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.

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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

Week 88 (May 8, 2013)

  • Batman #20 concludes the second installment in a two issue arc of writer Scott Snyder’s exploration of the character Clayface.  Clayface has achieved the ability to completely mimic, right down to DNA scans, the people with whom he makes physical contact.  In the case of this issue, set up by the conclusion of its predecessor, he has taken on the persona of Bruce Wayne and seeks to impugn the noted Gotham billionaire and philanthropist.  It’s a short story, considering its division over just two issues, but has all the characteristic intelligence, insight, and scientific elaboration that Scott Snyder is renown for in his works.  Here, however, the plot seems a bit hard to hold on to.  Perhaps it is because it lacks the epic scope of his previous “Court of Owls” and “Death of the Family” arcs.  Obviously Batman has run of the mill cases that are by comparison more arbitrary to these overarching events, but they do cast a long shadow on the lesser plotlines.  Snyder does, however, put in an impossible escape for Bruce to elude in this issue in order to maintain his secret and his life, as well as stop the polymorphic villain.  With June’s “Batman: Year Zero” Snyder will be starting another long term story in the Batman title that has all the promise of innovation and long term canon making.  I very much look forward to it.  In the backup feature, writer James Tynion IV concludes his two part story, “Ghost Lights” with Superman and Batman banishing a Will-o-the-Wisp that was accidentally summoned by kids meddling with magicks beyond their comprehension.  A decent story, but not one of Tynion’s best.

    Bruce Wayne and the Batman

    Bruce Wayne and the Batman

  • Batman & Red Hood #20 brings Batman another step closer to complete collapse.  Following the death of his only child, Damian, he has sunk into a psychotic meloncholy the likes of which has never been seen in the Dark Knight’s many titles.  Like last issue a former Robin steps in to fulfill the “robin” portion of “Batman & Robin.”  Here Jason Todd, the Red Hood, prepares to leave the mansion after the events of Red Hood and the Outlaws #18.  Batman stops him and requests that Jason accompany him to the Magdala Valley in Ethiopia to take down a syndicate of international assassins, some of which responded to the hit put on Damian by Talia Al-Ghul.  The mission actually looks to heal the rift between the former mentor/protegee.  However, as with Batman and the most volatile of his sidekicks, the rift can never truly be closed and the attempt threatens to deepen said rift.  Altruism isn’t Batman’s forte and being played (especially after learning the Joker’s part in his tragic existence) is the last thing that Jason is going to put up with.  Peter Tomasi writes this series exquisitely, really playing off the Bat family’s intrinsic traits and flaws to craft a very engaging, emotional drama amid one of the most tragic events within the Batbooks in recent years.  Also in the background is the continued presence of Carrie Kelley, begging the question of whether she indeed is going to take her place as the first official female Robin in the history of the Bat titles.  Every aspect of this book is amazing.  Read it.

    Old Wounds Made Fresh

    Old Wounds Made Fresh

  • Justice League of America #3 picks up following the JLA’s encounter with the robotic versions of the Justice League as built by Prof. Ivo.  These mechanical menaces push them close to their limits while at the same time making them rely on eachother for the first time as a cohesive team.  However, as the team dynamic gets ironed out certain members find their roles to be not quite what they expected.  Green Arrow, after risking his life to expose the Secret Society, is cut loose.  Courtney Whitmore, aka Stargirl, finds herself as a mere mascot and a showpiece member of the team.  Catwoman learns that as a known criminal she is on the team as bait for the Secret Society to latch onto.  Geoff Johns is trending this title in an interesting direction.  It has a darker tone and with the characters and plots he is working with it fits perfectly.  His attempt at darkening the Justice League and shaking things up in that title was initially awful and at present merely passable.  David Finch’s artwork on this title is perhaps the most engaging aspect, really setting the tone and the ambiance.  In the backup feature Matt Kindt shows the revelations granted to both Catwoman and Martian Manhunter when the latter delves into Catwoman’s mind.  He sees her past and what drives her and by virtue of that she is also granted a glimpse at his life on Mars and a quick look at who he is.   Overall, this title is one that seems to have a great amount of impact on the course of the DCU as well as some very interesting and innovative plots.

    Dissent in the Ranks

    Dissent in the Ranks

  • Superboy #20 jumps back in time two months, returning to the introduction of Superboy to the rebooted Dr. Psycho, now seemingly a young boy, teenaged at the oldest.  In Superboy #18 Psycho merely followed Superboy, marvelling at his power and seeking to feed off his telekinetic potential.  In this issue the two characters finally meet and find themselves forced into a shaky alliance of mutual benefit.  Being attacked by a purple ox-like bruiser named Dreadnaught and a green alien looking guy named Psiphon, we are informed through intimation that Dreadnaught, Psiphon, and Psycho are all part of an organization called “H.I.V.E.” and that Dr. Psycho, or Edgar, is a drone in H.I.V.E. that has escaped.  New series writer Justin Jordan takes over the title in this issue from former writers Scott Lobdell and Tom DeFalco with the help of regular series artist R.B. Silva and guest artists Kenneth Rocafort and Chriscross.  It feels like he picked up the ball mid-air, but Jordon’s work seems conistent with his two predecessors, ensuring the quality we have enjoyed thus far and looking to end in a slam dunk.  Also the “H.I.V.E.”  plot looks to spill over into the Superman title as well, which is penned by Lobdell so that is ramping up to be a must read event.
  • Ravagers #12 provides the final issue of this short lived Teen Titans-esque series.  Really it seemed like a “Teen Titans East” kind of title, but with a distinct edge.  These superpowered youths came together not out of common goals, but as a means of protection as they flee the grasp of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and its sinister overarchitect, Harvest.  This issue shows how fleeting their goals of freedom are.  Last issue Harvest dispatched Deathstroke, the world’s deadliest assassin, to hunt down the escaped Ravagers as well as the two Ravagers who tried and failed to retrieve their errant comrades, Rose Wilson (Deathstroke’s own daughter) and Warblade.  In the end, this series didn’t conclude on a happy note, but it didn’t end on a completely sad one either.  With few exceptions, the cast of characters lived to see another day and a new status quo was set up for many of them.  The fate of Terra and Beast Boy looks to be a perfect setup for a “Judas Contract” plotline, as well as Raven and Beast Boy entering into the Teen Titans title reminiscent of their original membership in the New Teen Titans title in the early 80’s.  And most of all Caitlin Fairchild’s history is revealed giving some very intriguing possibilities for her future in other ongoing series throughout the DCU.

    A Fateful Encounter

    A Fateful Encounter

  • Demon Knights #20 begins a new arc following the conclusion of the “Army of Cain” plotline.  The Demon Knights have helped the Amazons beat the vampiric hoard of the First Damned from the shores of Themyscira and now convalesce after a hard fought battle.  The most pure of them, Sir Ystin, the Shining Knight, had been bitten and now stands on the verge of being turned.  Exoristos is welcomed back by Queen Hippolyta who had exiled her years before.  The new goal of the Knights is to retrieve the Holy Grail from its hiding place and Hippolyta says she can help.  Writer Robert Vendetti resumes the startling factoid of how the Amazons procreate.  I think that it was startling enough when Brian Azzarello first introduced the concept of the Amazons as rapist murders, but the playful way they make light of it in this issue just makes it all the more disturbing.  Anyway, one of the sailors the Amazons raped and murdered in the past told of the location of the grail and it was chronicled in a log book.  Mixed feeling about this issue and this series. 
  • Threshold #5 opens on a very interesting, precarious predicament.  The Collector, whom we know as Brainiac, has descended on the main world of Lady Styx’s dominion, Tolerance, and absconded with a small portion of it.  Left in its place is a gaping wound in the otherwise sprawling urban landscape.  Styx brokered a decent deal with Brainiac and so unlike other worlds he visited, Tolerance remains intact and otherwise unmolested.  The catch is that the residents of the selected area are not to be warned of their impending abduction.  As a result, the disgraced Green Lantern Jediah Caul and space pirate Captain K’Rot find themselves trapped in one of Brainiac’s fabled bottles.  One thing that has been apparent about this series from the first issue was the scope.  Threshold spans over a wide array of characters all being hunted by citizens of the Tenebrian Dominion in a reality show based sport killing.  This issue follows closely the character of Jediah Caul, really focusing in on him as a character.  Since he first showed up in Green Lantern: The New Guardians Annual #1, Caul has been depicted as nefarious.  However, the green lantern ring he wields chose him for a reason.  This issue may not reveal that reason per se, but it does cast a very intriguing look at the former Green Lantern and how he is willing to resolve issues such as the one he has landed himself in.  His answer to this particular dilemma is not one that would immediately come to mind when imagining a typical Green Lantern’s response, but there is some method behind his madness.  Keith Giffen yet again weaves a fascinating cosmic tale in a far reaching odyssey.  And in the final installment of his Larfleeze backup feature Giffen finally reveals what happened in the first installment five issues ago as well as the way in which the departed Guardian, Sayd, perpetrated the perfect crime.  Once all the shadows have been lifted from the proceedings the plot itself is amazingly well crafted and ingeniously executed.  Giffen has a talent for complex, multifaceted storytelling and this five part story of the sole Orange Lantern showcases those talents brilliantly.  So much so that the story will move on from here into its own monthly title.  Both Giffen and Larfleeze deserve nothing less.

    A Whole New Perspective

    A Whole New Perspective

  • Smallville Season 11 #13 begins a new arc that explores heavily one of the barely tapped gems of the “Smallville” TV series: the Legion of Super-Heroes.  It also returns Booster Gold, his computerized aide and sidekick Skeets, and to a smaller degree Blue Beetle.  Clark, as of last issue, has shed the radioactive isotope Lex placed in him that effectively separated him from Lois for months.  Now he is torn from his fiancee again when Booster Gold’s stolen Legion of Superheroes ring malfunctions due to a coded distress signal transmitted through time to it.  In the 31st century Earthgov has turned against the Legion and they find themselves in a bind.  This comes as the result of a new sister planet to Earth, New Krypton, arriving in our solar system.  That world was created by Clark in the ninth season of the series as a home for the Kryptonians under the command of Zodd following the that season’s finale.  The arrival of a planet of superpowered beings puts Earthgov on its heels, turning public sentiment and policy against superpowered beings and certainly the alien members of the Legion.  Clark comes forward and attempts to adjudicate the issue.  Going in, he encounters a newer character to the actual Legion of Super-Heroes pantheon, Earth Man, Kirt Niedrigh.  Niedrigh is the a government minister in possession of a high value prisoner that Clark aims to release.  The identity of that prisoner brings about another resurrection from the show’s illustrious canon.  This issue very aptly introduces a new arc while also emboldening the past of both the comic series itself and the television show that inspired it.

 

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

Illustration Credits:

Batman #20:  Drawn by Greg Capullo, Colored by FCO Placcencia, Inked by Jonathan Glapion & Marc DeeringDanny Miki

Batman & Robin #20: Drawn by Patrick Gleason, Colored by John Kalisz, Inked by Mick Gray & Mark Irwin

Justice League of America #20: Drawn by David Finch, Colored by Sonia Oback, Inked by Richard Friend & David Finch

The Ravagers #12: Drawn by Diogenes Neves, Colored by Tony Avina, Inked by Vincente Cifuentes

Threshold #5:  Art by Tom Raney, Colored by Andrew Dalhouse

 

Week 81 (March 20, 2013)

This was a huge week, both in the number of comics I picked up and the quality.  First and foremost, Grant Morrison concludes his run on Action Comics with an oversized issue that promises to be one of the hallmarks of his comics career.  Batwoman enters into a new era after a seventeen issue mega story came to an EPIC end last month.  Legion of Super-Heroes has descended into unmitigated horror as of its preceding issue and moves into what promises to be the biggest story in LOSH history since writer Paul Levitz’s “Great Darkness Saga” plot from the early 80’s.  And who could forget three Bat-titles that follow in the wake of Damian Wayne’s tragic passing.  I am shaking just recounting the possibilities this week holds in store.  Let’s jump in:

  • Action Comics #18 concludes Grant Morrison’s MASSIVE opening arc of this flagship Superman title.  As with most things Morrison, I’m not entirely sure I got all of it.  It is steeped in 5th dimensional nonlinear geometry and what could vaguely be filed under the heading of quantum mechanics.  Superman is fighting Vyndktvx, and by extension Superdoom and the Anti-Superman Army.  It’s pretty technical, but insanely engaging to read.  Superman’s position seems impossible to extricate himself from, except when he realizes an inherent flaw in the logistics of Vyndktvx’s attack.  As he discerned on Mars when fending off the Multitude, the unfathomable numbers of this angelic hoard were merely a fifth dimensional projection of one being, Vyndktvx.  Likewise, by choosing to attack Superman at various points throughout his life, Vyndktvx is able to optimize the torture quotient of his assault upon the Man of Steel, but conversely traps himself in a relativistic conundrum hinging on Superman’s perception of the situation.  When Superman realizes that he’s been attacked at other points in his life he also realizes that due to the quantum physics of the 3-dimensional plane in which we exist he would have survived all the previous assaults by Vyndktvx and therefore would have gained de facto the knowledge of how to defeat the mad 5-D villain.  Grant Morrison and his dynamic duo of artists, Brad Walker and Rags Morales, really did a great job of tying together their entire run on the book and making it meaningful.  Lex Luthor made an appearance defending the Man of Steel and another antagonist from earlier in this series, Adam Blake, and his Neo-Sapien brotherhood come back to Earth and lend Superman a hand as well.  The people of Earth are promised immortality and eternal happiness if they shun Superman in his moment of greatest need, but humanity rallies behind their savior and grant him the key to victory.  The backup feature by Sholly Fisch was a little insubstantial, but in fairness his amazing backup feature in #17 was no doubt supposed to be the ending of the arc until Morrison got DC to extend his run by one issue to fully tell the grand finale as he envisioned it.  This one features kids in a Superman Museum in the 31st century featuring almost no dialogue and just seems propped up with toothpicks.  There was meaning behind it, but it still had the air of being rushed.  Despite that, this issue as well as the other eighteen issues of the series (remember there was a #0 issue in there, too) were amazing and a tribute to Grant Morrison’s genius.  A must read, whether in single issues or graphic novel format.

    Vyndktvx's 5-D Dilemma

    Vyndktvx’s 5-D Dilemma

  • Justice League #18 was a nerd spasm with the League auditioning new members and writer Geoff Johns pulling out all sorts of fan favorites along with some really obscure characters.  Zatanna, Firestorm, and Black Canary come up , but Johns also brings in Platinum of the Metal Men, Element Woman (female version of Metamorpho) which he’d messed around with in Flashpoint, Goldrush, and a female version of the Atom.  Other than exploring the need of a new member to the team and introducing the hint of a coming conflict, there wasn’t much point to this issue.  The Shazam backup feature had good art from Gary Frank, but vexing plot development: Billy Batson running away from responsibility, because he’s a punk.  If he were any other version of the character than this it could be legitimately reasoned as a kid afraid to fail, but it’s not.  It’s Geoff Johns’ bizarre attempt at rebooting an edgier Billy and his running away from conflict just comes off as him being a self interested brat.  This series just does not work for me, main feature and backup.
  • Justice League of America #2 brings about Geoff Johns’ second attempt at a team book.  The first issue was a really solid opening chapter that showed promise, albeit suffering slightly with its breakneck, abbreviated introductions to six lead characters.  This second issue continues that promise with a pretty substantial plot.  Its shorter in length, giving some of its page count to the Martian Manhunter backup feature.  There is some quality character development on Catwoman, as well as Steve Trevor.  The main villain seeking to create the “Secret Society of Super-Villains” from the end of Justice League #6 a little more than a year ago finally shows his face and seems to be a completely new character, or perhaps a drastically different take on an old one, because I do not recognize him at all.  All in all, a really enjoyable, edgy series.  I think that Geoff Johns is trying to be edgy with the two Justice League titles and that is where he fails with the main series.   When you have tertiary characters like Catwoman, Katana, Hawkman, etc, you can be edgier.  When you try that same thing with the main DCU characters, even to a degree with Batman, you just alienate them from the audience reading them.  Maybe that’s what Johns is going for, but that’s a really low bar to aim for and a really crappy status quo for readers to expect.  The Martian Manhunter backup was too edgy for me and I did not like it.  If J’onn J’onnz was to die at this point I wouldn’t care at all.  That is sad, because I always liked him.
    Kindred Spirits

    Kindred Spirits

     

  • Batwoman #18 is a new beginning for the character, but also a reaffirmation of what her life has become.  Medusa and her kidnapping of dozens of Gotham children was the plot that pervaded the first seventeen issues of the title, but with last issue that has been laid to rest.  However, in fighting this titanic battle for the innocents of her city, Batwoman had to make a devils deal with the D.E.O. and become their leashed super-agent in order to complete her mission with impunity and keep her father out of prison for his outfitting of her with Army equipment.  This latter aspect of her life was overshadowed by the pressing quest to find and subdue Medusa before the children came to harm.  With the mission accomplished she is becoming aware of the shackles she’s got herself tethered with.  As she plays her role in this issue taking down Mr. Freeze to obtain some of his freeze tech for the D.E.O. she runs afoul of Batman and confuses her father, cousin Betty (her sidekick Hawkfire), and the Batman as to what her motives are.  After defeating Medusa, Batwoman proposed to her alter-ego Kate Kane’s girlfriend, Capt. Maggie Sawyer.  This issue picks up with Maggie looking for a new place for the two of them, completely overstepping any reaction from the Gotham policewoman as to the revelation that her lover was the vigilante she had been hunting.  Probably the right decision by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, but I still would have been interested to see what the initial conversation was before her acceptance of this rather unorthodox situation.  This series continues to be amazing, although this particular episode was a little less exciting after the high octane ride the past couple of months have given us with the conclusion of the “Medusa” mega-arc.  Also Trevor McCarthy’s art pales in comparison to Williams’.  I feel they do him a disservice, as he is a good artist, by pairing his artwork next to Williams’.
  • Green Lantern: The New Guardians #18 brings Volthoom’s wrath upon Carol Ferris, Saint Walker, and Larfleeze.  To accomplish this, series artist Aaron Kuder has been replaced with three artists for the three different sequences in the narrative.  The Carol Ferris segment is drawn by Hendry Prasetyo and features Carol living a life without love.  She’s completely ignored her obligations to her father and their family company Ferris Aircraft, following her dream to become a fighter pilot.  Though this sounds ideal for her, with Volthoom’s altered timeline it is anything but.  Larfleeze’s segment is drawn by Jim Calafiore and features the paragon of greed first with his family that he has desperately wanted to find for ages and then as a Blue Lantern.  Both times, he barely gets into the altered reality before his inherent greed overpowers his senses and collapses the concept in on itself.  Saint Walker doesn’t so much live a life without hope, so much as lives a life without loss, this time around having gotten a green power ring saving his planet before his family died in the quest for the blue one.  He also is unable to follow the reality through as in his heart he knows it is not true.  Like Kyle last issue, each of the other “New Guardians” prove too powerful in their spirit for Volthoom to truly get the better of forcing Volthoom to seek out someone he knows he can manipulate: Atrocitus.  That may be a lead in to next week’s Red Lanterns issue, because Atrocitus hasn’t been a New Guardian for awhile.  This issue was really well written and really cut to the heart of these three incredible lanterns.
  • Supergirl #18 presents a major turning point for the Maiden of Steel.  She has been alienated upon waking up on a planet whose language and culture she is unfamiliar with.  Things looked up for awhile as she made a friend in Siobhan McDougal, aka Silver Banshee, but then with the introduction of H’el onto the scene she was given the hope of returning to her homeworld and being reunited with her family.  With last month’s issue of Supergirl as well as the conclusion of Superman #18 it is now an intractable fact: Supergirl can never go home again.  That is sadly pointed out in a moment where she emerges from a solar satellite where she is convalescing from green kryptonite poisoning.  After exiting the solar chamber she begins to say “I want to go home,” but stops and corrects herself, “I just want to get back to Earth.”  Her expression in this moment is truly heartrending.  In the meantime, Lex Luthor plots against her from his state-of-the-art, super-prison, via neural implant that projects his consciousness to an offsite computer.  Also a strange connection between Kara Zor-El and Karen Starr, the Kara Zor-El of Earth 2, is teased at.  This issue featured a guest writer, Frank Hannah, and he picks up and continues the series in intriguing new directions.  Coming off of a massive event like “H’el on Earth” can be dangerous, providing a jumping off point for readers of certain series if they don’t sink a hook right away.  This issue sunk a hook.  What’s to come has great promise.

    You C Never Go Home Again

    You Can Never Go Home Again

  • Legion of Super-Heroes #18 continues down the cataclysmic road that issue #17 began.  The United Planets are still reeling from the assault of Tharok against the technological advances of the 31st century and the death toll mounts.  The last issue focused on Legionnaires stranded on Rimbor and the Promethean Giants.  This one goes back to both locations and the plight upon them, but also adds Earth and the Legion’s headquarters in Metropolis to the stage.  Mon-El, Shadow Lass, Lightning Lass, Shrinking Violet, and Cosmic Boy leave Earth for Webber World, an artificial planet that is nothing but technology to try and establish the devastation there.  Brainiac 5, Dream Girl, Star Man, Chemical Kid, and Element Lad attempt to get a cruiser prepped for their own departure from Earth. Ultraboy, Glorith, and Chameleon Boy attempt to escape Rimbor using Glorith’s magic, and Phantom Girl, Invisible Kid, and Polar Boy continue to try and regroup after their crash landing on the fabled Promethean giant.  This arc has all the hallmarks of another cosmic epic on the scale of writers Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s 1980’s opus, “The Great Darkness Saga.”   This issue lost a little steam, but issue #17 had two advantages.  Firstly, it had the element of surprise, following a very calm “nothing is happening” issue directly into a sucker punch in the readers’ collective gut with literally all Hell breaking loose.  Secondly, it had Keith Giffen’s Kirby-esque artwork magnifying the already nuts plotline into a tour-de-force thrill ride.  Scott Kolins and Tom Derenick do a good job, but like McCarthy above in the Batwoman review, they have the misfortune of standing in the very long shadow of Giffen.  I am pumped to read further into this amazing arc which promises to be a historic one.
  • DC Universe Presents #18 is a one shot like last month’s issue that gives spotlight to Jason Todd’s fellow outlaws.  Issue #17 was a focus on Roy Harper that really laid bare the kind of person he is as well as his hidden strengths and virtues.  This month we are shown Princess Koriand’r, aka Starfire.  Born into royalty, her sister sacrificed her to slave traders to buy peace for the realm.  This issue tells about her time as a slave on a ship that is larger than the Earth.  Inside are entire civilizations that the slavers raid and sell when needs be.  This issue wasn’t large in the action department, but did present an interesting study into the mindset of the enslaved.  How sometimes those that aren’t free are so weighed down by their bondage that they do not want to be free because of the terror it inspires in their comfortable minds.  This issue was once again written by Joe Keatinge, who wrote the  Arsenal issue last month.  The art is done by newcomer Federico Dallocchio.  The writing is thought provoking, if not action packed, and the artwork is very lovely, representing the beautiful heroine well.  Not a bad issue at all.
  • Nightwing #18 hits Dick Grayson while he’s down.  Last issue had Nightwing mourning the loss of his friends and the circus he grew up in and was trying to save.  It had Dick struggling with his own sense of denial, telling those that still cared about him that he was fine when he was really anything but, festering pain and anger deep in his belly until the pressure burst.  All the while Damian, the most socially inept, insensitive member of the Bat Family, followed him to intervene when the inevitable sword dropped.  Damian stopped him from stepping over the line and told him exactly what he needed to hear to ease his battered and bruised soul.  This issue opens with Damian dead and the old wounds he’d seemingly healed torn open and wrenched deeper by the loss of this “little brother” who knew him possibly better than even Batman.  What it comes down to is that he is losing his past.  The circus he grew up in was terrorized and some of the older members like the clown, James Clark, and his former girlfriend, Raya, brutally murdered by the Joker, the circus folds, and then Damian, who had served as his Robin when he donned the cape and cowl of Batman, dies suddenly saving Gotham.  Then Batman comes to him with information that a criminal scavenger that sells crime artifacts in underground auctions has plundered Haly’s and put John Grayson’s trapeze outfit up for sale.  The Collector last showed up in Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics run, pre-Reboot, running afoul of Dick Grayson’s Batman.  Now its a rematch in his Nightwing identity.  Though he goes in angry, the outcome of the confrontation ironically heals him and proves the truth in something Damian told Dick before he died.  But of course Dick can’t be happy for long.  When deciding to finally meet with Sonia Branch (nee Zucco), daughter of gangster that killed his parents, she reveals something about her dad that once again shows how Dick’s past is continually eroding beneath him, leaving him very little closure.  Kyle Higgins is KILLING IT!  His Nightwing run is seminal.  I may have liked other runs as much as this one, but I’m not sure.  All I know is that this is a really emotionally driven, introspective, thought provoking title that continually amazes.  Juan Jose Ryp yet again provides equally stunning interior art, really drawing out the latent potential in every heartbreaking frame.  This two issue interim arc between “Death of the Family” and the next major story arc of the title has been phenomenal on every imaginable level.

    Painful Memories

    Painful Memories

  • Red Hood and the Outlaws #18 following the shocking ending of last issue vis-a-vis the booby trapped helmet that the Joker whipped together, Jason lays in a medically induced coma, facing his greatest enemies.  With the revelation a few months prior that the Joker for all intents and purposes created him by selecting him and guiding him towards the Batman, the Clown Prince of Crime is the first of Jason’s adversaries.  However, the real adversary he fights is himself.  A mob of Bat family members, past and present, as well as his former allies converge on him at once and Batman is the one who pulls him out.  This is writer Scott Lobdell’s last issue on the series and he might be taking his character from his complete alienation of his past as Robin and bringing him back into the fold, or perhaps he’s just tempering the fiery character of the failed Robin, but in either event, he presents a single heartwarming tale for the jaded anti-hero.  Despite all he has done and the pain he has put them through, Bruce and Alfred love him and do everything in their power to help him come back to life, literally and metaphorically.  Tyler Kirkham does fantastic guest art on the title, really bringing out the twisted nature of Jason’s psyche.  Well worth picking up.RHATO18
  • Vibe #2 was a half and half issue.  Half of the issue played catch up and was boring for those who have read Justice League of America #1 & 2.  Recounting all of the snippets of Cisco Ramon’s appearances in the first two issues of the overarching JLA title, it does inform those who didn’t read the aforementioned title and gave context to those that did, but still, didn’t hit just right.  The other half of it hit a cord with DC fans that know their obscure characters.  A transdimensional invader comes through to deliver a note to an emissary.  It hands it to Vibe right before an A.R.G.U.S. agent zaps him.  The note was meant for the character, Gypsy, whose father apparently is a potentate in another reality.  A far departure from her previous back story, she is exactly like Vibe.  Few know who she is so few care if they do a MASSIVE overhaul.  What is clear is that A.R.G.U.S. likes to kidnap the daughters of powerful men.  Darkseid’s daughter is their prisoner.  This unknown king’s daughter is also their prisoner.  They better pray that Gypsy’s homeworld doesn’t form an alliance with Apokalips, because they are literally playing with fire and poking some VERY big dogs with an annoyingly sharp stick.  I want to believe Geoff Johns knows what he’s doing, but he is quitting the only good book he is currently writing.  So I put my faith in cowriter, Andrew Kreisberg.
  • Wonder Woman #18 concluded a maxi-arc in the odyssey of Zola’s baby.  In Wonder Woman #1 writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang introduced us to Zola, a human woman who bore Zeus’s newest bastard.  The Amazing Amazon has gone on a long journey to protect the young woman from the various gods of Olympus and upon its birth, to recover the baby from those same, meddlesome gods.  That story finds its conclusion a year and a half later.  However, it continues the tale of Zeus’s first born child, exiled and awoken millennia later with rage and vengeance on his mind.  Those same gods who tried to strong arm and kidnap an innocent child, now have to contend with a vengeful demigod fueled by distilled hatred.  Also Azzarello has re-introduced us to the New Gods of New Genesis, represented primarily by Orion, foster son of High Father and (perhaps still unbeknownst to him) the eldest son of Darkseid.  Azzarello keeps this series afloat, sometimes peaking on the wave of awesome, and other times lulling in the trough of mediocre.  This concluding issue of that first major crisis features art by alternating artist Tony Akins and Cliff Chiang, as well as a third penciller, Goran Sudzuka.  This one was pretty good and a must read if you have been one of the faithful, reading it from the inaugural issue.
  • Sword of Sorcery #6 accomplished quite a bit.  It fully introduced us to the new lord of House Turquoise after the death of Princess Amaya of House Amethyst’s grandfather, Lord Firojha.  It also introduces another newly minted House head following another shift in power.  Most importantly to the DCU in general is yet another reason why I want to see John Constantine strung up by his toes.  He singlehandedly brings the harbinger of utter ruin upon Princess Amaya’s home, but what’s worse, he uses her to invite it in.  In fairness to Constantine, however, the doom that he has sent to Nilaa was born in the Gemworld and exiled to Earth thousands of years ago.  Still, its a pretty low thing to do, considering how Amaya pulled his bacon out of the fire in the Justice League Dark Annual.  The Stalker backup feature isn’t even worth talking about.  Just horrible.  Get this issue for the main feature and then close it up after the conclusion.
  • Batman Beyond Unlimited #14 begins with an interim chapter in Batman Beyond following the conclusion of the hellacious “10,000 Clowns” arc and the coming one called “Undercloud.”  Though its a one shot, it is monumental if one followed the animated “Batman Beyond” series.  In the series Terry McGinnis constantly had to bail on his long suffering girlfriend, Dana Tan, and play it off like he was doing errands for his boss, the aged Bruce Wayne.  After the events of “10,000 Clowns” and her brother Doug unleashing hell on earth upon Gotham in the form of 10,000 suicidal Jokerz from around the world Dana is put in a situation where everything clicks.  When Doug attempted to kill their father in the ICU, Bruce Wayne, 80+ years old and dying himself from liver failure, got out of his hospital bed and fought the twenty something maniac, allowing the Tans to get Mr. Tan to safety.  When Doug took his sister as a hostage, Batman referred to her by name.  The math is right there and Dana FINALLY figures it out and a new era in Terry’s tenure as Batman begins.  The issue is also good, because Dana was often a set piece on the show and more of a plot device than an actual character.  This issue was her issue.  It was narrated by her, gave her history with an intimate look into her traumatic upbringing with a psychotic for an older brother who despite his evil nature she still loves, and tells us what gives her peace.  Adam Beechen makes this series come alive for those of us who mourned the TV series’ cancellation.  Although, I do have one beef.  In the “Justice League Unlimited” episode entitled “Epilogue” we are told that Terry discovered that Bruce Wayne was his biological father when they did the liver transplant and found out him and Bruce were identical tissue types.  In this issue the liver came from someone else.  You messed up, Mr. Beechen, but I’ll forgive you because the rest of this issue and those preceding it were truly mind blowing.  Also, kudos to Peter Nguyen who takes over for regular Batman Beyond artist Norm Breyfogle.  The art is truly beautiful, underscoring the moving narratives within.  Unfortunately, the Superman Beyond plot is leaving me whelmed.  I thought there was going to be some moral ambiguity with the Trillians claiming Superman destroyed their world, but really they are just an overclass that resents having their property taken away.  Superman freed their slaves and now they are angry.  Boo-effing-Hoo.   On to the next.  The Justice League Beyond Unlimited  story finishes off in this third installment with a new Flash, this time a young African American woman named Danica (last name to come soon, I am sure).  This arc was over relatively quickly when compared with the previous Kobra arc that spanned almost an entire year’s worth of issues.  However, despite the brevity and the quick take down of what could have been a truly formidable foe on the level of most of the greats this issue had its poignant moments that really speak to the superhero genre, why they do what they do, and gives a comprehensive intro to the next scion of the Speed Force.  Perhaps the best moment came after Superman personally extended an invitation to Dani to join the JLB.  After accepting his gracious offer, she challenged him to a foot race, which every speedster since Barry Allen have done.  Derek Fridolfs write this one as well as providing inks for Jorge Corona’s pencils.  Truly a great end to a relatively short arc.  This issue was phenomenal overall.BatmanBeyondUnlimited14

This crop was amazing, though statistically they had more shots at it with the increased number of entries.  Several of these are must gets to comic fans in general, regardless of genre.

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 #18: Drawn by Rags Morales & Brad Walker, Colored by Brad Anderson, Inked byCam Smith & Andrew Hennessy

Justice League #2:  Art by David Finch, Colored by Sonia Oback

Supergirl #18:  Drawn by Robson Rocha, Colored by dave McCaig, Inked by Oclair Albert, Julio Ferreira & Mariah Benes

Nightwing #18: Drawn by Juan Jose Ryp, Colored by Bret Smith, Inked by Roger Bonet & Juan Albarran

Red Hood and the Outlaws #18:  Art by Tyler Kirkham, Colored by Arif Prianto

Batman Beyond Unlimted #14: Drawn by Peter Nguyen, Colored by Andrew Elder, Inked by Craig Yeung

Week 77 (Feb. 20, 2013)

This was a massive week with so many incredible books coming out.  The conclusion of Batwoman’s main storyline begun September of 2011, the beginning of the last arcs of the Green Lantern titles as they have been since 2005, the introduction of two new series, and perhaps the most powerful issue of Legion of Super-Heroes we’ve seen since Paul Levitz returned to the title in 2010.  A lot of stellar storytelling, without further ado:

  • Justice League #17 concludes the “Throne of Atlantis” event in perhaps one of the most morally ambiguous, honest endings.  With Arthur’s former adviser and friend, Vulko, revealed as the architect of the war between Land and Sea, Arthur has to subdue his brother King Orm, aka Ocean Master, to usher in peace.  Of course, he succeeds, however the cost is very painful to behold.  Since the first time he appeared in Aquaman, Ocean Master has been a very fair leader.  His home was attacked and he responded harshly.  No one can deny that point.  His treatment by his brother and the Justice League, who already have been portrayed as unsympathetic bullies, is hard to watch.  This is the birth of a villain and I can’t say that I won’t be cheering Orm on in the future.  When you marginalize a person with legitimate grievances you create concrete animosities.  And the hollow victory bought by offering his brother up like a herring on a silver platter is very hollow, considering that people still do not trust Arthur.  Perhaps its super realistic, but I again find it lackluster and hard to love the protagonists.  Better luck next time, Geoff Johns.

    The Birth of a Super-Villain

    The Birth of a Super-Villain

  • Action Comics #17 delivers the first half of Grant Morrison’s big finale on his Action run.  The issue’s really a recap of all the things that define Superman as a comic book icon and as a paragon of heroism.  Starting with the Kents who shaped this young, omnipotent alien into a compassionate everyman, the issue shows how many people Superman has touched over the years and to what degree.  The fifth dimensional madman Vyndktvx offers the people of Earth eternal life and their hearts desires if they refuse to help Superman in his hour of need.  That hour is now, and even with a multiversal behemoth throwing him around like a ragdoll, and depsite his own warnings to stay back, the people come to his aid.  Also rushing to his aid is perhaps the most unlikely of people.  Morrison tells this story brilliantly, tying everything he has done together with a quick narration by Vyndktvx himself, breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to us.  Sholly Fisch tells a heartwarming backup story that will have occurred after the next concluding issue of Action Comics.  Superman goes back in time somehow to talk to his father on the night he and Ma both die.  It’s sweet, it’s heart warming, and very personal.  Superman doesn’t tell them they are going to die, and even though Pa intuits that this might be the case, he doesn’t want to know either.  The two just share one last moment of happiness together, and Clark gets the chance to, in essence, say goodbye.  The scene is very reminiscent to but much briefer than Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman #7 in which Superman gets that chance in that story’s reality.  Just a great issue heralding the end of an era to come next month in Action Comics #18.
  • Justice League of America #1 is a decent introductory issue.  When starting a group book there are two ways to go about it: assemble immediately or have the team snowball, with members joining as the issues accumulate.  In this one issue, writer Geoff Johns harkens back to a brief moment at the end of his first arc of Justice League with a scene involving two men meeting, hinting at the formation of a fraternity of supervillains.  Beginning with this interaction, the comic then goes to an overarching conversation between former League liason to A.R.G.U.S., Col. Steve Trevor, meeting with current liason Amanda Waller in the interest of creating a second team sanctioned and moderated by the American government.  A Justice League of America.  As they discuss each member, the story cuts to the recruitment of said member in whiplash cutaways that do the bare minimum to introduce that character to you.  If you haven’t read Catwoman, Green Lantern, Stormwatch, The Savage Hawkman, or the two new ongoing series Katana and Vibe, that’s just too bad.  On the outside of this conversation also is a quick, tense scene of an Oni masked hero racing through a jungle from unknow assailants, bleeding out and attempting to get a message through.  This was the aspect of the book that buoyed the plot up and compelled the reader to know more.  At issue’s end he makes it back to A.R.G.U.S. and his identity is revealed, but his message has yet to be delivered.  I liked this first issue.  I am familiar with the characters and was able to fill in the blanks, but that may not carry over to new readers.   Art provided by David Finch is liney, dark, and ominous, really setting a harsh and uncertain tone to the overall plot which engages the reader almost immediately.   I will liken this series to a baby born of a diseased mother, the metaphorical mother being Justice League.  Geoff Johns has shown in JL that he seems incapable of writing a team book without losing the characters within to pettiness and ego, rendering them unrelatable caricatures of their current solo selves.  Here the new series is exhibiting what could be the beginnings of these symptoms of the diseased parent, but not without some signs of vitality.  Time will tell as to how this series comes out.  Martian Manhunter is perhaps the most disgusting character that the reboot and, I am assuming, Johns himself has birthed into this New DCU.  J’onn J’onzz was an alien that came to Earth as a stranger in a strange land, curious and full of optimism.  His delving into human society was about finding what was good in this strange new species.  Here he is a cold, hollow figure with incomparable power that dwells on the harsh, sinister motivations in men and offers it back in kind.  Maybe Johns and his bosses are trying to be edgy, but they are failing horribly and taking down beloved characters as collateral damage.

    The Mission

    The Mission

  • Batwoman #17 is a red letter issue.  There has been a continuous plot stretched over three story arcs of missing children in Gotham having been kidnapped by Medusa and Batwoman attempting to find them and bring them home safely.  That has also been the goal of Capt. Maggie Sawyer of the Gotham City police, who also happens to be the girlfriend of Batwoman’s alter ego, Kate Kane.  This third arc has had Batwoman teamed up with Wonder Woman to stop the crazed gorgon, Medusa, from using the children as a sacrifice to lure Ceto, the Greek goddess who birthed all monsters into the world, back into reality.  With this final issue Ceto is summoned forth and Batwoman and Wonder Woman must find a way to stop her from tearing the fabric of reality to pieces.  There is so little I can say about this issue because of how remarkable it is in both story and art, brought to us by J.H. Williams III in both capacities with co-writer W. Haden Blackman’s assistance.  In both her identity as Batwoman and Kate Kane, this issue changes everything.  The missing children plot that consisted of these first seventeen issues was interesting, considering the main issues that dominated her first solo appearance, pre-Reboot.  Well with this overarching plot concluded, Williams and Blackman tease us on the last page with a return of Batwoman’s personal ghosts.  I am dying to read the next issue in March and would urge you to do the same.

    That's a Game Changer

    That’s a Game Changer

  • Green Lantern #17 ushers in the “Wrath of the First Lantern” event, which also is the last event in the runs of the current Green Lantern titles’ creative teams.  Obviously, Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern is the most lamented of these casualties with his having been on this title longest of any of the current series writers and also being the visionary that brought Hal Jordan back to life and reimagined the GL mythology to the complex, multifaceted marvel it currently is.  After the Green Lantern Corps Annual last month, Volthoom, the first Lantern, is released upon the universe.  The issue begins with a brief explanation of how he came to meet the Guardians and what he embodies and then proceeds billions of years later in our present to show what he plans to do.  Somehow Volthoom is possessed of infinite power including the ability to warp and manipulate time to venture into tangential universes predicated on every single decision ever made or that ever will be made.  That coupled with a sadistic desire to feed off of pain like an emotional vampire paints an even more twisted villain than the inhumanly cold Guardians.  Also in this issue, newly minted Green Lantern, Simon Baz, comes face to face with the Black Hand on his quest to find Hal Jordan and by extension stop the Guardians.  This event promises to be a stunning finale to what has been an incredible eight year run on the title and the Green Lantern line of books.

    VOLTHOOM!

    VOLTHOOM!

  • Green Lantern Corps #17 brings Volthoom into Guy Gardner’s life both literally and figuratively.  The emotional vampire attaches to the surliest of the Green Lanterns like the Ghost of Christmas Past and Christmas Might Have Been preying on the raw feeling that lie beneath Guy’s cynical attitude.  Anyone who knows how abraisive Guy can be can only imagine the horrors from his past.  We are shown them and alternate versions of them as Volthoom tortures Guy over his mistakes the circumstances of his life that held him back from where and who he wanted to be.  Peter Tomasi plays this issue like a stratevarius, plucking the heartstrings of his readers who can’t help but empathize with our sarcastic hero.
  • Green Lantern: New Guardians #17 mimicks Green Lantern Corps with Volthoom trapping Kyle Rayner in his temporal web.  Next to Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner is my favorite Green Lantern and this issue proves why.  Kyle is someone who had horrific things happen in his past, including his girlfiend being killed and her mutilated body stuffed into his refridgerator and his father walking out him and his mom when he was very young.  Volthoom plays his sick games by altering these events to torment Kyle, but to Kyle’s credit Volthoom has to bust out his A-game, as Kyle continues to see the silver lining to most of the things he’s exposed to by the sadistic First Lantern.  In trying to torment this paragon of will power, Volthoom only proves to us how strong and amazing Kyle is and how the greatest heroism sometimes is just refusing to let life and circumstances get you down.  Tony Bedard is amazing and as stated above his run on this title is ending in May with the twentieth issue of this series.  I have to say that I saddened by his departure considering this issue and all the issues he’s written in this line that has been exemplars of storytelling.  Aaron Kuder’s run also ends with #20 and he will also be missed as he too renders the subject material with grace and eloquence second to none.

    The Unsinkable Kyle Rayner

    The Unsinkable Kyle Rayner

  • Nightwing #17 gives the epilogue to “Death of the Family” from the perspective of Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing.  As a result of him being in the lives of the people at Haly’s circus several members including their clown, James Clark, and his former girlfriend, Raya, are killed and the rest hospitalized after the Joker’s attacks.  Alfred tries to console him and he says he’s fine.  He goes to visit the survivors in the hospital and those that don’t hold a grudge try to tell him he’s not to blame and its not his fault and he says he’s fine.  He goes to the funerals and his ambiguously romantic friend Sonia Branch (nee Zucco) tells him not to blame himself and he says he is fine. However, when criminals try to pillage the remains of Haly’s Circus, he goes bat-sh** crazy.  As solicited on the cover, Damian is the only person that can bring him back from the brink.  Ironic, considering how sociopathic Damian is and what his usual modus operandi when dealing with criminals consists of.  What this issue does so well is underscoring how incredible the relationship is between these two truly is.  When Dick took over the role of Batman following Bruce’s disappearance it was his choice to take Damian on as Robin and his faith that Damian could be more than the psychopathic killer his mother, Talia Al-Ghul, fashioned him into.  As a result I think that this issue shows him looking out for his “older brother” and not letting him cross lines he will regret.  Also it shows how well he knows Nightwing.  Dick told everyone he was fine and did a good job putting up the charade, but Damian knew with complete certitude that he was not.  Damian puts up a facade of apathy that in a lot of instances isn’t a facade, but rather him just not caring.  But here despite his cavalier attitude, he cares enough to follow Dick for several days to make sure that when the pressure building up within him finally burst out, he’d be there to stop him from breaking his moral convictions.  Kyle Higgins writes it quite well and with art by Juan Jose Ryp, the issue comes off quite well.
  • Red Hood and the Outlaws #17 provides a thoughtful epilogue for Jason Todd after the “Death of the Family” storyline.  Jason is someone that was burned early on by the Joker and has thick skin when it comes to such things, but tender flesh beneath.  While the others may have been really messed up by what the Joker did, Jason has already been lured into a trap by the Joker with his supposedly departed mother as bait and beaten to death and blown to smithereens.  However, learning that the Joker was the architect of his becoming Robin and most of the misfortunes that led him to that horrible place doesn’t fail to register.  So going back one last time to the Manor and the Cave he talks to various members of the family and says his farewells once again out of duty.  Though its a perfunctory visit, Bruce tells him perhaps the only thing that could heal a wound like finding out the Joker engineered your traumatic childhood, “No, Jason. He didn’t make you. I never did either. You made you.”  The visit seems to end on a high note, except that the Joker is not one to let things end with his having the last laugh.  When Jason retrieves his signature red hood and puts it on there is a surprise waiting for him within.  I have NO idea what that means for future stories, but its still a chilling ending point.  Scott Lobdell is close to ending his tenure on the title and appears to be  throwing a live grenade into the works for his successor James Tynion IV to pick up.

    We Are Our Own Masters

    We Are the Masters of Our Own Destinies

  • DC Universe Presents #17 follows Red Hood and the Outlaws by spinning a yarn about Roy Harper, aka Arsenal, that captures his history, his flaws and virtues, and how he is viewed by those around him.  Arsenal has been depicted in the past as a hard edged, loose cannon whose actions often result in a self destructive spiral.  In this new DC Universe he is more buffoonish, and jocular.  Starting off with him missing a mission with teammates Red Hood and Starfire, he’s made fun of and called worthless by his “friends.”  In reality he is in Hong Kong, imprisoned by the Triad after attempting to rescue Killer Croc, a Batman villain he ran afoul of in Red Hood and the Outlaws #3 and who consequently helped him get back on his feet.  Shackled in the basement of a Triad hideout, Roy not only steals a “quarter” from one of his tormentors  but also uses it to break his shackles over the course of hours and then cleans out the  place with nothing but a tool box.  Yes he is a bit of a joke, but what he’s capable of doing when he puts his mind to the task is no joke, nor is the lengths he will go to help someone that showed him a modicum of kindness when he most needed it.  Joe Keatinge writes this incredible one-shot and Ricken provides art.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #17 was brutal.  This issue was incredibly good on all fronts.  The writing by Paul Levitz was phenomenal, taking place on Rimbor as well as a far distant location (whose importance to the plot becomes integrally crucial) amidst explosions and complete chaos.  All of that rendered on the page gorgeously by artist Keith Giffen with his Kirby-esque pencils.  Shortly after being elected leader, Phantom Girl is dealt perhaps the worst hand imaginable as she and two other Legionnaires become marooned after a malfunction of their spacecraft crashes them into an unknown locale.  Across the universe Ultra Boy, Glorith, and Brainiac 5 witness an equally cataclysmic disaster on Rimbor after a massive planet-wide electrical malfunction.  The lead up to this issue has been in the works since the very first issue of the rebooted series almost two years ago, and the consequences will be felt forever.  This is a DARK turn in the world of the 31st century.  If you are a fan of the Legion, you will feel this issue deep in your bones.  I had to set this issue down twice to get my bearings and take a few breaths.  Levitz and Giffen hit this one out of the park. It should be noted that these two collaborated almost exclusively on Levitz’s first run on the characters in the 80’s.  Thirty years later, they’ve come a long way but haven’t taken one step backward.  I can only imagine that Levitz got Giffen on this arc for the very reason that both of them needed to be on it for sentimentality sake.  If you love the Legion read this book.  If you don’t love the Legion, please don’t.  Not to be an elitist, but if you don’t understand and love the characters, you wouldn’t appreciate the truly sorrowful events chronicled within.
  • Supergirl #17 picks up on two of the conflicts Superboy ended on last week.  Wonder Woman took on Supergirl and Superman took on H’el in the hope of giving Superboy a chance to disable the Star Chamber that is literally draining our Sun of its energy to power H’el’s device to travel back in time and prevent Krypton’s destruction.  Wonder Woman proves to be the only one capable of literally smacking some sense into Supergirl.  The latter of which still trying to convince herself that H’el’s scheme won’t be an act of mass genocide.  However, Super Girl’s super-denial is no match for Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth.  The Maiden of Steel is unable to break its hold on her body nor on her conscience.  Superman does prove as successful when dealing with H’el, but after painfully coming to terms with the truth, Kara is unable to continue her association with H’el, regardless of how much she would like to go home.  With this alliance shattered, the heroes of Earth rallied against him, and the Oracle arriving in Earth’s orbit, the stage is set for the finale of “H’el on Earth” in Superman #17.
  • Wonder Woman #17 has Wonder Woman meeting up with her old mentor, War (Ares), in the bar Hera and Zola snuck out to and journeying to the secret hiding place of Demeter where Hermes has spirited Zola and Zeus’s infant to.  On the other side of the world the First Born reveals his benefactor with the metal neck to be Cassandra and with the prophetess’s help goes to seek his weapons, hidden by his uncle Poseidon.  This issue is interesting, but I am really looking forward to the end of this plotline with the gods meddling with one another and progressing to the Amazing Amazon in contemporary settings with some of her classic stable of villains.  Brian Azzarello’s writing is good, if not drawn out, and Tony Akins’ pencils are excellent.
  • Vibe #1 is another case of “here’s to lowered expectations.”  The character was an F-list character to begin with and something of a practical joke whenever he made appearances in second string DC titles.  George Perez, legendary artist and writer, absolutely hated him as a caricature of Hispanic Americans.  However, considering that main character Cisco Ramon is from Detroit, Justice League of America writer Geoff Johns couldn’t help but put him in the line up.  On the plus side, being as under appreciated as he was left Johns and series writer Andrew Kreisberg with the freedom to revamp him however they wanted.  Now having his vibratory powers linked with boom tubes from Darkseid’s invasion of Earth, he’s become something of a dimensional expert and border cop.  Right from the start his role as a superhero is linked to the JLA title and his success tied to his freedom, unbeknownst to him.  Another obscure character cameo comes in an imprisoned woman in a cell labeled “Gypsy,” also a veteran of Justice League Detroit.  Johns and Kreisberg also set the hook at the end by hearkening back to the reference in Justice League #6 to Darkseid’s daughter, and the further shocker that she is in fact in A.R.G.U.S custody.  Bit of a spoiler, but still a good reason to get into this title.  Game well played, Johns.  I’ll buy your series for the time being . . .

    Daughter of Darkseid

    Daughter of Darkseid

  • Sword of Sorcery #5 returns Amy to Gemworld and to her mother, Lady Graciel of House Amethyst.  With her return the pair travel to the capital of House Turquoise to visit the tomb of Amy’s father, Lord Vyrian.  When they reach their destination not only do they finally uncover the identity of his betrayer, they are also assaulted by two rogue assassins of House Onyx.  More interesting is the choice of the next Lord of House Turquoise after the events of this issue.  In the Stalker backup feature, writer Marc Andreyko attempts to make the revamp of this character work, but fails.  Sorry.  Even Andrei Bressan’s awesome art can’t rescue it.
  • Batman Beyond Unlimited #13  contains both a beginning and and end.  For starters, this issue begins the second arc of Justice League Unlimited Beyond called “Flashdrive.”  The storyline stymies me a little bit as there seems to be two things going on in the plot that don’t have any connection to one another.  The main body of the story picks up on a scene from the “Batman Beyond” movie entitled “The Return of the Joker.”   In the flashback portion of the film, the Joker kidnaps Tim Drake and turns him into a child Joker with chemicals and gene therapy and Tim ends up killing him.  That is the end of what is shown in the movie, but this issue continues it on, with Batman creating a morgue for supervillains so that when they die there will be no resting place their followers and acolytes can use to gather or make into a monument.  This morgue is built on the lowest sublevel of the Batcave that only Bruce and Barbara Gordon know exists.  There is a break in and it is neither Bruce nor Barbara, raising the question of who could have known about it and how they got in considering the fail-safes put in place by Batman, the most paranoid man alive.  Cut to a female docent at the Flash Museum having speedster abilities and an attack on the re-opening Museum drawing in Mister Miracle, Big Barda, Merina, Micron, and Green Lantern Kai-Ro.  I know that eventually there will be a connection made, but right now I am totally lost.  Next comes the conclusion of “10,000 Clowns” in Batman Beyond.  This one is pretty procedural and ends in a logical sense.  Batman (Terry McGinnis) faces off against Joker King and the latter’s defeat is clearly an eventuality, but the consequences are what are relevant here.  The ending of this seems to be heavily influenced by the Christopher Nolan film “The Dark Knight”, with the question lingering as to whether Joker King won or lost, and with the assertion that he didn’t win, the further question of did anyone really win?  In the Superman Beyond feature, the Trillians have captured Superman and put on a show trial for his “crimes” against their race, which again are still pretty vague.  I don’t feel confident commenting on this storyline, so I will abstain until further on into its plotline.    Overall a really good issue that delves into the animated mythology in interesting ways that take me back to the days I watched them as a wide eyed child or adolescent.
  • Womanthology: Space #5 delivers another slew of stories at varying lengths that run the gamut of relevance to the genre of Space.  One deals with an ungainly girl in elementary school who is tall, lanky, and extremely clumsy except when she runs which is when she feels the most free.  In her school’s play she is cast as the comet and all she has to do . . . is run.  The next vignette is entitled “The Wind in her Hair” about a girl living in a dirigible  who desires freedom and a tin-man looking automaton living on the polluted ground below who wants to take the tree he has cared for his entire life up above the poisoned clouds where “she” can grow and thrive.  A chance meeting between the girl and the gardener droid gives both the hope that they need to see their dreams through to fruition.   Writer Allison Pang and artist Chrissie Zullo create a story that is both romantic and ethereal with the bronze daguerreotype look of a 1920’s German Expressionist film.  The remaining pieces, while still very good are more abstract and not as readily synopsized.  This series has proven to be innovated and very compelling.  This is the fifth of six issue, so I would suggest that if you missed these and aren’t in a place to go back and catch up, wait for the collection to come out and then read them all in their entirety.  Truly a breathtaking series.WomanthologySpace5

This really was the most consistantly excellent week of February. Those titles that I have praised highly just prove how poweful and dynamic the comic medium can be to the newcomer and faithful alike.  I pray that next month finds these same titles meet the mark set here and perhaps exceeding it once more.  One thing is for certain, this week was a good week to be a comic book fan.

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

Illustration Credits:

Justice League #17:  Drawn by Ivan Reis, Colored by Rod Reis & Nathan Eyring, Inked by Joe Prado, Oclair Albert & Sean Parsons

Justice League  of America #1:  Art by David Finch, Colored by Sonia Oback & Jeromy Cox

Batwoman #17:  Art by J.H. Williams III, Colored by Dave Stewart

Green Lantern #17:  Drawn by Dan Jurgens, Colored by Alex Sinclair & Tony Avina, Inked by Phil Jimenez

Green Lantern: New Guardians #17:  Art by Aaron Kuder, Colored by Wil Quintana

Red Hood and the Outlaws #17: Art by Adrian Syaf, Robson Rocha & Ken Lashley, Colored by Blond

Vibe #1: Drawn by Pete Woods, Colored by Brad Anderson, Inked by Sean Parsons

Womanthology: Space #5 “The Wind in Her Hair” segment: Art by Chrissie Zullo

Week 70 (Jan. 2, 2013)

  • Batman Inc #6 is a doomsday clock ticking towards midnight.  Since the beginning of this second arc of the title, but really from the first issue following writer Grant Morrison’s transition from Batman & Robin, there has been something extremely wrong happening in the shadows and all the disparate threats lead to a web woven by none other than Talia Al-Ghul.  Since her revelation as the leader of Leviathan its become clear that Grant Morrison is writing this series as a Machiavellian tale of “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”  Batman has spurned her affections and lured their son away from her, so in revenge she has deduced the most ingenious plan to take everything he loves and has built away from him.  What’s worse is that inherent in the plan are choices he has to make shifting responsibility onto his shoulders for what survives and what is destroyed, who lives and who dies.  Nothing and no one are sacred in this conflict and at issue’s close the sword drops.  Grant Morrison is a genius.  Hands down, he is on the top echelon of writers who have written the Batman character.  Joining him on this second arc and really making his mark is artist Chris Burnham.  Burnham’s art is reminiscent of Frank Quitely, one of Morrison’s most iconic collaborators, but has its own flavor making it appropriate for this title in its similarities to Quitely, but its also for its uniqueness.  When this series ends, as melodramatic as this may sound, I think I might go into mourning.

    BatmanInc6

    The Sophie’s Choice of the Batman Universe

  • Red Lanterns #15 finds the Corps at its most desperate hour.  Fresh off of the sabotaging of their Central Power Battery, the Guardians of the Universe have unleashed their nightmarish Third Army upon the Universe.  Like everything involving the Guardians, Atrocitus won’t rest until the little blue bastards are stopped and their sins against sentient life punished.  Taken in that light, he sounds not only virtuous, but almost sane.  Elsewhere in the Universe, Red Lanterns are purging egregious ne’er-do-wells to power their weakened battery with righteous vengeance.  Vengeance is the key to their revival.  Apropos, first lieutenant Bleez escorts Rankorr, aka Jack Moore, back to Earth to kill his grandfather’s murderer, thereby completing his path of vengeance and fully realizing his potential as a Red Lantern.  This mission is integral to the Corps, as Rankorr for whatever reason is the only Red Lantern with the ability to form constructs with his ring.  However, when confronted with the man who has wronged him so greatly, Rankorr is also confronted with his own wrongs against others.  On his home planet of Ryutt, we see that even Atrocitus is not immune from ghosts of the past, revisiting his decimated world, with the plan to use the Guardians’ own weapons against them.  Peter Milligan is a genius and his writing keeps the reader keyed into the plot with its many nuances and intricacies.  As good as the writing is, I am underwhelmed by Miguel Sepulveda’s artwork.  It isn’t bad in and of itself, but it just is not as engrossing as Ed Benes’ artwork was during the initial issues of the title’s run.
  • The Flash #15 was largely an interim issue, albeit one that accomplished a great many things nonspecific to the current story arc.  The Gorilla invasion of the Gem Cities is in full swing and King Grodd, empowered by the Speed Force, has beaten Barry into a comatose state.  In his delirium, Barry’s connection to the Speed Force has him viewing a slew of possible outcomes to the events transpiring around him, most extremely unpleasant to behold.  The Rogues step up as their city descends into chaos, actually giving relief and protection to the denizens of their town.  Some pretty intense things happen in the mean time as Central City and Keystone City await salvation.  The most interesting in my opinion, and something I have been DYING to see, is Barry’s girlfriend Patty Spivot finding out that he is the Flash.  Though she has vehemently professed to hate the Flash, when that revelation comes she doesn’t bat an eyelash, but instead rushes to her boyfriend’s aid.  I love Patty and I am excited about the prospect of what this knowledge portends for future issues.  As ever, writer/artists Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato hit the title out of the park in both art and story, with an 11 page assist from guest artist, Marcus To.

    Stand By Your Man

    Stand By Your Man

  • Superman #15 continues the “H’el on Earth” crossover event after H’el forcibly ejects Superman and Superboy from the Fortress of Solitude and barricades himself inside.  As a result Superman takes Superboy to a top secret government facility specifically designed to hold Lex Luthor engineered by Lex Luthor.  This is undertaken under the aegis of Superman asking for Lex’s scientific expertise on how to stop H’el, but the true reason, which Lex intuits almost immediately, is much more sinister.  It’s all hands on deck as the fate of Earth literally hangs in the balance.  The art by Kenneth Rocafort is the thing that immediately strikes one as the pages are turned on the issue, but once one delves into the story they depict, the keen authorship of Scott Lobdell becomes equally apparent.  This issue has the first real interaction between Superman and Superboy, and I have to say that the depiction of Superman, which Lobdell has executed brilliantly in the past, falters in the moments where Superman teeter-totters between seeming apathy to the polar opposite position of the overly interested father figure.  Still, a really fantastic issue rendered exquisitely by both men.

    Superman's Darker Side

    Superman’s Darker Side

  • Batman: The Dark Knight #15 ends the first arc by writer Gregg Hurwitz featuring the Scarecrow’s plot to release a super-fear-toxin on the people of Gotham.  Though midstream it drew some intriguing parallels between Batman and Scarecrow’s childhoods leading up to the donning of their respective personas, overall the arc fell flat.  This last issue had the Scarecrow releasing his toxin via zepplin and Batman throwing together a last ditch effort to negate it.  Though Batman’s solution is intense and fairly novel, it was cobbled together far too quickly in deux-ex-machina fashion for it to have any resonance or believability.  But then again we are talking about comic books here.  Overall though, I felt that this new run on the series is lacking.  Starting at the end of January, series creator and artist David Finch is stepping away from the series and replaced by Ethan Van Sciver.  Van Sciver is an incredible artist, on par with Finch, so Hurwitz has the art down and one more chance to nail the writing.
  • Talon #3 marks the return of a character from the #0 issue, Casey Washington, and her fate after the events depicted therein.  Main character, Calvin Rose, was an assassin for the shadowy Court of Owls known as the Talon until getting the one assignment he couldn’t go through with: killing Casey Washington, a young African American mother and her daughter, Sarah.  Rescuing them from the Court was the catalyst that set the drama of this series into motion.  Returning to that pivotal event, Calvin re-communes with Casey after five years and we learn that the two of them had a love affair that ended when Calvin felt his presence was a danger to Casey and her daughter.  Embittered, Casey meets Calvin again, this time in a much stronger position with powerful allies.  Though harsh feelings exist between them, their common enemy sparks a pooling of resources for an assault on Hudson Financial, a New York based bank that handles thirteen billion dollars of Court investments.  Casey and Calvin’s partner, Sebastian Clark, come up with a flawless plan to hit the bank, but as ever “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”  James Tynion and Scott Snyder are masters of storytelling and sell this series for every cent charged on the cover price.  I know that I have said this at least three times in the past, but I feel that it bears reiteration.  Snyder, Tynion, and March make this a must read title.

    How To Save A Life

    How To Save A Life

  • Teen Titans #15, written by Red Hood and the Outlaws scribe, Scott Lobdell, proves yet again what a master he is when dealing with the Joker, vis-a-vis the “Death of the Family” crossover event.  In Red Hood and the Outlaws #15 two weeks ago, Lobdell wrote a Joker plot that was keyed directly into the character of Jason Todd and played to his person brilliantly.  In this issue of Teen Titans Lobdell does it again, not only penning an ingenious (and especially deranged) plot by the Joker, but one that is keyed into Tim Drake’s personality.  With Jason, the Joker knew his history and used it as a weapon against him, considering that the Joker was its engineer.  Tim, however, is a young professional on the model of Bruce himself, and against him the Joker asserts himself by proving that he is in Tim’s head, knowing his thoughts and stratagems and is able to use them against him.  The Teen Titans come to Gotham to track their kidnapped friend and that is precisely what the Joker was counting on . . . They are a young team, both in individual ages and the tenure of their association with each other, and their inexperience is blatantly revealed.  To be fair though, the Joker is an A-list adversary who has made a fool of the Batman on many an occasion, so their embarrassment isn’t totally their fault.  Artist Brett Booth returns to the title providing the stunning artwork that helped establish this new series sixteen months ago, and a very beautiful depiction of Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl.  Well worth the read even if you aren’t following the overarching “Death of the Family” event.

    When The Joker Gets In Your Head . . .

    When The Joker Gets In Your Head . . .

  • All-Star Western #15 continues the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde storyline.  Jekyll has come to Gotham to track down a quantity of his stolen formula, but when his handler, Reginald Forsythe, is murdered and partially eaten by Hyde, events take a sinister turn.  Obviously when Dr. Jekyll takes his serum he becomes the sociopathic Edward Hyde, but the question in this issue becomes who will emerge when Dr. Jeremiah Arkham is force fed the serum by Hyde?  Jonah Hex attempts to intercede against Hyde in Arkham’s behalf, but proves inadequate in several respects, raising another interesting scenario: What happens when Jonah Hex, the biggest badass this side of the Rio Grande, is confined to a wheelchair for a month?  And in the backup feature, Tomahawk, General Lancaster of the newly minted American Army sets a trap for Tomahawk’s men and slaughters dozens of his Native American brothers.  In the fight with Lancaster, Tomahawk almost has the upper hand, until the remaining British forces in the area intervene.  The reckoning appears to be reserved for next issue.  We’ll see what that holds for Tomahawk and the tribes of the American northwest.
  • Arrow #2 delivers three more glimpses into the world and history of the CW series Arrow.  Whereas the inaugural issue of this series had three stories about Oliver and his quest for justice, this one gives two slots to supporting characters, further fleshing out our understanding of the series.  First off comes a story scripted by Lana Cho with art by Eric Nguyen following John Diggle’s time in Afghanistan as an Army sergeant.   Despite the hells he endured, through the incident depicted we see the good man he is and why Oliver would be keen to have him on his team.  The second segment by Wendy Mericle and drawn by Sergio Sandaval follows Oliver’s mother, Moira Queen, and her salvaging of her husband’s yaht, the “Queen’s Gambit.”  Moira is an unfortunate character caught between a rock and a hardplace and demonized because of her associations with bad people.  Malcolm Merlyn is a very powerful man and the salvaging of the “Queen’s Gambit” is a key piece in a very dangerous game of chess.  The final tale, scripted by by Ben Sokolowski and Lana Cho takes Oliver to Moscow to cross a name off his father’s list.  Justin Whicker smuggles hopeful young ballerinas out of Russia with the promise of fame in America only to be sold into white slavery.  Because this story is about Oliver and especially because it involves the ballet, Mike Grell (Green Arrow royalty, having written and drawn the title in the 80’s) provides art.  The show is incredible and this series makes that viewing experience so much richer.

    Mike Grell's Peerless Rendering of the Ballet

    Mike Grell’s Peerless Rendering of the Ballet

  • Batman Beyond Unlimited #11 contains three tales from the DC animated universe.  Half the issue is composed of the Batman Beyond story “10,000 Clowns” where literally 10,000 suicidal Jokerz from across the globe make pilgrimage to Gotham to sacrifice themselves for their leader the Joker King’s insane plot.  Joker King is in fact the brother of Batman’s girlfriend, Dana Tan.  In this installment Joker King fights not only the current Batman, Terry McGinnis, but also the original, the 80 year old Bruce Wayne, who’s still got acid running through his veins and a serious hate-on for clowns.  We also see Doug Tan’s reunion with his family after his descent into madness and a recap of how he wrangled the Jokerz and gained dominion over all the rival factions.  This issue was truly worth the wait, having been built up to for more than two years now.  In Superman Beyond we get a slightly less satisfactory experience only lasting a few chaotic pages with Superman facing off against the Trillians without even knowing who they are or why they want him dead.  I have my theories considering that this series and its fellows in this title are the refugees of the discontinued DC animated universe.  The two part series finale of “Superman: The Animated Series” had Supes under the thrall of Darkseid, conquering planets for the Lord of Apokalips.  I think that Trillia was one of the planets that Superman unknowingly decimated while leading Apokalips’ armies.  I could be wrong, however.  Speaking of Apokalips, the last segment in this issue is a Beyond: Origin of the Apokaliptian beauty, Big Barda. Starting out with two little girls growing up in the slums, we see the origins first of Barda’s mother, Big Breeda, one of Darkseid’s elite warriors and her best friend who would become Granny Goodness.  Breeda fought Darkseid’s wars and through eugenics bore future soldiers with his greatest troops.  The one child who’s father she herself chose was Barda.  Barda’s birth not only put the warrioress on the outs with Darkseid but also created a split between Breeda and Granny, the latter of whom raised Barda in her orphanage. The rest is history.  Escaping to Earth with a handsome, young New God, Scott Free, she marries him and the two live happily for a time.  However, the gap between her and Scott’s life together, as seen in the television series “Justice League Unlimited,” and where she is in “Batman Beyond” is a tragic tale that is finally revealed within.  I loved this issue in its entirety more than a little.  Definitely worth the read.
  • American Vampire #34 returns to the beginning of the series while also taking us forward.  The series started with Jim Book hunting down Skinner Sweet.  Book died and Sweet’s been making Hell ever since, but the two people that fought alongside Book and who have taken a backseat since were Abilena Book, Jim’s young wife, and Will Bunting, the novelist following him for material for his next novel.  Picking up in 1954, we see Abilena seventy years later as well as learn the fate of Will Bunting from his nephew.  Through their interaction we are made aware of an immense threat that is known as the “Gray Trader.”  What the Trader is and what threat it represents are left ambiguous, but from what writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque depict at the end, the “future” looks bleak.  The two page montage of that future promises the involvement of Skinner Sweet, Pearl Jones, Travis Kidd, perhaps one of the ancient vampires from Survival of the Fittest, and Las Vegas in flames.  As I predicted, this issue is at the precipice of a indeterminate gap in storytelling.  Snyder and Albuquerque are doing this not just to take their time fine tuning the plot to perfection, but also so that Albuquerque can draw the majority of the second half of the series, which was unable to do in this first half.  All around I have to reiterate my initial praise of this series as a messiah of the vampire genre.  In a world of truly trite, abysmal vampire stories, this one comic series stands as a shining beacon, keeping the concept from drowning in Stephanie Meyers and L.J. Smith related sewage.
  • Joe Kubert Presents #3 continues to showcase a bygone era of storytelling made fresh through veterans of the golden age of comic books.  Joe himself offers up two stories and his friends Sam Glanzman and Brian Buniak continue their respective series, as begun in Joe Kubert Presents #1.  Last issue, Kubert began a two part story entitled “The Redeemer” about a man who has lived countless lives over thousands of years, redeeming humanity in each, and an ancient man of evil hidden away in a fortress atop the Himalayas, known only as the Infernal One, secretly plotting against him, attempting to hasten the damnation of Man.  The first half of the story involved a very complex set of events in the year 2557 A.D. that leave our hero, Jim Torkan, at a crossroads where he can either continue his redeeming of humanity (unknowingly) or fall into the Infernal Ones trap and cast aside his morals.  The yarn is both futuristic in its far reaching vistas and retroactive in its storytelling style and character archetypes.  Kubert truly puts forth his greatest work in this series, evincing his long work in the medium and his unfettered genius.  The conclusion of this tale is both satisfying and unending.  Sam Glanzman returns to his time on the U.S. Stevenson, a ship he actually served on, recounting yet another anecdotal episode on the US destroyer in WWII’s Pacific theater.  It tells about the war in humorous yet starkly real terms, showing not only the war itself, but the simple and beautiful lives of the men fighting it before and after its beginning and conclusion.  The transitions between are so quick and efficacious that you barely notice, as if you are drifting through their lives like in a dream.  In fact it is almost exactly like a dream, because things go from being so horrible to so beautiful in the blink of an eye that there is nothing else it could be.  In Joe Kubert’s second story, Spit, we return to the street urchin met in Joe Kubert Presents #1, who grows up so detested by every person he has ever met that he lacks a proper name and is colloquially know as Spit by all.  Stowing away on a whaling ship, he attempts to make his way in the world only to fall under the thumb of the peg-legged ship’s cook who works him to the bone and verbally abuses him without mercy.  However, unlike on land, at sea Spit finds something that alters his role in life and shines a little glimmer of hope on his existence.  This segment, unlike the inked and colored “Redeemer” feature, is un-inked pencil drawings by the master artist in a style that is raw and quintessentially Joe Kubert.  The gray scale, rough pencils fit the rough, historical tale exceptionally well endowing it with a dark ambiance that draws one immediately in.  Finally, Brian Buniak presents the third installment of his “Angel and the Ape” feature, which has blonde bombshell private investigator, Angel, following up on a case to clear her partner, a giant ape named Sam Simeon, from a murder charge.  This feature is the dessert of the issue, being nothing but pure comedic slap stick and satire.  Whereas the others have poignance and certain tragedy, this one is a tonic that heals the soul and gets you back in a good mood.  Buniak does the art is a very caricature-esque fashion that reeks of the 50’s and 60’s.  All the submissions herein are stunningly presented and really a joy to read.  If you are a comic purist, pick up these issues and experience a bygone era of comic lore.JoeKubertPresents3

Thus ends what should have been the last week of comics of 2012, owing to the ridiculous three title week preceding this one.  I enjoyed so many of these titles and would suggest they be gotten ahold of as soon as possible.  Next week we truly begin the month of January with a fresh batch of #16 titles.  Looking forward to it.

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

Illustration Credits:

Batman Inc #6: Art by Chris Burnham, colored by Nathan Fairbairn

The Flash #15: Drawn by Marcus To, Colored by Brian Buccellato & Ian Herring, Inked by Ryan Winn

Superman #15: Art by Kenneth Rocafort, Colored by Sunny Gho

Talon #3: Art by Guillem March, Colored by Tomeu Morey

Teen Titans #15: Drawn by Brett Booth, Colored by Andrew Dalhouse, Inked by Norm Rapmund

Arrow #2: Art by Mike Grell, Colored by David Lopez & Santi Casas

Joe Kubert Presents #3: Art by Joe Kubert