in the present.  In Arthurian myth, Morgana was always a seductive figure that corrupted through her feminine wiles, magic, or power.  In the present era, she puts the Others to the test, finding some to be wanting.  Ostrander writes a fantastic annual that feeds off of the burgeoning mythology of not only the Aquaman series, but also Demon Knights, building upon that foundation new levels to each.  His characterization of Johns’ characters feels very authentic and cuts deep to the core of who they are.  The pencils of Netho Diaz and Geraldo Borges are similar to the pencils of Ivan Reis, original series artist, bringing further authenticity.
  • Nightwing Annual #1, written by Nightwing scribe Kyle Higgins deals with a bevy of complex issues and characters.  Concerning his native topic of Dick Grayson’s life, Nightwing is transitioning into a new phase of his life.  So much of his past has been tied to Gotham and Batman’s legacy.  With the fallout of “Death of the Family” he has been forced to break from all that he has known since he took up with Batman after the death of his parents and forge his own path.  Bruce and his acolytes have become his family in lieu of the parents he lost and the family he once had in Haly’s circus.  Higgins’ run began with him inheriting Haly’s and reestablishing that bond with his first family.  In one fell swoop, the Joker took both the circus and his ability to trust Batman away.  So literally, he is cut off from everything he has ever known and is venturing into uncharted territory.  Higgins also picks up Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, at an equally low and uncertain time in her life.  Barbara is the eldest child of legendary Gotham police commissioner James Gordon and the big sister of sociopathic serial killer, James Gordon Jr.  Recently, when her little brother found his way into her life he set about terrorizing her and their mother to the point of Barbara having no choice but to “put him down.”  The lattermost moment witnessed by her father, which put Batgirl on the top of Commissioner Gordon’s most wanted list.  Hunted by her father in her masked identity and haunted by her actions in her civilian identity, Barbara has forsaken her all-consuming life as Batgirl and tried to figure out who Barbara Gordon actually is.  In the fallout of two lives crumbling, they look to what fragments of their pasts remain for comfort.  One of the hallmark points of both characters’ geneses in masked crime-fighting was a brief teen romance.  Even before the New DCU, back when Barbara was still in the wheelchair, there was a “will they/won’t they” repartee betwixt the two bat-family members.  They’d come close only for fate to pull them apart again.  Higgins picks that up as the two twenty-something vigilantes attempt to save an imperiled actress in a similar situation to their own.  The parallels between their charge’s rocky romantic past and their own draws them closer and closer toward finally realizing what is right in front of them.  Higgins masterfully tells this story of two broken souls, while re-introducing readers to the classic Batman villain, Firefly, all the while layering plot points and metaphor through the narrative.  Helping him in art are Jason Masters, Daniel Sampere, and Vincente Cifuentes, all of whom have done time on the Bat-books and proven their chops depicting Gotham’s cast of characters.  Overall, Higgins hasn’t lost his touch one iota as a writer of Nightwing and those closest to him.

    Young Love.

    Young Love.

  • Teen Titans Annual #2 finds Red Robin, Superboy, and Wonder Girl stabilized in their madcap roller-coaster ride through time, landing twenty years in a seemingly post-apocalyptic future.  The Justice League has fallen.  Batman has fallen.  All that remains is Beast Boy, Rose Wilson, and a ragtag group of meta-teens.  Through this annual, current Teen Titans writer and former Superboy writer Scott Lobdell realizes the near future of the DC Universe.  Even after he left the Superboy title, he came back for the 19th issue, revealing the human heart of the 25th century monster named Harvest and the one thing he loved above all else: his son, Jonathan Kent . . . the first Superboy.  Jonathan comes back in this issue and clone (Kon-El)  finally meets his original (Jonathan).  From issue #1 of Superboy, the boy Supergirl would name Kon-El has been a living weapon molded to cull super-powered individuals.  Trained and honed into a blunt object, a part of him relishes the role, but another part yearns to be free and experience friendship.  The better angels in his soul are what make him Kon.  The part of him that takes pleasure in the sadism he does is the memetic legacy of Jonathan from whom he was cloned.  At the point in the future when this annual takes place, Jonathan has come out of nowhere and nearly eradicated all the meta-humans.  He and Superboy do battle with Superboy actually coming out on top, proving that sometimes originals can be improved upon.  Inheriting Jonathan’s lack of mercy he attempts to coup-de-grace the psychotic super-teen, but as seen in the Action Comics Annual, is drawn from that point in time-space by the Oracle to aid Superman and Supergirl in stopping H’el’s assault on the omniverse.  No rest for Superboy.  In the meantime, Beast Boy councils Red Robin about this future and how it can be avoided and then explains that all the information and preparations he has given them were at Red Robin’s own behest after the three Titans return from this jaunt to the future to prepare themselves to combat this impending doom.  Seems like a time paradox to me, but I suppose with comics you have to check your disbelief at the door.  At the same time Wonder Girl stumbles upon a scrambled holographic record of Red Robin talking about the death of their team and a traitor among their number.  But the most troubling development is that the dying Jonathan is saved by Beast Boy, dressed in Superboy’s costume, and sent back knowingly with the Teen Titans to the past.  A real Hail Mary, but clearly Beast Boy knows what he’s doing since a pysched out Jonathan in the past would endanger his own existence in this future were his intentions untoward.  However, that being the case, it is highly likely that Lobdell is going to have Kon killed in “Return of Krypton” considering that he’s placed a “fake” Superboy among the Titan’s number.  Scott Lobdell has been rocking every DC book he’s touched and his treatment of both this annual and the Action Comics annual has been nothing short of stellar.

    No Mercy for the Merciless.

    No Mercy for the Merciless.

  • Swamp Thing Annual #2 provides a universe hashing interlude between the gauntlet laid down by the Parliament of Trees to decide who should be Avatar of the Green and the actual fight.  Alec Holland is the chosen avatar, but the up-and-coming Seeder has the gumption to challenge that ascendancy.  Writer Charles Soule takes this annual and uses it not only as a way of showing the preparation that Alec has to fight this battle, but also to morph the Swamp Thing mythos into something that is his own.  Original writer Scott Snyder wrote Holland as a prophesied warrior king of the Green.  A messianic figure.  It worked wonders for his run, making it legendary and an epic read.  However, it also left whoever took over the series painted into a corner.  Here Holland is told that he isn’t actually that special and he was just told that by the Parliament to make him believe in himself enough to defeat Anton Arcane and his Rotworld.  Like most political arenas, avatars curry favor and disdain with various members.  When an avatar is retired they join the Parliament.  Holland is championed by a Swamp Thing that looks like a 17th century British gentleman, going by the name “Wolf.”  Wolf shows Alec the ropes and attempts to give him the lay of the political landscape.  He also arranges for him to speak with a very dangerous former Swamp Thing named the “Lady Weed.”  She was challenged for her status as Avatar and she prevailed, showing the depth of her cunning and ruthlessness.  She prevailed through stone-cold brutality and to drive home the point, she brought about the Great Potato Famine in Ireland, the country of origin to her slain rival.  A Swamp Thing must be ruthless if they are to remain the Avatar.  This blow to Alec hits hard, because his humanity has been something he has desperately attempted to hold onto, despite the inhuman thoughts that the Parliament whisper in his mind constantly.  The Wolf sends him to talk to one last person.  The Swamp Thing that the Parliament created artificially to stand in for him, thinking it WAS him.  This Swamp Thing was a cruel joke that despite not being human found humanity and that is what he imparts to Holland. His message to Alec is simple: “If you are asked to do something that will change you in a way you do not wish to be changed, that will compromise the person you believe yourself to be . . . say no.”  The messages given by Weed and the blue Swamp thing are polar opposites and seemingly disharmonious to the goals that the Wolf would have Alec achieve, since he has stock in the retention Alec as Swamp Thing, but what the Wolf has done is give Alec a choice.  He can do as the Green would have him and be the ruthless killer that Lady Weed was to retain her title or he can be the Avatar he wants to be just like the avatars seen at the beginning of this annual did once upon a time.  Charles Soule has taken this issue in hand and made it his own, following in the tradition of Snyder, but telling a story in his own tenor.  Javier Pina and regular series artist Kano provide lush art and incredible visuals to enliven the brilliant scripting of Soule.  This is very much a talking issue and very light on action, but for Swamp Thing faithfuls it is well worth the read. SwampThingAnnual#2
  • Damian: Son of Batman #1 presents an unofficial Elseworld style story about one of the most captivating and controversial characters to come to the Bat-books in the past decade: Damian Wayne.  The sociopathic son of Batman and Talia Al-Ghul, Damian cuts a very rough figure, but beneath the harsh, abrasive exterior beats a human heart that wants the same things his father did and strives toward those goal with equal vigor.  Damian first entered comics in the version we know in 2005 with Batman #647, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Andy Kubert.  This past year, after a whirlwind tour of writing four series showcasing the characters of Batman and Damian, Grant Morrison killed off the young Wayne.  This series, Damian: Son of Batman, allows Damian’s co-creator Andy Kubert the opportunity to tell Damian’s story in his own way.  In it Batman is immediately killed at the beginning, blown up investigating a crime that seemingly was committed by the Joker.  In the aftermath, Damian is forced to pick up the pieces.  By this time he has grown into a young man, still occupying the role of Robin.  When he goes out to seek justice for his father’s slaying he finds himself alone.  His mother, Talia, and grandfather, Ra’s Al-Ghul, refuse him aid from the League of Assassins and all three of Damian’s predecessors as Robin are not even mentioned.  Ra’s even goes so far as to say that Damian has a greater duty to Batman than he does to the League, even though Ra’s and Talia genetically engineered him to be the next leader of the League, and suggests Damian take his rightful place as the next Batman to carry on his father’s legacy.  Despite his bravado and his overwrought sense of entitlement, Damian can’t even comprehend doing that and continues on as Robin.  As he had in the past and without any guiding light to stop him, his actions are calculated, precise, and brutal as he cuts a trail through villain after villain in Gotham seeking vengeance for his father.  The only voices of reason are a priest insinuated to be former police commissioner James Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth.  Andy Kubert ends the issue with a left field twist that could fundamentally alter everything this first issue led us to believe.  Kubert is a phenomenal artist and has proven so over the past several decades consistently.  The scion of comics legend, Joe Kubert (Rest in Peace), how could he not be.  However, this issue proves that not only did he inherit his father’s artistic ability, he is also gifted with his father’s narrative genius.  This series in its first installment IS Andy Kubert, revealing through pacing, plotting, style, and voice intimately the kind of person and storyteller that Kubert is.  The only things about this issue that aren’t him are the coloring done by Brad Anderson and the lettering done by Nick Napolitano.  Andy Kubert proved his mettle on the Villains Month Joker issue and now proves it again, giving his co-creation his own four issue send off.  This is certainly a series worth reading, not only for fans of Batman, but also fans of comics in general as the son of a deceased father attempts to take up his mantle and carry on his good works.  Am I referring to Damian and Bruce Wayne or Andy and Joe Kubert?  Therein lies the question.

    Heavy Weighs the Cowl.

    Heavy Weighs the Cowl.

  • Sandman: Overture #1 is the much anticipated prequel to Neil Gaiman’s first issues of Sandman, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the publication of the first issue.  The plot of this first installment is very hazy, ambling like a dream through various locations, situations, and characters.  It begins in a far off galaxy where the dominant form of life are sentient plants, with Morpheus (Dream) taking the form of a white flower upon a tall black leafed stalk.  It is in this visage that he first begins to feel somethingSandmanOverture1-1 strange in the Dreaming.  As the issue progresses, classic Sandman characters are slowly introduced to the reader for any jumpers on to the series, unfamiliar with the previous storylines.  The Corinthian makes an appearance, as does Dream’s big sister, Death, as well as his eldest sibling, the blind sage Destiny.  The issue terminates with Dream being summoned instinctually to a convocation of various versions of himself with the purpose as yet to be revealed.  Though the plot is vague, Gaiman has the style to whet his audiences appetite and entertain them despite the lack of concrete revelation.  As stated before, the plot is drawn out and nonlinear like a dream, adding to the ambiance.  Also contributing enormously to the ambiance is the peerless art of J.H. Williams III who lends his masterful talents.  When Williams and colorist Dave Stewart come together the product is magical and throw in Gaiman’s writing and you know that you are in for a show.  However, the true joy of Williams’ involvement in the book is the fallow ground Gaiman’s script grants him to spread his wings.  Through various segments of the issue his style changes, so while the beginning scenes on the plant planet are rich and vibrant, the following pages in 1915 London are dark, sketchy, and greytoned with inkwash treatments, only to later transition further into woodblocked fully monochromatic panels with the entrance of George Porcullis, and jumping ahead to the end with the four page fold out of different Morpheuses, each version of Dream is done differently some blue line prototypical, some very roughly drawn as though by a child, and some with no lines and just smeared hazy edges as though appearing from the ether.  In short this issue is one with no limitations and endless possibilities.  The pairing of two consummate geniuses on this anniversarial opus is nothing short of inspired and something for geeks around the world to rejoice about.

    Convocation of Dreams.

    Convocation of Dreams.

So ends a truly incredible batch of Annuals and special issues.  There was not one throw away book this week, with every issue put out adding something important to their imprints, titles, and subject material.  A fantastic way to end the month of October.

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 Annual #2:  Art by Kenneth Rocafort & Dan Jurgens, Colored by Tomeu Morey & Blond.

Green Lantern Annual #2:  Drawn by Sean Chen, Colored by Andrew Dalhouse & Wil Quintana, Inked by Jon Sibal & Walden Wong.

Nightwing Annual Annual #1:  Art by Jason Masters, Daniel Sampere & Vincente Cifuentes, Colored by Chris Sotomayor.

Teen Titans Annual #2:  Art by Barry Kitson, Art Thibert, Jesus Merino & Scott Hanna, Colored by Pete Pantazis.

Swamp Thing Annual #2:  Art by Kano.

Damian: Son of the Batman #1:  Art by Andy Kubert, Colored by Brad Anderson.

Sandman: Overture #1:  Art by J.H. Williams III, Colored Dave Stewart.

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Oct. 23, 2013

This week brings to a close the regular scheduled comics of October and presents some very incredible issues, not least of which being two Forever Evil tie-ins in Justice League and Justice League Dark, and the penultimate installment of the “Lights Out” plot in the Green Lantern books before next week’s Green Lantern Annual #2.  A lot of really great storytelling happening.

  • Justice League #24 is very much an Ultraman issue.  With last week’s issue of Justice League of America we were clued into the basic situation the Justice League and Justice League of America are facing in their enigmatic prison.  So Justice League takes us to the other side of the equation, cluing us into who the new kids in town are and what makes them tick.  As stated above, Ultraman takes center stage in this issue, dictating his life and the formative events that have molded him into the person that stepped through Pandora’s gate from the desiccated Earth-3 to our Earth-1.  In his universe Krypton was destroyed and just before that his parents slaughtered their way to the escape pods, killing everyone so that their son could be the sole survivor and have no competition in his conquest of that universe’s Earth.  Everything is twisted about the world of Earth-3.  The benevolent scientist Jor-El is replaced by a twisted lunatic named Jor-Il, who sends his son away with ultimatums and recordings telling little Kal-Il how worthless he is and that he has to be strong and destroy anything weak.  When he arrives on Earth he is found by the abusive drunk Jonathan Kent and his equally abrasive wife, Martha.  The infant Kal emerges from his rocket and disturbingly tells them in full sentences that they will serve as his parents, shortly after he cuts Jonathan’s hand off with his heat-vision.  Cut to the present where the last son of Krypton-3 goes to the Daily Planet of to see how the counterparts to his Earth-1 self measure up.  First on the docket: his pal Jimmy Olsen.  Considering the polar opposites that Earth-3 predicates from our world’s characters, the Jimmy Olsen of Ultraman’s reality proves to be a very depraved person.  So depraved the he is able to take advantage of Lois Lane, aka Superwoman, and still be left alive, untouched by her and her husband, Ultraman.  Cut next to the end of the issue with the inevitable entrance of Black Adam following the events of his Villains Month issue of Justice League of America. The fight between these titans is then tantalizingly put off for two weeks until Forever Evil #3.  After that solicitations put Owlman as the subject of Justice League #25, promising the debut of even more of his past.  Considering that Ultraman narrates this current issue and the Outsider (Earth-3 Alfred Pennyworth) narrated Justice League #23.4: The Secret Society, it can be assumed that Justice League #25 will be written from Thomas Wayne’s (Owlman) perspective, giving greater insight into the incongruities of Owlman’s actions throughout the Forever Evil books.  Geoff Johns really digs into the inherent psychopathy and malice that is at the heart of the CSA and Earth-3 as a world.  In the past they have always been depicted as very menacing, cavalier baddies that are bad because they are bad.  Here Johns really mines the philosophical beliefs that fuel their deeply malicious drives in ways that are both logical in a very cold way and scientific in their adherence to very strict interpretations of Darwinism.  Ivan Reis, Johns’ many times collaborator on Blackest Night, Brightest Day, and Aquaman, provides stellar artwork to bring to life the very stark, steely life of Ultraman.
  • Justice League Dark #24 kicks off the series’ under the shadow of Forever Evil and the pen of new writer J.M. Dematteis with art still by original series artist Mikel Janin.  The issue picks up as John Constantine awakens from the events of Trinity War, most notably Justice League #23 in which the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 entered into our world.  He wakes up in the House of Mystery with patchy memories of what happened upon the CSA’s advent into our reality.  When he walks through the house, attempting to get his bearings it transports him across the world, showing him various situations around the world with shadowy creatures lurking around events of negative human emotion.  Most of these events aren’t super malicious or overtly terrible, but as Constantine witnesses them he sees how evil feeds and breeds off of small sins committed absent-mindedly every day, and through this culmination of thoughtlessness and callous actions evil snowballs and coalesces into something greater, like a perpetual motion machine feeding off its own momentum.  At the tail end of this revelation he sees these sins rise up from the collected sins of humanity in the form of a giant serpentine dragon, like a blight on humanity, towering over our world.  Matteis is definitely skewing toward the biblical in his choice of imagery and it is quite apt.  The most poignant thought Constantine strings together from his observations is, “It’s so convenient to blame it all on some sneering, arrogant Satan, sitting on a fiery throne, plotting to corrupt our souls.  But if there is a Devil he’s just another projection of our own sins.”  Pretty astute, considering what a callous jerk Constantine has always been.  When the House returns him from his “vision quest” he is confronted by a version of the Justice League Dark who call him out for his own sins and selfishness.  Zatanna does reveal that he isn’t actually talking to them, nor is he awake, but rather still reeling from the fallout of what happened when he witnessed the second opening of Pandora’s Box.  She reaches into his chest and pulls out a handful of black goo, which allows him to wake up, for real this time, in the House of Mystery.  “Zatanna” is revealed to be the Nightmare Nurse, seen first and last in Phantom Stranger #8-9.  She helps Constantine come to terms with what happened and to ready himself for what is going to happen. To do this she grows a Swamp Thing to aid them since Constantine burned bridges with Alec Holland in the pages of Swamp Thing #22-23. Whereas Justice League of America seems to be about the fate of the Justice Leagues and Justice League appears to be a mouthpiece for the Crime Syndicate, Justice League Dark seems to be a philosophical look at evil itself.  Whether that holds up as Forever Evil continues, or whether there will be a major paradigm shift coming later, remains to be seen, but Matteis has taken hold of this title and made it his own.  Considering the subject material and the tone, this Justice League Dark is ideally suited to Matteis’ style.  It is very similar to his work on the 90’s Doctor Fate series and his current run on Phantom Stranger, giving him lots of room for the dark, twisted, and bizarre.  Mikel Janin remains on the title, retaining a certain degree of continuity over the three writers the series has seen.  Not always the best title, Justice League Dark finds a place among the best as Forever Evil marches onward.

    A Great Blight Upon Humanity . . .

    A Great Blight Upon Humanity . . .

  • Red Lanterns #24 returns to the planet Ysmault following Bleez’s discovery that Guy Gardner is a Green Lantern embedded with the Red Lanterns as a spy. The conversation she witnesses Guy concluding is basically Hal Jordan reneging on the deal that he and Guy made, essentially stranding him in hostile territory and throwing him to the wolves. Thus, Guy finds himself in a situation where he has had enough and washes his hands of Hal and the Green Lanterns forever. So of course Bleez’s reaction is threatening to out him to their fellow Red Lanterns and having him killed. Bleez is a very confident, strong woman and peerless among many of her brethren in blood. It’s one of the things that has captivated my imagination when reading anything that she is involved in.  So going into this she is rather cocky and lays her cards on the table.  But Guy Gardner isn’t new to this game. Guy is a sonuvabitch that doesn’t play by the rules if those rules put him at a disadvantage and ornery-as-all-get-out, he is someone that won’t be pinned to the mat. He immediately throws Bleez’s plan on its head and creates a reverse scenario that puts here in the crosshairs.  She would out him as a spy, but if he said she was a spy, considering her time with Kyle Rayner and the “New Guardians,” it would be a literal case of he-said/she-said.  So politically he has her at an impasse.  As a Lantern, Bleez was never in a position to take Atrocitus (creator and Chief Lantern of the Red Lantern Corps) down in a fight, but Guy DID two issues ago.  So muscle-wise he has the edge.  This culls Bleez’s bravado and makes her docile as a house cat. I’m not sure I am ok with that, but if it is a momentary thing that facilitates Guy’s assertion of the “throne,” I can handle it.  But Bleez CANNOT be cowed like that again. It’s a disrespect to the heart of the character. Guy follows up his defeat of Bleez by escorting her to a meeting of the Red Lanterns and telling them exactly what Bleez was going to tell them: he was sent in as a spy for the Green Lanterns and he has changed his position and wants to lead them. However, Hal chooses that awful moment to show up with the Green Lanterns. Even worse, he still thinks that he can command Guy, stoking the rage within the former Green Lantern following Hal’s betrayal of their deal. Hal tries to placate him and explain the Relic situation, but Guy is seeing red and not listening. Par for the course. When he does calm Guy, Hal explains that the Red Lanterns are the only corps that can stop Relic because their power isn’t strictly light based, but also rooted partially in blood magic which the ancient being can’t fend off with his science. So Guy and Hal broker a deal where in exchange for their help, the Reds get their own space sector where the Green Lanterns will not encroach  Kind of like the deal the Guardians made with Larfleeze. All is agreed and they move forward. Elsewhere Atrocitus and his faithful companion, Dex-Starr the cat, have contained the Red entity the Butcher, morphing Atrocitus into a being called the Atrocity Butcher, giving him horns and bull legs. He kind of looks like Satan in this form.  Carrying on from Green Lantern: New Guardians, Kyle the White Lantern comes and takes the Butcher with the other entities, robbing Atrocitus of his power. Charles Soule is seeding a very different book from the one that began two years ago under the pen of Peter Milligan. To me this is both good and bad. Without Milligan on the book, it would be bad for another writer to try to keep pace with his amazing concepts, but at the same time he set up some very interesting ideas that I would have loved to see actualized. Charles Soule, assuming he doesn’t completely clip Bleez’s “wings,” has the capacity to write an amazing series with great strength and gravitas.  Alessandro Vitti’s art is head and shoulders above the previous work on the series by Miguel Sepulveda, but doesn’t quite match up to original series artist Ed Benes or later artist Will Conrad. However, his lines do emote menace and anger which is 80% of the job.  With these two men on the job, I am optimistic about the future of this book.

    Don't Mess With Guy Gardner.

    Don’t Mess With Guy Gardner.

  • Superman #24 brings about the third and final chapter of the “Psi-War” storyline, picking up from Action Comics #24 two weeks ago.  The H.I.V.E. Queen had been attempting to enslave the world with her collection of human telepaths in preparation for the return of Brainiac.  In this endeavor she came into direct conflict with Hector Hammond, the giant headed Green Lantern villain, who also sought to rule humanity psychically. Both are sucker punched by the Psycho Pirate, a member of the enigmatic “Twenty” that Brainiac created before leaving Earth.  Psycho Pirate was one of the Queen’s prized slaves until he broke his chains and escaped her clutches.  In Action Comics #24 he showed Superman the “Swarm” and told of his intentions to release them and his need of a massive psychic power source to do it.  That source is Superman and instead of asking, he decides to take what he needs by force. His mask, called the Medusa Mask, augments his natural psychic abilities while also partitioning his mind from the intrusion of other telepaths.  It also, true to its name, has golden vipers made of psionic energy that the Psycho Pirate uses to inject a telepathic “venom” into the Man of Steel that warps his perceptions and makes him relive altered versions of hallmark moments in his life.  The trauma these events elicit within his psyche feeds the Pirate the energies he requires.  Lois Lane shows up in a blue, supercharged form and fends off the Psycho Pirate.  Afterward she, Superman, Hector Hammond, and the revived Queen strike a deal to take down the Pirate.  Though they don’t want to, if they don’t work together Metropolitans will rip each other limb from limb and the city will descend into anarchy to further facilitate Psycho Pirate’s goals.  The four work beautifully in concert, allowing Supes to rip the mask off of Psycho Pirate.  We don’t really see what happens to him after that.  The man under the mask disappears and the mask itself attempts to bond with Superman and claim him mind, but Lois again comes to his aid and guides him telepathically to fighting its thrall.  The mask is then destroyed, but at the cost of Lois’s life.  Or so it seems. She actually goes back into a coma after Superman gets her to a hospital.  However, before she succumbs to the fatigue from expending that much energy from her overtaxed mind, she picks up from Superman’s mind that he is in fact Clark Kent.  The question remains as to whether she will remember this when she wakes up or will she think it was all a dream?  Logic would dictate the latter as the most probably event.  It doesn’t make sense that DC would blow his identity two years into the game.  With the defeat of the Psycho Pirate and the weakening of both the H.I.V.E. Queen and Hector Hammond, the Psi-War is officially over. With this door closing the issue ends with Superman being pulled off planet, setting up the coming “Krypton Returns” plotline that I have been eagerly anticipating since September 2o12 with the release of Superman #0 and Supergirl #0.  Mike Johnson once again takes this one home the help of artist Eddy Burrows, whose work on Teen Titans and Nightwing invigorated both titles.

    The Greatest Story She'll Never Tell.

    The Greatest Story She’ll Never Tell.

  • Flash #24 concludes the “Reverse Flash” arc.  The Flash was one of those rare series that wasn’t affected by Villains Month.  While Flash #23 ended with the revelation that Daniel West, brother of Iris West, was the Reverse Flash, Villains Month gave him his own issue which revealed how he got his powers, what his childhood was like with an abusive father, and how the desire for a better relationship with his sister has motivated him his entire life.  The trauma of their childhood under their dad’s tyranny created a divide between them and Daniel desperately wants that closeness back.  This led him to a life of crime, trying to find the quick way to make his sister’s life easier and his own.  It only made things harder though, sending him to prison and taxing his relationship with Iris even further.  After getting out of prison he immediately found himself in the middle of the Gorilla Invasion of the Gem Cities and pulled into the Mirror World where the Rogues were giving citizens refuge . . . while also robbing them, making them pay for the privilege.  Dr. Elias’ Speed Force monorail engine, powered by
    The Wrath of Reverse Flash.

    The Wrath of Reverse Flash.

    the Speed Force energy he had siphoned off of Flash, was also in the Mirror World and exploded, fusing onto Daniel’s body and giving him his Speed Force powers.  After killing other people who were in the Speed Force and taking their energies he gets the ability to travel back far enough in time to kill his father, engineering the childhood he always wanted and “ensuring” the relationship he always wanted with his sister.  Little did he know that the younger versions of himself and sister would be present when he does the deed.  Flash goes back and reasons with Daniel that the trauma he inflicts on the kids is far worse than the continued trauma of their father’s abuses. So he once again is only making things worse for himself, not better.  Barry also enumerates that all the energy coming off himself while he moves through the Speed Force is what actually moves time forward, so the fact that Daniel is the exact opposite of Flash, this is how he is able to travel backward.  While Daniel is distracted he is able to siphon his Speed Force energiesFlash24-2 back and move both back into the present.  Iris is then able to complete the job Barry started by guilting Daniel into submission and he is returned to prison, although completely unrepentant about what he did.  Iris on the other hand tells him that despite how horrific their childhood was it made them both strong and she wouldn’t change the past for anything.  It made her the woman she is.  After concluding this catastrophic time-altering nightmare, Barry is able to make it to Patty Spivot’s parent’s 40th wedding anniversary, meets her dad, and get the last dance with her.  On that note I must once again assert my absolute love of Patty Spivot.  She is an amazing character and I am glad that Buccellato and Manapul put her and Barry together in their run on this series.  After this tender moment, Flash meets Dr. Elias (the two-faced scientist that turned the city against him, stole his Speed Force energies, and tried to kill him a few times) and basically tells him that he created the Reverse Flash, imperiled Iris, and admits that if Iris had been killed Flash would have killed him.  With the ultimatum issued to stay out of Flash’s way, the consequences are left ominously open-ended.  The issue’s conclusion functions as a denouement of the entirety of what Flash as a character IS.  Barry had a really awful childhood, coming home at a young age to find his mother murdered and his father accused of the crime, which Barry has spent the last twenty years trying to disprove forensically, and Lord knows Flash would love nothing more than to go back and prevent it from happening or even witness the crime to discover the killer’s identity and exonerate his dad, but that isn’t who he is.  Probably a nod to Flashpoint, which started this reboot and also created a nightmare world of evil superheroes.  It is an examination of his moral compass and the realization that you can’t go back.  He can only go forward, which is a pretty optimistic perspective for himself and his readers.  You can’t change your past and even if you could you shouldn’t.  If you lived through something terrible it only shows your resilience and gives you strength to take in your forward facing journey.  Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul really get this character and the world he lives in.  There is so much heart and philosophical brilliance put into the scripting and rendering of each and every panel.  Their storytelling is peerless as is their combined artistic prowess.  This is a one of THE titles to get, encapsulating everything that is GOOD in the comic medium.

    Strength Out Of Weakness.

    Strength Out Of Weakness.

  • Aquaman #24 is the penultimate chapter of the “Dead King” arc, telling a chilling tale of the first King of Atlantis.  It began when a dead king came back to life from the ice of the southern polar ice cap, with the power to control water, as most Atlanteans do, but with the added ability to freeze water, which often is a means of heralding his advent.  He tells Aquaman that he is not the king of Atlantis nor was the throne ever rightfully his, causing some distress for Aquaman, who really sits upon it by necessity, not choice.  In this issue Aquaman wakes up after having passed out from using his telepathic ability to get the aquatic leviathan named Topos (a giant crustacean cephalopod) to attack the villain called the Scavenger from bombing Atlantis with his submarine fleet, thereby saving his subjects lives.  Six months have passed and he is being cared for by Vulko, his former Atlantean adviser who initiated the war between Atlantis and the surface world.  Obviously he is greatly perturbed by this man’s presence, but Vulko takes him to the Dead King’s throne room in Antarctica and shows him the history of the dead monarch.  King Atlan founded Atlantis with utopian dreams of uniting the world, leading many zealots among his court to rise up against him for the affront to their racial superiority.  Headed up by Atlan’s younger brother Orin they attempted to kill Atlan, forcing him into exile and prompting him to forge the six artifacts of Atlantis, seen in the “Others” arc of Aquaman several months ago.  When Atlan returned he found his wife and children were murdered to solidify Orin’s rule.  So the Dead King killed Orin, killed his Queen, and then sunk the continent beneath the sea with the scepter he had forged, killing 90% of the population.  The 10% that survived became the modern Atlantean people.  There were seven nations united under the Atlantean banner who were the scions of the seven seas. Four nations were wiped out and three survived, one of which was the Trench, the fish-like people seen in the first arc of this title.  The other two most likely were the proper Atlanteans and the Xebel, who now live in exile.  That second part is an assumption from context clues.  The issue ends with Arthur realizing that he isn’t the rightful king and Atlan is.  Atlan doesn’t have descendants, and Arthur is the descendant of Orin, a regicidal, fratricidal, racist lunatic.  That’s a tough pill to swallow.  Geoff Johns is a good writer, albeit one that has kind of gone crazy with power, lording over the Reboot willy-nilly.  However, in this final arc he is doing a very decent job writing a compelling story that honors the character and the facets of his character that have buoyed him above the mockery that surrounds the concept of Aquaman with most non-comic fans and a large number of actual comic fans.  This issue is a prime example of “Johns done right.”
  • Larfleeze #4 features the opening salvos of the “Revolt of the Orange Lanterns.”  The series’ protagonist, Larfleeze, is the sole wielder of the Orange Light of Greed making him the only tangible Orange Lantern.  The illusion of there being an Orange Lantern Corps comes from his theft of the life-force of beings he desires to serve him.  They are then recreated as Orange Light constructs and dispatched to do their master’s will.  After last issue, his Corpsmen are not only free of his control, but also returned to corporal life.  With their bodies and self-determination restored they turn on Larfleeze and seek revenge for their murder and subsequent enslavement.  What this issue does that is interesting is fully introduce members of the Orange Lantern Corps and give them personalities.  Conceptually, the members of the Corps always depicted in the background were given names and back stories, but never contextually within the Green Lantern titles.  Glomulus, Larfleeze’s cute little toadie, is the only Orange Lantern besides Larfleeze himself to be depicted with any sort of personality.  In this issue we meet Clypta (a faceless twi’lek-looking woman), Wrap (a cycloptic mummy), Sound Dancer (a fanged, green-skinned swamp monster with long stringy hair obscuring her eyes), Nat-Nat (a lamprey millipede), Tammal-Tayn (a squid-faced, furry arachnid), and a centaur-like character that has as of yet not been named. The depiction of Glomulus, I feel was very off, and falls short of the incredible way he was depicted in the “Ring Thief” arc of Green Lantern: New Guardians.  Tony Bedard hit on something really wonderful, now squandered by writers J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen.  Larfleeze is an obstinate, ornery psychotic, but even he cannot stave off that kind of assault.  Elsewhere in the universe, Larfleeze’s once butler, Stargrave, is escorted by his new mistress, the Wanderer, to the home of her sister, Dyrge, who is just as cheerful as her name implies.  Giffen and DeMatteis write an extremely comical and quick-witted cosmic farce (though sometimes misguided) that both explores the Green Lantern universe and lampoons it.  Scott Kolins’ art enlivens the script with sharp lines and action pack panels.  This is certainly a comic to read on a rainy day when you are down in the dumps.

    Beware the Orange Lanterns' Might . . .

    Beware the Orange Lanterns’ Might . . .

  • Talon #12 returns after the Villains Month hiatus with an insane amount of plot points converging in a perfect storm of chaos for Calvin Rose and allies.  Previously, Calvin had chased exiled Court of Owls grandmaster, Sebastian Clark, to Santa Prisca where the disgraced leader tried to use Bane and his mercenary army to crush the Court.  Bane, however, is not a force that can be controlled and though he sets out for Gotham with a massive strike force of highly trained mercenaries to destroy Gotham he does so with no intention of following someone else’s script.  Back in Gotham, Calvin’s lover Casey Washington and her daughter Sarah were captured by the Court.  Sarah was taken to a facility where she would be subliminally conditioned to be a weapon and Casey given to the 19th century Talon infamously known as the “Gotham Butcher.”  Casey escaped his sadism, finding her way back to Calvin, minus an arm and an eye.  This issue follows the Butcher breaking from Court control after the loss of their trump card against Calvin.  The Butcher gained his name in the 1860’s by slaughtering hundreds of Gothamites in very bloody and public ways, forcing the Court to retire him to protect their anonymity. The modern Court awoke him with the delusion that he could be tamed with science and high-tech restraints.  Where there’s a will there’s a way and the Butcher CANNOT be silenced or leashed, unleashing a whole new level of horror on Gotham, as if Bane and his commandos weren’t enough.  Writer James Tynion reinforces the connection of this series to the initial arc of Batman, which he cowrote, that first introduced the Court of Owls.  After his premature birth, Thomas Wayne Jr. (little brother of Bruce) was supposedly taken to the Carpenter House for Boys, which had been a haunted place since the fire of 1862.  The Butcher started that fire and also set into motion the steady decline of Gotham.  Bane, Clark, the Butcher, and the corner Court.  The stakes are high going into the final issue of Tynion’s run with “lucky” issue #13.
  • Teen Titans #24 is an unseated trip through time and space.  After being flung into the time-stream by Johnny Quick in Forever Evil #2 the Teen Titans are separated and tossed to the temporal trade winds.  When writer Scott Lobdell began writing this series two years ago, he had the Mexican meta-teen Bunker (aka Miguel Jose Barragon) meet Red Robin on a freight train, saying Red Robin had told him to meet him there.  Tim Drake (Red Robin) had no recollection of that ever happening.  Thanks to Johnny Quick and the roller-coaster ride he threw the team into that conversation is actualized.  Meanwhile, Wonder Girl (aka Cassie Sandsmark) and Superboy find themselves in ancient Egypt fending off an invasion of solar intruders called the Sunturnians, last seen in Lobdell’s Superman #19.  Solstice (aka Kiran Singh) and Kid Flash (aka Bart Allen) are sent into the 25th century, Bart’s native time, to witness the events that made Bart into a heinous criminal, unbeknownst to his amnesic mind.  Raven is sent to the medieval era and set against the Demon, Etrigan.  As these moments in time unfold before their eyes, connections are made and slowly the team find one another through the vast reaches of the ages and anchor themselves until Red Robin can find a way to extricate themselves.  However, there are forces within the team that are set to tear them apart.  Scott Lobdell has been one of the keystone pillars on this title.  His out-of-the-box plotting and edgy storytelling has led to some of the most incredible, engaging Teen Titans storylines since the days of Wolfman and Perez and their New Teen Titans series in the 80’s.  Providing guest art is Angel Unzueta, mimicking well the style of regular series Eddy Barrows.  This was really a great issue that carries on the overarching plot of Forever Evil while tantalizing the reader with plot reveals that have been in the works for months, if not years, including the identity of Bart Allen and the horrific acts he perpetrated in the future.  The traitor in the midst of the Titans.  Lobdell maintains this series’ must-read status.

    The Origin of Kid Flash.

    The Origin of Kid Flash.

  • The Unwritten #54 concludes the massive Fables/Unwritten crossover in an epic manner.  Mister Dark has the war with the Fables all but won.  Truly, every single modicum of resistance the defenders of Fabletown offer turn to dust before him.  What Frau Totenkinder knew and shows the reintegrated Tom Taylor is the nature of the world in which they exist and its relation to the power of the written word.  That has been the guiding principle of the entire series and, apropos the conclusion of this crossover event, harkens back to the very first pages of The Unwritten, almost five years ago.  The issue hits its ending hard leaving a cliffhanger whose ramifications resound through an infinity of possibilities.  Nearly all the Fables are dead and those that aren’t by issue’s end are close to it.  Mister Dark is an unstoppable force.  Only the undoing of everything can stop him in his tracks.  But once reality is undone can it be redone?  Will the world be made right again or completely restarted?  Through the imagery of the horn used in the opening pages of The Unwritten in the Harry Potter-esque “Tommy Taylor” books, cowriters Mike Carey and Peter Gross prove that they have been working towards this moment and the answers to come for nigh on half a decade.  THIS is a moment in Unwritten history that is both exciting and terrifying for the series’ faithful.  And what’s worse, it is put on a three-month hiatus forestalling the resolution to those troubling questions.  We’ll just have to wait until March to figure it all out.
  • T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents #3 brings to light the one of the most pressing questions of the series thus far.  Entitled “The Judgment Tower,” it has seen the international super-terrorist, the Iron Lady, seizing a top-secret T.H.U.N.D.E.R installation in Kashmir and capturing two agents.  The base was so secret the chairmen and women of The Higher United Nations didn’t even know about it until it went dark with two agents down.  When asked to explain her actions Director (Kat) Kane remains cryptic about what the facility’s purpose was and why she kept it secret from her superiors.  Interlaced within these moments are retrospectives of her time as an agent, alongside her twin sister, Kelly.  Kelly has been strongly insinuated to be the Iron Maiden and clearly this whole conflict over the cave not only springs from a power grab, but some familial connection from the past.  That assertion is confirmed in this issue with the revelation that Kane had found a giant subterranean medieval parapet of medieval design not far from T.H.U.N.D.E.R HQ.  The tower, though seemingly from the middle ages, dates back over a million years ago before the evolution of man as the dominant species on our planet.  It also emits a cosmic radiation encountered only via radio telescope from the depths of space.  So . . . who built this tower and for what purpose?  That remains to be seen.  But Kane not only found this tower twelve years prior with her sister.  She also found one in Kashmir.  That is what the facility was built to contain and study and that is why two elite agents fell into enemy hands guarding it.  Though the facility is under Iron Maiden’s control, the newest and perhaps most powerful T.H.U.N.D.E.R agent, Len Brown, aka Dynamo, is inserted into the base and several moles within her organization surface for the good of the mission.  However, the true purpose of the tower and its realization begin with the last page.  My familiarity with T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents has been painstaking, finding collections of the original series over several jumps in publishers and many decades.  Though not complete, I have read several versions of T.H.U.N.D.E.R and though this has its differences from several of the latter versions, Phil Hester’s attempt with this new series hits uncannily close to the style and feel of the original series by Wally Wood and the writer Len Brown who lent his name to the main character, Dynamo.  Fifty years later and the same characters are rendered with the same quality by Hester and his partner in art, Andrea Di Vito.  For superhero excellence outside of the Big Two, this series is the prime choice.
    The Dark Tower Rising.

    The Dark Tower Rising.

     

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 Dark #24: Art by Mikel Janin, Colored by Jeromy Cox.

Red Lanterns #24: Art by Alessandro Vitti, Colored by Gabe Eltaeb.

Superman #24: Drawn by Eddy Barrow, Colored Pete Pantazis, Inked by Eber Ferreira.

Flash #24: Art by Francis Manapul, Colored by Brian Buccellato.

Larfleeze #4: Art by Scott Kolins, Colored by Mike Atiyeh.

Teen Titans #24: Drawn by Angel Unzueta, Colored Pete Pantazis, Inked by Art Thibert.

The Unwritten #54: Art by Peter Gross, Colored by Chris Chuckry.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R  Agents #3: Art by Andrea Di Vito, Colored by Rom Fajardo.

Oct. 16, 2013

This week is a one of revelation, bringing quite a few story arcs to their satisfying conclusion and starting a few new ones.  Justice League of America reveals a major secret, Batman/Superman ends its first storyline with unique style, and Supergirl picks up after a “Who Shot J.R.” style cliffhanger dangled over two months worth of issues.  Meanwhile, Forever Evil: Rogues Revenge kicks off this month with its first issue and Batman & Robin emerges from a slew of guest stars with a five issue Two-Face “team-up.”  An awesome week to be sure, so let’s jump into it.

  • Justice League of America # 8 answers the question of what happened to the three Justice Leagues.  Since the beginning of Forever Evil the Crime Syndicate of America from Earth-3 claimed that they had killed the Justice League.  The vision of the world’s saviors defeated at the hands of a superior foe has robbed humanity of hope.  But as this issue opens Stargirl and Martian Manhunter awaken in an open field with only blue skies and green grass as far as the eyes can see.  As they move through it they realize that what they are in is a state-of-the-art prison, but how it works and to what end remains obscured.  Traversing the prison, Manhunter discovers that all League members are in fact alive and penned in very specialized cells that cater to their inherent weaknesses.  Wonder Woman, the Mighty Amazon, is forced to fight a pointless, neverending battle against humanity and her Amazonian sisters to save the lives of the two men she loves, Col. Steve Trevor and Superman.  Captain Marvel, a young boy living in the body of a titan, is placed in a city where the massive destruction he incurs in his superheroics immediately right themselves, even the slain immediately resurrecting.  For a little boy with infinite strength and a victim complex this scenario is intoxicating.  Flash, the Fastest Man Alive, is trapped in his apartment subject to the whims of his imagination, thinking he is going faster than ever when really he barely moves.  Superman, the noble Last Son of Krypton also called “the Boy Scout” by Batman, is weighed down by guilt over supposedly killing his teammates and attempts to fly fast enough to break the time barrier.  Simon Baz, Iraqi-American and fifth Green Lantern of Earth, is a man with great anger and resentment at the social injustice leveled at himself, his family, and his people.  Martian Manhunter’s mental abilities allow him to verify that each person is genuine and not delusions or elaborate hoaxes.  Writer Matt Kindt is given the honor of revealing one of the biggest secrets of Forever Evil, and tantalizes with juicy details that cut deep to the psyches of each character.  I mentioned the inherent weaknesses of the characters, but those weaknesses do not include kryptonite or the color yellow, etc.  Each of the Justice Leaguers has a weakness in their character and exploiting those weaknesses is a more sustainable restraint than their physical limitations.  So the Justice League and Justice League of America are both alive and being held in a customized super-prison.  This reveals a lot, but raises more questions.  1) Why did the CSA leave them alive when they could have killed them and ended any future interference?  2) What is the prison and how does it work?  3) Why were Stargirl and Martian Manhunter left together in the prison and how does the field play into their ideal incarceration?  Matt Kind writes a hell of a Forever Evil tie-in to usher in Justice League of America’s involvement in the greater scheme of things.  Doug Mahnke continues art duties on the title after initial series artist David Finch moved over to the main Forever Evil book.  Mahnke has a talent for rendering very serious material with the subtleties of his art.  Considering the prison’s function of playing into internal flaws, Mahnke’s art, especially in the eyes and expressions of his subjects, effectively displays their delusional states and subsequent madness. Overall, Kindt and Mahnke provide a stellar issue cutting to the heart of the Earth-1 aspect of Forever Evil.

    The Mighty Amazon.

    The Mighty Amazon.

  • Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion #1 fulfills the promise of its title; the Rogues’ rebellion begins.  Brian Buccellato, cowriter of The Flash, has been writing the Rogues on and off for 28 issues.  The Rogues are compelling villains, because they have ironclad codes of honor that they rigidly adhere to.  That honor is what sets them apart from the “Evil that shall inherit the Earth.”  In this spinoff series of Forever Evil, the Rogues return to Central City after witnessing the Crime Syndicate’s rousing speech reprinted in almost every tie-in book.  What greets them is a city in ruin and mass carnage.  In the Gorilla Grodd Villains Month issue we saw the cause of the carnage.  Grodd was freed from the Speed Force and abhors the concept of gorillas and humans coexisting in peace.  When Solivar, leader of Gorilla City, tried to make amends for Grodd’s attack on the Gem Cities, Grodd comes back to finish the job he began.  Humans and gorillas are slaughtered wholesale.  However, many are left alive for other villains to finish off.  The Rogues prey upon Central City and Keystone City, but they DO NOT kill and they don’t steal from people who can’t afford it.  They also are VERY territorial and any violence leveled at their home is tantamount to a declaration of war against them.  So when they find most of the Gem Cities’ police force chained to trees they let them loose, but assert right from the start that they will work with the police, but will not cow to them.  After the events of the Rogues issue during Villains Month, Lisa Snart, aka Golden Glider and younger sister of Captain Cold, fell deeper into a coma after overexerting her astral form to free her lover, Mirror Master, from his Mirror World prison.  Cold took over leadership of the Rogues after this and her safety became the primary concern of all members henceforth.  So when they visit her bedside in the hospital and the Crime Syndicate’s lackeys come forward to enact Central City’s destruction they show their true colors and give their fellow “villains” a show.  The ending of this issue was heralded before in Forever Evil #2 with the dispatch of Deathstorm (evil Firestorm of Earth-3) and Power Ring (sort of evil Green Lantern from Earth-3) to put down their rebellion.  Brian Buccellato is ridiculously on with this first issue, proving that he understands quintessentially the logos of these anti-heroic figures of comic lore.  The Rogues aren’t bad per se, but their ignominy stems from the tenacious drive they have to achieve their goals and resist anyone or anything that would stop them.  What’s more, they fight tenaciously while still holding fast to their sacrosanct code of honor.  There is a scene after they release the police when Lt. Singh, Barry Allen’s supervising officer, levels a gun at Heat Wave and the Rogue looks him in the eye and very calmly delivers a smooth warning that immediately gets the gung-ho officer to lower his weapon.  That thin line between ceding ground and seizing it is a gossamer thread that can make or break a Rogue story and Buccellato walks it like a pro.  The art of this issue is split between two artists, Patrick Zircher and Scott Hepburn.  Both artists worked with Buccellato last month on his Flash Villain issues, Zircher lending his art to The Rogues and Hepburn to Reverse Flash.  Zircher’s art was outstanding and very emotionally charged.  Hepburn’s fell flat in my opinion when juxtaposed so closely with the evocative pencils and inks of Zircher.  I didn’t mind his art in the Reverse Flash issue, and actually kind of liked it.  However, when so closely placed to such a different style, Hepburns art comes off far less realistic and more cartoonish, and considering the somber tone of the book, that is NOT conducive to the readers immersion in the plot.  Overall though, it was a phenomenal issue and one not to be missed.

    Don't Mess With Fire Or You'll Get Burned.

    Don’t Mess With Fire Or You’ll Get Burned.

  • Green Lantern: New Guardians #24 is the middle mark of the epic “Lights Out” storyline happening throughout the Green Lantern titles.   Oa, center of the universe and ancient homeworld of the Green Lantern Corps, has been destroyed by the ancient being known as Relic, leaving the Green Lantern Corps homeless and in exile.  Former Green Lantern and current White Lantern Kyle Rayner also finds himself reeling from the loss of Oa.  However, in the wake of this tragedy the errant entities of the various lights simultaneously possess him and bend him to their will.  Kyle had previously played host to Ion, entity of Will, and Parallax, entity of Fear, and been able to assert himself with difficulty, but with five of the seven infesting him at once there is no shaking them off.  However, while his incarceration is unpleasant, it does shed light on what is going on with the entities and the universe’s reservoir of light.  Justin Jordan has been helming this title since the apocalyptic events of “Wrath of the Last Lantern” concluded Tony Bedard’s run and his issues have really put the weight of the world on poor Kyle’s shoulders.  If you are a fan of Kyle Rayner, as I am, this issue and its immediate predecessors paint a very epic picture of the artist’s role in maintaining cosmic equalibrium.  Justin Jordan picks up from Robert Venditti and Van Jensen and passes the story to Charles Soule for Red Lanterns #24 with no loss of momentum.  Truly amazing.
  • Batman & Robin #24 opens with a fly landing on a sleeping Two-Face’s bad eye, which never closes when he sleeps.  Waking up, he puts a gun to his head.  By page 2 writer Peter Tomasi has already established a haunted version of the binary bad guy.  Then the story shifts to Batman and the GCPD breaking skulls to find details on the imminent return of an infamous Gotham mobster that has been running the Irish gangs remotely from numerous safe houses around the world: Erin McKillen.  She comes into town for a very important summit with all Gotham City families to determine the future of organized crime in a city plagued with “freaks.”  McKillen is told that she is going to be the one to start the ball rolling by offing Two-Face, the man she created.  Cut to a flashback of that fateful moment years ago.  Harvey Dent wakes in his office, strapped to his desk top, his wife Gilda dead on the floor with a letter opener in her chest, and Erin McKillen wearing Gilda’s clothes.  Mocking him, she pours acid on his face to show Gotham “what a two-faced son of a bitch [he] is.”  Despite the agony he breaks some glass with his shoe and saws the ropes holding him down, freeing himself, then holds his wife one last time and kisses her with his wrecked face.  Again, the characterization and the haunted nature of Harvey Dent is beautifully portrayed by Tomasi and visually rendered by Tomasi’s long time collaborator, Patrick Gleason.  No doubt there is more here than meets the eye, but there is a compelling pathos that accompanies Harvey through his portions of this month’s issue.  Like most villains examined during Villains Month, he has his overwhelming darkness that compels him into acts of villainy, but underneath the emotional (and in this case physical) scarring there is a human being.  Following the death of Damian Wayne, Tomasi has changed the title of the series month after month to accommodate his partner du jour.  Each only last a month and he moves on to the next team up.  This issue begins a five month Batman & Two Face arc.  The two Gotham City strong men might not work together directly, but there goals are the same: taking down Erin McKillen and making her face justice in some way for the heinous acts she has committed against Gotham City.  Will it be in the judicial system or at the end of a knife?  Tomasi knows what he’s doing, so I impatiently await the answer.

    The Death of Love.

    The Death of Love.

  • Batman/Superman #4 brings to an end the series’ first arc and also illuminates the opening arcs of both Justice League and Earth 2.  This first arc brings pre-Justice League #1 Batman and Superman together and sends them to Earth-2 where they meet their older, more established selves.  One thing writer Greg Pak really highlighted well in the past three issues is just how different the Earth-1 and Earth-2 Batmen and Supermen are.  One of the things I personally hated about Superman in the initial Justice League issues was how “in your face” he was and his lack of control.  Superman should be all about restraint and moderation.  The same can be said about Geoff Johns’ Batman from those same initial Justice League books that ushered in the New DCU.  Batman always is dark and brooding, but he’s intelligent and analytical about it, not confrontational and snarky without cause.  That is precisely how Greg Pak explores these two characters.  The Earth-1 iterations of the characters as they were first depicted by the misguided pen of Johns are juxtaposed against the characters as they should be, now relegated to Earth-2.  The most poignant example of this is Earth-1 Supes (whose adoptive parents died when he was in high school) meeting Earth-2 Superman and the elderly Kents.  The Kents note that Earth-1 Superman has a foul mouth and lacks patience.  Earth-2 Batman has a field day picking apart Earth-1 Batman, as does the otherwordly Batman’s wife, Catwoman.  Last issue the Apokaliptian demon named Kaiyo told the Supermen, Batmen, and Earth-2 Wonder Woman and Catwoman that this world’s military have obtained a giant crystal shard with supernatural abilities to alter reality.  This weapon was made to combat Superman, but Kaiyo says it can be used to combat a greater threat that is imminent.  Darkseid.  The Earth-2 Superman and Batman want it destroyed.  Earth-1 Superman and Batman want to save it.  Their initial desires and the people they are ultimately dictate their respective fates and eventual dooms.  The arc was rife with dichotomies between Batman and Superman and between different versions of themselves.  Greg Pak comes into the game late, but takes what has been done shoddily in the past and makes it work toward a larger purpose.  His rendering of imperfect characters is thoughtful and highly entertaining, but raises the question of what he will do in his next arc which looks to take place in a post-Justice League #1 continuity when both Batman and Superman were written better and when, as characters, they began to respect one another.  Also worth mentioning is the breathtaking art by Jae Lee.  Lee’s rendering of characters is very ethereal in the emotionless expressions he imbues them with and a look of effortlessness in everything they do, no matter how incredible.  Considering the clash of titans this arc depicts, Lee is the quintessential choice for it.  Four issues in and this has become a must read series.

    Nice Guys DO Finish Last . . .

    Nice Guys DO Finish Last . . .

  • Batwoman #24 is a bittersweet issue marking the premature departure of writers J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman from the title.  Initially when they decided to leave they were going to write through issue #25 to end the overreaching arc they had begun.  This issue marks the actual end of their run, one issue shy of their intended end.  And what a cliffhanger they left . . .  Since the beginning of the “Weeping Woman” arc in early 2012 Batwoman, a.k.a Kate Kane, has been on the hook by the D.E.O. chief, Director Bones, and his underling Agent Cameron Chase.  Since the mid 90’s when J.H. Williams III worked on the series Chase the D.E.O. (Department of Extranormal Occurrences) has been looking for the holy grail of secrets in the superhero world: the identity of the Batman.  They have tried everything and always come up short.  Batwoman becomes their ace in the hole.  With a vulnerable member of the Bat-family in their pocket they have the means to finally blow that secret wide open.  Chase learns that Col. Jacob Kane (Batwoman’s father) armed his daughter with military equipment and later they get their hands on Kate’s twin sister, Beth, a.k.a Alice.  Williams and Blackman have been building toward this moment for twenty issues and the moment has finally come.  Bones has unleashed renegade Batman villains on Gotham as a massive diversion while Batwoman gets in close.  In the meantime Jacob, Betty a.k.a Flamebird (Kate’s cousin and sidekick) and a select team of operatives infiltrate the D.E.O. safe house where Beth is being held.  Beth is on the verge of being rescued and Batwoman sucker punches Batman, but good.  This issue ends in the perfect way to set up a MASSIVE finale to a storyline looooong in the making, only for the writers to be driven from their title.  Also distressing is the off-putting of the conclusion to December with the last minute inclusion of Batwoman to the “Blackout” event throughout the DCU.  As a Gothamite her involvement does make a modicum of sense.  November marks the regime shift of relief writer Marc Andreyko and artist Jeremy Haun.  J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman are two incredible writers and Williams a peerless artist.  The loss of both could be catastrophic to this must-read title.  In my opinion this distressing possibility is augmented by the awful job Andreyko did on the Sword of Sorcery backup feature “Stalker.”  The original story created and written by Paul Levitz in the 70’s was amazing.  Andreyko’s was version was horrendous to read and completely without point.  His ability to pick up where greater minds have left off remains highly questionable.  We’ll see what November holds for Batwoman.

    Battle of the Bats.

    Battle of the Bats.

  • Supergirl #24 is one of the October issues screaming for release after the shock ending of August’s Supergirl #23. Supergirl had found herself on a constantly morphing colony of hive-minded mechanized organisms called the I’Noxia.  These machines are benign in nature, but forced to cooperated with the Collector (Brainiac) and his creation, the Cyborg Superman.  Supergirl is dying from Kryptonite poisoning after the “H’el on Earth” crossover in the Super-books. The I’Noxians offer her haven by computerizing her intelligence in exchange for Cyborg Superman gaining custody of her body and using her Kryptonian flesh to reconstitute his missing parts, returning his former body, but also the missing memories of his identity.  She resists and he takes what he wants by force.  He gets his body and his memories back and lo and behold . . . he’s Zor-El.  Kara’s father!  Upon regaining his memories and his mind he is immediately struck with horror at what Brainiac’s programming made him do.  In September the Cyborg Superman issue of Action Comics revealed the connection between Zor-El and Brainiac and how he came to be made into the Cyborg Superman.  Zor-El is a good man, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  And in this issue a father’s love takes him once again down the road to Hell.  Kara can live again.  The I’Noxians have the technology to reconstitute her, but that would require the rebirth of the Cyborg Superman.  Writer Michael Alan Nelson writes a compelling version of Zor-El, eldest son of the House of El, and dedicated scientist.  His love of his family and his people forced him to seek help in the most dangerous places if even the slightest chance of survival exists.  Ending this issue, Kara comes face to face with the cosmic entity known as the Oracle, heralding the beginning of the “Krypton Returns” storyline beginning with Action Comics Annual #2. After the lead ins to this event dropped in both Superman #0 and Supergirl #0 last September I have been waiting on pins and needles to see the resolution as to how Superman and Superboy could have been on Krypton prior to its destruction.  In a little over a month we will have the answer.

    Behold the Oracle.

    Behold the Oracle.

  • Red Hood and the Outlaws #24 brings about the final showdown in ‘Eth Alth’eban between the League of Assassins, guardians of the Well of Sins, and the Untitled, ancient embodiments of evil born from the Well. Jason has been chosen to be the leader of the League and fights to stave off the assault that could result in the end of all things. Jason proves to be an adept disciple of the Batman, exhibiting the same ingenuity and resolve against forces far beyond his measure.  Indeed, that is most likely why the League chose him as their leader.  On the other side of fight, Roy Harper also is shown in a revealing light.  Previously, Roy helped the Untitled breach the impenetrable walls of ‘Eth Alth’eban under the understanding that he would be freeing Jason from a pack of vipers (which the League of Assassins are) and saving the world.  That last part wasn’t true at all, which he realized too late.  However, in his moment of reflection on his deteriorating relationships with Jason and Starfire he manages to capture the sympathy and last throbs of human compassion in the heart of the assassin, Cheshire, who in previous DC iterations was the mother of his daughter, Lian.  James TynionIV’s writing of this series is pretty good, although admittedly he has a long way to go to measure up to his predecessor and the series’ creator, Scott Lobdell.  Lobdell created the Untitled, so Tynion’s wrapping up of the fabled cabal begs the question of what Lobdell’s original intentions were for them.  Other than that, the issue comes off very well and reintroduces a venerable figure in Batman lore to the New 52.  Julius Gopez continues his phenomenal work as artist on the series, adding weight and substance to the Tynion’s scripts though his very expressive artwork.  Every emotion is blatant in his lines immediately immersing the reader in the agony and ecstasy of the book’s cast of characters.  Definitely and enjoyable book and a series worth picking up.

    The Heart of Chesire.

    The Heart of Chesire.

  • Vibe #8 dives head first into the wellspring of Cisco Ramon’s powers.  Vibe, as he’s been called, got his powers when he was caught in the event horizon of an Apokaliptian Boom Tube during Great Darkseid’s invasion of our world.  As a result he is attuned to extradimensional vibrations and able to sense and counteract beings from other dimensions.  Up to this point his powers were uses to detect intruders and refugees from other planes and if necessary, combat them.  After being wounded and sucked out of our dimension he begins leaking that energy the Boom Tube endowed him with, hurtling him from dimension to dimension with no control.  In the background as he cascades through all existence are little easter eggs from the two year run of the New DCU, including the recent fight between Green Lantern (Alan Scott) and Bruutal on Earth-2, the Phantom Zone, President Superman from Earth-5, and the gemworld of Nilaa that we last saw in the now cancelled Sword of Sorcery title.   It is while defending Princess Amethyst from the Quartz Hordes that the enigmatic figure called Breacher finds Cisco and puts a patch on his wound that stabilizes his dimensional radiation.  He takes Vibe to his own world, Piradell, and tells of the history that lead to its subjugation by the despotic Queen Mordeth and how that ties back to the same event that gave Cisco his powers.  At the same time that Cisco was imbued with interdimensional energies the Boom Tube collapsed on his elder brother, Armando.  They always assumed that Armando died, when he actually became a creature like Cisco and upon landing on Piradell gave Mordeth the means to subjugate that world.  Now Breacher and Cisco need to save Piradell, Armando who is under the thrall of Mordeth, and Mordeth’s daughter, Gypsy.  Sterling Gates has done the seemingly impossible, making Vibe a good character.  His original iteration in the Justice League Detroit comics was a joke at best.  Now he is substantial, thoughtful, and endowed with a sense of consequence in the larger scheme of the emerging DC multiverse.  Back in the day, the Flash was the keymaster to the multiverse, having the ability to vibrate though realities from Earth to Earth.  While Flash still has that ability, Vibe is pretty much made to solely be the custodian of opening the gates off our Earth, but also keeping those that breach from remaining.  With that in mind, and with the multiverse slowly blooming in emerging DC plots, Vibe is a character to watch.

    From the Icy Plains of the Phantom Zone to the Steps of President Superman's Capitol.

    From the Icy Plains of the Phantom Zone to the Steps of President Superman’s Capitol.

  • Pandora #4 opens in the aftermath of Forever Evil #1 with Pandora, who was present when the Outsider (Earth-3 Alfred Pennyworth) opened the box that bears her name, finding herself transported to a desolate world littered with bones.  Earth-3.  The Birthplace of Evil.  The only living thing she encounters is the blind and mortally wounded J’onn J’onzz (Martian Manhunter) of that reality.  Through his rhetoric she become aware that the Crime Syndicate intend to do to our Earth what they did to this one.  When she returns to Earth-1 she hatches a plan.  First she entrusts a friend with the mission of reforging Pandora’s Box from the shattered remnants left after it opened the portal to the place of its birth, letting the CSA into our dimensional plane.  The next step is getting her OLD friend Vandal Savage to give her the means to infiltrate the Secret Society meeting in order that she can get at the man known as the Outsider.  What she intends to do with him remains up in the air, but that only ropes the reader into buying next month’s issue.  I’ve made no secret that I am not a fan of the writing style of this series’ writer, Ray Fawkes, but it can’t be denied that this issue is very well done and an integral tie-in to the overarching Forever Evil event going on throughout the DCU.  Series artist Francis Portela is always a delight with his lush artwork that has been seen in Legion of Superheroes (LONG LIVE THE LEGION!) and last month’s Killer Croc issue in the Batman & Robin title.  Whether the success of this issue is predicated on Fawke’s writing or the tent pole Forever Evil plotline remains to be seen, but until that event wraps in March this series will no doubt carry its weight in realizing the full measure of Earth-3 and absolute evil.

And there you have it.  An awesome week of comics that overall exceed the mark of this comic book geek.  Here’s hoping next week measures up the same.
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 of America #8:  Drawn by Doug Mahnke, Colored by Hi-Fi & Gabe Eltaeb, Inked by Christian Alamy, Tom Nguyen, Keith Champagne & Marc Deering.

Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion #1:  Art by Patrick Zircher, Colored by Nick Filardi.

Batman & Robin #24:  Drawn by Patrick Gleason, Colored by John Kalisz, Inked by Mick Gray.

Batman/Superman #4:  Art by Jae Lee, Colored by June Chung.

Batwoman #24:  Art by Trevor McCarthy, Colored by Guy Major.

Supergirl #24:  Drawn by Diogenes Neves, Colored by Guy Major, Inked by Marc Deering.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #24:  Drawn by Julius Gopez, Colored by Nei Ruffino & Hi-Fi, Inked by Walden Wong & Ray McCarthy.

Vibe #8:  Drawn by Andres Guinaldo, Colored by Brad Anderson, Inked by Mark Irwin & Marc