Week 87 (May 1, 2013)

I am SUPER overdue on this week of reviews, which is a shame because it was one of the best, comprised of some hallmark issues. Unfortunately, some of my paying writing jobs have gotten in the way of this enjoyable hobby blog.  I’ll stop with the long winded intros and just get the long overdue reviews.  Enjoy:

  • Action Comics #20 moves into the the second issue of a new era in Action Comics.  Cowriter Andy Diggle and cowriter/artist Tony Daniel left Superman recovering from a nanite infection that turned his hand into what looked like a living metal clawed monstrosity.  This issue has him waking up in the care of the brilliant and seductive Dr. Shay Veritas after his initial infection.  She teleported him away from the population to ensure their safety, but apparently Superman’s super immune system was able to separate the infection from his body.  However, the nanite virus, still in the shape of the clawed hand, maintains its bite.  The virus apparently was able to latch onto his DNA and sap many of his talents and abilities into its own hybrid genetic code.  Succeed or fail, this synthetic mutating virus is the opening salvo in Lex Luthor’s renewed war with Superman.  The next move in the chess game with the Man of Steel proves to be a nightmare straight out of a George Romero movie.  Following in the tradition of the $3.99 titles, writer Scott Lobdell and assistant dialoguist Frank Hannah begin a World of Krypton backup feature with the help of Philip Tan on pencils.  This feature begins with a young Jor-El discovering an ancient underwater city built by a pre-Kryptonian species.  His exploration, though groundbreaking and rewriting everything that had been known about Krypton’s natural history, doesn’t fail to annoy his fellow members of the Science Council, nor the Military Guild who guard them and who are holding an emergency vote on a key issue of great importance to the stability of Kryptonian governance.  In the wake of their disgruntled waiting, we see Lara Lor-Van (Superman’s mom and Jor-El’s future wife) maligning the starry eyed visionary and also find that she is at this moment engaged to her partner in the Military Guild, Jax-Ur.  Quite interesting for the Superman faithful, because Jax-Ur is a renowned Kryptonian criminal of great infamy in all Superman mythologies.  Ending on an explosive note, this first installment of World of Krypton accomplishes SO much!!!   The political balance of Krypton is established quite well, as are the characteristics of several important characters.  Jor-El and his future wife Lara are both obvious, playing well toward their depictions in Lobdell’s Superman #0, which we saw last September.  Also featured briefly, but certainly of prominence is Kra-Hu, the Afro-Kryptonian senior member of the Science Council who seems to be Jor-El’s mentor and father figure in the Kryptonian governmental structure.  Jax-Ur, engaged to Lara and predating his criminal destiny, will no doubt cut an interesting figure as well with Lobdell’s attention to canon and genius of innovation balancing toward a nice middle ground.  Everything about this new arc in Action Comics has me giddy as a school boy.  Keep it coming, DC!!!

    Beware the Claw!

    Beware the Claw!

  • Detective Comics #20 is in essence the endgame to writer John Layman’s open arc on this title.  With his opening issues he’d paved the way for the slow rise of Ignatius Ogilvy in the shadow of his boss, the Penguin’s grandiose bid to claim a place in the public eye of Gotham.  Using this distraction he was able to wrest the Penguin’s empire out from under his feet and establish an iron grip on Gotham’s underworld, installing himself as “Emperor Penguin.”  Well, now with Penguin in prison and his power base entrenched he steps out of the shadows and calls the Batman out.  Suicidal right?  Not entirely.  Ogilvy had this whole drama choreographed to the last movement and the Bat finds himself more than evenly matched when he meets Emperor Penguin face to face.  What Batman finds is no longer a human being, but rather a nightmare comprised of bits of all his nemeses.  Kurt Langstrom’s man-bat serum in his blood, mixed with Bane’s super-steroidal venom, and Poison Ivy’s plant elixir giving him bark-like armored skin beneath the course bat hair.  Quite frankly, with his analytical mind and enhancements, Ogilvy has the Bat outmatched.  Who will save him?  The answer will surprise you.  In the backup feature, also written by Layman, we are given a look at the childhood and rationale behind Ogilvy’s meteoric rise through the Gotham underworld.  His journey started when he was a child leaving a movie theater in a bad part of Gotham and his mother and father gunned down in front of his eyes.  Mirroring Batman’s traumatic catalyzing event, Ogilvy went the other direction from Batman, not seeking to end crime but rather to immerse himself in it and control it from the top echelon.  From Blackgate prison he narrates all of this and shows his preternatural ability to navigate circles of power and insert himself into the key positions through a Machiavellian display of cunning and physical strength.  Ogilvy came out of nowhere in the world of comics.  He has existed for less than a year and already John Layman has set him up as a Batman character of the highest caliber.  Kudos, Mr. Layman.  I had deep reservations about your competence at handling this title and you proved me infinitely wrong.  Layman is the man for Detective Comics.  Long may he write.

    The Emperor of Gotham

    The Emperor of Gotham

  • Aquaman #19 was a late addition to the roster, laid over from last month’s lineup.  Aquaman continues to struggle with the weight of the crown he once forsook for a simpler life.  Now it weighs heavier than ever as he is forced to “swim against the tide” of his usurping his younger brother Orm’s throne and his defense of the surface despite the catastrophic war between Atlantis and the United States.  To rally his troops he takes them against the submariner terrorist called the “Scavenger.”   Upon the engaging of one of the Scavenger’s submarine’s Arthur and his chosen elite discover a ghastly secret.  On land Mera is abducted by the resurrected Dead King of Atlantis, the first to sit upon the throne.  We have heard tell of him starting with the first arc, “The Trench” where the fish-men monsters are introduced, then later with the introduction of the Dead King’s scepter in the next arc “The Others”, and finally in the previous “Throne of Atlantis” crossover.  Now we see the ancient monarch for the first time and he is chilling.  Finally, this issue surprises with the reappearance of a shocking figure from her past.  Geoff Johns has been teetering this series between quality and throwaway storytelling.  The political intrigue following “Throne of Atlantis” and very personal depictions of the main characters amidst the aforementioned arc’s fallout is really engaging at this point and well worth the read.
  • Green Arrow #20 is a title I have begun to look forward to month to month.  Following Jeff Lemire’s taking up the title with issue #17 this series has gone from tragic joke to a hard-edged, thrill-a-minute roller-coaster ride.  Ollie Queen has lost it all!  His company has been forcefully ceased by a rival businessman, Lacroix, who also dons a black hood and mask, kidnaps his two employees/confidantes, murders one, and attempts to kill him using archery skills that rival Ollie’s.  To top that off a blind wiseman named Magus leads Ollie down a rabbit hole of discovery, pointing him in the direction of Lacroix’s (nom-de-guerre Komodo) secret lair with a picture of the enigmatic businessman/assassin with Ollie’s dad, Robert Queen ON THE ISLAND OLLIE WAS STRANDED ON!!!  Obviously this was before Ollie was stranded on it, but still more than coincidental and raising the question of how Lacroix, Ollie’s father’s death, and so many other things tie into a larger plan?  This issue opens with Ollie having escaped his first encounter with Komodo by the skin of his teeth and regrouping.  Komodo returns to his lair to make contact with the group he works for, the Outsiders.  This isn’t the para-Batman army we have seen in the past or anything like it.  This is a new Outsiders and their significance is crucial, tying into this series and Katana.  Ollie has it out with Komodo a second time in this issue and this second encounter not only ups the ante but showcases just how intelligent, versatile, and strong-willed Ollie truly is when lives are at stake.  Jeff Lemire is KILLING IT!!! This series is ridiculously awesome and in no small part thanks to artist Andrea Sorrentino’s stark rendering of the plot in stark light/color vs. black/shadow styling.  Just a phenomenal series so far and one not to be missed.

    The Outsiders

    The Outsiders

  • Batwing #20 begins a dubious new direction in this title’s future.  David Zavimbe was created by Grant Morrison to be a Batman for the continent of Africa.  A large task, but one that David could feasibly achieve considering his personal history as a child soldier in Africa and his experiences since growing up in a complex, corrupt political structure.  The first 20 issues (including Batwing #0) all show very vividly how intricate the balance of power leans in parts of West Africa.  New writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have retired Zavimbe and decided to replace him with Luke Fox, son of Wayne Enterprises Executive Lucius Fox.  Luke Fox whose only link to Africa is that he is African American.  To me it seems kind of racist that they would assume that if you are black you are interchangeable.  Just because your ancestors came from Africa doesn’t mean you have a preternatural knowledge of African history and the inner workings of the post-colonial political workings of dozens of nations.  Luke makes a joke about it in this issue, but despite them joking about it Palmiotti and Gray still made that decision.  Perhaps they have a goal in mind that will validate the concept, but they have a long way to prove that.  One thing Luke does have is enthusiasm and conviction.  Going to an undisclosed part of Africa, Luke faces off against a criminal organization called the the Marabunta that run money and guns to warlords and terrorist organizations throughout Africa.  In his descent into their world he battles a woman in insectoid-mech armor called “Lady Marabunta” and an anthropomorphic lion named Lord Lion-Mane.  The issue is entertaining and intriguing.  My objections remain unrebutted so far, but its only been one issue.  I will say that Palmiotti and Gray with the help of artists Eduardo Panisca and Julio Ferreira have earned another issue.
  • Swamp Thing #20 brings forth the second issue of the massive paradigm shift between Scott Snyder’s incredible inaugural run on the title and that of new series writer Charles Soule.  The issue itself is really well written and the plotline pretty rough.  Last issue, Scarecrow was trying to steal a rare flower from the Metropolis Botanical Garden when Swamp Thing stepped in to stop him.  Scarecrow unleashed his fear toxin on Swamp Thing causing the avatar of the Green to freak out and thereby the plants within the City of Tomorrow to utterly freak out by extension.  Inside his head, Swamp Thing sees Alec Holland living the life he would have led if he hadn’t been made into Swamp Thing.  He sees a life with Abby Arcane with a lovely house and children.  Everything is perfect except when he comes into his dream life, bringing the power of the Green with him.  Living out his deepest fear upon committing himself completely to the Green, he must face the real possibility that he will slowly lose his humanity and in so doing bring death and destruction upon all the people he comes into contact with at the behest of his plant-like masters.  Outside of his inner delusions his control of the Green is making monstrous vines, trees, venus fly-traps, etc, tear Metropolis apart and fulfill the very nightmare that bore them, that Swamp Thing will hurt all the people he comes into contact with.  Superman of course comes to the rescue of his adoptive city, takes out the main threats, such as the massive vines taking down a suspension bridge, then susses out the cause and intervenes to snap Swamp Thing out of his stupor.  Swamp Thing initially came to Metropolis to talk to Superman and ask him about the how to cope with his powers and the fear of those same powers robbing him of his humanity.  Superman is pretty harsh, albeit fair, and lays down some very harsh truths.  There is, however, a note of optimism at the end of his sermon that might just be what will redeem Swamp Thing.  Charles Soule, with Kano’s awesome art, really spins a beautiful Swamp Thing yarn that seems to wrap up in a two issue mini-arc.  The final page of the issue seems to be the start of an interesting new development to take us into Soule’s second, semi-connected story arc. I greatly anticipate it.

    Wisdom of Superman

    Wisdom of Superman

  • Earth 2 #12 concludes the introduction of Doctor Fate.  Khalid Ben-Hassin has fought for years the influence of Nabu and falling under the thrall of the ancient mage as well as that of his totem, the helmet of Fate.  No more.  Last issue Khalid accepted his destiny and donned Fate’s helmet becoming Doctor Fate.  Now he and Nabu’s ancient foe, Wotan, go head to head for the first time in centuries in a blaze of sorcery and hexes over the skies of Boston.  Meanwhile in China, Alan Scott (Green Lantern) and  Kendra Munoz-Saunders (Hawkgirl) investigate the death of Alan’s lover, Sam.  In Macau they find storage containers at the docks full of decaying parademon corpses neatly stacked within.  The plot thickens as the question is raised as to what they are doing there and how do they fit into Sam’s murder.  This is put on hold as Green Lantern is drawn to Boston by his ring to aid in the relief effort of the magical battle.  Writer James Robinson really is sewing up the plot of this book by moving individual storylines forward, such as Alan’s investigation of Sam’s murder and the fallout of the Apocalypse invasion years prior, while at the same time introducing exquisitely new characters like Khalid’s Doctor Fate and folding them into the plot.  By issue’s end, Flash, Green Lantern, and Fate are brought together just in time for another plot point Robinson is skillfully sewing back into the main plot: Steppenwolf.  With this issue the world has learned that Darkseid’s uncle and one of the most dangerous men in the multiverse is being harbored, as well as ruling, the independent republic of Dherain.  There is a great deal afoot at present and Robinson has given himself a very advantageous position plot-wise to move forward from.  I very much look forward to future installments of this series, especially since Mister Miracle and his wife, Big Barda, are also in the offing.  Nicola Scott’s art on this series is another aspect not to be missed, especially when given such round and incredible characters to depict.
  • Worlds’ Finest #12 begins a dark chapter in the journeys of Power Girl and Huntress.  Picking up from last issue we find that the newly returned Michael Holt is in fact Desaad, torturer to Darkseid and one of Apokalips’ most dangerous New Gods.  He attacks Helena and Karen, but when they defend themselves and return his assaults, they discover that Desaad still has an illusion over himself that keeps people seeing him as Michael Holt, upright business mogul and scientist, and the two superheroines as thugs who are attacking him for seemingly no reason.  That discovered, they are forced to beat a hasty retreat and re-assess the situation.  However, Desaad is a creature that operates on many fronts.  Starr Industries (run by the disguised Power Girl) begins to drop in its stock value and have its top researches wooed away to other companies, and one of their top research facilities explodes.  However, this is not the most shocking thing that happens in this issue.  Paul Levitz is a genius.  This series is one of his crowning achievements.  The plot segues so nicely into a bookend for the above mentioned Earth 2, following exiles from that world in ours and showing how their odyssey is tied into the events happening concurrently on their homeworld.
  • The Movement #1 was a bit of a disappointment.  I was eagerly anticipating it due to its penning by master comic writer Gail Simone, but unfortunately Simone doesn’t live up to her reputation here.  Perhaps its the premise of the piece.  Set as a “point/counterpoint” piece with the new title The Green Team, this book and its sister series are supposed to be comics representing the 99% and the 1% of America and their place in the DCU.  The product is super-trite.  Elements of social commentary can come into comics effectively when done in thought provoking ways, but this blatant attempt to force the issues seems really forced and uninspired.  I could bemoan it much more, but I will stop.  I couldn’t find anything redeeming to say about it.  A shame that it couldn’t do what it set out to do, but in my opinion it fell flat.  I will read The Green Team, but I assume it will also fall flat.
  • Phantom Stranger #8 is an apocalyptic issue insofar as it features the “death” of the Stranger (something few even thought possible) and in his death reveals what has really been happening in the past several issues.  Issues #0, 1, and 2 key us into the Stranger’s role as a betrayer and agent of transcendental neutrality.  The last six have followed the Stranger’s attempt to locate his kidnapped wife and children.  This issue gives resolution as to what did happen to them and who was behind their abduction, but even more intriguing is the revelation of how the Phantom Stranger, the most asexual, ambivalent being in the universe, could come to have a wife and kids.  Philip Stark and his family existed before the Phantom Stranger entered into any of their lives and in point of fact, his co-opting of them and Stark’s life create a poignant, humanizing moment for him.  Dan Didio and co-writer J.M. DeMatteis have created an incredible series that has taken the concept of the Phantom Stranger and not only made him relatable to readership, but actually sympathetic.  When we have seen him briefly here and there in the past decade or so, it has often times been him heralding a crisis and then making matters more difficult than necessary for the heroes involved.  In this series we have seen that representation unchanged, but we also see how he is forced to do these things and the demons and displeasures they engender in his metaphorical heart (which DOES exist).  The series has been phenomenal , but issue #8 stands as a call to arms for readership as to HOW good the series is and has the potential to be in future.  Long story short:  READ IT!
  • Legends of the Dark Knight #8 delivers two more astounding tales of the Dark Knight.  In the first story, entitled “Carved”, writer Paul Tobin and artist Tadd Moore tell the tale of a kidnapper/thief in Gotham who abducts people and objects and replaces them with exact replicas sculpted out of mahogany.  Already there is a great setup for a psychological villain, which is an interesting turn for Batman.  Most of his foes are theatrical, but this one is just a person with deep seated issues, enveloped in a very methodical psychosis.  A fascinating, extremely well written story.  The next one, “Unnatural Selection”, written by Ricardo Sanchez and drawn by Sergio Sandoval also provides a very out of the box, rarely attempted story in the Batman titles.  A series of grisly murders leads the Dark Knight to a cryptotaxodermist’s creation of a Barghest.  Cryptotaxodermy is the creation of mythic animals from the parts of deceased members of its constituent parts, i.e. making a stuffed griffin from an eagle’s head, lion’s body, snake’s tail, etc.  However, how can a stuffed, fictitious creature murder a slew of people throughout Gotham?  The answer is very intriguing and quite fascinating to wrap one’s head around.  This story in particular touched me deeply in how tragic every aspect of it is. Every aspect.  However, both stories were AMAZING!  This series is a crap shoot, sometimes delivering the cheddar and other times falling flat.  I personally would suggest this issue for someone that wants a good reason to begin a long standing love affair with the character of Batman, or simply find out the potential inherent in Batman stories outside of the stereotypes of capes and masks that make up 90% of Batman stories.

And thus wraps the first week of May’s batch of comics.

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 #20: Drawn by Tony Daniel, Colored by Tomeu Morey, Inked by Batt

Detective Comics #20:  Art by Jason Fabok, Colored by Jeremy Cox

Green Arrow #20:  Art by Andrea Sorrentino, Colored by Marcelo Maiolo

Batwing #20:  Art by Eduardo Panisca & Julio Ferreira, Colored by Jason Wright

Swamp Thing #20: Drawn by Kano, Colored by Matthew Wilson, Inked by Alvaro Lopez

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Week 83 (April 3, 2013)

  • Action Comics #19 ushers in a brand new era in the title with the departure of comics legend Grant Morrison from the book and the advent of Andy Diggle on stories and Tony S. Daniel on art.  Grant Morrison is just short of a godhood in the realm of 21st century comic lore and his nineteen issue run (#0 issue included) was an incredible, psychedelic roller-coaster ride that befits his vaunted reputation.  Large shoes to fill, but I still am excited by the Diggle/Daniel team up.  Andy Diggle is an incredible writer whose Green Arrow: Year One series was tight, concise, and a very good intro to the character for newbies.  Tony S. Daniel is one of my favorite writer/artists because of his attention to visual storytelling and the round, sumptuous lines of his artwork.  The two together prove to be a symphony really utilizing the characters and visual grandeur of the Superman line to the fullness of their potential.  Superman is young and idealistic and still at a stage prior to the events of Superman #1, as becomes blatantly clear with the introduction of a character already “introduced” to us in the future in that aforementioned Superman issue.  Daniel draws him with youthful exuberance and a stoic concern when he is tested by bad men in big machines.  Lex Luthor, also a character in this arc, is quite different than the only time we have met him in the first six issue arc of Morrison’s run.  There he was a little chunky and arrogant.  Here he is lean, and has shed his cavalier attitude for an ice cold demeanor that is very wolf-like and predatory.  He is infinitely complex and his mental psyche is explored quite candidly in a very terse scene with his psychiatrist.  Diggle writes him exquisitely and Tony Daniel’s art captures all of his ominous potential in some very chilling expressions.  To put it mildly, this new Action line up is incredible.  Though Morrison has moved on, the title will continue to shine brightly as a star in the DC crown, thanks to two of the most promising creators in the medium.

    A Wife's Love

    The Psychiatrist and the Psychopath

  • Detective Comics #19 (#900) was an issue to remember and a reminder of how pissed I am at DC for renumbering their books.  If they had not gone through with the renumbering as a result of the Reboot this would have been issue #900.  They didn’t make note of it either on the cover, even for this MOMENTOUS occasion, considering no other title in comics, besides Action (WHICH GOT THE #900 ON THE COVER!) has ever reached that landmark.  That said, going into it there was a lot of pressure on them to do it right.  In Action Comics #900 writer Paul Cornell capped off what was perhaps one of the most massive Lex Luthor stories ever told and truly blew the reader away with a testimonial as to just how deep Luthor’s hatred for Superman runs.  In this 900th issue of the title that launched Batman in the late 30’s current writer John Layman had to pick a topic to write about that segued into his current run on the book while at the same time telling a story quintessentially enmeshed in the Batman mythos.  The Joker was not possible, because Scott Snyder already used him up two months ago.  The Scarecrow was a decent option, except that he’s been overused of late.  Penguin is a part of the story, but still not quite right.  Layman chose to find the answer in the name of his main character. Bat . . . Man.  Man . . . Bat.  Apparently in the Reboot Kurt Langstrom hasn’t been introduced into Batman’s scope and thus the introduction of a viral version of his serum that infects people and turns them into literal bat-men and women leads to his New 52 debut.  The story is fast paced, clean, engaging, well thought out and if one ignores the annoying contradictions arising from the links to the semi-rebooted Batman Incorporated series, which is predicated on Batman knowing about Kurt Langstrom LONG before this point, its absolutely perfect.  As with Action Comics #900 there are also other shorter pieces that tie integrally into the Batman character, paying homage to it’s impact on the world at large.  As is usually the case, Layman follows up on the main story with a backup feature that highlights a loose end brought up in the main story with Andy Clarke providing beautiful art.  Without giving too much away, it tells the story of Francine Langstrom, Kurt’s wife, and how she met and fell in love with her husband.  Following the tragic fate of her husband this feature shows the true depth of her love for him, which honestly made me mist up a little.  Coupled with the main story, these two make the issue worth $7.99 by themselves.  James Tynion IV, cowriter of Talon, with the help of Justice League Dark artist, Mikel Janin, tells the next tale which features Bane on his island haven of Santa Prisca that connects his disappearance at the end of Batman: The Dark Knight #7 to a coming appearance in Talon #7.  Though the beauty of Janin’s art seems to clash with the harshness of the subject material, it’s still a delight to look at precisely for that reason.  John Layman then finishes the issue off with two more short stories.  One explaining why Ogilvy engineered the Manbat infestation and what happened during that chaotic night, as well as introducing a twist in Penguin (Oswald Cobblepot’s) fate following last issue’s events.  Last but not least, he tells the story of a police officer recovering in Gotham Central Hospital from his transformation to a manbat and back to a person.  Most of the cops there hate Batman and hold no punches in talking trash about him.  The female police rookie from Batman #12 who had to guard Joker’s face is among the cops and she speaks out for the Caped Crusader.  After all the other cops leave in disgust, the injured cop in his hospital bed confides that Batman was the reason that he didn’t kill anyone as a manbat.  But for Batman he’d have been a murderer and for that reason he agrees to be her partner when no else would partner up with her.  Across the board this issue did Batman proud.  Quality storytelling and beautiful art, in both the stories themselves and the pinups between features.  Well worth the read for any Batman fan.

    A Wife's Love

    A Wife’s Love

  • Green Lantern #19 is a twofold issue.  On one side writer Geoff Johns is progressing the story toward Hal Jordan literally making the “leap” to becoming a Black Lantern.  As Johns hinted seven months ago, Hal is destined to be the greatest Black Lantern of all time.  Unthinkable as it may seem, Johns is taking us there and I for one cannot wait to see Hal in the black outfit, which we were cheated of seeing during Blackest Night by Barry Allen’s incredible speed.  The main plot this issue tackles is Sinestro falling under the scrutiny of Volthoom, the First Lantern.  In fact, Sinestro and his world of Korugar are precisely what Volthoom needed to fulfill his evil plans for the universe.  This is it though.  After this issue all that remains of the plot is Green Lantern #20.  Then Geoff John’s vision of Green Lantern will conclude itself with his departure from the series and a new day will dawn on the GL line of books.  I have to say that I am sad to see him leave.  This was one series that he consistently did right.  His long time collaborator, artist Doug Mahnke was absent again this issue, with Adrian Syaf and Szymon Kudranski splitting duties on artwork.  No doubt it’s to give Mahnke time to do the art on what is solicited to be a massive finale issue, but the choice of these two seems to be a logical one.  Syaf draws Sinestro quite well, endowing the fallen Green Lantern with all the arrogance and anger that befit him, and Kudranski’s eerily shadowed, monochromatic art sets a very stark tone for the Hal Jordan scenes taking place in the “Dead Zone.”  This issue is phenomenal, epitomizing what is essential about both Hal and Sinestro.
  • Green Arrow #19 is for the most part an extended duel between Green Arrow and his black clad nemesis, Komodo.  What is important about it is the psychology.  The interplay between these two archers not only informs the reader about archery in general from Ollie’s narration and the verbal repartee between the two, but also about the archers themselves.  Ollie’s deepest thoughts and drives are either told to us or insinuated through his actions and reactions to the events chronicled by writer Jeff Lemire.  Also a major twist is Komodo’s revelation as to the nature of Robert Queen’s (Green Arrow’s dad) death.  Ollie knew it was a helicopter crash that coincided with his marooning on the island, but the exact nature was unbeknownst to him until this issue.  Also of interest is Komodo and his daughter, Emiko.  Komodo, whose real name is Lacroix, looks to be Caucasian and his daughter, Emiko, from name and appearance looks to be Asian.  I only point out their racial characteristics because Komodo and his persona as a black archer seems to be much in the same vein as Merlyn the Magnificent and Emiko and her outfit when she suits up in this issue seems to be a very close (except in age) facsimile of the archer Shado from previous Green Arrow lore.  I am very curious to see if Lemire is rewriting the Green Arrow playbook or merely borrowing a few cues.  In any event, he delivers a stark, razor’s edge plotline that paints Ollie into a corner and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat.  Though I admit to not being an Andrea Sorrentino fan, his artwork for this arc in Green Arrow is essential to establishing the feel that is imperative to Lemire’s vision.  The two together are like Lennon and McCartney.  If you had reservations about the character up until this point, you need to get the series from #17 and go forward from there.  Lemire and Sorrentino have resurrected the Emerald Archer back to his rightful place in comic book lore.

    The Truth Comes Out

    The Truth Comes Out

  • Earth 2 #11 ushers in a truly amazing issue of this dynamic title.  Last issue we were introduced to Wotan and given a brief glimpse into the history of the Helmet of Fate, housing the power and spiritual essence of the ancient mage, Nabu.  Here writer James Robinson takes us even further into the backstories of Nabu, Wotan, and the human, Khalid Ben-Hassin, who finds himself caught between these two mages in their titanic stuggle against one another.  The lion’s share of the issue’s narrative follows Khalid’s attempt to locate the helm he had forsaken in the past and his communing with Nabu’s spirit to locate it within the labyrinthine bowls of Fate’s Tower.  Nabu believes that Khalid is chose by fate and therefore the only man fit to bear his power, which is something Khalid has fought tooth and nail up until this very moment.  Why is that you ask? In their first encounter, after the young archaeologist’s discovery of the helmet in an unearthed Egyptian tomb, Nabu’s essence sought to supplant Khalid’s will and drove him to the brink of insanity.  Now with an inspiration to aspire to Khalid intends to brave oblivion and madness to become the hero his Earth desperately needs.  James Robinson and artist Nicola Scott knock this series out of the park with beautifully intricate and often moving plots and pictures.  What truly made this particular issue for me was a scene in the Eastern European country of Dherain where Steppenwolf dispatches his right hand, Fury (daughter of Wonder Woman), to hunt down two more exiled denizens of Apokalips.  Admittedly, this couple are my favorite Fourth Worlders.  I am on pins and needles for the next installment.

    Miracles Do Happen

    Miracles Do Happen

  • Worlds’ Finest #11 features the entrance of yet another Apokaliptian.  Huntress follows upon a lead connecting the sale of weapons powered by Apokalips technology to the money that has been siphoned from Wayne Enterprises.  That lead in North Africa leads her right back to Holt Industries, which Power Girl had been attacking like a harbinger of natural disaster last issue.  WE know that Michael Holt was transported to Earth 2, however,that precipitates the question of how he can be back on Earth 1?  Enter our mysterious Fourth Worlder, Desaad.  Paul Levitz writes this series so well, but this issue was a little dry.  Though I am intrigued by the advent of Desaad, this one took a little longer to come to the point.  Still an incredible series and one that has great promise in coming issues.
  • Swamp Thing #19 is not unlike Action Comics #19 above.  Scott Snyder’s inaugural run of this title was as seminal as Morrison’s on Action.  Both were innovative and redefined their respective series.  Charles Soule takes over Swamp Thing from Snyder and in the wake of what has been a very important, unique origin story, Soule takes Swamp Thing back to the role he held in all his previous incarnations: guardian of the Green.  This includes doing some things that are morally repugnant to him, including measures that lead to the deaths of many innocent people.  Despite being the warrior king of the Green Kingdom, Alec Holland hasn’t forgotten that he was once human and his duties do not fail to shake what remains of that humanity.  Taking a trip to the Metropolis Botanical Gardens, where he spent many hours during his graduate work to calm his soul, he runs into Scarecrow, himself on an errand from the mysterious society of supervillains hinted at in Justice League of America. Soule does an incredible job of taking this series by the horns and doing something new, yet appropriate to the continuation of the legacy he inherited.  Taking over art from Yanick Paquette and Marco Rudy is Spanish artist, Kano.  Kano provided art for Swamp Thing #0 and in my review for it, I quote myself as saying, “ I pray that he get a shot at another issue or two in future, maybe a whole arc, because his lines and style are so incredible.”  https://offthepanelcomicreview.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/week-53-sept-5-2012/ Wish granted.  He continues his exquisite art here and looks to be attached for the foreseeable future.  Like Supergirl, Superman, and Action, all of which have gone through major paradigm shifts, this series set the hook, ensuring for me at least continued readership.
  • Batwing #19 continues the era of change.  Those who have been keeping up with Batwing know that a reckoning is coming.  David Zavimbe is a good cop in a country rotting from its bowels in corruption.  He has lived under the assumption that good will and perseverance can win against evil.  Those beliefs have died with his bestfriend and mentor, Matu Ba.  Now Batwing is going to town with a tomahawk and NO ONE is sacred.  Neither friends nor enemies are safe from his wrath.  While his path up until this issue have been held retarded through moral restraint, this issue has him cutting through any impediment to justice like butter.  But in the end, its just a means for him to clean house before leaving his role as the Batman of Africa.  Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray take over with this issue to conclude David Zavimbe’s tenure as Batwing and inaugurate the his replacement.  Batman says that this new candidate was his “first choice” for Batwing.  Palmiotti and Gray are good writers, but I am questioning their choice of his replacement and what that means for Batman’s judgement.  I won’t spoil who he is, but I will say that though he is African, he’s actually African American, born and raised in Gotham.  It seems a little racist to me that they assume that a guy can represent peoples and places he has never been.  Just cause his ancestors were from Africa doesn’t mean that he can represent them.  Batman was born and raised in Gotham, Nightrunner (the Batman of France) though of North African extraction was raised in Paris, Mr. Unknown in Japan, etc.  I’m not impugning their rationale or saying they can’t pull it off, but Palmiotti and Gray have set up a pretty implausible foundation to their run and the series’ new direction.  Time will tell . . .

    Batwing Goes Out With A Bang

    Batwing Goes Out With A Bang

  • Phantom Stranger #7 continues the Stranger’s quest to find his abducted family.  On the way he meets up with the “Voice” in its form as a Scottish terrier.  While discoursing upon this religious  and philosophical the Voice leads the Phantom Stranger to the next person whom he is to betray: Jack Ryder.  A super conservative television newsman with an over inflated ego, Ryder finds his career on the rocks.  Yet in the darkest hour of Metropolis and in Superman’s absence, Ryder stays on the air to report the chaos occurring downtown, just outside the studio.  Dan Didio resurrects his version of the Challengers of the Unknown for this grand display of coalescing fear and fearlessness.  The Stranger yet again leads a human being unto their ruin and death, but the great betrayer finds himself at the spears edge of his own betrayal by ones very close to him and his past.  Dan Didio concocts a very compelling, mysterious series that draws the reader through a very diverse cross-section of the DCU.
  • Legends of the Dark Knight #7 presents a tale of Arkham Asylum rarely seen.  Inmates are seeing a ghost, as is the Dark Knight.  Following the strange occurrences, Batman is lead into a decades old murder case that ties to the staff of the Asylum and a restless “spirit.”  This series has produced some very intriguing tales surrounding the Batman, exploring the world that has developed around his actions and their consequences.  This one wasn’t the best developed so far.  The substance of this “vengeful spirit” and even the question of how she manifests is unanswered and rather lackluster.
  • Smallville: Season Eleven #12 packs quite a wallop, achieving quite a bit in one issue, and also concluding the four part “Haunted” arc.  Superman goes to-to-toe with the Black Flash in order to save Bart.  However, that is just an evasive tactic that can only go so far.  Bart invariably is the one that is destined to fight the Black Flash, which he accepts and does heroically.  Delving into the mind of her Earth 2 doppelganger, Chloe Sullivan relives the life of her other self on that other Earth and sees for the first time the Moniters who play harbinger to the “Crisis” Earth-2 Chloe foretold before her death.  Both of these two events hail dark tidings for the world of “Smallville”, but a few bright lights shine through the darkness.  Fighting the Black Flash allowed the radioactive isotope Lex put into Superman’s system as a tracking mechanism to fully dissipate, meaning that Clark can reunite with his fiancee, Lois Lane.  Lex’s dearly departed sister, Tess, has been a thorn in her brother’s side for sometime and with his resources, he is not one to allow a thorn to remain no matter how difficult it is to remove.  This issue gives Tess safe harbor in some respect from her brother’s dark machinations.  This series really holds up to its televised predecessor.

Week 75 (Feb. 6, 2013)

Starting out February right we have the conclusion to “Rot World” in Swamp Thing and Animal Man and a Valentine’s Day Special for all the lovelorn denizens of the New 52.  Also another first attempt in the rodeo of trying to wrangle Green Arrow into a decent title again.  So much going on, let’s get to it:

  • Detective Comics #17 brings to a close the story of the Merrymaker.  Since Detective Comics wasn’t roped into the “Death of the Family” event, John Layman used this two issue space to do something Joker themed and yet tangential enough that he had complete control over it.  Thus sprung the concept of the League of Smiles and its architect, the Merrymaker.  I’m a little sad that it was only two issues, as it turned out to be a really cool concept.  However, I’m not sure what else Layman could have done with it, so its length isn’t entirely inappropriate.  I do hope that in the future the Merrymaker makes a reappearance, because as a Joker offshoot he is intriguing.  However, a lot of it is the pageantry surrounding him, owing to the resemblance he bears to other characters in Batman’s rogues gallery, i.e. Hugo Strange.  In the backup feature, also written by John Layman and drawn by Andy Clarke we are shown the origin of the Merrymaker while also being made privy to his fate after the main feature concludes.  Layman’s writing is beginning to grow on me.  His authorial sense of humor is really refreshing and makes his issues on this title quite engaging to read.  Things are beginning to fall into place and I am forced to retract my earlier reservations as to his competency as a Batman writer.

    Birth of the Merrymaker

    Birth of the Merrymaker

  • Animal Man #17 presents the first half of the conclusion to “Rot World.”  Animal Man and Swamp Thing have independent of one another come to Anton Arcane’s capital of Behemit, to battle the onslaught of the Rot into our world.  The battle to end Arcane’s nightmarish reign is brutal and costs many lives, but this issue only presents half of the story.  This chapter, while important, really only constitutes a great deal of fighting and panning out the immense scale of the battle with the Rot.  Ending with the revelation of Abby Arcane and Max Baker’s fates following the flashback sequences in both Animal Man and Swamp Thing, this issue finds its conclusion in Swamp Thing #17.
  • Swamp Thing #17, along with Animal Man #17, are hailed as the “Rot World: Finale” but in fact they are not.  Or if they are, it is a lackluster finale with no gravitas or meaning.  Continuing from where Animal Man left off, this second installment of the finale has Swamp Thing and Animal Man plumbing the depths of their resolve to win the day from the cocksure, smug Anton Arcane who cannot conceive that there is any way that he may lose.  And in reality, for the duo to win they must shatter their own dreams and destroy that which they love most to free the world from the Rot.  Also of interest is the meeting of the avatars of Red and Green with the Parliament of Decay, which is far different from how one would expect them to be, given the events of the past year and a half.  This issue is intriguing, certainly, but the lack of any sort of conclusion is deceptive.  It would seem that any true ending to this saga with come with the 18th issues of both series.
  • Earth 2 #9 returns to the main cast of characters after last month’s sojourn to Dherain and the ascension of Steppenwolf to the throne.  Kendra Munoz-Saunders meets with a young middle eastern man named Khalid who is the host to Nabu and the helmet of Fate.  As yet he appears to be too frightened to wield this power and become Doctor Fate.  Returning to Jay Garrick after the fall of Grundy in issue #6, we find the speedster returning to his mother’s home in Lansing, Michigan only to be greated by a a World Army faction headed by Wesley Dodds there to capture him and bring him in.  This title is interesting because it constantly is beset with different shades of moral ambiguity.  There are characters like Jay that are just plain good, but then there are characters like Hawkgirl, Dodds (aka Sandman), and Al Pratt (aka the Atom) who are slightly more nuanced and hard to read.  And then of course there is the genocidal lunatic, Terry Sloane, who murdered tens of millions of people in the blink of an eye and yet still claims to be a hero.  Though the issues bounces around between Hawkgirl, Jay Garrick, and the World Army, the issue really seems to be setting up the entrence of Dr. Fate and the introduction of Khalid.  James Robinson continues to exhibit his prowess as a JSA writer, innovating the characters and concepts yet retaining the heart of each that has maintained them over seventy years of storytelling.  Artist Nicola Scott returns after her hiatus last month on #8.

    The Earth 2 Realm of Magic

    The Earth 2 Realm of Magic

  • Worlds’ Finest #9 picks up after Huntress’s hospitalization following an assassination order by a human trafficker she inconvenienced in her introductory miniseries about a year ago.  Karen Starr, aka Power Girl, had her taken to her private island for rest and recuperation, which young Miss Wayne is in desperate need of.  But . . . wouldn’t you know it, a paramilitary, special forces mercenary group picks that time to raid Karen’s laboratory and threaten the lives of her staff in the process.  All this while Power Girl is away on her previous errand.  So Helena has to suit up, and like her father and mother taught her vis-a-vis the flashback last issue, she pushes past the pain to do what’s right.  In this issue the flashbacks show Helena and Karen getting their costumes and Helena’s crossbow and Helena once again breaking up a white slavery ring.  The flashbacks aren’t as poignant as they have been in the past, but the main story is pretty incredible, especially considering the final panel’s revelation.  Paul Levitz is a genius and as ever George Perez’s pencils are rock solid. The pairing of their writing and art makes this series one of the best currently being put out.
  • Phantom Stranger #5 was rather apocalyptic.  Last issue the Phantom Stranger, who in his downtime exists as Philip Stark, working stiff and family man, comes back from an unwelcome conversation with John Constantine to find that his family has been kidnapped and his kids’ babysitter killed in a ritualistic, occult-looking fashion.  So of course his first thought is that its the first person he wronged in this series’ inaugural #0 issue: The Spectre, aka Det. Jim Corrigan.  The issue is basically a drawn out slugfest between two transcendental forces: Cold Destiny vs Fiery Vengeance incarnate.  Lots of stuff blows up and some serious fundamental issues are discussed.  Very few comics are as high brow and low brow at the same time.  There is some serious sacrilege going on with the Spectre claiming to be God and God turning out to be a cairn terrier.  Also the Question makes his first speaking appearance, but I am still annoyed by his immortal overhaul.  He was a great character before and thus far I am not sold.  Although this is the first time he’s appeared as an actual character, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt.  With great art and writing from Brent Anderson, Dan Didio and J.M. DeMatteis this issue was overall superb.

    Rage vs Fate

    Rage vs Fate

  • Green Arrow #17 did it!  I have disliked this series, except for the “Daughters of Lear” storyline.  This issue resurrects the dark edge of what Green Arrow should be.  I think the complete crap numbers of their past sixteen issues coupled with the unbridled success of the television adaptation Arrow has finally got them back on track.  Ollie’s lost his company, the steward that his father left in charge of Queen Industries, Emerson, begins to tell him a bombshell about his departed father when BANG he gets a black arrow through the chest.  Three pages in and Oliver is framed for murder!  You want to read it now, don’t you?  This series started with Oliver cushed out and leading a pretty carefree life of whimsy, moonlighting as a jet setting vigilante.  This issue has him lose everything except his bow and what he learned on the island.  THAT is the what Green Arrow should be, a twisted individual regressed to his most primal state after a life or death ordeal on a desert island becoming a silent hunter in an urban jungle.  Check!  Though this is just a single issue, this is the most genuine issue published since the launch of the New 52.  Jeff Lemire not only showcases the effects the island had on Ollie, he also brings the island into the narrative itself with the black archer and a mysterious group also being connected to that island.  Andrea Sorrentino was initially the artist for I, Vampire, which I disliked a great deal, his artwork which is very stark with non-gradient transitions between shadow and light, really brings a sharp edge to Lemire’s script.  Just an awesome issue.  If you were disheartened by DC’s crappy initial issues of this series or you like Arrow, buy this book.

    Enter Komodo

    Enter Komodo

  • Batwing #17 finds our hero a hunted man.  Police Inspector David Zavimbe and his alter ego Batwing have stood up to corruption in the Congo police and been marked for death.  Industrialist, Phillip Marksbury, has put a contract out on Batwing when the latter put his son, Ancil Marksbury, in prison for multiple assaults and homicides.  Answering the call is a Chinese mercenary called Sky-Pirate, but more interestingly, Rachel Niamo, aka Dawn, David’s childhood friend from the refugee camp, who he fought beside a few issues ago.  This issue has so  many twists and turns, its uncertain how it can end with David and those closest to him escaping its consequences with their lives intact.  Fabian Nicieza nails it!  And Fabrizio Fiorentino renders it beautifully with some of the most luscious art currently coming out.  I am more terrified about the future of this series than I am about the “Death of the Family” arc in Batman.  THAT’S saying something.

    Friends of the Past, Enemies of Tomorrow

    Friends of the Past, Enemies of Tomorrow

  • Legends of the Dark Knight #5 does something different then the past four, focusing on a different character than the Batman.  Slam Bradley, private detective, is on the job observing an abusive hood beating his mistress.  In the process he get framed for murder and runs afoul of Black Mask, the mafia kingpin of Gotham.  Plus the Batman thinks he did it as well and also is trying to bring him in, where the corrupt police will kill him.  So the legend here as told by the incredible writing (said sarcastically) of Joshua Hale Fialkov is that Batman is a complete idiot.  Phil Hester provides insubstantial art.  Terrible issue.  Skip it.
  • Smallville Season 11 #10, provides two major plot lines. First, Clark is made aware of the Black Flash, or the Black Racer as he’s also referred to, who has been stalking Bart Allen for sometime now.  In his wake, he has been sapping the life from other, normal people prematurely aging them and leaving them as desiccated husks.  The origins of this dark speedster are hinted to have something to do with a failed LexCorp experiment.  To help Bart, Clark and his allies at STAR Labs create two cosmic treadmills for Bart and Supes to use to lure out the Black Flash. On the other side of the narrative, Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow, and his wife, Chloe Sullivan Queen, attempt to find out the true nature of the multiversal cataclysm that lead Chloe’s Earth-2 equivalent to come to our Earth, to do so they use a device Lex Luthor used to transfer Hank Henshaw’s consciousness into the robotic body in the first arc of this series.  Chloe merges her consciousness with the waning memories of her dead counterpart.  This series really does work episodically like the television show did, presenting a complex, yet engaging superhero adventure in the manner of a seasonal program.
  • Young Romance: New 52 Valentines Day Special #1 presents six tales of love throughout the New DCU, just as the title promises.  The first story, is one of Catwoman and the Batman brought to us by Catwoman writer Ann Nocenti and guest artist Emanuela Lupacchino.  In it Catwoman pulls a heist, but afterwards feels none of the usual satisfaction, reminiscing about the first time she met Batman . . . on Valentines Day.  Her and her brother Billy were dirt poor and decided to steal tv’s and stereos from the families living in their projects.  Of course, the Batman would have choice things to say about that, and of course Catwoman would be too stubborn to giveup without a fight, but also true is that she is not so devoid of decency that she wouldn’t learn from that and become better.  Next up writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Inaki Miranda tell a tale of Aquaman’s wife, Mera, living in his father’s old lighthouse in Amnesty Bay, Maine, learning of the deep love between the ravishing daughter of a one of the previous lighthouse keepers from the 1860’s and a handsome, devoted ships captain.  Though they didn’t have a happy ending in their lifetime, Mera and Arthur through their actions and love for one another might just be able to make a happy ending for the departed lovers.  In the the “Knightfall” storyline Batgirl met a street punk named Ricky who is gimped by the sadistic villainess.  She learned that he wasn’t all bad and to help him avoid trouble while asking him for information, she planted a kiss on him.  In the Batgirl story of this issue, writer Ray Fawkes and artist Julius Gopez have Ricky sloppily jacking a car so that Batgirl would come and he could talk to her about that kiss.  The segment is a very honest, bittersweet love story, that at the same time is open ended leaving room for the possibility of a happy ending, but not making it likely.  In the story entitled “Seoul Brothers” Stormwatch writer Peter Milligan and artist Simon Bisley tell a story about Apollo and Midnighter.  I hated this story simply because it featured Midnighter.  He is just awful and his part in this story makes it awful.  The less said the better.  Apollo isn’t a bad dude and deserves much better.  Perhaps that’s what Milligan is saying, but I don’t really care in the long run, and neither Milligan nor his predecessor Paul Cornell could sell me on the characters.  This story didn’t help matters either.  Nightwing writer Kyle Higgins tells a story of his title character’s love life on the rocks, but interesting developments as he meets an African American heroine code named Ursa.  It bears (pun intended) inquiry as to whether this story will find resolution in the main title, as Higgins is writing this and may be setting something up for later.  Finally, Superman and Wonder Woman are on a date when Wonder Woman’s family matters creep their way into their romantic evening and the Amazing Amazon has to come to the rescue of her Man of Steel.  Upcoming Action Comics writer Andy Diggle pens this one, with the promise that “even more complications arise in this couple’s Young Romance in the pages of Superman #19.”  If that’s not a hint, I don’t know what is.  Overall, this was a really great, well plotted jaunt into the love lives of some of the best DC characters.
    Perhaps the Youngest and Most Interesting Romance

    Perhaps the Youngest and Most Interesting Romance

     

And so ends the first week of February.  Some issues fell flat, but there were some real gems coming out of it as well.  Overall a decent week in comics.

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

Illustration Credits:

Detective Comics #17:  Art by Andy Clarke, Colored by Blond

Earth 2 #9: Drawn by Nicola Scott, Colored by Alex Sinclair, Inked by Trevor Scott

Phantom Stranger #5: Drawn by Brent Anderson, Colored by Ulises Arreola, Inked by Philip Tan & Rob Hunter

Green Arrow #17:  Art by Andrea Sorrentino

Batwing #17: Art by Fabrizio Fiorentino, Colored by Pete Pantazis

Young Romance: New 52 Valentines Day Special #1: Cover Art by Kenneth Rocafort, Colored by Blond