Feb. 5, 2014

This week begins the February batch of comics and with it some of the best titles, in my humble opinion.  Green Arrow is a series that has me ravenous month to month, ready to devour the next issue at the conclusion of each brand new one.  Detective Comics is nearing the end of writer John Layman’s run. Trillium remains one of the best titles Vertigo has in their lineup.  Also out this week: Green Lantern and Red Lanterns share a physical issue this month, Batman: Black & White ends its six issue run, and last but not least Ms. Marvel #1 comes out, written by the incomparable G. Willow Wilson and introducing a promising young lady into the realm of superheroics.  It’s looking like it’s going to be an awesome week!

  • Detective Comics #28 unfolds the second chapter of the three part “Gothtopia” storyline.  Batman has realized the horrific truth behind the shiny city which Gotham has been masqueraded.  Somehow Scarecrow has engineered an airborne toxin that has the populous in a state of euphoria.  With everyone so perfectly enthralled under his chemically enhanced euphoria Batman’s rational thoughts seem like insanity, prompting his allies to capture him and put him in the only place that can treat someone in his condition: Arkham Asylum.  Working with Scarecrow are a ragtag group of Batman villains correlated only by their medical degrees: Harley Quinn (former psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quintzel), Professor Pyg (surgeon Dr. Lazlo Valentine), Mr. Freeze (medical scientist Dr. Victor Fries), and Merrymaker (fallen psychiatrist Dr. Byron Meredith).  These rogues have Batman and delight at the various draconian means with which they can “attempt to cure him.”  Luckily for Batman, Arkham Asylum’s security is something he’s made a hobby of and even more lucky, the one person who has the inherent traits to counter the toxin is also currently an inmate: Poison Ivy.  Batman’s got these two points on his side, but Scarecrow has more than just the psycho version of the television show The Doctors on his side.  John Layman is ending his run on this title with style in what is shaping up to be a very intriguing bookend arc.  Unfortunately his longtime collaborator in art, Jason Fabok, has left the title to begin his work on the upcoming weekly series Batman Eternal.  It would have been great if they could have hit the finish line together, but c’est la vie.  Next month’s issue will mark the end of a really quality run of Detective Comics and herald one of the most exciting runs to date with the advent of writer/artist duo Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, whose run on Flash cemented it as one of the top titles.  It’s an exciting time in Detective Comics and Layman is setting up a killer final issue of his run.
    The Doctors.

    The Doctors.


  • Green Arrow #28 presents another killer issue in Jeff Lemire’s “Outsiders War” arc.  Picking up with last issue’s unbelievable revelation that Robert Queen is still alive, Ollie wrestles with the implications.  Not only is his father alive, but it was his dear old dad that stranded him on the island in the first place and who, as the oni-masked mercenary, had him mercilessly tortured and personally hunted Ollie upon his escape.  Robert spins a yarn of his intentions and only having Oliver’s best interest in mind, but from all angles, not just the inhuman treatment he endured, Ollie has so many reasons to be angry at his father and Shado, which he makes no effort to hide.  Elsewhere, Fyffe and Naomi meet John Diggle in
    Father and Son.

    Father and Son.

    Seattle and are drafted by him in Ollie’s absence to help stop Richard Dragon, the Fist Clan warrior who has his sights on ruling the Emerald City.  Also of note is the return of Komodo, aka Simon Lacroix, to the main narrative.  Komodo is the pretender to the chieftainship of the Arrow Clan, selected by the Outsiders to fill the role once the true holder of the Totem Arrow, Robert Queen, has been dethroned.  This honor bestowed on him is not something that the Outsiders, namely Spear Clan chief Golgotha, let him forget.  Komodo’s entry into the Outsiders inner circle is perhaps the most ominous and captivating development within the issue.  As ever, Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino deliver a phenomenal issue of Green Arrow and an iconic statement in comic production.  As both a writer and an artist, Jeff Lemire has a keen mind for visual storytelling and an apparent affinity for the character.  Over the course of thirteen issues his writing of Oliver has been somber, honest, and thrilling, showing that while Lemire may not love Ollie (he probably does though), he respects him.  No one who’s been on the title since the Reboot has given Oliver his due, playing him as a flippant buffoon with no idea what he is doing.  Green Arrow took up the bow as a vigilante for a reason and Lemire understands that where others have not.  Helping Lemire realize his vision of Green Arrow is artist Andrea Sorrentino, whose stark realist style adds drama and immediacy to the acts portrayed.  What Sorrentino also adds is an artistic approach to multi-sensory depictions of Lemire’s scripts.  Comics are a largely visual medium.  Sound can be insinuated through awkwardly inserted effects that are often overlooked and ignored by readers and touch, taste, and smell can be described contextually by characters or the narrator.  The lattermost three are not easily conveyed, but several times since November Sorrentino has employed an interesting technique of inserting the overwhelming sound effects that characters are hearing and using those as a visual filter for what the reader sees.  In November’s Green Arrow #25 Sorrentino displayed characters reaction to a violent explosion seen in the lettering of the explosive sound effect BOOM!  Sorrentino did it again last issue with the advent of the Shield Clan to the island.  This issue he utilized this effect for two more sequences that immediately made readers aware of the cacophonous din the characters were experiencing in a way that was inescapable but also visually stimulating.  With two graphic geniuses on this title how is it possible for comic book fans to NOT be reading it?!  If you haven’t read it, rectify that error and pick up Green Arrow #17 and take the fast train to having your mind blown.

    Sorrentino Word Art.

    Sorrentino Word Art.

  • Green Lantern/Red Lanterns #28 is a special flip issue combining Green Lantern and Red Lanterns into one book.
    In the Green Lantern portion writer Robert Venditti picks up where Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 left off with the deputizing of a slew of the Corps worst enemies into a loose alliance against a common enemy: the Durlans.  Despite this swelling of manpower, Hal Jordan still has a lot on his plate after the blindsiding assault the Durlans and their Khund allies launched, the decimation of the Blue Lantern Corps, and the conscientious objectors within his ranks that refuse to use their rings owing to their draining of the Universal Reservoir of Light.  There’s little else Hal can seemingly take, but unfortunately he gets a Red Lantern surprise in the form of a raged out, red ringed Supergirl spewing corrosive blood from her mouth.  With Saint Walker, the sole Blue Lantern, out of commission there is only one person left that Hal can call on to extricate this Kryptonian Red, prompting the flipping of the issue.  Red Lanterns picks up on Earth with Guy interceding on behalf of Skallox and Zilius Zox who are being assaulted by the Shadow Thief.  Guy attempts to defuse the situation without resorting to violence in order to show his former lover, Tora Olafsdottir (Ice), that he has changed.  Shadow Thief doesn’t make it easy, but with Ice’s help the situation is defused, albeit not in a way that Guy intended.  With dashed hopes he returns to Ysmault to find Hal Jordan waiting with a contingent of Green Lanterns and tenuously restrained Supergirl.  Guy and Hal’s reception is very icy, but with the wrath of Superman (whom at this point they only assume is related to this mystery Red) impending, cooperation is given.  Elsewhere, Bleez and Rankorr have come face-to-face with the reinstated Atrocitus who has brought a new Red Lantern into the ranks.  Atrocitus, true to his intrinsic nature, bears a massive grudge against Guy Gardner and those Red Lanterns that remained with Guy.  A fight ensues, which Bleez and Rankorr are unprepared for, prompting Bleez to make a strategic retreat for reinforcements while Rankorr pulls rearguard.  This issue by both creative teams of Green Lantern and Red Lanterns is enthralling to read and highlights the interconnectivity of the Lantern titles.  It is revealed here that Hal never actually said that Guy could have Sector 2814, just that he could have A sector.  Guy just presumptuously took 2814 without clearing it with anyone.  That makes me feel a little bit better about the situation, but I do still harbor a bit of an annoyance at Charles Soule and the Green Lantern Group editors for the Ysmault in 2814 decision.  It’s illogical and seems like a lazy plot-device.  Whatever.  The issue also came out before the actual sequence in Supergirl where the ring seeks her out, which happens later in the month in Supergirl #28, so her appearance is a little jarring considering the lack of explanation behind her transformation.  Those points aside, the war with the Durlans is a very intricate, multifaceted concept, and the reemergence of Atrocitus as the head of a tangent Red Lantern group, creating a schism in the Red Lantern Corps is rife with possibilities.  Venditti and Soule are the right men for their respective titles, even if they have their little hiccups.
  • Swamp Thing #28 opens a whole new chapter for our main character.  The Parliament of Trees is no more.  To save our world from a monster unleashed by the out of touch Lords of the Green, Alec Holland destroyed the Parliament from within, making himself the soul voice of the Green. He did this for the greater good, but this action could also appear to some as him basically making himself immortal, as his power will run in perpetuity from the Green giving him life without end.  Regardless of motive, the die has been cast and good or bad he will reap the whirlwind.  Before he brought the house of cards crashing down, he did pull three former avatars from the Parliament into the material world: the Wolf, Lady Weeds, and a third, very ancient Swamp Thing from pre-Roman times.  All three reenter the world at the age in which they were inaugurated into the Green as Avatars.  Though they are now mortal and are destined to live mortal lives, they meet the challenge with eventual gratitude. However, with his return to the mortal sphere Swamp Thing must find his former charge, the elusive Capucine, and make good on his promise to protect her.  It is while undertaking this task that we are finally told the tale of Capucine’s origin in 12th century France.  Her immortal youth, vigor, and martial prowess were the result of an alchemical experiment performed on her brother, herself, and another child by monks to forge them into immortal protectors of that Order.  Through the march of time and the shift of governing powers she was released from her bond, but not the price that the magics used on her exact.  That is why she seeks Holland’s help.  Charles Soule has really taken this series by the horns and made it his own.  It follows in the spirit of excellence that Scott Snyder began when he started the series in 2011, but the plot and world have completely shifted to fit Soule’s new paradigm.  I respect this a great deal.  Writers, even great ones, that try to live completely in the shadow of their predecessors rarely succeed.  With the departure of Snyder I was afraid this series would languish from the transition.  With the selection of Soule Swamp Thing will continue both in excellence and innovation.  I look forward to seeing what comes down the road for Alec Holland.

    Swamp Thing and the Avatars.

    Swamp Thing and the Avatars.

  • Batman: Black & White #6 concludes the six issue anthology series of innovative black and white stories following Batman’s exploits on the streets of Gotham.  This time around Cliff Chiang, Olly Moss, Becky Cloonan, Adam Hughes, and Dave Johnson render six interesting tales pertaining to the Dark Knight.  Cliff Chiang’s tale follows a young Dick Grayson in his initial days as ward to Bruce Wayne and the Boy Wonder, Robin.  In both instances Dick feels he has something to prove and Chiang’s narrative brings the reader into the young headstrong perspective of almost every teenage boy.  Olly Moss writes a story of a pretty, young socialite who spends a night with Bruce Wayne, only to wake up in the morning and find him gone.  Meeting with friends who had similar experiences, this story fleshes out quite interestingly the cloaking element of Batman’s dual identity.  In all cases, the women Bruce Wayne uses to perpetuate his playboy image are often in the background, but rarely are their thoughts and emotions given voice.  He is always cordial and in no way mistreats or disrespects them, apart from keeping them in the dark and sometimes ditching them.  All of the women in this story seem mildly vexed, but never offended, as Bruce later helped to propel their careers or social standings afterward.  Becky Cloonan does a fantastic job rendering these lovely women and the lavish scenes they are treated to by Bruce.  Adam Hughes writes and draws a very intimate story about Catwoman and the inextricable hold she has on Batman.  With Selina in a hospital bed, never to walk again the doctors say, Batman is forced to take responsibility for her condition and realize just how important she is to him.  It’s a very stark tale, beginning to end, that is good, but unsettling as well.  Dave Johnson provides another stark yarn dealing with the Dark Knight in a tertiary fashion.  Following the exploits of a cheap hood who tries to impress a woman with expensive appetites the reader sees how slowly through his own nemishness and greed he is brought low time and again by the Batman.  Batman is the impartial executor of the law that can never be escaped.  This story was entitled “The Man Who Beat the Bat” and it’s in those dark final panels that we see how a two-bit criminal can beat one of the most indomitable human beings on the planet.  Overall, this series has been a must read for Batman fans presenting some deeply thought provoking stories by some of the greatest writers and artists in comics today, and set in black and white, capturing the intrinsic ominousness of the material.  Six incredible issues that do the Dark Knight proud.

    The Man Who Beat the Bat.

    The Man Who Beat the Bat.

  • Trillium #6 marks the return of the title from hiatus.  When last we saw William and Nika they had switched places following the temporal shift of the Atabithi/Incan temple that served as a conduit between their respective space/times.  Now William is living in the 38th century as a human colonist fleeing the dreaded Caul virus and Nika is an Imperial officer in the 1920’s administering British authority in South America.  Both have memories of their past lives before the rift, which leads them to believe themselves insane.  Their perseverance despite this lends credence to the strength of their belief in their cause, but also the bond they share with each other.  Writer/artist Jeff Lemire credits this as “the last love story,” and by Jiminy that looks to be what he is delivering.  His storytelling is deft and subtle, and his artwork is without comparison, adding a very unique, enthralling ambiance to the reader’s immersion into the plot.  Lemire is one of very few writers with the mind to conceive such a story, and the even rarer talent of bringing it off almost single-handed.  There are only two more issues left and the suspense mounts with the ending of this issue. 
  • Ms. Marvel #1 was an unmitigated disappointment.  It should be noted that I haven’t spent my money on a Marvel comic in years.  I’m not a fan of what they had been doing with their brand across the board several years ago and I found the vast majority of their books to be unhinged from what made the characters good originally.  Not a general rule, but true enough from my perspective to preclude me from buying their products.  Ms. Marvel #1 offered several things that appealed to me, so I was eager to pick it up.  I am a HUGE fan of writer G. Willow Wilson’s previous work, most notably her postmodern series Air, and the concept of Kamala Khan, an Islamic teenager taking over the Ms. Marvel persona from her promoted predecessor, Carol Danvers, was also a really intriguing touch.  I, for one, am always a proponent for diversity in comic leads.  I’ve been a huge fan of the Batman Inc. concept and especially original Batwing, David Zavimbe, and his trials and tribulations as the Batman of Post-Colonial Africa.   Nightrunner, the Algerian teenager that became the Batman of Paris, remains in my top ten list of underutilized characters.  And of course, Batwoman was a series that took on a lead with an alternate lifestyle and made an instant classic out of her heroic journey.  Alas, Ms. Wilson wasn’t able to accomplish anything similar with Kamala.  Or rather she didn’t by the end of the first issue.  Basically, to sum up this issue, the reader is given a thorough look at the life of the modern American teen of Near Eastern descent and Islamic faith, through Kamala and her family.  Her parents seem religiously liberal, but socially conservative.  Her older siblings by contrast are more religiously conservative, leaving Kamala to wrestle between her familial culture and the ever pervasive counterculture of being a teenager.  With difficulty she holds off the temptations of keggers and bacon double cheeseburgers, but allows herself her vices such as superhero fan-fictions.  In essence this issue’s sole drive was selling the reader that Kamala is an angsty teen, that she is Pakistani by heritage, and she is a Muslim.  If this were an indy comic or an artistic imprint like Air or Wilson’s seminal Cairo that would make for a very compelling story.  It isn’t, though.  It’s the first issue of Ms. Marvel, a superhero comic.  In the last three pages Kamala becomes Ms. Marvel, but with no rationale.  First of all she has a dream that Captain Marvel bestows the powers on her, which is kind of weird and deus ex machina, leaving the reader with no legitimate idea of how these powers are granted.  Even by comic book standards of gamma waves, radioactive spiders, getting struck by lighting, and intergalactic power rings, having a dream and waking up with powers is farfetched.  But even that underscores the second and more crucial detraction to the title.  There is no REASON for her to be Ms. Marvel.  Probably everyone has heard the adage “When the need is great, the hero shall appear.”  That is an indispensable rule of thumb when it comes to superhero comics.  Batman wouldn’t exist if Gotham City were a paradise.  Without Superman, Metropolis would be a smoking crater from the ill-deeds of any number of his villains.  No matter the superhero there is something, established in their first issue, that gives their move into super-heroics not just purpose, but necessity.  Of the caveats to be played with in writing innovative, avant-garde modern superhero titles this is NOT one of them.  At the end of this issue we have a decently rendered teenager with a colorful personality that gets superpowers.  Great.  Hope she has fun with them.  Inherent in any competent origin issue you need two key elements: 1) development of character, 2) development of conflict.  The first requirement was delivered in spades, a testament to Wilson’s talent for characterization.  However, the second was barely attempted, given the bare minimum of effort in the form of a mysterious fog developing at a kegger Kamala attended earlier in the evening and left before.  No reason or consequence comes of the fog, apart from kids beginning to get sleepy.  Of these two elements, you ALWAYS err on the side of developing conflict over character.  Conflict sets the hook and develops the suspense that draws readers back to the next issue.  Characterization is something that continuously and organically happens as the title progresses. You don’t need to know EVERYTHING about a character before you introduce actual plot.  Wilson could have cut 40% of Kamala’s story out of this issue, distilled the important things that are imperative to know in order to understand her, and given us something to juxtapose her youthful idealism against, i.e. a consumerist crime kingpin, or an evil businessperson with sinister aims.  I’m spitballing here, but this most certainly was NOT a superhero comic, nor a befitting introduction of an altogether delightful young woman into the role of a venerable superheroine legacy.  I’m disappointed because of my respect for G. Willow Wilson as a writer and I am disappointed as a reader.  I might catch up with this series again when it releases as a graphic novel, but I am not going to gamble on its future with my hard earned, already stretched money.  It looks to be several more years before Marvel gets me to buy any more of their comics.  Better luck next time, folks.

    The New Face of Marvel.

    The New Face of Marvel.

 

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 #28: Drawn by Aaron Lopresti, Colored by Blond, Inked by Art Thibert.

Green Arrow #28: Art by Andrea Sorrentino, Colored by Marcelo Maiolo.

Swamp Thing #28: Art by Javier Pina, Colored by Matthew Wilson.

Batman: Black & White  #6: Art by Dave Johnson.

Ms. Marvel #1: Cover Art by Sarah Pichelli & Justin Ponsor.

Nov. 6, 2013

November begins and with it a whole new batch of incredible comics.  Forever Evil has been incredible, as has Action Comics, Detective Comics, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Trillium.  All have been primed for greatness this month.  Action, Detective, and Green Arrow are scheduled to be a part of the overarching “Blackout” event, set in Gotham when Batman was first getting started and the Riddler cut the power to most of Gotham.  This event seems jarring to the continuity of each series, so whether “Blackout” fails or succeeds remains to be seen:

  • Forever Evil #3 carries on from Justice League of America #8, answering the question of what the prison the Justice League has been trapped in is, as well as the reason why the Crime Syndicate didn’t just kill them. The prison isn’t a what, however, it’s a who. When the Crime Syndicate attacked the Justice Leagues, Deathstorm attacked Firestorm, messing with the latter’s matrix and in the process accidentally sucked the Leaguers inside the prison of the Firestorm Matrix. Following the ending of Justice League #24 Ultraman dukes it out with Black Adam and the two light it up. The fight is like a more intense version of the battles between Superman and Captain Marvel from the past. While Superman and Captain Marvel have restraint and innate decency, Ultraman and Black Adam are motivated by brutality. Ultimately, Ultraman is the more ruthless so he comes out ahead, but Black Adam does make him bleed which is very unsettling for Ultraman.  If he can bleed, then he is weak. Elsewhere, Deathstorm and Power Ring are dispatched to put the Rogues down in Central City and as a result Deathstorm unravels the recoded DNA within Captain Cold, unseating his freezing power from his genome. Mirror Master saves the Rogues and transports them out of Central City, stranding Cold in Metropolis where he hooks up with Lex Luthor and Bizarro. Not long later, Black Manta shows up with an unconscious Black Adam in tow. Five not so evil supervillains against a world gone mad. Forever Evil has cast a wide net over many different subplots and characters of different motivations and alignments. So far Geoff Johns is writing an incredible series, but as evinced in the past, he can mess up a great series in a ‘Flash.’  As of this third issue and the well orchestrated shoot offs in various series the concept is solid, well thought out, and expertly utilized with the best and worst men and women of the New DCU’s pantheon of characters. David Finch’s art remains some of the best work put out currently in comics, doing its part to make this event what it is.  Johns and Finch have earned another month of anticipation.

    The Best of the Worst.

    The Best of the Worst.

  • Superman Unchained #4 presents another epic installment in a massive series, similar in scope to Forever Evil, though admittedly relegated to the Superman mythos. In the first issue Superman ran into another super-powered being named Wraith, who was the first “superman” to fall to Earth, and used by the US government for super secret meta work including the bombing of Nagasaki in WWII. The bombing of Hiroshima did involve a functional atomic bomb. Nagasaki was orchestrated by Wraith emitting a mock nuclear blast that caused all the same effects when a second bomb wasn’t able to be fabricated. Despite being pitted against Superman, Wraith takes him under his wing and the two end up in Tokyo, where this issue finds its beginning. A terrorist group called Ascension has been plaguing the Man of Steel, crashing satellites and causing all manner of mischief under a cover of proletarian revolution and masked by holographic images of a British folk hero named Ned Ludd. Fun fact: the term “luddite” comes from his name and denotes anyone who disdains the advancement of technology. Funny, considering that these men and women use cutting edge technological marvels as their primary weapons against Superman. They are also remarkably well informed about his physiognomy, utilizing bullets that emit red solar radiation around themselves to soften Superman’s skin to allow penetration. Sounds like a stretch, but hey, it’s a comic. Supes and Wraith have a time of it, fighting Russian automotons built specifically to kill Kryptonians, but with their combined ingenuity and determination the Supermen prevail. Elsewhere, the escaped Lex Luthor has captured Jimmy Olsen and not only predicts Superman’s impending death, but acts it out with origami figures of well known DC characters. What proves his clairvoyance in this matter is that his prediction of Superman’s death has nothing to do with him and casts another character as Supes’ preordained killer. Writer Scott Snyder’s choice as to Superman’s proposed assassin is quite apt. And on the other side of the world Lois has crash landed the plane she was in off the coast of Nova Scotia, where she and the crew are saved by a former Ascension member who has a crystal that he desires delivered to Superman. He is dying and implores Lois to get it to him, as he also knows that Superman will be dead very soon. Ascension does catch up with Lois and she falls into their hands, prompting another major reveal about who they are and where they fit into the Superman mythos. This series is so quintessentially Superman, which is pretty much the point, considering that it is being written as a 75th anniversary celebration to the first comic book superhero. Scott Snyder and Jim Lee are the two creators best suited to realizing that goal.  Snyder is comics’ golden boy who takes canon and reinvents it in intelligent, thoughtful ways making them new but retaining the key notes that still resonate with the faithful readers. The core component in his stories is a love of the material and the characters that have inspired generations for three quarters of a century. Jim Lee has been a maverick comic artist since his debut in the early 90’s and his style has become a hallmark that has birthed many emerging talents that imitate his masterful lines. Snyder’s writing and Lee’s art are both at their peak in this series that has the potential to be a legendary moment in Superman lore. 
  • Action Comics #25 kicks off the “Blackout” event going on throughout the DCU this month. Odd that it wouldn’t be done in the main Batman title, but perhaps setting up the mystique is part of the allure. The setup was introduced in the final pages of Batman #24 so that could be seen as a legitimate jumping off point. In this tie-in a young Superman is also breaking out of his shell, much like his future friend and currently burgeoning crimefighter, Batman. Superman takes down some high-tech villains with ease and upon retrospect realizes that with his seemingly limitless powers he is perhaps overkill for the crimes he is fighting. With a record breaking storm bearing down on the East Coast, Clark decides to try a hand at subduing Mother Nature. In her he meets an opponent he cannot surmount, which lends an air of humility to his psyche. Writer Greg Pak tackled a young Clark Kent in Batman/Superman #1-4 and here he renders him in much the same way, patterning his representation off of the flawed beginnings of the character seen first in Justice League #1. So bad was that representation that Pak jumps the gun and has him experience that moment of humility, which if continuity serves, doesn’t take, giving way to a returned obstinance when he and Batman do meet for the first time in Justice League #1 years later. Thematically the tie-in of Action Comics to “Blackout” is really intriguing and Pak hits a line drive with it. Bruce and Clark actually have a lot in common when the events of this book unfold themselves to the reader’s eye. Both Bruce and Clark lead alienated adolescences that belied their plans for future greatness. Both had limitless potential (Clark’s being biological and Bruce’s monetary and psychological) that land them respectively in uncharted waters that are not easily navigated. Pak also includes in this issue the first introduction of Lana Lang (childhood friend and first love of Clark Kent) into the New DCU as a fleshed out character. Her path intersects with Clark’s during the Blackout in Gotham, and circles back in a cutaway backup feature that brings events into the present, the ending of which seems to set the stage for next month’s issue where Greg Pak returns to the present of the Superman continuity. Providing art on this issue in the main feature and part of the aforementioned backup is Aaron Kuder. Kuder has done fantastic work with Superman, providing art for Scott Lobdell on and off in the main Superman title, as well as writing and illustrating the Villains Month Parasite issue in Superman #23.4. With Pak, who has proven his Super-chops, the pairing of these two men on the coming arc of Action is something to anticipate impatiently.

    A Self-Aware Superman.

    A Self-Aware Superman.

  • Detective Comics #25 continues “Blackout”, beginning the story of what it meant for Gotham residents. While Bruce Wayne himself may be the keystone figure in the war for Gotham, the story of Gotham’s salvation begins before his return with the career of James Gordon.  A police lieutenant from Chicago, Gordon was straight as an arrow and tried to operate within the system to save a very broken city. Because of this he initially came down hard on the emerging vigilante known as Batman. However, as time progressed his views began to change. This issue by the incomparable writer John Layman chronicles the moment when his thoughts make the full 180 degree turn around. It all begins when Gordon is assaulted by a group of crooked cops and thrown off the New Trigate Bridge as a “suicide.” We are told that the Trigate has hosted over 2,000 suicides, and less than two dozen survivors, all sustaining MASSIVE internal injuries. Gordon walks out of the Gotham River unscathed with hell in his eyes. Layman then cuts to a recap of past events. In the wake of the Red Hood Gang’s reign of terror on his city another splinter group call the Black Mask gang rises up pulling violent raids on strategic locations and materials in prep for the coming super-storm, Rene. Gordon has the talent and the initiative to bring them down, but he’s saddled with a “screw up” partner and harried at every corner by “incompetence” by his fellow officers. He soon realizes it’s not ineptitude he’s encountering but well orchestrated choke-artistry. The system is corrupt and as a result, playing by its rules will preclude the advancement of justice. Here begins his appreciation of vigilante tactics. Good detective work leads him to Janus Cosmetics, run by a man named Roman Sionis who the Batman faithful will recognize as the criminal known as Black Mask. Going out on his own Gordon finds out that Sionis has a bevy of Gotham PD officers in his pocket as a private enforcer corps. It is while trying to uncover this ring of dirty cops with an internal affairs officer name Henshaw that he is ambushed, with Henshaw at the forefront of the beat down. Batman may be smooth in his exits, but Gordon proves to be his equal in entrances, walking into the station house after his plunge into the Gotham River as Henshaw finishes telling their fellow officers what “happened” with Gordon’s “suicide.” Gordon calls B.S., delivers as killer right cross to Henshaw, knocking him out for the count, and reveals documents stolen from Henshaw’s home detailing the names and accolades of his fellow dirty cops which he kept as an insurance policy. With this declaration the milk separates and the dirty cops show their true colors at the threat of exposure and the clean cops do likewise, including a very heroic sergeant named Bullock. The policeDetectiveComics25-1
    Separating the Wheat from the Chaff.

    Separating the Wheat from the Chaff.

    department gets a thorough cleaning and in the wake of the scandal Gordon is placed as police commissioner. Trying to conceive how he could have survived the drop from the Trigate, he comes to the conclusion that he may have had some help from someone drawn to the light shone from him flashlight. In future, he decides to use a bigger light to call his “friend.” As usual, there is a backup feature in this issue that details a man that jumps from the same bridge and before hitting the ground is drained of his blood and stripped of most of his flesh. The obvious association is Kirk Langstrom’s Man-Bat and his former wife, Francine’s She-Bat. If that is the case I cannot wait for next month’s issue.  John Layman is a writer that has done nothing but increase the prestige of the Batman mythos and make Detective Comics a title that cannot be missed. Jason Fabok’s incredible art on the main feature furthers the title’s excellence and “must-get” status. The two’s collaboration is almost at an end and the departure of both is something to be lamented, but what they have achieved will be carved into the bedrock of Batman legend forever. DetectiveComics25-3

    He's Gonna Need a Bigger Light . . .

    He’s Gonna Need a Bigger Light . . .

  • Green Arrow #25 shows what Oliver Queen was up to during the Blackout in Gotham. Around this time, when Bruce Wayne was first making his name as the Batman in a Gotham plunged into turmoil, Oliver returns home to Seattle after years on the island. When he comes back, the first person he confides in is Walter Emerson, acting C.E.O of Queen Industries and his father’s bestfriend.  Immediately, he is made aware that his mother is not in Seattle having gone to Gotham to help with relief efforts of the Blackout and the subsequent Hurricane Rene. Gotham is a dangerous city at the best of times, but turn off the power and add a natural disaster and you have a powder keg of humanity’s worst qualities. Without blinking, Oliver sets out for Gotham in his prototypical Green Arrow persona. His mother is holed up in a relief center with two bodyguards, including an African American gentleman named John Diggle. Fans of the Arrow television series rejoice! The much beloved Dig has made it into comics. The center is attacked by a Gotham nutjob wearing a mask and wielding a compressed air gun that deflects bullets and creates sonic booms that shatter glass and concrete. When this man, calling himself Killer Moth, attemptsGreenArrow25-1 to kidnap Moira Queen he is met with an arrow shot through his hand . . . by Batman with a crossbow. The two Gotham “freaks” duke it out and the rookie Batman lets Moth get the drop on him with his air-gun point blank to his cowl. Luckily Green Arrow looses an arrow that disarms him, giving Batman the chance to rally. What began as a fight between the Bat and the Moth quickly develops into a pissing contest between Batman and Green Arrow to determine who’s the hero and who’s the amateur. There are good cases for both sides. However, while all their physical blows go into turning Killer Moth’s face into schnitzel, their verbal assualts are keenly leveled at eachother. Clearly, the billionaire vigilantes are too
    Battle of the Billionaires.

    Battle of the Billionaires.

    similar for comfort and at an impasse. Moira Queen, however, chooses her hero and sticks with Green Arrow. But unlike in every other incarnation of the series (most of which result in her death before the advent of Green Arrow) she immediately recognizes her little boy despite the changes the island wrought in him. The issue’s main feature ends here, hinting at the events on the island being told in the coming “Outsiders War” storyline, beginning in December. It then transitions into a backup feature that takes place a month after the Gotham Blackout and the uniting of Oliver and Diggle as partners in Seattle vigilantism. Entitled “New Tricks” it serves as a more comprehensive introduction to Diggle and cementing him as a character almost identical to the original created for the CW television series “Arrow.” He is still a bodyguard that works for Queen Industries after having served two tours in Afghanistan. He is a soldier lost with no war to fight. He is dismissive of costumes and masks and fights in the shadows backing up Oliver, letting him garner all the credit under the nom de guerre of Green Arrow. The only discernible difference is that his wellspring of motivation doesn’t come from a slain brother, Andy, but rather a fallen cop father, killed in the line of duty to better the city of Seattle. The backup also skips ahead to a moment when the two broke their association, leading Dig to pursue his own course to saving the city. Both the main and backup features are brilliantly written by Jeff Lemire and drawn by two artists whose skill and styles quintessentially capture the core traits of the character. Andrea Sorrentino has worked with Lemire now on ten issues and brought a gritty, shadowed realism to the pages of Green Arrow that underscores Oliver Queen’s humanity and vulnerability amid that insane events that beset his every waking hour. The backup feature’s art is provided by Denys Cowan whose pencils when inked by the very heavy pen of Bill Sienkiewicz evokes the same style as one of the greatest Green Arrow writer/artists of all time: Mike Grell. Though slightly different and with his own flavor, Cowan brings a nostalgic touch to the backup adding an authenticity to Green Arrow faithfuls who’ve journeyed with Oliver Queen through several decades. Overall this “Blackout” tie-in did more to actualize its own series than to validate the Batman event it was co-opted by. One should expect nothing less from Jeff Lemire. 

    GreenArrow25-3

    A Mother’s Love.

  • Green Lantern #25 begins a brand new era in the Green Lantern universe following the massive conclusion of “Lights Out” last week in Green Lantern Annual #2. Writer Robert Venditti has firmly set a new status quo in motion and it is tenuous at best. Much like Charles Soule’s taking over of the Swamp Thing title and the necessity to make it his own after being painted into a corner by his predecessor, Scott Snyder, Venditti probably set about changing things up to allow more freedom after the departure of Geoff Johns whose massive eight year run on the title went to the limits of where he possibly could take the characters. Venditti has pulled a real gambit, making the light that the various Lanterns use a finite resource that needs to be conserved. With that in mind, Green Lantern hetman Hal Jordan unilaterally makes the decision that the Green Lantern Corps’ role in the universe should be Light policemen, busting those that would squander it by themselves using the light to prevent others from doing the same. Hypocritical to the nth degree and extremely limiting in scope. I hate to say it, but this might be the end of Green Lantern for me. I want to believe that
    Do NOT Mess With Kilawog!

    Do NOT Mess With Kilawog!

    the title can persevere, but the concept has taken too drastic of a turn and while Hal Jordan once was depicted as a guy that did what had to be done with circumspect, Venditti really is turning him into an unlikable tyrant with no sense of honor or loyalty to his friends. It started with his exploitation of Guy Gardner, whom I’ve always disliked, but sided with wholeheartedly when Hal twisted his arm into spying on the Red Lanterns then later reneged on the deal to extricate him if things got dicey. I thought it’d be a cold day in Hell when I took Guy’s side over Hal’s. Robert Venditti expedited that moment drastically. He also has put distance between Hal and his long time on-again/off-again girlfriend, Carol Ferris, which isn’t a surprise, but taking it one step further, he created a relationship between the fiery Star Sapphire and White Lantern, Kyle Rayner. I love Carol Ferris. I love Kyle Rayner. I DO NOT like the two of them together. There is no reason narratively or contextually for that to be a good idea. Maybe Venditti will find a way to make it work, but so far it seems like he’s doing things just for the sake of doing them. I hope I am wrong. I hope that he’s got a decent plan with payoffs coming soon, because I do not want to stop buying this title, but I might have to do just that. Besides the explanation of the Corps new and updated mission statement and the reassignment of the planetary Green Lantern, Mogo, as the new GL homeworld, the plot of this issue fell heavily on Hal and Kilawog going to the planet Dekann and apprehending the rogue Star Sapphire, Nol-Anj. She intrigues me and is the one tether that is currently holding my attention. Hopefully that tether is towing more substantial storytelling to come, because I’ll repeat that the tether is tenuous, just like Venditti’s current plot points. The true saving grace of the series is artist Billy Tan.  Tan’s art is fantastic and his rendering of the script visually is nothing short of stunning, including a scene of Nol-Anj sending out her Sapphire tethers to those she loves all across her world.  If Tan continues on as artist that might also compensate for Venditti’s authorial shortcomings. 

    GreenLantern25-2

    The Tethers of Heart.

  • Batman/Superman #5 ushers in the second arc of this title and finds writer Greg Pak settling into a storyline that is much more in tune with the previous Superman/Batman title, pre-Reboot.  Right off the bat (pun intended) he reintroduces the non-villainous version of the character Toyman, this one a young Japanese tech prodigy in his teens named Hiro Okamura.  As the issue opens Superman is saving a space shuttle from a meteor shower leaving Batman to deal with Metallo, now known as Metal Zero.  It takes some serious moves, but Batman beats him and slinks off into the shadows after a tete-a-tete with Superman.  Alarmingly, Metal Zero disappears in a burst of light shortly after Batman’s departure.  Enter Toyman, who has created a computer program where you can fight Superman and Batman.  LITERALLY!  It’s hazy whether he is aware that it’s real or not or that the consequences of it are, but Hiro’s excited about it and gets several elite beta testers to play it, including Jimmy Olsen.  When Batman crashes the party and extracts Hiro, Mongul shows up as well, though his connection to the plot is also really sketchy.  Further sketchy is his story.  Mongul showed up for the first time in a decently written Green Lantern issue during Villains Month with no connection to Earth whatsoever.  Here Batman states that Mongul tried to take over Earth “several years ago.”  I hate to sound nit-picky, but I feel like Pak dropped the ball on this one if he is going to introduce a character into the main DCU post-hoc with no explanation of what happened in the past or why the character is there in the first place.  He could do that in the next issue, but it just seems sloppy to introduce a character for the first time but not the “first time” contextually and not immediately clarify the circumstances of the omitted previous encounter.  Also strange was the sideways storytelling of this issue, having the reader hold the binding upward like a calendar and reading vertically.  I get that it allowed Pak to split the story to Batman and Superman’s POV with demarcated sides, but that only happened on three pages.  The rest easily could have been done drawn regularly and ended up producing a very awkward read.  Overall, this issue was really jarring to read.  A pity too, because so far Pak’s work with DC has been stellar and his first four issues of this series (five if you count the Doomsday issue during Villains Month) were incredible.  Brett Booth comes on the series this month as artist and truly is a saving grace for the issue.  His art is smooth, well rendered, and very pretty when colored by Andrew Dalhouse.   This arc could improve, but this issue wasn’t the best introduction to it by any stretch.
  • Batwing #25 is yet another “Blackout” tie-in, discussing what future Batwing, Luke Fox, was doing six years before the current timeline around the time of the Gotham City Blackout. Even in prep school Luke had a fascination with the martial arts and attended classes with a retired MMA fighter he calls Master Torres. He brings along his nerdy friend Russell in the hopes that Russell will pick up some moves, but more importantly the confidence to stave off people that pick on him. Master Torres and Luke both positively promote the concept that life isn’t fair and the only way to survive is to proactively do what you can to fix the things in your life that lie within your control. Master Torres tells Russell that he himself succumbed to anger that festered in his heart, prompting him to do unwise things. Now he teaches people to avoid these mistakes. On the train ride back to their dorm they are accosted by a gang and Luke snaps into action breaking the leader’s arm and beating the snot out of his lackeys. When they exit Russell freaks out that the gang members will find them and try to get even. Luke tells him not to worry, but also apologizes for acting without thinking. Russell tries to go back to the way things were, but the bullying at school gets worse and worse and finally in a moment when he can’t take it any longer he also loses his cool and picks a fight with someone he shouldn’t. Both Luke and Russell are shown to be susceptible to impulsive decisions that inevitably mature into awful mistakes. The gang members do find Luke and they knock him down with a car before attempting a point blank 9mm coup de grace. Batman arrives to save Luke, who holds up his end of the fighting, drawing Batman’s attention, which Luke narrates retrospectively. In his case he learns his lesson and faces his error. Russell on the otherhand, takes Mexican drugs called “Snakebite” that seem like a proto-Venom type drug. He goes on a rampage killing a classmate and attempting to blow the Gotham City levees to wipe the boarding school and everyone in it off the map. Luke finds out about it and attempts to talk his friend “down from the ledge.” Russell ends up getting blown up by accident when Luke accidentally hits the detonating switch after taking the controls from him. Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray do a decent job with this issue and are beginning to make me believe in Luke Fox as the protagonist, but have not come close to making me prefer or accept him over David Zavimbe.  Sorry guys, but David was too good of a character to be tossed aside like this.  Good work with Luke, though.  He’s an okay character and I will continue to read his stories. 
  • Phantom Stranger #13 is a character issue. There are events chronicled within, but for the most part its primary effect is granting the reader with very telling views into the nature of several complex figures in this title’s cast of characters. As last issue left off Phantom Stranger, formerly posing has happily married father of two, Philip Stark, returns to his house only for the real Philip Stark, now transformed into the hellish, transcendental entity known as the “Sin Eater,” to appear and burn it to the ground. As ever they argue over who was actually Philip Stark and who had the right to call Elena Stark and the kids their family. It ends with the Sin Eater leaving and the Phantom Stranger erasing minds to put the whole affair to rest with his departed family. Stranger still is the appearance of the angel Zauriel at Phantom Stranger’s side. Zauriel was the angel that warned him not to enter Heaven and then erased him from existence for his transgression. The Phantom Stranger is weary of his presence and his council, but the archangel proves to be compassionate, sincere, and wise in his councils. He shows the Stranger the graves that his “family” has been put to rest in and explains that Sin Eater, who in life attempted to murder his family brutally, was the one who interred them. Objectively, Zauriel also rationalizes the Sin Eater’s actions, not to forgive them, but instead put them into context, which in a twisted way were motivated by love. He then shepherds the Stranger to the house of Arthur Light, the man he attempted to bring back to Earth from Heaven, allowing the Stranger to deliver the bit of Light’s soul that he wanted his family to have. It goes into the house like stardust and enriches their dreams with peace. Then the Stranger goes to find the Question, the third and most mysterious member of the Trinity of Sin (Pandora being the other) who impaled him with the Spear of Destiny, almost killing him. He beats the crap out of the Question, but as the fight commences he realizes something very important. The Stranger has been wallowing in pain, shackled with the weight of his sins after betraying Christ as Judas Iscariot and forced to walk the earth with the necklace of silver coins around his neck. He cannot escape his past. The Question for all his Socratic mystique and feigned wisdom is clueless about the things that are most integral to a person’s identity: Who he is and what crimes led him to have his identity and history stolen from him. He envies the Question his unburdened future and obliviousness towards the painful memories of his past. The Question envies the Stranger his knowledge of who he truly is. The grass is always greener on the other side, it would seem. It is then that the Stranger learns to understand and most importantly to forgive. But that lesson is cut short when all three members of the Trinity of Sin are summoned to the Rock of Eternity, the place where as humans Judas, Pandora, and the questionable man who would become the Question were first cursed with their aimless immortalities. John Constantine, Swamp Thing, and the Nightmare Nurse have a job for them. J.M. DeMatteis writes this issue like a symphony. It is bursting with lush characterization, semi-theological philosophy, and universe shaping plotpoints. He has a reputation with some of his previous works includingthe 90’s series Justice League International and the current series Larfleeze to be something of a cutup and satirical writer with little seriousness. This issue is dead serious and beautifully reasoned in the rhetoric of each character. Fernando Blanco provides art and his style is seamless with the past work put in by Brent Anderson, Philip Tan, and Gene Ha. Overall, this title has not lost a jot of its poignancy over the 14 issues that have been published so far. It remains one of the most prescient series put out by DC.
  • Earth 2 #17 represents a changing of the guard with original series writer James Robinson leaving the title and newcomer Tom Taylor taking up storytelling with the continued help of original series artist Nicola Scott.  Robinson is such a dynamic storyteller and his work so topnotch that this impending change has been nerve-racking to contemplate.  Especially considering the shock ending of last issue with the revelation that Earth-2 Superman is enthralled to Darkseid.  As the issue opens Superman cries havoc and lets slip the dogs of war.  After “bruutally” slaying Steppenwolf under the assumed name Bruutal, he sets on the World Army crafts, slaughtering wholesale.  He is invulnerable, leaving few options to stem his rampage.  Only Doctor Fate can stop him, as Supe’s main weaknesses are kryptonite, red solar radiation, and magic.  A good plan in theory, but not in practice.  Elsewhere, General Sam Lane embeds the thoughts and memories of his departed daughter Lois into the feminized Red Tornado automaton.  In that same compound the new
    A Father Dies to Bring His Daughter Back to Life.

    A Father Dies to Bring His Daughter Back to Life.

    Batman infiltrates the bowels of the World Army’s secure lockup where the most violent criminals are kept.  They are sealed away in stasis tubes so that they can never do harm again.  Lane authorizes lethal sterilization of every inmate if a breach occurs, but Batman wants them released in hopes of saving the world with the twisted minds best equipped to take out a “superhero.”  It is insinuated that Batman was once a villain before adopting the cowl.  Bruce Wayne is dead, so the identity of his replacement is a tantalizing secret that hopefully won’t be stretched out too long.  Tom Taylor barely made a ripple in this issue.  The narrative seamlessly transitioned from Robinson’s run to his without the slightest stylistic or tonal change.  That’s ASTOUNDING considering Robinson’s immense talent.  Nicola Scott didn’t flinch in the quality of her artistic renderings either, meaning that for Earth-2 fans it is business as usual and all will be well.  I am overjoyed that I won’t have to wonder what might have been.  No doubt Robinson would have done things differently and perhaps I might wonder, but the chameleon-like continuity of Taylor’s extension makes self denial very easy, and one could simply say this is what Robinson would have done because it feels like his writing. Taylor has me onboard for his run of this series. 

    A Darker Dark Knight.

    A Darker Dark Knight.

  • Swamp Thing #25 picks up with the conclusion of Swamp Thing Annual #2.  Alec Holland, Avatar of the Green, has been challenged for that title by Jason Woodrue, known as the Seeder. Last week’s annual had Alec being prepared for this challenge by former Swamp Things who have taken their place in retirement as members of the Parliament of Trees.  Holland was given two converse philosophies to consider when preparing for the battle. The Lady Weed would have him believe that only show of strength and brutality would suffice to remain Avatar.  His immediate predecessor, an artificially created Swamp Thing that thought it was human, gave him ironically the most human answer that resonated with his core beliefs which is that he can do as he likes and let his conscience dictate his actions. Going into the fight Seeder tries all manner of tricks to beat Holland, such as poisoning everything green around them and sending Holland to the Moon where nothing can grow. But Holland continuously beats him almost effortlessly in a very Zen manner, proving his mastery and complete oneness with the Green. It is when he stands in victory over Woodrue that he falters. The Green wishes for him to murder Woodrue, as this is the only way to assert that he has the strength to be the Avatar. Following the Blue Swamp Thing’s advice, he refuses to kill Woodrue and in doing so loses the battle and is retired by the Parliament. Woodrue is made the new Avatar. Charles Soule has written the series to this point masterfully and doesn’t disappoint with this issue. In Scott Snyder’s run of the book the threat was always external and Holland’s advetures were aimed at threats from without to destroy the Green and imperil the world. Soule takes the converse approach and deals with Holland having to conquer the threats within; his own inner demons and the inherent evil within the Green. The three forces of nature introduced in the first run of Swamp Thing, the Green, Red, and Black all represent primeval forces. Green plants, red blooded animals, and the black of decay and death. Though Rot, the Black, was made into the evil force of the “Rotworld” storyline, it in and of itself was not bad, its avatar was. Death is what gives rise to life and allows the world to cycle through seasons. On that same note, plants and animals represent life, but when unchecked can be equally as damaging. There has to remain a balance and to do that all three must be kept in check. The Green is no exception and Alec fighting his masters in the Parliament proves that Soule gets the bedrock concepts of this new Swamp Thing mythos in the New DCU. His future issues promise to be nothing short of stellar.
  • Batman: Black & White #3 brings forward five really amazing stories about the Dark Knight from industry legends and rising stars of the comic book world.  Kicking it off is “Rule Number One” a story written and drawn by Lee Bermejo that is actually about Dick Grayson rather than Batman.  Batman is the lifeblood of the story, giving it consequence, but what Bermejo does is show Grayson’s inauguration into the vigilante life, on his own, with the Batman as his measuring stick.  He is dispatched to score some drugs in order to break a local narcotics operation.  The entire time he is weighed down by the rules imposed on him by Batman.  Batman isn’t just a cape, cowl, and animal motif.  He’s a code of honor and a set of principles.  A heavy burden lays on anyone who attempts to follow the steep path paved by the Batman.  Next comes a really poignant yarn written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Riccardo Burchielli entitled “An Innocent Man.”  On the night before he is scheduled to be executed a prisoner asks Batman to prove his innocence.  Batman does it despite the fact that everyone says he should let the guy fry.  Batman exonerates him despite his own misgivings and lo and behold the prisoner is the Joker and by proving his innocence he thereby helps set a precedent that bars psychotic killers like the Joker from capital punishment.  “Namtab: Babel Comes to Gotham” is written and drawn by Rian Hughes.  Its story deals with a very wacky, out-of-the-box plot where linguistics and the concrete reality of things are warped by their perceptions.  The hallmarks of the issue harken to the tail end of the Silver Age of comics, which Hughes furthers by resurrecting an intergalactic detective name Tal-Dar, last seen in Detective Comics #282 and Batman #142 from the early 60’s.  Finally, the story “Role Models” written by Paul Dini and drawn by Stéphane Roux tells the tale of young girl abducted by a psychotic named ‘Playground.’  The girl, Jennifer, is lured by the kidnapper who tells her that he knows Batgirl.  Jennifer is a huge fan of Batgirl.  When she escapes she combs the streets looking for one of the heroes that patrol Gotham.  She ends up running into Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy in the process of pulling a bank job. They try to get her to take a hike until Playground shows up at which point they come to her defense and beat him to a pulp.  Batman steps in and the question arises as to whether Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are villains or heroes.  Cautionary tales or “Role Models.”  Overall these stories are well rendered, well conceived, and thoroughly entertaining.

    Heroes.

    Heroes.

  • Trillium #4 continues Jeff Lemire’s incredible limited series which he’s dubbed “the last romance.”  After reuniting Nika Temsmith with William Pike in the year 1921 writer Jeff Lemire throws a curve ball by tossing William’s brother, Clayton, into the year 3797 and the hands of the insane Commander Pohl.  After witnessing some very bizarre events Pohl makes the unilateral decision to destroy the temple that acts as a conduit between 20th century Earth and 38th century Atabith.  This issue has a few major revelations, but mostly dwells on situational events that establish ambiance above all else.  The major notes of the story are Nika and William attempting to figure out the strange nature of the temple and its ability to traverse both time and space, Pohl viciously interrogating Clayton, the Human colonists on Atabith forcefully harvesting the Atabithi people’s trillium fields which the latter depend upon for existence, and her destruction of the temple.  With its destruction the story seemingly concludes and I had to do a double take afterward to make sure that the series wasn’t in fact ending.  There doesn’t appear to be any logical way for the story to continue with the blocking of travel between past and future, but Jeff Lemire is a masterful storyteller and his solution promises to be one worth waiting for next month.  Lemire’s unique style of art is also something to anticipate.  It is unlike most styles seen in comics past and present and provides an incredible draw to the reader with its novelty and fresh appearance.  Trillium is a series of the highest caliber and an insurance that Vertigo Comics remains a name in comic innovation. 

    What Hath Man Wrought?

    What Hath Man Wrought?

So begins the November month of comics with great style and skill.  Let’s hope that the rest of the month measures up to this week’s excellence.

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

Illustration Credits:

Forever Evil #3: Drawn by David Finch, Colored by Sonia Oback, Inked by Richard Friend.

Action Comics #25: Art by Aaron Kuder, Colored by Arif Prianto.

Detective Comics #25: Art by Jason Fabok, Colored by Tomeu Morey.

Green Arrow #25: Art by Andrea Sorrentino, Colored by Marcelo Maiolo.

Green Lantern  #25: Drawn by Billy Tan, Colored by Alex Sinclair & Tony Avina, Inked by Rob Hunter.

Earth 2 #17: Drawn by Nicola Scott, Colored by Pete Pantazis, Inked by Trevor Scott.

Batman: Black & White  #3: Art by Stéphane Roux.

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

Oct. 2, 2013

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

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

    They Did a Bad, Bad Thing . . .

    They Did a Bad, Bad Thing . . .

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

    All the Queen's Men

    All the Queen’s Men

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

    An "Earth" Shattering Developement . . .

    An “Earth” Shattering Developement . . .

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

    A Battle of Two Dragons.

    A Battle of Two Dragons.

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

    Superman's "Dark-Side."

    Superman’s “Dark-Side.”

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

    Conning the Conmen.

    BatmanBlack&White2-2

    Golden Age Batman on the Silver Screen . . .

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

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

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

Illustration Credits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sept. 4, 2013

It has been a LONG time since I have posted, due to some scheduling conflicts and a REALLY busy summer, but it’s good to be back talking about comics, and DC’s Villains Month is a perfect time to get back in the swing of things.  So far this first week has produced some interesting specimens as well as some really out-of-the-box concepts for the hallmark villains of the DC universe.  That said, less talking, more comic book reviewing:

  • Forever Evil #1 starts off the post Trinity War mega event across the entirety of the DC Universe.  The Crime Syndicate of America from Earth-3 has descended upon our world from a portal opened by Pandora’s Box.  As a result the Justice League has been “killed,” though it is not depicted nor explained, and the CSA have set about creating a Secret Society to claim the world in the name of evil. It doesn’t so much seem like a Secret when they are doing it out in the open . . .  From the four corners of the globe their acolytes are recruiting the evilest minds the planet can offer, from Gorilla Grodd to the Scarecrow, to create a new world order.  The issues opens on Lex Luthor, newly emancipated from prison for services rendered to the government, trying to coerce Thomas Kord (possible father of Ted Kord) to relinquish his controlling majority of Kord Industries with horrific, thinly veiled threats and bribery.  In mid-flight the helicopter they are riding in crashes leaving only Luthor alive.  The power goes out and all hell breaks loose.  The Crime Syndicate proudly proclaim, “This World is Ours.”  That is when the prisons are opened and  evil is truly unleashed like an open floodgate.  Throughout the rest of the issue we see the twisted version of the Justice League systematically subvert the last vestiges of super-powered defenders to proclaim their own order upon the globe.  With issue’s end the part that Luthor will play in the proceedings is very ambiguous.  Geoff Johns does a pretty decent job writing this story, which is interesting considering his blunt, overwrought attempts at the main Justice League title over the past two years. Aiding him in art is David Finch, who helped him launch Justice League of America eight months ago.  Of the two, I think that David Finch is the one that most excites me on this title.  Johns had his day in the sun, but has either lost his touch or gotten too power mad in his new executive position.  Either way, I am infinitely enthusiastic about this issue, as it expands the multiverse by one more world, giving birth to the Crime Syndicate:  Ultraman, Superwoman, Owlman, et al.  Owlman is perhaps the one that has the most interest to me, especially after the way he was portrayed in the DC animated movie Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.  We shall see if this event and the New 52 does justice to the former incarnations of the Crime Syndicate and Earth-3.
  • Action Comics #23.1:Cyborg Superman is written by Supergirl writer Michael Alan Nelson following the shocking revelation of the Cyborg’s identity at the end of Supergirl #23 following his capture and rending the flesh off Supergirl in order that he could regain his Kryptonian body and his lost memories of his identity.  After stripping her flesh through  molecular dissolution and regaining his, he is revealed to be none other than Zor-El, father of Supergirl.  In this issue we see a man obsessed with perfection and obsessed with proving his intellect over that of his younger, seemingly brighter brother, Jor-El, in the face of Krypton’s destruction.  Undertaken out of pride, his efforts were also undertaken in order that his entire family could survive.  Using half understood Brainiac technology, he tries to save his native Argo City, only to see it collapse and his fellow Kryptonians slowly die.  When Brainiac returns he bestows upon Zor-El what the man himself had attempted: to force perfection upon him.  Many parts of Zor-El are completely replaced to make him more efficacious and that which is organic was rewritten genetically to resemble his “superior sibling,” hence his looking so much like Superman and not his blond, more round faced self.  What remains of the issue is an exploration of what cold logic and mechanized calculations deem “perfect.”  The Cyborg Superman issue encapsulates beautifully what Zor-El has become after Brainiac altered him and sets the stage for what is to come in the aftermath of his restoration in the pages of Supergirl #24.

    Extreme Cosmetic Surgery

    Extreme Cosmetic Surgery

  • Batman #23.1: Joker is a real treat.  Under the pen of the great artist Andy Kubert, scion of the legendary Joe Kubert, we see him (to my knowledge for the first time) write an incredibly introspective look at the Joker, glimpses of his past, and what makes him tick.  Opening on a traumatic childhood, we see a horrendous display of abuses heaped upon him by a violently insane aunt, including scrubbing his face and body down with bleach and coarse brush, in essence explaining his white skin and his psychopathy.  Cut to the the near-present (years before he cut his face off) where the Joker raises a baby gorilla he kidnaps from the zoo to be his son.  Truly touching, he gives the gorilla everything he was denied as a child including genuine love.  He molds the ape into his own likeness, but not with any malice towards his “son’s” feelings. However, since there is no mention of the gorilla in the present, the reader knows it won’t last.  The Joker witnesses his son’s death and from what follows the reader knows that this creature was literally the closest relationship the Clown Prince of Gotham has ever had, and indeed, the Joker begins crying.  But he quickly breaks into laughter and makes grossly morbid jokes about the whole thing.  Kubert shows us that the Joker is capable of emotions, but because of the incredible trauma of his youth, whenever they are too much to bear his brain reverts to a manic state of euphoric laughter to compensate.  Truly amazing storytelling, befitting his father’s legacy.  Kubert wrote this, but the art was done by another of my favorite artists, Andy Clarke.  Clarke’s art has made the backups of Detective Comics soar and his treatment of this entire issue augments and accentuates Kubert’s plots brilliantly.  This is a Villains Month issue that is not to be missed.
  • Batman & Robin #23.1: Two-Face written by Peter Tomasi and drawn by Guillem March chronicles the fate of Two-Face during the beginnings of Forever Evil.  Batman is “dead” and Gotham has gone dark.  For the former Gotham district attorney and current crimelord there are two paths to take: save Gotham or let her burn.  A tough call that is made simpler by a coin toss.  Interrupted by the Scarecrow, a third option is presented, or rather a second choice to be made.  Scarecrow represents the Secret Society who wish Two-Face’s allegiance in subjugating our world.  So the more pertinent question becomes: join the Society or fight the Society?  Another coin toss.  As Gotham cries out, Two-Face’s reactions to it, coupled with a few flashbacks to his past, really fleshout the man he has become and where his loyalties and druthers find themselves.  If his psychoses were simple to understand he wouldn’t have been sent to Arkham all those times, and Tomasi really feels out that space in his story, showing the true depth of his madness.  He also throws in some old friends from his pre-Reboot stint of the Batman & Robin title as well to shake things up.  If you like the character of Two-Face and await what Tomasi plans for him in the formerly titled Batman & Robin series, this issue is a must read.
  • Detective Comics #23.1: Poison Ivy, like Two-Face above, deals with Ivy’s emergence into a Gotham a without power, law, or the Batman.  As it has ever been depicted in such conditions, it is ANARCHY!  It is in this that Poison Ivy is reminded of the disgusting nature of humanity.  Among the insanities she witnesses is a scene of domestic abuse that she intervenes upon.  In doing this she is taken back to her childhood and her own battered mother finding solace in her garden, with peace of plants.  A horror would later await both in that garden, scarring young Pamela for the rest of her life and starting her path towards becoming Ivy.  That path is laid out through her entry into academia and the internship at Wayne Enterprises that brought about her physical transformation into the floral female terrorist she has become.   Derek Fridolfs writes this issue with the help of artist Javier Pina.  Poison Ivy can be written very two dimensionally, and this story skirts that territory with a semi-intricate explanation of her motivations, but still lacks some key element of why she is as generally misanthropic as she is depicted by issue’s end.
  • Green Lantern #23.1: Relic introduces us to the eponymous “Relic,” a petrified remnant from the Universe that preceded ours.  Since he awoke in Green Lantern: The New Guardians #22 he has been an enigma that has cryptically stated his good intentions while attacking viciously and unprovoked the Lanterns he dubs “lightsmiths.”  His goal is stated as “saving the Universe.”  This issue, written by Green Lantern scribe, Robert Venditti, chronicles his life in the universe that preceded ours and how that universe functioned.  The lightsmiths were wielders of the emotional spectrum, with all the same colors and emotions we have seen since Geoff Johns introduced them after the “Sinestro Corps War” in 2008.  However, despite their constant warring, the universe was built upon the light they used and instead of cities, civilizations, and infrastructures being built out of physical resources, the light constructs of the smiths served that function.  However, the greatest scientific mind of that universe saw that like physical resources the light came from somewhere and was not infinite.  It could run out and eventually would if it was used wantonly as it had been.  His warnings fall on deaf ears and it is because of this that the universe before ours ceased to be and he who was mocked as a “relic” in his universe, became a relic of his universe.  Upon awakening in ours he became aware of the likenesses of our universe to his and the presence of “lightsmiths.”  This time around he knew precisely the danger they posed to reality, and that arguing verbally with them was not the best course if anything was going to be done to save another universe.  Hence his cryptic tone, hence his blatant belligerence, and hence the “Relic” that we have seen thus far   The “Blackout” event is less than a month away and already the dimming described by him that preceded the cataclysms that claimed his universe has already been witnessed by the different Corps of Lanterns.  Venditti has set the stage for a true test of the Lanterns the likes of which (even under the pen of Geoff Johns) we have never seen the likes of.  Aiding him is artist Rags Morales who worked with Brad Walker, the Green Lantern: The New Guardians artist who first depicted Relic, on Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run.  Truly an issue to procure if you call yourself a fan of Green Lantern.
  • Green Arrow #23.1: Count Vertigo could almost be another issue of Green Arrow.  With the usual GA team on deck that is no insult.  This series is a delight, really tapping the limits and possibilities of the character to their peak potential.  However, being a Villains Month issue the dynamic creative duo focus their literary lens on Count Vertigo, by far  the most iconic of Oliver Queen’s nemeses depicted since the reboot.  Being in a rebooted universe, little is known about the man behind the disorienting device. This issue remedies that, telling the story of Werner Zytle, son of the late deposed Count of Vlatava.  He is raised in Canada by his  abusive mother who blames him for the fall of their family’s fortunes in the motherland.  She later sells him to a scientific research firm, prompting his implanting with the device that grants him his power.  It is here that his true power, both in spirit and body, takes hold.  From here he is able to reclaim his destiny, starting with his freedom, then regaining his homeland, and finally in the reunion with his mother he reclaims his past and identity.  He is very much a Mordred character, raised by  a single, overbearing mother to fulfill a destiny not of his choosing and ultimately becoming a monster that consumes the mother figure and becomes a plague upon humanity.  This is very much the case with Vertigo and though the issue is not structured like most of its fellows this week, it functions excellently in advancing the plot of Green Arrow and maintaining the integrity of the series, unlike many of the stand-alone stories out this month.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, but then again Green Arrow is one of my favorites.

    A Son's Vengeance

    A Son’s Vengeance

  • Justice League #23.1: Darkseid almost completely rewrites the entire concept of the New Gods.  I am not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.  Since Justice League #3 I have been up in arms against Geoff Johns’ blatant disregard for Jack Kirby’s seminal creations and the perfection of his Fourth World mythology.  Since then, Brian Azzarello’s work with the denizens of New Genesis have been slightly better.  High Father was done a little heavy handed, but the essence was there.  Scott Lobdell returns the character of Orion to a place that is well within the character’s original context and feels genuine.  And then we come to this issue, written by Greg Pak.  It begins by depicting Uxas and Izaya, mortals living upon the world of the (Old) Gods, scratching out meager existences.  On this world the monumental gods frolicked and warred with one another in complete disregard for the lives of those tiny mortals living beneath them like insects.  In this version, Izaya is married to Avia, as was so in the original Kirby books, but this time around Avia is the sister of Uxas.  Izaya and Avia are devout believers and worshipers of the  oblivious, elemental gods that plague them.  Uxas is more pragmatic and “blasphemes” them constantly.  He is cunning and engineers the ultimate death of these gods that brings about utter ruin to the planet, but also endows him with the powers of the gods he kills, forging him into Great Darkseid.  Izaya is granted the powers of those stricken gods that escape Darkseid, rewarding his faith with the powers that baptize him as Izaya, the High Father.  The planet is destroyed, but remade into the two planets of New Genesis and Apokalips.  The final eight pages introduce a character from Pak’s Batman/Superman title, Kaiyo the Chaosbringer.  This little sprite appeared at first to be a minor demon, but it seems very probable that she is in fact a New God of Apoklalips.  What’s more, her exploits in the last couple of pages make it seem probable that she is the lost daughter of Darkseid that he world-hops to find, prompting his appearance in Justice League’s first arc.  This issue put me off at first, because of the “heresy” of its divergence from Kirby’s Fourth World.  However, in retrospect, it was a well written, intriguing concept that accentuates Pak’s previous work in the firs three issue of Batman/Superman and sets the stage for interesting future developments with the New Gods.

    A So Was Born a Fourth World . . .

    A So Was Born a Fourth World . . .

  • Earth 2 #15.1: Desaad appropriately segues to another New God of Apokalips and someone whose sadism might even rival that of Great Darkseid.  Writer Paul Levitz who introduced Desaad into the New 52 in his Worlds’ Finest title chronicles the mad god’s advent to our Earth after the events of Earth-2 #1.  His goal is really two-fold, filling in blanks in the story of what Desaad has been up to since coming to Earth-1 as well as how that has affected things the reader witnessed since the first issues of Worlds’ Finest, and secondly proving how sick and perverse the mind of Desaad truly is.  One interesting thing that I think blew me away the most was in Desaad’s search for minds to corrupt and turn toward his dark aims, he stumbles upon an artist at a drafting table.  Desaad goes to the man’s home and emerges from a Boom Tube, renowned for the thunderous cacophony it makes prompting its name, and yet the man doesn’t turn around.  When Desaad looks over his shoulder, he stops short and seems apprehensive if not actually afraid, and decides to leave this man alone.  One would ask, what is going on, but the savvy comic reader who knows not only something of comics in general, but more importantly the character of Desaad and the other New Gods, will notice something very key.  The man at the table looks EXACTLY like a young Jack Kirby, creator of the Fourth World, of which Desaad is a denizen.  The hair cut, the physique, the thick eyebrows, the posture.  All so blatantly Kirby.  When we see a close up of his work over his shoulder from Desaad’s perspective the rough sketches have all the hallmarks of Kirby’s illustrative style.  Through meta-storytelling, Paul Levitz sets a real hook in the reader, inserting the King of Comics into a world featuring his own creations.  What his existence in this world will mean for Desaad and the other New Gods is a mystery, but one that I will faithfully follow to find out the answer to.Desaad1

    desaad2

    Behold Thine Creator, Ye Mighty God!

  • Superman #23.1: Bizarro was a slightly strange twist on the character, albeit a short lived one.  Sholly Fisch, who cut his teeth in the big leagues on the backup features of Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run, writes this issue with the help of artist Jeff Johnson.  In it we return to a seminal moment where Lex Luthor and Superman meet for the first times in the third issue of Action Comics.  Largely due to experiments Luthor conducted under military purview the young Superman was hurt to the point of bleeding (something VERY difficult to achieve under most circumstances) and as a result he used Lex as a hostage to procure escape.  Through this encounter Luthor gained two things: a personal animosity for the Man of Steel and a sample of his blood.  Using further contracts with the U.S. Military he attempts to augment a normal human being by re-splicing Kryptonian DNA gained from the small sampling of blood into their own genome.  The result of this is, of course, Bizarro.  To my knowledge, Bizarro was always either a clone or a refugee from a dimension where everything is backward.  Fisch makes a good sampling of Bizarro’s reversed Superman powers, i.e. Freeze vision and incendiary breath, but doesn’t quite pull off a Bizarro yarn that feels authentic.  Bizarro’s rampage lacks most of the quintessential “misunderstood monster” motif that characterize almost all of his appearances in the past.  This is an okay issue if the reader is just looking for Bizarro powers, but if they want Bizarro, the childlike villain speaking in opposites and conflicted in a limited understanding of the world and morality, this definitely is not the Bizarro story for them.
  • The Flash #23.1: Grodd is similar to, but slightly different from the Action Comics: Cyborg Superman and Green Arrow: Count Vertigo issues, in that it functions as a within the main story of the Flash series to continue on into later issues.  However, unlike both Cyborg Superman and Count Vertigo this doesn’t grant the reader any further insight into the past of Grodd.  What it does, however, is juxtapose his thoughts and philosophical beliefs against the depiction of the aftermath of the Gorilla invasion of the Gem Cities he lead which terminated in Flash #17.  Since then Solivar has taken over leadership of Gorilla City and worked painstakingly to not only make amends for the actions of the delusional despot, Grodd, but begun the process of making real steps to not only forge lasting peace between humanity and Gorillas, but have the Gorillas enter into the larger world we all share.  This is not something Grodd can abide and the manner of his return from the Speed Force is revealed, as is his overall place as an essential villain in the Flash andt he larger DCU.  Brian Buccellato, colorist and co-writer of the Flash, pens this issue with the help of artist Chris Batista.  Batista’s art is quite different than that of the usual Flash panoply of artists, including Buccellato’s co-writer on the title, Francis Manapul.  This is good in my opinion, because the Flash himself isn’t even seen in the issue and Batista’s art really depicts the Gorillas well.  Definitely a thoughtful, well written, well drawn issue.
  • Batman: The Dark Knight #23.1: The Ventriloquist was simply okay.  I am a huge fan of Gail Simone on the Batgirl title and I attribute its success almost entirely to her writing, reserving a generous helping of credit to Barbara Gordon herself, who is one of my favorite comic book characters. Top 10, without a doubt.  This origin of the Ventriloquist fell a little flat for me.  Sure it’s interesting and sure Shauna is a very complex, psychotic person with a very troubled past. However, for me the Ventriloquist is Scar-Face and Dummy.  There is something so “Batman” about them.  I say Batman, and although Shauna and Ferdie are currently appearing in Batgirl, I still think that the mundane nature of the original Ventriloquist works more effectively with unpowered vigilantes than this new version.  The original Ventriloquist, Arnold Wesker, was a non-powered guy with dissociative personality disorder, projecting his primary, dominant persona into a ventriloquist dummy done up like a 30’s era gangster named Scar-Face.  The premise fell well within the realm of reality and created a complex villain mired in a psychosis rife with situational drama.  Wesker and Scar-Face might disagree, but being that Scar-Face is the dominant persona, Wesker is going to be hampered in foiling the inanimate object, because his own drive is what is empowering the dummy.  Later there was a beautiful, blonde woman (Peyton Riley) who took over as Scar-Face’s ventriloquist, but still follows the same paradigm.  When you have a woman like Shauna who has telepathic abilities that she exploits years before she got her dummy, Ferdie, you kind of remove the intrinsic importance of the ventriloquism schtick from her psychosis.  Sure she named her dummy after her deceased twin brother, and yeah she was a product of a negative environment growing up, but that in no way enhances the nuanced concept of the Ventriloquist.  Basically, this issue and the iteration of the character in the New 52 reinvents the wheel, with more bells and whistles, but less functionality.  I like Gail’s work, but with a heavy heart I say that this issue can be passed on with no loss for any Bat-Family fan.
  • Batman: Black & White #1 is a title which returns in the New 52 to presents several intriguing short stories depicted completely in monochromatic black and white panels.  With the writing talents of Chip Kidd, Maris Wicks, John Arcudi, and Howard Makie, and the artistic talents of Neal Adams, Michael Cho, Sean Murphy, Joseph Quinones, and Chris Samnee, many unique perspectives are shed on the Dark Knight and his myriad interpretations.  Foremost of these is Neal Adams’ piece, both written and drawn by the Batman maestro who helped create Ra’s Al Ghul and the Man-Bat.  In his Batman: Zombie story, the impact of Batman as a fighter of evil is explored in great poignancy through the social issues of our day and just how effective a Dark Knight can be against the day to day evils of the 21st century.  His writing is razor edged and his art is at the top of its game. Chip Kidd and Michael Cho’s Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When comes in second in my opinion, giving a Darwyn Cooke-esque, Silver Age story of Robin and what truly makes him a worthy contemporary for the Batman.  What’s more, even Superman has to tip his hat to the Boy Wonder by story’s end.  John Arcudi’s Driven, drawn by Sean Murphy, is an interesting tale of Batman and his relationship with his most iconic accessory:  the Batmobile.  The other three stories are good, but these three especially epitomize innovation in the realm of Batman.
  • Codename: Action #1 is basically a Cold War, nerd boy fantasy mash-up.  It takes place in an ambiguous period during the Cold War following a strange amalgam of characters throughout its globe trotting plot.  In the background are two Golden Age comic book characters resurrected in a slightly more modern context.  In America there is the costumed adventurer, the American Crusader, and in Europe there is the British aerial operative, Black Venus.  American Crusader finds his vintage in 1941 as a crimefighter that gained powers from stray radiation from a device he was working with called an “atom smasher.”  Black Venus was a war nurse turned aviator during WWII famous for her black bodysuit and aviator goggles, who first appeared in comics in 1945.  In the foreground of the plot we see a new secret agent complete his tests of initiation, earning the designation Operative 1001.  He is then teamed up with Operator 5, the fifth agent ever initiated into the “Intelligence Service,” and a living legend.  Facing all four of these characters is a global diplomatic meltdown of epic proportions.  The French threaten war against the Soviets if they interfere with North African assets, the Japanese threaten war if the Russians movie into their territorial waters, the Chinese threaten war if the Japanese mobilize their armed forces, and the Soviet Union threatens to launch nukes if anyone doesn’t accede to their demands.  The kicker is that the Intelligence Services have intel that the Soviet General making the threats at the UN is in fact not the actual General due to a subcutaneous tracking device they implanted the real one with.  So the plot thickens . . .   Writer Chris Roberson kicks off this series, with no shortage of help from artist Jonathan Lau, in great style and panache, eliciting all the romance and intrigue of Cold War spy thrillers and the action of costumed superhero comics in a shaken, not stirred, suave superhero spy masterpiece.
  • Trillium #2 begins at the strange middle of the first issue with the meeting of two diametrically different people, whose shared intrepid nature is the sole bond that connects them in what is shaping up to be a REALLY innovative series.  Nika Temsmith, the intergalactic scientist from the year 3797 searching for a cure to a sentient virus, meets up with the English explorer William Pike on Earth in the year 1921, who himself is searching for purpose after losing his in the Great War.  Ironically what brings them together is the Incan temple that Pike and his expedition have just discovered after centuries of abandonment.  In Nika’s own time, a virus with the capacity for thought and higher reasoning is at war with the human race and reduced our population to mere hundreds of  thousands spread across the galaxy in weakly sustained colonies.  Seeking to find a cure she goes through a “primitive” alien race’s pyramidal temple emerging on Earth in 1921.  As can be logically deduced from the time gap, the English both speak are not even close to being mutually intelligible.  So the entire issue is merely them trying to communicate and ascertain who each other is and what each other desires.  Slowly as events unfold they get an idea of the situation and the revelation is powerful to behold.  Jeff Lemire writes and illustrates this series MASTERFULLY!

    Trascendence of the Trillium Flower

    Trascendence of the Trillium Flower

And so ends the first week of Villains Month and my first week back on “Off the Panel.”  Hopefully, you folks enjoyed it and will come back to enjoy future issues with me.

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

Illustration Credits:

Action Comics #23.1: Cyborg Superman:  Art by Mike Hawthorne, Colored by Daniel Brown

Green Arrow #23.1: Count Vertigo: Art by Andrea Sorrentino, Colored by Marcelo Maiolo

Justice League #23.1: Darkseid:  Art by Paulo Siquiera & Netho Diaz, Colored by Hi-Fi

Earth 2 #15.1:  Art by Yildiray Cinar, Colored by Jason Wright

Trillium #2: Art Jeff Lemire, Colored by Jose Villarrubia