It has been a criminally long time since I have been able to sit down and interact with my comics in the form of writing this blog and externalizing my thoughts and appreciation for this incredible medium. With this post I hope to highlight a few of the issues that I have loved in that interim and get back in the swing of reading my comics and writing about them to illuminate their content to others, but also myself. So here goes:
- Batman #25 tells the story of the Blackout in Gotham, but oddly enough doesn’t deal with the Riddler at all or explore the consequences of what he did. Instead, writer Scott Snyder uses the Blackout as a way of the emergent Batman finding an environment in which his skills and innate qualities find fallow ground to root themselves. Without the Blackout, Batman might have had to try harder to ingrain himself in the collective awareness of Gotham as a force for good and not just a crazy nutjob in a bat costume. However, as mentioned before, the Riddler is put on the back burner after blowing the Gotham City power grid and submerging the city into chaos in the midst of an impending tropical storm designated “Rene.” In his place, Batman sleuths a rash of bizarre . . . occurrences . . . in which victim’s bones grow uncontrollably like trees, bursting out of their bodies and leaving the carcass draped atop like a Christmas tree angel. With some inadvertent tips from future police commissioner James Gordon, Bruce learns that the serum used was designed by a former Wayne Enterprises scientist, Karl Helfren, aka Doctor Death. When he probes into Helfren’s past, Bruce also learns of an accomplice that will surely shock readers. The issue is certainly shrouded in mystery, beginning with a brief two page cut to US soldiers in Nigeria finding a door in the ground hidden in the middle of an arid plain and ending with those soldiers dead and their trucks on fire. How those scenes are rectified with the main narrative is an intriguing question. In the backup feature, Snyder and his protegee James Tynion IV write a tale of the Blackout told from the perspective of the average person, in this case a very young Harper Row and her little brother Cullen. The two kids don’t have a mother and their father is a two-bit criminal and absentee parent, so it falls to them to look out for one another. Cullen is scared, but Harper (who grows up to be a burgeoning electrical genius) makes a lamp for her brother to push back the darkness. It’s not easy, but she’s able to overcome when the needs arise. She tell Cullen that there are people out there that see fear and darkness and rise up to push these forces back and help those that are also scared. It’s a brief yet poignant commentary on the superhero ideal and what breeds heroes. Also noteworthy is Andy Clarke’s gorgeous artwork that creates a beautifully stark ambiance of Gotham life. It goes without saying that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, with the added help of James Tynion IV and Andy Clarke, are making this book one of THE comics to pick up.
- Superman/Wonder Woman #2 brings on the much anticipated continuation of last month’s meteoric first issue. In Superman/Wonder Woman #1 writer Charles Soule delivered a very intimated and thoughtful examination of the relationship between two titanic figures of the DCU and the inherent hurdles they have to leap constantly in order to be together and understand one another. If that was all the issue was it would have been worth the cover price, but Soule and artist Tony Daniel had far more in store for us, releasing perhaps the greatest surprise appearance of the year: Doomsday! With Supes busy quelling a storm brought about by the monster’s advent, Wonder Woman finds herself going toe-to-toe with the abomination that in a different continuity killed her boyfriend. Not something to be trifled with. As this issue opens the Kryptonian horror delivers a sound beating on the unprepared Wonder Woman until it mysteriously phasing out of reality. When Superman hears her story he immediately knows what the thing was from Diana’s descriptions and realizes that the seals on the Phantom Zone, a temporal extra-dimensional Kryptonian prison, are wearing thin meaning incursions by Doomsday and the other unsavory menaces imprisoned within might occur more frequently. In order to prepare for the coming battle with Doomsday, should it reappear, Wonder Woman takes Superman to Mount Aetna to meet Hephaestas and commission custom armaments. While there Supes also meets Apollo and Strife. Apollo doesn’t make the best impression, following the very haughty modelling of Wonder Woman writer Brian Azzarello. I know I am not alone in my dislike of Apollo, which is what makes his encounter with Superman so rewarding to readers. Apollo is a very overconfident, arrogant ass and while he is IMMENSELY powerful, his being the sun god puts him at a unique disadvantage against the Last Son of Krypton. One almost feels sorry for the jerk. Almost. With their order placed and one Olympian force fed a five fingered slice of humble pie, the stage is set for yet another mouthwatering introduction of a classic Superman character. Soule and Daniel have this series locked down. Soule’s writing is topnotch and shows a true love and respect for both the eponymous characters. Superman is a humble farmboy with powers far greater than ordinary men and Wonder Woman is a proud and noble woman from a proud and noble race of myth. Every word, every gesture, and every reaction is quintessentially appropriate to each. Tony Daniel has been one of my favorite artist since he and Grant Morrison took on the Batman title. As a writer I have enjoyed his work as well. The man is a consummate professional and whether or not he has any say in the actual writing of Superman/Wonder Woman alongside Charles Soule, his ability as a writer no doubt helps him interpret the scripts to convey minutely the gravity and grandeur of the worlds this book is bringing together. Wonder Woman and Superman come from two very elaborate time honored mythologies that Soule and Daniel are combining like true professionals. This first run of the series is off to a commendable start. If they can sustain it, this could overshadow the actual series of both characters.
- Batgirl #25 came off a little lackluster for me. Dealing with the life of Barbara Gordon, it’s hard to figure out what the purpose of this issue was supposed to be. It’s already established that Gotham was effed during the “Blackout” and in this tie-in Barbara is put in charge of her little brother, James Jr, while their dad’s at work. He tells her to “mind the homestead,” but while he is gone the Gordon kids are forcefully evacuated because they are in a flood zone. In the process young Miss Gordon sees how a disaster can turn regular people into savages. The point of the issue is more about Gotham than Barbara, which is a little disconcerting. Normally the Batgirl series focuses heavily on Barbara, which is a credit to series writer Gail Simone’s tenure on the title. Simone GETS Barbara in a very quintessential way. Marguerite Bennett penned this one, and I think as a newcomer her writing comes off a little green. She kind of fumbled the Villains Month released introduction of the character Lobo to the New DCU, and this comic felt equally forced. The look remains the same with series artist Fernando Pasarin providing art on the issue. Simone comes back next month with the conclusion of her epic “Batgirl Wanted” arc, which should be worth the read.
- Green Arrow #26 begins writer Jeff Lemire’s epic “Outsiders War” arc. In his first arc, Lemire DRASTICALLY altered Oliver Queen’s life, taking away his company, framing him for murder, and clearing the board of a few characters from the initial issues of the rebooted series. He also introduced the Merlyn-esque archer, Komodo, and the inklings of the larger organization Komodo belongs to called the Outsiders. In his second arc he introduced the rarely utilized GA character, Shado, unused extensively since her creation in the 80’s by Mike Grell. Komodo and Shado represent two halves of the life and ultimate death of Oliver’s father, Robert Queen. With those in the rearview, we now enter into the actualization of Green Arrow’s destiny with Lemire’s third arc, entitled “Outsiders War.” So far, Ollie has taken down Komodo (relieving the onyx archer of one eye) and on two separate occasions he’s taken down the Eastern European despot Count Vertigo. Both of these men have strong ties to the Outsiders who themselves have very ominous plans for the Arrow Clan. Now Shado is taking him back to the island to fulfill his destiny by claiming the totem arrow that will grant enlightenment and dominion of those dedicated to archery. Robert Queen sought the island and combed every inch of it looking for the arrow, explaining the picture that Oliver found of Robert, Komodo, and Emerson on the island in the lattermost’s office. Shado drags him back and as the issue unfolds Lemire has Oliver slowly relive his time there. His reticence to return can be summed up by the harsh memories he accumulated while stranded and his shame at being reminded of his past. Ollie was a vacuous waste of space before being washed up on the island and his initial days there were spent shedding that shallowness and tapping into his intrinsic potential. Robert had instructed Oliver in archery, which Ollie’d never taken serious and rarely practiced. Those lessons resurface and the birth of Green Arrow began while Oliver discovered the cost of survival. The next step will be seen in later issues following Ollie’s capture by mercenaries in ski-masks. Awakening from his deja-vu, Shado leads Oliver to the cave wherein lies the talisman his father had so desperately sought. Meanwhile, the Outsiders have sent one of their own, a bear of a man called Kodiak, to stop Oliver from becoming the head of the Arrow Clan by claiming the “Green Arrow” totem. Jeff Lemire’s hitting this one out of the park with his clear love and respect for the character of Green Arrow and his intricate weaving of a mythos that emanates from Green Arrow, but also through the Green Arrow title. The Outsiders have figured cryptically into the background of the Katana series, where the Japanese warrior Tatsu Toro wrestles with the Sword Clan. Whether Lemire came up with them on his own or collaborated with Katana writer Ann Nocenti (from whom he took over the horribly written and conceived Green Arrow title) what is obvious is that Lemire is the one running this ball into the endzone for what looks to be a clear touchdown. The promise of what the Outsiders represent and the stories that will spring forth from this arc are destined to be comic book gold. Series artist Andrea Sorrentino continues his tenure on the book adding a realism to it with his pencil and an ominousness with the very stark contrast between light and shadow. Working together, Lemire and Sorrentino are the ideal team to make Green Arrow one of the best DC titles currently being published.
- Green Arrow #27 continues writer Jeff Lemire’s odyssey toward Green Arrow’s actualization in the “Outsiders War.” So far Ollie has returned to the island on which he was marooned with the enigmatic archeress Shado in tow seeking the totem arrow that bestows enlightenment upon the ascendant to the chiefdom of the Arrow Clan. The Outsiders (semi-unified cabal of clan heads) desire Komodo to take this position in their midst and dispatch the Shield Clan’s chief, Kodiak, and his Viking warriors to prevent Ollie from his destined enlightenment. Picking up with the dramatic ending of issue #26, Ollie and Shado have found the Arrow Chamber, but as this issue opens they find that the totem itself is nowhere to be seen. Ollie is shocked, but Shado, true to her fox-like, Zen nature tempers Ollie’s impatience with existential questions, all boil down to why and how Oliver came to be marooned on this exact island that his father, Robert Queen, had just so happened to be seeking for so long and upon which the elder Mr. Queen was murder by Komodo? The exploration of these questions is interrupted by the advent of Kodiak on the island and sporadic ’Nam flashbacks Ollie has to the crucible moments of his time on the island. Issue #26’s flashbacks showed Ollie being forced to master archery in order to feed himself while awaiting rescue from the island. The completion of that stage of his development ends with him being captured by masked paramilitary forces on the island. This issue shows the next and most apocalyptic stage of his transition from soft billionaire playboy to cold hunter/vigilante. The soldiers under the command of an Oni-masked man torture Ollie for over a week until Ollie snaps and in a survivalist act breaks through from his effete past to the stark figure he has become in the present. While dodging the Shieldlings and regrouping Shado finally steers Ollie into understanding that his destiny wasn’t mere chance, but an orchestrated effort by individuals to guide him to becoming the avatar of archery. Once this concept sinks in, Oliver’s Oni-masked antagonist reappears and confirms everything Shado said and removes the demon mask. With the revelation of this person’s identity the absolute truth of their claim is baldly underscored, but more so the implications of who this person is changes everything the reader has come to believe about the Green Arrow title and what its has fought for. Jeff Lemire is a genius. Unequivocally, he has taken this failing title and made it infinitely poignant, gripping, and one of the ‘can’t miss books’ of the DC lineup. Called “Batman with a Bow and Arrow,” GA has been a C-list character with no superpowers who has often times been overshadowed by the more super, more overtly heroic characters of the DCU. Only a few writers have been able to lift him above the camp and ridiculousness that have haunted the character since his inception. Jeff Lemire has earned his place in Green Arrow history. Lemire’s collaborator Andrea Sorrentino provides incredible artwork that in no small part makes this book so engrossing and visually stunning. The two look to be on the title for some time and that is good news for comic readers and the Green Arrow pantheon of characters.
- Superman Unchained #5 is a turning point in this celebratory “Super” series, revealing not only the nature of the enigmatic cabal known as “Ascension,” but also what their overall motivations, prompting their insane actions thus far. At the conclusion of issue #4 the leader of Ascension told Lois Lane that General Sam Lane was “father” to both of them. This turns out to not only be twisted hyperbole, but also a straight up lie no matter how you look at it. One demerit to writer Scott Snyder. Through the exposition provided by the Ascension leader, Jonathan Rudolph, Lois Lane and the audience are given incontrovertible evidence that this man isn’t merely misguided, HE’S NUTS!!! The choice of fabled Ned Ludd as the “face” of their movement is apt considering that the group’s aims have been stated to be the downfall of technology with an anarchist rationale behind it. The self-righteous rhetoric of Rudolph does nothing to rectify the collateral damage his insane venture will rain down on humanity nor does it in anyway come off as anything but uber-petulant and misguided. Rarely nowadays are there examples of such clear cut psychopaths in leading comic titles. Usually some sort of ethos, pathos, or logos is there to somehow give a morally ambiguous justification to the “villainy.” The use of this kind of character is intriguing and either says something very good about Snyder’s writing or something very bad about it. Snyder is an amazing writer that has risen meteorically to the top of the comic field in a relatively short period of time. He is also an overtaxed talent that is writing several titles simultaneously, so it could go either way. The rest of the title features Superman continuing his emerging relationship with the proto-‘Superman’, Wraith. In order to continue their quest to locate and stop Ascension, Supes invites Wraith into his Fortress of Solitude. Superman represents an impartial, unbiased, non-jingoist superheroic doctrine. Wraith represents the exact opposite and has TOTALLY drunk the US military Kool-Aid. Just being in the Fortress elicits a philosophical debate about alien technology and who should have custodianship of it: an impartial, responsible individual or the armed forces of one sovereign nation over the nearly two hundred others. Superman has the moral high ground here, but Wraith cuts back with an equally poignant response involving Superman’s supposed “non-involvement” vis-à-vis his alternate persona of Clark Kent. In this way, Superman represents what the character should embody and Wraith portrays what Supes was made to be like from the 1950’s through to most of the 70’s, towing the company line and representing “Truth, Justice, and the American way.” Visibly absent from the first four issues is the looming figure of Lex Luthor awaiting the resolution of Superman’s battle with Ascension to pounce on the battle wearied Man of Steel. Introduced in this issue is a flashback, drawn by backup artist Dustin Nguyen, that details Clark’s encounter with a sauced up, ignorant farmer that finds out his secret and tells him at shotgun-point that he can’t hide. Though only seen in glimpses and lacking resolution, this flashback underscores brilliantly the constant dilemma Superman faces everyday by living among us as one of us. Snyder has created in five issues a multifaceted series that expertly explores the character and all the aspects that have carried over from the original issues 75 years past. Scott Snyder and artists Jim Lee and Dustin Nguyen have tapped into the pure essence of the Last Son of Krypton.
- Teen Titans #26 finally reveals the story of Bart Allen after two and a half years of continuous storytelling. We’ve been told in the past that he was a dangerous criminal that was reconditioned and sent back into the past where he would be cut off from the dangerous elements he incited. Several months ago when the Titans were first thrown into the timestream Bart and his girlfriend, Kiran Singh (aka Solstice), witness his younger self attempting to commit an act of mass murder against the governmental body known as the ‘Functionary.’ Now after returning to his native time he is made to see everything he has forgotten after being taken back into custody by the Functionary. After looking at his past I am finding it hard to look at him as anything as terrifying as he has been painted out of context. The son of religious parents belonging to a Christian-like faith called Creationism, his parents were murdered for those beliefs. He lets his parents die in order to save his infant sister, Shira, and get her away from the Functionary “Purifiers” that are initiating pogroms against his people. He becomes a thief to provide for his sister and when she is imperilled he becomes a killer. He finds sanctuary for her in a safe quarter while undertaking smuggling missions in unsafe conditions that normally killed the pilots after three runs. Bart makes a couple of dozen until his number finally comes up, but when it does he doesn’t die, but rather attains the superpowers that connect him to the Speed Force and Barry Allen. Then he initiates the rebellion of the Functionary oppressed that led to his capture and exile. It wasn’t until his attacks almost killed Shira, that he abandoned the rebellion he started and turned himself in to the Functionary. I have to say that this origin, while very compelling, failed to depict him as a criminal. At least in my eyes. Everything Bart did was for others. He sacrificed everything for his sister and later for those like himself and his sister who were like rats being oppressed and constantly harried for no reason whatsoever except that their existence was inconvenient for those above them. There was no Justice League or any apparatus to help the downtrodden so he initiated an armed resistance movement to create a better future. As stated before there was a scene not fully fleshed out where he was going to do something alluded to being an atrocity. If writer Scott Lobdell wanted to justifiably depict Bart as a monster he should have given more weight to that moment with more details or circled back around in this issue to that moment or one like it. That isn’t to say that Lobdell is a bad writer. On the contrary. This issue made me feel for Bart and actually I am in his cheering section. He looks at himself as a monster, just like all the others who have knowledge of who he was (or will be), but I don’t see that and I still see a hero who puts others and their interests before his own. If I could actually talk to the character I would share with him the words of Barry Allen, the first Flash (in the New DCU): “Keep moving forward.” Lobdell knocks it out of the park with the help of new series artist Tyler Kirkham. Kirkham’s art is sharp, it’s vibrant, and his rendering of Bart gives fine detail to every evocative emotion the young hero feels, which once again roots the character in Kid Flash’s experience, making them feel exactly what he feels, enduring his pain as he struggles through unspeakable situations and revelling in his rare moments of triumph bore out of near constant suffering. Thumbs up to both Lobdell and Kirkham. This issue was worth the wait, if not shorter than such an immense story deserves.
- Talon #14 marks an end to the status quo under which the series has been proceeding since its #0 issue. Calvin Rose was made a Talon after being groomed for the task by the Court of Owls as a young escape artist in the famed Haly’s Circus. He quit after being sent to kill a beautiful security heiress and her young daughter. Going on the lam with her, he developed a relationship with her, which he broke to protect her from the Court’s endless search for their missing “toy.” While on the run, Calvin meets a man whose life was destroyed by the Court as well. Sebastian Clark. Clark helps Calvin hit the Court HARD, crippling much of their infrastructure. In this guided crusade against their common enemy, Calvin meets up again with his former girlfriend, Casey Washington, and her daughter Sarah. Soon after it comes out that Sebastian Clarke did in fact have his life destroyed by the Court, but it was because he was the disgraced head of the Court at the time of Batman’s interference and the fabled “Night of Owls.” Danger literally lurks in all directions and Calvin is beset with daunting odds. His immediate challenges include Sarah’s kidnapping and subsequent brainwashing by the Court, Clarke has a plan afoot to raze Gotham, and a serum has been injected into his bloodstream that melts necrotic tissue, i.e. his entire body. To a lesser extent Batman has harried most of Calvin’s moves, because no one operates in the Bat’s backyard without his say-so. However, despite the insurmountable obstacles Calvin is very much like the classic Jack Kirby creation, Mister Miracle. Both are master escape artists, and like Miracle, Calvin will not be deterred by any odds, even if Batman is counted among them. With the conclusion of this issue the Court of Owls still exist, but they are once again weakened and the more pressing threats to fair Gotham put to bed for good. Calvin’s main objectives are accomplished, but his journey toward ending the Owls’ reign continues, albeit under new circumstances and with new allies. Writer James Tynion has taken the concept of the Court of Owls and made good use of it with the fifteen issues of this series he has written.
- Red Lanterns #26 after the big fight between Relic and the remaining Lanterns of all colors, the Reds were given authority of Sector 2814, which contains our solar system. To demonstrate their authority they attempt to take out one of the greatest evils of our Sector in the form of a despot named Marshal Gensui. Gensui has enslaved the secondary race of his world and used them as slave labor to build a sphere around their sun to harness its energies to use for his own ends. Going up against the forces of the planet Kormorax the Red Lanterns, under the command of Guy Gardner are in hot water. Marshal Gensui has made a career of culling rage, using his intimidation tactics and scientific acumen he has pacified the brutalized masses he exploits. With those same technologies he pacifies the Red Lanterns, the angriest individuals in the universe. With that taken into account, writer Charles Soule concludes the two issue arc with an examination of the kinds of rage that exist and how each type fits various situations in better ways. Peter Milligan, the original Red Lanterns writer did this very well in the past, making a point of highlighting tertiary Red Lanterns who weren’t as popular and whose backstories haven’t found their way into past issues. One Red, the ox-skulled Skallox, was a murder and a scoundrel sent up the river by his boss as a liability, another named Ratchet was an individual living in an isolationist, dystopian nightmare that craved interaction and was imprisoned and mercilessly tortured for years as a result. Yet again Soule highlights two lesser Red Corpsman and their individual brands of rage to show the strength of each. Zilius Zox takes a lead role in these issues, but Ratchet once again shines above the rest. While he and his fellow Reds are in a stupefied, euphoric haze due to Gensui’s crowd control technologies Ratchet is able to throw off the stupor with his rage, despite the most powerfully ravenous Reds being unable. What really highlights his character, and it a lot of ways finishes what Milligan began in that bygone issue, was the totality of Ratchet’s capabilities. Ratchet wasn’t a bad guy. He wanted friendship and comaraderie and his inability to do so was what fueled his rage. Being a Red Lantern gave him his hearts desires so slowly his rage was subsiding, which meant that he wouldn’t be able to wield the ring, which also meant that the ring would no longer be able to keep him alive as it did all Red Lanterns whose blood is replaced with a napalm fluid of refined hate. He was dying no matter what happened, and what he accomplishes in this issue not only expedites that end before prolonged suffering, it also made an enduring place in the hearts and minds of his fellow Corpsmen. Soule inherited a vast legacy from Peter Milligan and has made proper use of it, penning a fantastic series.
So ends an abbreviated catchup to the weeks missed in my absence. Check back to this post periodically as I will probably take on some other issues that are of note.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
Batman #25: Art by Andy Clarke, Colored by Blond.
Superman/Wonder Woman #2: Drawn by Tony S. Daniel, Colored by Tomeu Morey, Inked by BATT & Sandu Florea.
Green Arrow #26 & 27: Art by Andrea Sorrentino, Colored by Marcelo Maiolo.
Teen Titans #26: Drawn by Tyler Kirkham, Colored by Arif Prianto, Inked by Art Thibert & Dan Green.
Talon #14: Art by Emanuel Simeoni, Colored by Jeromy Cox.