Feb. 5, 2014

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

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

    The Doctors.


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

    Father and Son.

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

    Sorrentino Word Art.

    Sorrentino Word Art.

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

    Swamp Thing and the Avatars.

    Swamp Thing and the Avatars.

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

    The Man Who Beat the Bat.

    The Man Who Beat the Bat.

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

    The New Face of Marvel.

    The New Face of Marvel.

 

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

Illustration Credits:

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

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

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

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

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

Oct. 30, 2013

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

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

    Faora.

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

    Supermom Lara Lor-Van.

    Supermom Lara Lor-Van.

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

    The Power of Life.

    The Power of Life.

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

    Young Love.

    Young Love.

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

    No Mercy for the Merciless.

    No Mercy for the Merciless.

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

    Heavy Weighs the Cowl.

    Heavy Weighs the Cowl.

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

    Convocation of Dreams.

    Convocation of Dreams.

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

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

Illustration Credits:

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

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

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

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

Swamp Thing Annual #2:  Art by Kano.

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

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

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 85 (April 17, 2013)

This week is a week of great flux in the DC Universe bringing change within and without the various series.  New writers come onboard, characters lives alter invariable, and in the case of Nightwing and Teen Titans, the artists play the swinging game swapping partners to try their hands at new characters and stories.  It’s truly an exciting time to be a DC fan, as these changes push the envelope of storytelling and innovation.  So here they are:

  • Justice League #19 introduces the two new members of the Justice League:  Rhonda Pineda (the new, female Atom) and Firestorm (whose series is being cancelled with May’s #20 issue).  Stuck alone in the Watchtower, waiting for their new teammates to initiate them into the League, they find themselves in a trial-by-fire situation.  On Earth, keeping them from meeting their newly recruited rookies, Batman goes to have a chat with Superman and Wonder Woman who have taken it upon themselves to insert themselves into a tense geopolitical situation.  Batman, though cold and calculating, understands that the world is growing distrustful of the League and violating political borders, no matter what the reason, does nothing but kick hornet nests and ruffle feathers.  I have to say that Geoff Johns really doesn’t portray Superman or Wonder Woman in a good light.  Wonder Woman is shown in a very fascist light and Superman, though opposed to her views, goes along with it because his girlfriend wants him to.  Compelling characterization, truly.  The issue also features a mysterious assailant breaking into the Batcave to steal a package Batman developed to take out Superman.  Considering the events of this issue, Johns’ version of the Man of Steel kind of deserves a few knocks to the head to maybe knock some sense into him.  In the backup feature, I may be forced to eat crow.  I’ve had very few good things to say about the SHAZAM backup or its version of Billy Batson, but after Johns reveals Black Adam’s history in ancient Kahndaq he seems to give validation to what he did with Billy, giving him the understanding to deal with Black Adam from a place of mutual understanding of why he is doing the things he is with the power the Wizard gave him.  Geoff Johns may be able to pull this one out of the toilet.  I say may.  Jury is still out.

    The Corruption of Power

    The Corruption of Power

  • Green Lantern: The New Guardians #19 picks up right where Green Lantern #19 left off with the destruction of Sinestro’s homeworld, Korugar.  Of course when Kyle shows up with a white ring on his finger, Sinestro demands that he restore his planet and his people from the apocalypse the First Lantern unleashed.  Kyle remains uncertain and Sinestro resorts to violence.  While many would demonize him for this reaction it should be noted that Hal Jordan reacted similarly in the wake of his hometown, Coast City’s, destruction and as a result snapped Sinestro’s neck and murdered the Guardians and half the Green Lantern Corps.  Sinestro in comparison is behaving himself quite admirably.  Simon Baz, the newly minted GL of planet Earth comes on the scene and all three Lanterns attempt to do the impossible, taking turns with the white ring to bring back the decimated world.  Kyle tries and fails, the ring won’t even allow Sinestro to put it on, and Simon Baz tries to replicate his feat of will that brought his brother-in-law out of a coma, only to be refused by the ring.  For good or ill, the Life Force of the white energy deems that Korugar must remain destroyed.  Like the two previous GL titles this month, New Guardians #19 sets the stage for the massive Green Lantern #20 next month with the cast of players taking position.  Its going to be a blowout issue that will go down in history.  Mark my words.

    The Return of Fear

    The Return of Fear

  • Batwoman #19 is an extended period of adjustment.  After the conclusion of the Medusa mega-arc a lot has changed in the Batwoman title and as a result the characters are having to reacquaint themselves with one another and the situations that have arisen from the fallout of the first seventeen regular issues.  Maggie and Kate’s relationship has taken a dramatic turn following Kate’s revelation that she is in fact the Gotham city vigilante known as Batwoman.  After all, in the course of doing her duty as a policewoman Batwoman shot Maggie full of a concentrated Scarecrow fear toxin that continues to plague her with horrific nightmares.  It is also her job to apprehend such vigilantes.  So yeah, their engagement is rather complicated legally and emotionally.  Kate’s father, Jacob Kane, has his own crosses to bear in his dual life as the father of Batwoman  and loving husband with his wife Katherine’s discovery that her stepdaughter, Kate, and niece, Betty, moonlight as crimefighters with Jacob’s help.  Thus another strained relationship.  Jacob also lets slip that he may have a son.  However they rationalize it, the hinting is that this son is Director Bones of the D.E.O.  Considering that Bones is using Jacob as a bargaining chip to gain Batwoman’s compliance to D.E.O. operations and that he referred to Alice as “sister”, I’d say that there is some seriously oedipal stuff going on there.  And as for Cameron Chase, the hard edged D.E.O. agent begins to have a crisis of conscience and goes to her sister to find resolution to her conflicting drives.  Overall, J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman have made this title both action packed and introspectively thoughtful.  This continues to be one of the hallmark titles in DC’s current lineup.
  • DC Universe Presents #19 delivers its final presentation of the New DCU spinning out of the first four issues of Swords and Sorcery and bringing Beowulf into our present (his past) as summoned through a mystical artifact.  Preceding him is a shapeshifting beast called the “Puca” that runs amok with the intention of conquering the Age of Heroes and enslaving humanity.  Though logically it would change the timestream and corrupt events in her time, Beowulf concludes that the “sorceress” we’ve met under the relative name of “Grendel’s Mother” sent the Puca back to lure the legendary Geat from that time in order that she could conquer the Danelaw unimpeded.  Helping Beowulf find the Puca and get back to his own time is the beautiful archeaologist Dr. Gwendolyn Pierce.   This issue, though pretty straightforward and insubstantial by itself, was a pretty fun read for those that enjoy the original legend of Beowulf and the reinterpretation of it as done by this issue’s writer, Tony Bedard.  My hopes are that this concept will be revisited one day, because to me the Beowulf backup feature was superbly done and intriguing to read.  It may not have been popular, or at least not popular enough to continue in its own book, but I can dream.  The backup in Sword of Sorcery was drawn by Jesus Saiz, but this issue featured art by Javier Pina that was very soft, with lovely rounded lines, making it all the more enjoyable.  Man, I hope they continue on with this series . . .

    He's No Hero, He is BEOWULF!!!

    He’s No Hero, He is BEOWULF!!!

  • Legion of Super-Heroes #19 brings the next chapter in the off-the-rails storyline by writer Paul Levitz that re-establishes the defunct supervillain team, the “Fatal Five.”  So far, Tharok has plunged much of the United Planets into utter chaos by corrupting all technology powered by quark relays which accounts for 99.9% of it (I’m guessing on that figure, but its not far off), and in this issue Emerald Empress descends on Webber World, an artificial planet made entirely out of metal and machinery that runs ENTIRELY on quark relays.  That said, there is no way for the residents there to defend themselves against her psychotic assaults.  Cue  the entrance of Mon-El, the Legion’s Daxamite, and the Webber Worlders’ last hope.  Levitz holds nothing back in this storyline. The Fatal Five are back and they are playing for keeps.  Levitz began this arc with the death of a beloved Legionnaire and this issue finds the rest standing on infirm ground.  The sheer scope of the story is mind boggling, spanning the width of the United Planets and inflicting fear and death the likes of which we’ve not seen since Levitz’s “Great Darkness Saga” back in the early 1980’s.  Good to see that the master hasn’t lost his touch, nor his ability to spin quintessentially relevant Legion lore.  Starting this journey with him on issue #17 was his former partner from the aforementioned 1980’s opus, artist Keith Giffen.  Last issue and this one had art provided by Scott Kolins.  Kolins is a phenomenal artist, but put beside Giffen’s work it took some of the magic away.  Regardless, this is a series to read. Period.
  • Red Hood and the Outlaws #19 represents a paradigm shift on two levels.  Firstly, it should be noted that Scott Lobdell, writer extraordinaire who’s initiated some of the best titles in the New DCU (Teen Titans, Superman, Superboy, and this title), has moved on after a stellar run reinventing Jason Todd, Starfire, and Roy Harper, while simultaneously introducing incredible new concepts and characters like Essence, the All-Caste, the Untitled, the Thirteen Scions of Salvation, to name only a few.  The good news is that he is replaced by up-and-coming writer James Tynion IV, who’s work on the backup features in the Batman title as well as the series Talon have been incredible.  Joining him is artist Julius Gopez, whose art is as detailed as original series artist Kenneth Rocafort, but with its own unique style.  That said, the stage is set for an incredible issue as the new creative team descends into the quagmire left after the “Death of the Family” mega event felt throughout the Bat-family of books.  Jason Todd has been through a lot, and despite developing a hard exterior, weathered it pretty well.  With Lobdell’s revelation that the Joker was the architect of much of his misery, Jason is left in a very compromising situation.  Following that, he disappears and his friends, Starfire and Roy, try to find him to offer their support.  They track him to the Himalayas and while searching are set upon by two former acquaintances of Jason’s: Ducra and Essence.  Both transcendental forces, they attempt to influence the course of Roy and Koriand’r’s journey.   With his limited  knowledge gained from observing Jason’s meditation and use of Eastern rituals, Roy is able to weather his innermost demons, roused by Essence, to find the path to helping his friend.  However, after all of the pain and hardship to find their comrade, Jason throws a curve ball.  Tynion proves his understanding and mastery of comic writing here with some really poignant storytelling that doesn’t break stride from the tone and pace set by Lobdell.  Jason, Roy, and Starfire are very complex characters that are flawed beyond belief, but when written well are made all the better because of their imperfections.  Tynion writes them that way, and his partner in art renders them beautifully.  This series looks to be in good hands and I for one am breathing a sigh of relief that Red Hood and the Outlaws have found themselves in capable hands.

    The Color of Friendship

    The Color of Friendship

  • Nightwing #19 endures his own paradigm shift like Jason, his successor to the Robin title, did in the above book.  Though continuing to be written by Kyle Higgins, longtime artist Eddy Barrows has gone to Teen Titans and that series’ artist, Brett Booth, begins his run as artist on this book with this issue.  Coinciding with Booth’s jumping on point, Dick Grayson jumps ship from the tragedy that befell him in Gotham following “Death of the Family” and begins a new life in Chicago, searching for Tony Zucco.  Zucco is the supposedly deceased mobster that killed Dick’s parents, but also the father of his pseudo-girlfriend, Sonia Branch.  A complex situation to be sure, but one that Dick cannot overlook.  Though it dredges up harsh memories of the past, Nightwing has to seek out Zucco if he  ever hopes to attain closure on one of the seminal moments of his life.  The issue follows Dick settling into the Windy City and familiarizing himself with its underworld in order to get information on  Zucco.  It also introduces the “Prankster.”  Higgins imagines him almost as an anti-hero rather than the Joker-like Superman villain he was originally written as.  Here Prankster forces a corrupt millionaire to burn his money to prolong his survival when trapped in a room with wolves.  The chances of the man surviving the encounter are very decent, but he is forced to pay monetarily for the privilege.  Not supervillainous, but at the same time not heroic.  Higgins and Booth have created a very compelling first chapter for the new chapter in Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing’s life.

    Why So Serious?

    Why So Serious?

  • Supergirl #19 finds the Girl of Steel captive after a weakness overcomes her, probably due to her former kryptonite poisoning at the end of the “H’el on Earth” arc.  And as introduced last issue, Karen Starr, aka Power Girl  comes onto the scene, drawn by an unknown force to her Earth-1 self’s rescue.  In Worlds’ Finest she has gone out of her way to avoid meeting Kara, as she has no idea what it would mean meeting her alternate self.  Here she has no choice but to help “herself” and in the process writer Mike Johnson does something very interesting with the two halves of the same person.  When they meet and touch hands, instead of reality unraveling as quantum physicists project in such an unlikely event, they instead become of one mind, literally sharing their memories and thoughts.  After that instant they operate like a well oiled machine to put down a mutant freak that Lex Luthor sicced on them from his ultra-security prison, via neural implant.  Johnson does a really excellent job writing this story in a way that not only advances the title character, but the character of Power Girl from across the New DCU.  As is wont to happen with her, Power Girl’s costume is torn to shreds as she helps get the weakened Supergirl back to her sub-aquatic fortress of solitude, Sanctuary.  Within, Sanctuary ascertains her need and spins her a new costume from more durable Kryptonian fibers.  However, the costume it gives her deviates from the more PC, full body suit to the former skimpy unitard with the “convenient” hole in the chest that serves no other purpose than to display her cleavage.  Also, Mike Johnson makes ample use of this singular event of two genetically identical Karas  to play a very interesting scenario predicated from the taboo of cloning in Kyptonian culture.  Overall, a very interesting, thoughtful, action packed issue.

    Two Reflections of One Super Woman

    Two Reflections of One Super Woman

  • Vibe #3 takes Francisco Ramon further down the uncharted path his powers have placed him on.  Recruited by A.R.G.U.S and Amanda Waller for the Justice League of America, he is starstruck and wanting not only to make a difference, but find purpose following the horrific event that gave him his powers while simultaneously taking the life of his eldest brother.  From the perspective of such a kindhearted, idealistic young man like Cisco, that is completely understandable.  What he doesn’t know is that Waller put him on the JLA roster because he is theoretically the only being on the planet whose powers would allow him to neutralize the Flash’s speed abilities which come from an other dimensional force, which we know from The Flash to be the “Speed Force.”  So with that as the goal, how does one test that hypothesis?  If you want to fight an unknown creature the best way is to first try your hands against one of its young.  So Cisco is sent up against Kid Flash, aka Bart Allen, of Teen Titans fame.  Their meeting is morally mixed and hints very cryptically about the past (our future) of the younger speedster.  While Cisco begins by attacking Kid Flash, he is unable to continue on his belligerent path as Kid Flash does not behave in a way that engenders antagonism.  The events as I said before are very cryptic and morally ambiguous and begin the questioning of Vibe as to what his real purpose is and whether or not he can trust the people that are giving him orders.  I had my doubts about this book in the beginning.  Damn you, Geoff Johns, you got me!  Johns and cowriter Andrew Kreisberg started the series with the first two issues, but this third issue begins new series writer Sterling Gates’ tenure on title.  Gates is an incredible new voice in comics, so the title has gone from good hands to equally capable ones.
  • Wonder Woman #19 marks a nexus point in storytelling that promises a shift in the status quo.  The First Born has been systematically attacking those of his relatives that have been entrusted with his various implements of war.  This issue has him going up against Poseidon and fighting the god within his own leviathan belly.  Going up against his uncle, the two find themselves at an impasse and we see more of the twisted politics of the Greek gods coming into play as they make war and secret intrigues against one another.  However, for the First Born to achieve his ends he must cross paths with Zola’s infant baby, the last born of Zeus’s children.  To do that, of course he will have to go through Wonder Woman who has literally spent the entirety of this rebooted series protecting the baby from fetus to newborn.  As the title shifts to the Amazing Amazon and what she has been up to we see a major parting of ways.  Her Constantine-esque brother, Lennox, decides he is going depart the scene and in the midst of that departure, Orion runs afoul of Wonder Woman and leaves in disgust as well.  I’m not going to shed a tear on this departure, as Orion is a noble character and I feel that writer Brian Azzarello isn’t depicting him nearly as nobly as the son of Great Darkseid deserves.  Best to leave that to the more able pen of Scott Lobdell in Superman.  I will be interested to see how Wonder Woman fares against her eldest brother, the First Born, as he arrives in London in the very last panel of this issue.  Oh the anticipation . . .  She might yet regret the loss of an extra set of New God hands.  Oh well, pride cometh before the fall.
  • Sword of Sorcery #7 proves how incredible the main feature Amethyst is.  Last issue had the return of Eclipso, aka Lord Kaala, to the gemworld Nilaa.  After his return we are told that he was the result of a nightmarish blood marriage between House Diamond and House Onyx, hence his power totem, the black diamond.  With the powers of both houses gifted to him he was nearly unstoppable and almost brought ruin down upon all of Gem World.  But for Lady Chandra of House Amethyst he would have succeeded.  Now it lies with Chandra’s heirs, Lady Graciel, Mordiel, and of course Princess Amaya of the Amethyst clan to take him down once again.  They have their work cut out for them.  In the course of a single night, chronicled in this one issue, Kaala has murdered the head of House Citrine, retaken House Onyx from the noble Lady Akikra, and murdered the head of House Diamond taking its armies also under his power.  With one stroke he has regained all his strength and prestige from before his fall.  However, he still has many enemies including the fugitive Akikra who is as dangerous as a cornered dog, Prince Hadran of House Diamond, and of course the young lord and ladies of Houses Turquoise, Citrine, and Amethyst respectively.  The board is set for one hell of a showdown in Nilaa.  It will have to be, because sadly this title is being cancelled as of issue #8.  Next issue is the conclusion to all of it, and what a shame.  This was truly one of the best new series DC has put out.  It was fresh and unique from anything else that they had done, resurrecting a lesser known series and completely re-imagining it in a way that preserved the good, but innovated at the same time.  What a shame, indeed.  The backup feature Stalker on the other hand comes to its conclusion and good riddance.  As excellent as Amethyst is, Stalker is equally as terrible.  THAT is a shame, as the original series from the 70’s, only four issue unfortunately,written by the legendary Paul Levitz was incredibly good. It’s predecessor, Beowulf, which merited a special appearance in the above mentioned DC Universe Presents #19 was phenomenal.  I don’t even care to elaborate on how badly this Stalker series was dealt with.  Suffice it to say, this backup series did nothing to help the cancellation of this title.  It may have been a part of the anchor that dragged Sword of Sorcery below the water to its point of drowning.  Pity.  I will miss Amethyst  and Beowulf greatly.
    The Return of the King

    The Return of the King

     

  • Batman Beyond Unlimited #15 begins with the Superman Beyond feature.  Superman is rescued from the Trillians by the the bestial Mangals he liberated from enslavement upon his last visit to Trillia.  Whereas the Trillians view Superman as the terrorist who led to the fall of their society, the Mangals look upon him as a messianic figure.  This is made apparent when Superman sees them for the first time after all the intervening years.  When he liberated them they were small and helpless.  Now they are large and strong.  Apparently, the Trillians never let them grow to full maturity, but rather kept them young and worked them to premature death.  So once again, we the reader are shown a very divided society on Trillia between the over class and the bonded underclass.  Both sides want to eradicate the other, leaving a very morally ambiguous position for Superman.  Regardless of the heinous crimes of the Trillians as a culture, he cannot condone wholesale slaughter of all Trillians, yet at the same time he cannot stand idly by while the Trillians plan the same for their emancipated slaves.  This arc took a little while to reach maturity, but writer JT Krul has pulled this one out and made it into a very thought provoking storyline that raises questions about our own world and social systems.  Next up, in the Justice League Beyond Unlimited feature writer Derek Fridolfs begins a new arc with artist Ben Caldwell providing pencils.  In it the criminal organization known as the “Brain Trust” abducts children and places them in an elite prep school academy to brainwash them into becoming soldiers in an underground army.  The JLB sends their own agent, the “Golden Child”-like Green Lantern, Kai-Ro, in as a mole.  Once he is in the League tracks him to perhaps the most wholesome place in the entirety of  the DCU.  A place that makes Smallville look like a ghetto.  Fawcett City.  Ending in the middle of a fight, it is difficult to see where the story is going from here, but the concept of the “Brain Trust” is solid and I very much look forward to seeing where Fridolds goes in his script.  Lastly, the Batman Beyond feature fulfills a promise made over two years ago before the Reboot from the original Batman Beyond comic series.  Terry McGinnis’ best friend and confidante, Max Gibson, had attempted to infiltrate the network of cyber terrorists called “Undercloud” that were attacking Gotham’s infrastructure.  All of this without Terry’s knowledge.  Now she finds herself in the belly of the beast, integrally tied into Undercloud’s horrific plan to raze Neo Gotham and build it up from the ashes in their own image.  If she doesn’t comply, agents of Undercloud will kill those closest to her.  In the meantime, Terry is sent to a rock concert where a terrorist threat has been issued, although not by Undercloud.  Instead, its one of Batman’s old nemeses, Shreik.  Overall this issue was pretty quality in both storytelling and art.  For those that enjoyed the DC Animated Universe, this title stands as an ark to the legacy of many beloved TV shows.

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 #19:  Drawn by Ivan Reis, Colored by Rod Reis, Inked by Joe Prado, Oclair Albert, Jonathan Glapion

Green Lantern: New Guardians #19: Drawn by Andres Guinaldo, Colored by Wil Quintana, Inked by Raul Fernandez

DC Universe Presents #19:  Art by Javier Pina, Colored by Jason Wright

Red Hood and the Outlaws #19:  Art by Julius Gopez, Colored by Nei Ruffino

Supergirl #19:  Art by Mahmud Asrar, Colored by Dave McCaig

Nightwing #19: Drawn by Brett Booth, Colored by Andrew Dalhouse, Inked by Norm Rapmund

Sword of Sorcery #7:  Art by Aaron Lopresti, Colored by Hi-Fi