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.

Advertisements

Nov. 6, 2013

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

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

    The Best of the Worst.

    The Best of the Worst.

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

    A Self-Aware Superman.

    A Self-Aware Superman.

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

    Separating the Wheat from the Chaff.

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

    He's Gonna Need a Bigger Light . . .

    He’s Gonna Need a Bigger Light . . .

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

    Battle of the Billionaires.

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

    GreenArrow25-3

    A Mother’s Love.

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

    Do NOT Mess With Kilawog!

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

    GreenLantern25-2

    The Tethers of Heart.

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

    A Father Dies to Bring His Daughter Back to Life.

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

    A Darker Dark Knight.

    A Darker Dark Knight.

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

    Heroes.

    Heroes.

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

    What Hath Man Wrought?

    What Hath Man Wrought?

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

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

Illustration Credits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct. 2, 2013

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

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

    They Did a Bad, Bad Thing . . .

    They Did a Bad, Bad Thing . . .

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

    All the Queen's Men

    All the Queen’s Men

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

    An "Earth" Shattering Developement . . .

    An “Earth” Shattering Developement . . .

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

    A Battle of Two Dragons.

    A Battle of Two Dragons.

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

    Superman's "Dark-Side."

    Superman’s “Dark-Side.”

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

    Conning the Conmen.

    BatmanBlack&White2-2

    Golden Age Batman on the Silver Screen . . .

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

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

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

Illustration Credits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sept. 25, 2013

With this last week of September comes the last installments of Villains Month.  Personally, I am really excited about the Sinestro, Doomsday, Man-Bat, and Parasite issues, and intrigued by several others out this week.  So far Villains Month hasn’t been a disappointment.  There have been some truly amazing stories told and I look forward to seeing what this week adds to the phenomenal work already done.

  • Justice League #23.4: The Secret Society acts as the bridge between Forever Evil and the rest of Villains Month. Mired in secrets, writer Geoff Johns is clearly setting up reveals for the final or penultimate chapters of his Forever Evil series and stringing readers along for the ride. There is a very engrossing narrative in this issue, with the meat of revelation coming from what is said outside of the story juxtaposed against little things mentioned in dialogue. The issue opens with Alfred Pennyworth of Earth-3, the Outsider, telling the reader that he and Owlman each have a secret. Going forward we see how a Wayne family of four, consisting of Martha and Thomas Wayne and their two sons running for their lives through an alleyway. They are stopped at gunpoint and told to empty out their pockets and their purse . . . in the name of the law.  Since this is Earth-3, of course the benevolent Wayne family would be degenerate criminals. What happens next is masked from sight, and the narrative jumps to the “present” with a fully realized Owlman, who has subjugated Gotham entirely under his absolute control, racing across rooftops, in pursuit of the Joker and searching for his errant side-kick, Talon. The Talon is in fact still Dick Grayson and his parents were still murdered. Alfred mentions offhandedly that Owlman should never have told Dick the truth, which insinuates that Owlman killed them to make Dick into something else.  Alfred also says that Dick was the closest thing Owlman had to a brother, something that even Bruce couldn’t provide him.  It was said before both in Justice League #23 and Forever Evil #1, but Owlman is NOT the Bruce Wayne of Earth-3.  He’s the Batman archetype that fills that role, but Bruce was killed with his parents at the beginning, or so it would seem.  Owlman is Thomas Wayne, and taking into account the mention by Alfred of Bruce not being the brother he needed, the revelation that Alfred killed both Thomas’s parents, and the shot at the beginning of four Waynes running for their lives, it can be deduced that Thomas is Thomas Wayne Jr.  The double intrigue for me comes with the earlier introduction of a Thomas Wayne Jr in Scott Snyder’s inaugural arc of Batman entitled the “Court of Owls” in which Bruce’s supposed brother becomes a near Owlman facsimile in our reality. I wonder which came first, Snyder’s Thomas Jr or Johns’, because as far as I can recall, Owlman of Earth-3 has always been Bruce Wayne in past CSA stories.  Either way, Dick is an integral piece in this puzzle for many reasons and it’s that bond that is so crucial in Owlman’s undoing. The Joker, being an antagonist of Owlman and a denizen of Earth-3, is conversely a force for good. He is a force of chaos that stands to topple absolute power unilaterally wielded in Gotham by Owlman. He is also a man that despite his madness is touched by human suffering and fights to free his city of it. But in a world with absolute evil omnipresent, a hero like the Joker is a very stark hero indeed, as evinced by the five “gifts” the Joker gives to Owlman. Not long after their ultimate encounter the skies turn red and Owlman is informed by Ultraman that something is attacking their world. Another jump in time brings the reader to the moment which began the New DCU starting with the events of Justice League #1. The Outsider and Atomica enter our world by unknown means with the rest of the Crime Syndicate of America left on Earth-3. It was this glimpse that we saw at the end of Justice League #6 a year and a half ago when the Outsider began recruiting for the Secret Society. What this issue did that was the most interesting was qualifying the capture of Nightwing by the CSA and what it really means in the long term. I have developed mixed feelings about Geoff Johns’ writing of late, but he’s legitimately got me excited about Forever Evil. Don’t screw it up, Geoff.JusticeLeagueSecretSociety1

    JusticeLeagueSecretSociety2

    The Joker. This is What a Hero Looks Like on Earth-3.

  • Action Comics #23.4: Metallo is the second Superman themed Villains Month issue that Sholly Fisch, Action Comics backup writer during Grant Morrison’s run, attempts. Like Bizarro in the first batch of villains, this one played to Morrison gold, but fell a little flat.  John Corben has always been a psychotic, but this issue did nothing to elaborate on that or do anything interesting. Corben was in a coma after the events of Action Comics #8, and this issue picks up on General Sam Lane’s attempts to wake him up with as many government and military resources as he can muster. Corben continues his sociopathic tendencies, eliciting nothing interesting to readers, but rather making us question why the HELL Sam Lane has so much faith in such a giant loser. But even Sam Lane’s patience is pressed as the issue unfolds.  After reading this, I don’t feel enlightened or entertained, which seems like a wasted effort.
  • Aquaman #23.2: Ocean Master was somewhat unpleasant to read, but that isn’t to say that it wasn’t extremely good. On the contrary, it was a very honest, stark look at the character of the deposed king of Atlantis and Aquaman’s little brother, Orm. Growing up beneath the sea and never experiencing the upper world, coupled with the tragic events of his ill-informed, disastrous invasion of the United States, he has a very misanthropic attitude towards humanity and this issue showcases that quite vividly. But like any person sat down to look at a passionate figure that stands up against the evils that their own way of life perpetuates, it is both intriguing and hard to see him HATE humans so much and so stubbornly. “We aren’t all like that,” you might say, but unfortunately enough people are to warrant his hatred and this issue portrays that very well. However, his inability to see outside of his hate does remain a serious issue that taints his credibility as a mouthpiece for his cause. In these Villains Month issues I find myself asking throughout several, “Is this person really that bad or do they still have something left inside them that makes them not evil?”  Again, I maintained from the start that Orm was a noble man that ruled justly, because of his honor and moral stength. Throughout this issue and considering what happened to him after the Atlantean War he is tested to the breaking point, but whether he breaks or weathers the storm is something that will have to be discovered by reading this issue. A moment in this issue appropriate to this topic is the encounter he has with a guard who recognizes his bitter succeptibility to dehydration and goes out of his way to make sure Orm is given water to prevent discomfort and the later meeting with him following the opening of Belle Reve when that same guard is badly hurt. It is in that encounter along with the issue’s last panel after he rebukes a terrified mother’s entreaties to saved her eight year old son from being murdered by escaped Belle Reve convicts that Orm’s character is TRULY revealed to readers. Once again Tony Bedard steps in and writes Geoff Johns’ Aquaman stories for him, as he did with the Black Manta issue. You can feel Geoff Johns’ influence in the plot, but the writing has all of Bedard’s subtlety and skill. Geraldo Borges provides pencils on this special issue and proves to be an apt choice, mimicking the beautiful style of Ivan Reis, who began this title with Johns solidifying the feel of it. Overall, I love the character of Orm (Ocean Master) and I am impressed with how Bedard and Johns have treated him in it. Definitely something worth reading.

    A King's Mercy

    A King’s Mercy.

  • Green Lantern :23.4: Sinestro is another issue, like Ocean Master above, that aptly captures the essence of greatness and the cost of that destiny.  Sinestro is perhaps one of the most complex characters that has emerged in modern comics.  On one side he was the greatest Lantern that ever lived (unless you are of the Hal Jordan camp), epitomizing great strength of mind, body, and will, but conversely he is also a man who is very haughty, callus, and harsh.  Writer Matt Kindt takes up the history of Sinestro from the perspective of Lyssa Drak, former Yellow Lantern and archivist of the Book of Sinestro (the Yellow Lantern’s official history and ledger). Though far from objective, she was imprisoned by Sinestro when he became a Green Lantern again, so she has reason to dislike him as much as she does to revere him.  Through her eyes we see Sinestro before he received his ring and the path he took once he embraced his new role as intergalactic watchman. That path is circuitous to be sure and fraught with both misdeed and virtue. From the moment he gets the ring he makes tough decisions that he judges are for the greater good, and truly despite small evils his people and those of his sector of space are better for it . . . for a time. But as he continues to sacrifice and work toward the betterment of his planet Korugar he moves down a dark path that begins to separate him from his “humanity.” Kindt shows his marriage to Arin Sur, the sister of his best friend in the Green Lantern Corps, Abin Sur (predecessor of Hal Jordan), and how even his deep seemingly unending love for Arin could not match his devotion to “protecting” his people through tyrannical means. I am not sure if Kindt is a student of history, but his writing of this issue really rings true in its parallels to the rise of many dictators in our own planet’s history. But despite his despotic overtones, Lyssa makes a very compelling point. Throughout the many troubles that have befallen them during his lifetime, Sinestro was always there when he was needed. Despite the destruction of his homeworld by the First Lantern, the survivors of Korugar will need him in coming days. The question remains if he will return to guide them when they need him the most?
  • Batman/Superman #3.1: Doomsday was a very complex story and one I am not quite sure I understood entirely. Luckily, I know that this issue is functioning as a precursor for a Doomsday arc in the Batman/Superman title, which is likewise being done by this issue’s creative team, writer Greg Pak and artist Brett Booth.  Both bring out their A-game and further the mythological development of Old Krypton.  Opening on a Kryptonian holiday called “Remembrance Day” the Brothers El seem to be of at peace with the observation, but their wives are quite the opposite.  Alura Zor-El is more of the mind to remember the carnage it embodies.  Lara Jor-El, who was at the forefront of the incident the holiday commemorates, is also cynical of its true purpose, choosing to call it “Doomsday.”  As she begins to recount her tale the time frame is uncertain, but can’t be more than five or six years prior considering the physical depictions of the characters past and “present.” Lara rushes home in full Kryptonian armor  bearing the crest of her husband’s family proudly on her chest, and gets Jor-El to safety before going after a monstrous beast that is tearing the capital to pieces.  We know from the sight of it that this is the beast called “Doomsday.” It is strong. It is unstoppable. It is without conscience, thought, or motivation besides wanton death and destruction. There truly is no defeating the beast and it bears down on Lara after a long fight she and many other heroes of Krypton make against it.  She is going to die, before salvation comes in the form of Col. Dru-Zod and his chosen elites. The actual ending of this story is cut off as the very young Kara Zor-El, future Supergirl, is awoken and cries out in terror, prompting her father, Zor-El, to go in and talk to her. When he tries to explain what happened to the monster and later to General Zod, sugar coating it, she demands to know the truth and not just kid stories. For whatever reason Zor-El tells her a story of the “Last Knight of the House of El” and his battle with this beast on another world.  It is told like a fairy tale and the details exaggerated, but what writer Greg Pak really does is reassert the “Death of Superman” story from 1992 in battle with Doomsday. Though it still is a kid story and has a “happy ending” Kara accepts it and acknowledges that she will someday be a knight like in the story. What follows is where my uncertainty enters. After her father leaves, the “ghost” of General Zod comes out of Kara’s closet and begins speaking with her about the truth of the Doomsday attack. From his rhetoric there is an ambiguity of whether Zod knows anything about where the beast came from, if he is responsible for its creation and unleashing, is not responsible but just thankful for it, or whether he IS the beast, as well. His ghost takes the shape of Doomsday several times making it seem like the latter most possibility is the case, but his words seem to vacillate back and forth. What is certain is his intention for Krypton is to make it strong through trauma and keep his people’s spirits sharp through hardships that will ensure their vigilance. Though she’s only a child, Kara stands up to one of the greatest boogeymen of Kryptonian history like a champ.  This issue sets up a great many things to be clarified in future comics, but it also reinforces a great many things we have seen of Krypton’s past just before its destruction.  Lara is shown to be the valiant soldier and her husband Jor-El to be the visionary scientist and dreamer. Zor-El is characterized as a selfless, loving father.  Kara is a tough-as-nails daughter of El that doesn’t give an inch, even as a tiny girl, literally facing down the monster that lives in her closet. Great issue on all fronts.BatmanSupermanDoomsday1

    Warrior Women of the House of El.

    Warrior Women of the House of El.

  • Detective Comics #23.4: Man-Bat brings to a point one of the starkest side stories in the Bat titles since the Reboot, that of Kirk Langstrom and his atavistic bat serum.  It turns him into a giant bat man capable of flight, superhuman feats of strength, and other bat related abilities.  John Layman introduced Langstrom and his wife, Francine, into the New DCU in the landmark 900th issue of Detective Comics.  In that issue he also revealed the lengths Francine would go to stay close to her man, even dosing herself with the bat serum.  Touching at first, her motivations prove to be less than affectionate.  She was hired to get close to him and steal his formula.  Modifying it a bit, she became stronger than him and also became addicted to it.  Cut to the opening of this issue and Francine flying into a park and abducting a small child from a jungle gym for feasting.  Thankfully, a more controlled Man-Bat enters the fray and emancipates the child.  Kirk is able to defeat his ex-wife and save the day, and in light of the disappearance of Batman and the descent of Gotham into chaos he decides that with his serum he can be the Bat Man that his city needs.   To paraphrase the rest of the plot, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  The desire to be a hero doesn’t necessarily yield one, especially when a de-evolutionary serum is thrown into the mix.  Frank Tieri writes this issue with Scott Eaton on pencils, and overall the product feels like an extended backup feature from Detective, which is definitely a compliment.  Man-Bat has been crafted into a very compelling character striding the line between hero and villain with great alacrity.

    Harsh Justice

    Harsh Justice.

  • Superman #23.4: Parasite was REALLY good.  I’m not the biggest Parasite fan, but this issue had me hooked.  I’ve been looking forward to both Aaron Kuder’s story and art.  The art is solid, obviously, but Kuder also has a way with words.  When describing Suicide Slums, in which the main character, Joshua Michael Allen lives, Kuder compares it to “If Gotham and Detroit had a love child, this would be it.”  Allen is a dirtbag bike messenger that just coasts through life leaching off others until he gets assaulted by a giant plasma monster.  Afterward, his leg is broken and his livelihood taken from him.  When S.T.A.R Labs calls to examine him he is inadvertently transformed into a shriveled purple monster with serious periodontal issues and an insatiable hunger.  Soon he realizes that the only way to feed the hunger is to suck the life force out of the people he comes in contact with . . . killing them.  This barely sates his ravenous appetite until the Parasite comes into contact with Superman and is SUPERcharged with the power dripping off the Man of Steel’s enhanced Kryptonian biology.  When Supes hits Parasite with his heat-vision the blast that would level buildings and kill most living things actually makes the burgeoning supervillain balloon and take on many of Superman’s abilities.  Being a smart cookie and owing to Allen’s noob status as a villain Superman eventually figures out how to contain him and he is sent to Belle Reve.  However, he leaves Parasite with a taste of Kryptonian power and like a man-eating shark, Parasite’ll feed on other things to survive, but seek out his desired prey just for the taste.  That prey is Superman.  With the opening of prisons in Forever Evil #1 Parasite is once again released upon the outside world and free to feed.  Aaron Kuder performed a miracle with this issue, basically ramrodding a complete origin story into a twenty page comic, and what’s more he makes it both succinct and entertaining, not at all rushed or half-cocked.  There are no questions left about what happened to Parasite or what his motivations are.  Seasoned comic book writers have tried and failed this month to do what Kuder did here, and to my knowledge this is his first time writing.  Well done all around, Mr. Kuder.  You’ve made me a believer and a fan of Parasite.

    That Happened.

    That Happened.

  • Batman #23.4: Bane was yet another issue that falls under the category “a means to an end.”  All this issue did was set up Bane’s connection to the coming series Forever Evil: Arkham War.  Bane is going to Gotham with his army of mercenaries from Santa Prisca to take vengeance on the Court of Owls and presumably on Batman, even though the word is out that Batman and the Justice League are dead.  It is never broached as to whether Bane is aware of the rumors or not, so I choose to assume that he doesn’t know or he would have mentioned it.  Breaking Batman is one of the things he holds onto to make himself feel adequate.  Should he know that someone else killed Batman I think he would have gone into a berserker rage and made sure to put them on his list.  Peter Tomasi is a fantastic writer, but in this issue he really didn’t do anything new or provocative.  Let’s chock this up to” too much on his plate” and move on.
  • Batman & Robin #23.4: Killer Croc was a very pleasant surprise. I am not overly aware of writer Tim Seeley’s former work, but I am a fan of artist Francis Portela so I gave it a shot. It opens with a Gotham City SWAT team moving through the sewers in full tactical gear. Their aim is not mentioned. However, from a culvert at their feet Croc’s eyes are visible to us, but not to his . . . guests’. Needless to say, Croc waits for a good moment and gives many of them the last surprise of their lives. A few do escape, wounded, and stumble upon vagrants living in the sewers.  Asking for help, they are brutally assaulted by the homeless masses who are acolytes of Croc.  While all this brutality goes on in the issue, Seeley injects several flashbacks to Croc’s youth as a kid with a nasty skin condition that gives him crocodiles skin, making him an outcast with children his own age and with his aunt who takes care of him. Growing up he is still treated like a freak and his gentle soul exploited by bad people.  As the narrative continues in the present the two surviving SWAT cops try to make it out, only for one to find a dead one armed police detective strung up blocking their exit. This is the turning point of the issue.  Croc didn’t kill this man, the SWAT cops did!  They were a dirty unit and the one armed cop, Det. O’Hoolihan wouldn’t play ball with their racketeering so they shot him and tossed his body into Gotham Harbor.  But later they got a note telling them to come to sewer at the harbor with money in exchange for evidence against them.  Obviously, it wasn’t O’Hoolihan who sent the message. Obviously it was Croc, setting a trap and savoring the kill of each and every man and woman in that unit, often times in front of one another so the survivors could dread their turn after seeing the bloody mess he made of their fellows. Their terror is palpable and not just a little bit satisfying to the reader. So Croc finally, after mangling the final cop, puts him out of his misery as the latter screams to know “what it was all about?” The assumption, considering Croc’s criminal record and hatred of the law, is that he just jumped at the opportunity to kill some cops and have some fun.  But after all the flashbacks to Croc’s alienating history based solely on his bestial appearance and his narration of human being being themselves cruel animals that fall under the most primitive drives, there is one last flashback to Croc’s childhood with his abusive aunt.  Sitting on a stoop getting berated by local kids, a one armed cop walking his beat brings Croc some ice cream and tells him that he is not only not a freak, but that he has the potential to be something great if he believes in himself. When there is such a scarcity of people in the world that show genuine kindness and mercy, the loss of such people over petty things like grift money and corruption is a jagged pill to swallow, and Croc, realizing that life isn’t fair, made it a little bit more so by staging his little hunt in the sewers and turning the hunters into mewling game. After the killing and the bloodletting cease, he has his people in the sewer take down O’Hoolihan’s body, make a funeral pyre and give him a Viking funeral into the harbor.  All the while, as a eulogy to a good man, Croc tells the outcast people of Gotham under his protection the same lessons that the departed policeman told him. People will tell you that you are nothing and spit on you, but you can prove them wrong and show them what true strength looks like. I’m not the biggest fan of Killer Croc, but Seeley’s story about the man turned into a beast by society’s shunning, but maintaining a strict sense of honor and loyalty to virtue really resonated and Portela’s artwork was an integral part in conveying the ferocious anger and consequent sadness of the title character throughout the harsh moments of his life. This issue was an unexpected gem.Batman&RobinKillerCroc1

    Evil Can Be Killed, But Kinnness Never Dies.

    Evil Can Be Killed, But Kinnness Never Dies.

  • Batman: The Dark Knight #23.4: Joker’s Daughter was unnecessary. The concept of Duela Dent has been intriguing in the past, but writer Ann Nocenti kind of went off the reservation on this one. Duela is a messed up girl that had an idyllic childhood and yet still grew up twisted. So far it still retains promise. But then she runs away and tries to live in a subterranean community of former Arkham inmates and vagrants  They don’t listen to her until she finds the Joker’s face floating in the water, from when he jumped into the underground river in Batman #17. She of course puts it on and magically people start listening. I think what bothered me most was the pretense that she stands for something when really the subtext is that she stands for nothing. The Joker doesn’t stand for anything, and in the event that he has a pet project his actions, insane though they may be, work towards actualizing the desired end. Her actions and historical contexts fall far from reconciling one another. Annoyance aside, there is nothing substantial to take away from the issue.  A real pity . . .
  • Justice League of America #7.4: Black Adam was a pleasant surprise as well, when it shouldn’t have been relegated to being a surprise in the first place.  Black Adam is a fantastic character and has fantastic potential.  With Geoff Johns’ incredible foul up of his SHAZAM! backup feature in Justice League the concept of Black Adam also falls under suspicion. However, like all the other issues conceived of by Geoff Johns and written by someone else, this issue comes off beautifully. Sterling Gates does the honors on this one and Edgar Salazar provides pencils. We had been told of Black Adam’s past in his North African nation of Kahndaq in the pages of Justice League #19, wherein four thousand years ago an invading force under the rulership of a man named Ibac the First took control of his country and murdered his people by the thousands.  Teth Adam whose sworn duty it was to defend his people did so and turned Ibac and his men to stone as a reminder to those that would oppress the people of Kahndaq. Though the statues remain, Kahndaq has sunken into chaos not unlike the Egypt and Syria of our reality. And like those countries there is a schism of action by those being oppressed. The characters of Amon and Adrianna are reintroduced into the New DCU to illustrate this schism. These two characters were once Osiris and Isis in past incarnations of the Black Adam story when they said the name of the Wizard, but this time are just normal middle eastern siblings trying to make the world right through non-powered means. Adrianna is a non-violent protester that used social media to broadcast the struggle to world audiences. Amon has gotten involved in a militant movement called the “Sons of Adam,” who still view Black Adam as their nation’s savior. Black Adam was reduced to dust in his confrontation with Captain Marvel in the pages of Justice League, but as seen in Justice League #22 that same superhero deposited the collected ashes in the Kahndaqi desert out of respect. The Sons of Adam intend to read a passage from a lost scroll of the Egyptian Book of the Dead to resurrect him so that he can aid their people. The military crash the ritual and Adrianna who was tipped off follows to warn her brother. Amon is shot before he can finish the incantation, which Adrianna does for him, bringing forth Teth Adam from the land of the dead. Adam makes short work of the army and goes to the dictator of Kahndaq to do as he did millennia ago. Amon seemingly dies and the pacifistic Adrianna takes up a fallen AK-47, while casting off her beliefs in non-violence. Black Adam cuts a very different figure from his shoddy representation in Justice League’s back up stories. The pettiness is gone. Upon being awoken and his followers prostrating themselves before him he chides them to never kneel to anyone. When he faces the current day despot ruling Kahndaq (who chose to take the name Ibac for its connotations) Black Adam crushes him with the stone throne of that first tyrant. Not long after that Black Adam sees the Crime Syndicate’s announcement to the people of Earth-1, “This World Is Ours.” His reply? A very angry exclamation of, “This world belongs to NO ONE.” Black Adam is a very violent man, but he is a fair man. He can be very harsh, but he is a proponent of freedom and individualism. Geoff Johns really blew it when he first wrote him into the New DCU. I would love to know who actually came up with the depiction here, because while I want to believe that Johns is still capable of writing compelling characters like this, he has a VERY bad track record over the last two years. Either way, this issue was very informative and definitely an important issue for the overall storyline of Forever Evil.JLA-BlackAdam1

    The Face of Freedom.

    The Face of Freedom.

  • Wonder Woman #23.2: First Born is one of those rare issues this month that basically could be an issue of the regular series. The Count Vertigo issue was the only other example that comes to mind. Both First Born and Count Vertigo are written by their regular series writer, Brian Azzarello in the case of First Born, and drawn by regular series artists. The only thing that separates them from regular issues is the absence of their titular heroes. Wonder Woman doesn’t appear in a single frame. There is a prophesy illustration with a skeleton that might be her’s, but that hardly counts considering the lack of costume or armaments to prove it’s actually her. What it does is depict Apollo gaining custody of his eldest brother, the First Born’s unconscious body, and having his trio of modern day urban oracles channeling the forgotten god’s history. We’ve heard the story piecemeal over the past year since the awakening of the First Born, but this issue strings those pieces together and gives us a visual narrative of it as it unfolds.  Zeus has a son by his lawful wife, Hera, but a witch foresees that this child would one day rule Olympus alone, so Zeus had him killed to protect his throne. The baby didn’t die, but rather was raised by animals and became a terror of mankind. When he finally grew to manhood and had built an empire and an army at his back he assaulted Olympus to take what was his. Zeus soundly defeated him, took his weapons and armor and consigned him to the bowels of the Earth to be forgotten. When he awoke the prophesies began anew. Zeus proclaimed that if he ceased to be or left Olympus the throne would be open for the First Born to take, if he could manage it. There also was a prophesy that there would be a great war and great fire before the throne was decided. In the final image one man is standing, one man is burning, and a woman is watching. The woman is thought to be Wonder Woman, and the men are Apollo and the First Born, but the identity of the man standing and the one burning is not certain. Brian Azzarello has a very singular vision of this title that has stretch over two full years. This issue cuts to the very heart of both the main character of Wonder Woman and the mythological relevance of her place in the DCU. What also is exciting is that this issue feature the VERY first depiction of Zeus himself. He has been talked about endlessly, and his desertion of the throne of Olympus has caused no end of strife, but we have never seen him. Here we see a figure that is very much like Hera when we first beheld her. In the beginning she was totally nude, but for a cloak of bright green peacock feathers. In this issue, Zeus is a vibrant, muscular, bearded man wearing a cloak of feathers (they seem to be either eagle feathers or swan feathers) and nothing else. The depiction seems apt, considering Ancient Greek depictions of masculinity vis-a-vis naked soldiers and athletes. Overall, very well done and intriguing storytelling.
  • Adventures of Superman #5 

    provides two tales of the Man of Steel by writers Nathan Edmondson and Kyle Killen, and artists Yildiray Cinar and Pia Guerra.  In Edmondson and Cinar’s tale, “Infant in Arms”, an alien ship crashes to earth outside of Jackson, Missouri.  The military try to blow it up before its occupant can exit, but Superman steps in and reveals that like himself, the extraterrestrial ark holds an infant that looks exactly like a human baby but for her purple skin.  A dying sentry within the ship informs Superman that she is Princess Aria, but is able to say no more before death takes him.  Soon militants from her world come to kill her.  Superman not only must keep her safe, but also take care of her and her many infantile needs.  The story has no real ending, but gives endless possibilities for one.  Killen’s story depicts one of the most tragic realities of Superman’s life and something that most people are reticent to admit: Superman is not infallible.  Two boys who idolize Superman sit in a parked car on railroad tracks. The driver, Mike, is convinced that Superman will save them and they will be able to meet him.  His companion Henry is not so sure.  It is not said outright that they are brothers, but the implication at the end infers it greatly.  The issue proceeds with Lex Luthor perpetuating flashy crime after flashy crime and Superman stops them each in turn, but in doing so he fails to stop the train and Mike is killed in his car, waiting.  When Luthor is asked in prison by a guard whether losing to Superman gets boring, Luthor demonstrates that he isn’t actually losing, and betrays the genius of his strategy.  Luthor never would engage in an endeavor that he would fail at outright.  In the short term he does lose and is imprisoned for short periods of time, but in the long run, by distracting Superman with his elaborate crimes he prevents the Man of Steel from saving people and those left behind are filled with resentment.  True to his vision, Henry ends the issue by going through Mike’s room, ripping down all his Superman paraphernalia and burning them outside his home.  “In that way you can think of me as Johnny Appleseed spreading a healthy disdain fro Superman’s nonsense.”  The scary thing is that Luthor is correct.  People don’t want to believe that Superman can fail, and when he was depicted in a manner of not being able to save everyone in this summer’s Man of Steel movie, people went NUTS over it!  Superman isn’t Supergod, he’s SuperMAN.  Outside the comic and inside, people seem to be unable to accept his limitations and that very weakness in humanity is a commodity that Luthor capitalizes on like any ruthless business man.  The Adventures of Superman title is really amazing in the very poignant tales it weaves of Superman and this issue epitomizes that promise.

    The Evil Genius of Lex Luthor

    The Evil Genius of Lex Luthor

  • Jupiter’s Legacy #3 takes a very sharp turn.  After gaining superpowers in the 1930’s by visiting a mysterious island that adventurer Sheldon Sampson sought out after seeing it in a dream, he and his companions became the guardians of America through the decades.  The title centers around these aged paragons of heroics and justice faltering in the 21st century as their children become drunken reprobates and partiers and the country yet again stands on the brink of financial ruin as it was in the 30’s when they got their powers.  The question that pervaded the first two issues is what they should do about it.  The Utopian (Sheldon Sampson) believes that it is not their job to enforce policy or intervene in politics, only watch and support the elected officials and let them do whatever they feel is right.  His brother Walter, who is both a genius and a telepath, believes that they need to intervene and aid the elected officials and make sure the corrupt ones don’t sour the barrel.  There are legitimate points on either side, but in the first two issues writer Mark Millar tends to depict Walter as a voice of reason and fairness.  He doesn’t draw the line on liberal or conservative or democrat or republican, only what things need to be done to fix the current economic downfall.  Contrarily, Sheldon is portrayed as a starry eyed idealist that defines laissez faire and reacts harshly to anyone that would burst that bubble or question his mandates.  He is also a very harsh father that takes a hardline of his son and daughter’s behaviors and openly calls them disappointments.  This issue flips that concept on its head.  Sheldon’s daughter Chloe was revealed to be pregnant last issue and the father of her child was the son of one of the Utopian’s former villains.  This man, Hutch, works primarily as a high end drug dealer.  The issue begins with Hutch meeting the Utopian and being told rather civilly that he won’t be allowed to have a part in Chloe or her baby’s lives.  However, elsewhere plots are brewing and they quickly develop as Sheldon is lured into a trap set by his own allies who K.O. him after he is pummeled by a meteor they hurdled at Earth which he intercepts.  Others including Walter go to his home and murder his wife, Grace, and attempt to murder Chloe and her unborn child, but for the intervention of Hutch, who warps his lover, child, and himself across the world numerous times until they are untraceable.  In the meantime a legion of super-powered “friends” beat the fallen Utopian to a pulp until his son Brandon arrives to deliver the final deathblow to his father.  While doing so, there is of course the inevitable “I didn’t fail you, you failed me” speech, and to an extent everything Brandon said has merit, but not to the extent that his actions invoke.  The death of his mother and the attempted murder of his pregnant sister are abhorrent and they cast a very bad light on the figure of Walter who seemingly was a pillar of reason before.  Many things can be said of Mark Millar’s writing, but regardless of what faults there are, one guiding truth is that his plots are very socially aware and deliver very moving point/counterpoint arguments within.  One man is a monster in one issue only to be made into a martyr in the next and one man cast as a saint turned into an inhuman monster.  Children are misled and turned against their parents.  Youths falter through self doubt and confusion in the quest for significance.  Jupiter’s Legacy is a very compelling series in only three issues that begs to be read for both Millar’s very stark, complex drama and the gorgeous illustrations by fellow Scotsman, Frank Quitely.  Even for those who do not like Millar this is a series that should be given a chance free of prejudice.

    Fathers and Sons.

    Fathers and Sons.

  • The Wake #4 

    continues Scott Snyder’s ingenious limited series delving into the science of the supernatural.  His work on the seminal American Vampire series not only catapulted him into comics superstardom it provided a refreshing breath of fresh air to the vampire genre made stagnant and putrescent by hacks like Stephanie Meyer and other teen romance writers.  Uniting with artist Sean Murphy, who aided Snyder on his American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest limited series, the two tackle another underutilized cyptozoological wonder: mermaids, or to be more fair, mer-folk. Mer people have existed in one form or another in many mythologies throughout the world regardless of culture.  This issue contains a fascinating myth of a fabled Dutch city and its run in with a mermaid.  While this series is only four issues into a ten issue run Snyder is still holding many cards close to his chest.  However, the story so far is that marine biologist Lee Archer is brought into a super secret deep sea drilling station by a government agency with a ragtag group of scientist and criminals to examine and contain a fishman caught near the rig.  This is the factual basis of merfolk lore and like the vampires of Snyder’s other series, endowed with many scientifically explained features while simultaneously shrouded in numerous mysteries.  Snyder makes them seem perfectly plausible, but also incredibly wondrous like many creatures one would find near the ocean floor that actually exist.  The merman is not as weak as they anticipate and it frees itself and calls its fellows down on the station.  The remnants of the expedition are overrun and attempt an escape.  This issue has them finding temporary sanctuary in the emptied but pressurized pipeline leading from the drill to the station.  But the mer people are on either side and there is no escape.  However, the aforementioned fable of the Dutch city of Saeftinghe gives Lee an idea that could just save them.  The idea stems from a very real experiment the Navy has been conducting over the past several years outside of the comic that has maimed many marine mammals, most notably whales and dolphins.  Snyder doesn’t justify its usage and through Lee actually makes a compelling case for its cessation.  However, when dealing with evil marine men that are ravenous killing machines certain exceptions can be made.  It’s only four issues in but the story and art make it a package deal of entertainment for the intellect and the soul.

    The Legend of Saeftinghe.

    The Legend of Saeftinghe.

  • The Unwritten #53 brings forth the fourth installment of a five issue Unwritten/Fables crossover. An evil ebon cloaked entity calling himself Mr. Dark has descended upon the land of Fables, taking lives, possessions, land, and even families. Snow White is made into a darker version of herself and made his consort, her husband the Big Bad Wolf is chained in a dungeon, and Snow White and Big B’s children adopted as Dark’s. Boy Blue and Rose Red are murdered. The Fables live in the Enchanted Grove, constantly living in fear.  To remedy this the magic users of Fabletown summon Tommy Taylor and his friends Sue Sparrow and Peter Price to intercede. Since they fall outside the stories that comprise Fabletown, they are an unknown variable that could throw Mr. Dark off his game. Last issue, both Lizzie Hexam and Pullman were drawn from the ether and told Dark exactly who Tommy is and what he is. They also revealed that there are other worlds and other stories outside that are open for conquest. The stakes are high and everyone settles their affairs before the final battle with Dark. Prince Ambrose (The Frog Prince) has the Enchanted Grove cut down for Gepetto to sculpt into an army of animated wooden soldiers. Once cut down the Grove can never be regrown. As the battle commences more Fables loose their lives setting the stage for the apocalyptic finale that will determine the future of two series. No pressure. The Unwritten has been a jaw dropping comic since its first issue. Coupled with the iconic Fables this title establishes its place in comic history.

  • T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 

    begins the next incarnation of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents under the IDW imprint. The DC iteration that wrapped up two years ago was phenomenal. Two issues in and this new series appears to uphold that tradition. The DC series written by Nick Spencer was a swansong to all that had been before. The original runs beginning in the 60’s and marching forward through the 80’s and 90’s are all honored and Spencer’s Agents inherit their T.H.U.N.D.E.R. devices and code-names from the original bearers, essentially using them to end the cycle of violence that begat them and become the final Agents of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Those survivors from the beginning of T.H.U.N.D.E.R either bow out or are put down. The starkest moment comes in the last issue of the first half of Spencer’s run when the daughter of the original Dynamo, Len Brown, and the Iron Maiden has her mother murdered by a woman the ironclad villainess had grossly disfigured in a terrorist attack. All loose ends were sewn up. This series, conversely, begins at the beginning as The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves try to find agents to wield the devices created by the world renowned genius, Prof. Jennings, who mysteriously vanished before explaining them.  Last issue they selected Len Brown to wield the Thunder Belt to become the agent code-named Dynamo. Inserted via airlift into Kashmir, Dynamo and the agent code-named NoMAN attempt to invade the Iron Maiden’s cave lair. Randomly injected into the narrative is a hazy memory of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Director Kane’s childhood of daring-do with her red headed sister, Kelly. Seemingly irrelevant, its significance come through later in the issue. Meanwhile, Dynamo meets two T.H.U.N.D.E.R. moles within Iron Maiden’s ranks, and eventually the lady herself. As it was in the first issue of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents from 1965 Iron Maiden captures Dynamo. Both issues of the series end enticingly on high drama cliffhangers. Writer Phil Hester really does have a knack for writing this complex super-hero/espionage/sci-fi title. I highly suggest picking up both the first and second issues of this series and get in on the ground floor.

So ends the week and Villains Month.  Next week we get back to the ongoing storylines put on hold from August.  Though it’ll be nice to get back to normal, it’ll also be sad seeing these characters and their compelling albeit villainous deeds relegated to uncertainty.  It was a good month.

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 #23.4: The Secret Society: Art by Szymon Kudranski, Colored by John Kalisz.

Aquaman #23.2: Oceran Master: Drawn by Geraldo Borges, Colored by Rod Reis, Inked by Ruy Jose.

Batman/Superman #3.1: Doomsday: Drawn by Brett Booth, Colored by Andrew Dalhouse, Inked by Norm Rapmund.

Detectice Comics #23.4: Man-Bat: Drawn by Scot Eaton, Colored by Jeromy Cox, Inked by Jaime Mendoza.

Superman #23.4: Parasite: Art by Aaron Kuder, Colored by Tomeu Morey.

Batman & Robin #23.4: Killer Croc: Art by Francis Portela, Colored by Tomeu Morey.

Justice League of America #7.4: Black Adam: Drawn by Edgar Salazar, Colored by Gabe Eltaeb, Inked by Jay Leisten.

Adventures of Superman #5: Art by Pia Guerra, Colored by Matthew Wilson.

Jupiter’s Legacy #3: Art by Frank Quitely, Colored by Peter Doherty

The Wake #4: Art by Sean Murphy, Colored by Matt Hollingsworth

Week 87 (May 1, 2013)

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

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

    Beware the Claw!

    Beware the Claw!

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

    The Emperor of Gotham

    The Emperor of Gotham

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

    The Outsiders

    The Outsiders

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

    Wisdom of Superman

    Wisdom of Superman

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

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

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

Illustration Credits:

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

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

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

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

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

Week 83 (April 3, 2013)

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

    A Wife's Love

    The Psychiatrist and the Psychopath

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

    A Wife's Love

    A Wife’s Love

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

    The Truth Comes Out

    The Truth Comes Out

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

    Miracles Do Happen

    Miracles Do Happen

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

    Batwing Goes Out With A Bang

    Batwing Goes Out With A Bang

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

Week 79 (March 6, 2013)

This first week of March brings together a very decent batch of comics to kick off the month’s crop.  Superman #17 concludes the massive “H’el on Earth” event, Green Lantern #18 brings the “Wrath of the First Lantern” into the Realm of the Dead, Green Arrow #18 strides on towards redeeming the title, Swamp Thing and Animal Man FINALLY get their true conclusion to the “Rot World” crossover, and Before Watchmen: Rorschach also reaches its conclusion.  So much ending and so much marching on.  Here it goes:

  • Superman #17 was a little late, but delivered a blowout finale to the “H’el on Earth” crossover event.  At issue’s beginning NOTHING is going the right way for the heroes of Earth.  H’el’s craft has been fueled by the Sun’s electromagnetic field, which if not returned immediately would cause our solar system to collapse in on itself, ergo the Oracle arrival to witness the death of our world.  A high paced, thrill-a-minute issue, there is very little that can be said that doesn’t spoil the amazing events chronicled and concluded within.  What can be said is that the Justice League here is written head and shoulders above the team’s portrayal in their flagship title by Geoff Johns.  It’s almost like comparing a college thesis to a first grade science report.  Maybe now that Lobdell is on the verge of leaving Red Hood and the Outlaws he can take over Justice League and salvage it like he did Superman.  Lobdell truly shows his brilliance throughout this “H’el on Earth” event and artist Kenneth Rocafort draws it gorgeously in his incomparably style.  Literally, there is nothing that resembles is artwork in detail or in the surreal ambiance it elicits.  Truly A-grade material.   
  • Green Lantern #18 focuses almost entirely on Hal and Sinestro’s current exile in the “Dead Zone.”  There have been little snippets alluding to the fate of the two Lanterns after being sucked into the black ring at the end of the Green Lantern Annual this past August, but this issue finally reveals what the Dead Zone is, why they are there, and what its relevance to the existence of the First Lantern are.  As these last issues of the four Green Lantern titles progress, it is getting more and more apparent that the end is nigh.  The fundamental forces of the Universe are the enemies that dog our heroes as they progress toward that apocalyptic event that will be Green Lantern #20, out this May, and the end of the Green Lantern Universe as we’ve known it since 2005.  Simon Baz and Sinestro find their places in the coming showdown with Volthoom, the First Lantern, but Hal’s is perhaps the most frightening.  In the aforementioned Green Lantern Annual there was a prophesy in the Book of the Black that Hal Jordan will be the greatest Black Lantern.  This issue caps off on the precipice (literal and figurative) of his fulfilling that prediction.  Geoff Johns started this series from Rebirth like a rocket and it’s still soaring high with this phenomenal issue.  Series artist Doug Mahnke, who has been on the title since 2009 is absent this issue, replaced by Adrian Syaf, who draws the real world segments, and Szymon Kudranski, whose eerie art style aptly provides the Dead Zone portion.  Overall the issue tantalizes and informs in wonderful, captivating fashion.

    The Prophesy

    The Prophesy

  • Detective Comics #18 accomplishes two monumental things.  Firstly, and to lesser degree issue-wise, this installment of Detective Comics tells us that DC is playing for keeps with the death of Damian Wayne last week in Batman Incorporated #8.  It comprises a very small part of the plot, but the small scene of Bruce visiting the grave of his son is very powerful.  This is a man who buried his parents at a very young age, and now as an adult man scarred by that traumatic event and having dedicated his life to preventing such tragedies from happening again, he has to bury his ten year old son with whom he was just beginning to bond on a level I doubt he has since losing his parents.  Writer John Layman hints all of this beautifully in a mere two pages comprised of nine panels.  Brilliant.  The rest of the issue is dedicated to the aftermath of the Penguin’s part in the “Death of the Family” storyline.  Whisked away by the Joker, Penguin has been away from his empire and his holdings for a little too long and left them in the overly capable, but equally untrustworthy hands of his chief lieutenant, Ignatius Oglivy. Layman presented in the first issues of his run the establishment of himself as Gotham’s favorite son once again.  With that image, he keeps Batman at bay, preventing him from bringing punitive action against Penguin for his part in the Joker’s plot.  However, with his wealth and holdings withdrawn he is not able to evade Batman in the ways he had previously enjoyed.  Oglivy and Batman constitute two rivals whose indefatigability finally break the Penguin as he has never been broken before.  For those who view the Penguin as a keystone Batman villain, this first arc by John Layman tells a massive Penguin epic that promises to be one for which he will be remembered for years to come.  In the backup feature with art by guest artist Henrik Jonsson, Victor Zsasz gets his origin told for the first time, cementing his place in the New DCU canon.  Integrally tied into his origin is the Penguin, playing a part in his ruination that led him into the psychotic breakdown that lead to his obsession with chronicling his kills.  Their past and Penguin’s current state of vulnerability waxes ominous for Oswald Cobblepot in future issues of Detective.  Time will tell where and how far the Penguin will fall.

    Requiem for a Robin

    Requiem for a Robin

  • Before Watchmen: Rorschach #4 was, in my opinion, a little bit of a let down.  The series had promise as a blunt, hard edged look into an episode of Rorschach’s life that best exemplified his core essence.  Maybe that was the point and it just goes to show how pointless and nihilistic our modern society is.  Azzarello started the series out with a killer of women called the “Bard” carving poetry into the dead bodies of his victims.  On the other side of things, Rorschach goes up against a criminal kingpin called “Rawhead” owing to the massive scarring on his head from Vietnam.  In between fights with the underworld, Rorschach meets a cute waitress at his favorite all night restaurant, the Gunga Diner and they make plans to go on a date.  This waitress, Nancy, is approached by a man we know immediately to be the Bard at the end of the third issue.  Logically one would assume that there would be a connection, even a tertiary one, between Rawhead and the Bard so as to facilitate the two things happening at the same time.  Azzarello does not deliver on that and it is rather trite and arbitrary, which may be realistic, but is far from literary or cinematic, making the story fall apart at the end with little to walk away with.  Lee Bermejo doesn’t disappoint throughout all four issues and is the only consistently quality factor.
  • Swamp Thing #18 is the true conclusion to the “Rot World” event as well as Scott Snyder’s run on the title.  Scott Snyder is the one who truly got this series off the ground and imbued it with the genius that made it the success it was.  Creating with Jeff Lemire the idea of the Red to go alongside the concept of the Green which Swamp Thing has served since the 80’s, as well as taking perrenial Swamp Thing antagonist Anton Arcane and molding him and his into the avatars of a third force, the Rot, Synder has reimagined and reinvigorated what was once an incredible title into an even more complex, engaging series.  With the help of the Parliament of Rot, Swamp Thing and Animal Man  are sent through a portal through the very fabric of death itself back to before Anton Arcane finished his bid to turn our world into Rot World.  In this way, Alec Holland is returned to Abby before her uncle can kill her.  And by that same token he is able to actualize in her the potential for which she was born and that which will prevent the Rot from inheriting the Earth.  This issue was truly spectacular, with both triumphant events readers have been anticipating for almost two years and tragic events they’ve been fearing to witness.  Scott Snyder crescendoes with this final issue of his run, nailing it down and assuring the continued survival and success of the title while also adding his name to the list of visionaries who have been custodian of it, namely Len Wein and Alan Moore.  Artist Yanick Paquette also concludes his run on the series, which was another factor that led to its success.  His floral panels made in nonlinear layouts made the title free flowing and organic looking.  His depiction of Abby Arcane was both strong and sensual which taken with Snyder’s writing made her a captivating heroine.  Paquette also drew the warrior king version of Swamp Thing which quite frankly dwarfs anything that had come before it.  This run, now ended, was one that will have its legacies and be remembered as one of the best runs on this very underutilized property.

    Death Never Looked So Beautiful

    Death Never Looked So Beautiful

  • Animal Man #18 was less of a conclusion to “Rot World” than its sister issue in Swamp Thing.  Buddy Baker, the Animal Man, is sent back by the Parliament of Rot, like Alec Holland, to the moment that would precipitate the downfall of the Red.  In so doing he saves his daughter, the true avatar of the Red, but loses something ewually important to him.  Jeff Lemire is staying on the title so he does not wrap up his story with this issue, so perhaps it didn’t have that dynamite ending, but it also was the weaker of the two titles.  Also Steve Pugh’s art has never been anything to write home about.  This will probably be the last single issue of this series I will buy.
  • Earth 2 #10 returns to the realm of Nabu and the revelations of Khalid Ben-Hassin’s past concerning the Helmet of Fate, housing the power of Nabu.  Wotan has been hired to obtain this artifact for an unknown group and kidnapped Khalid as those with him at the time, Jay Garrick and his mother, to be used as hostages to assure his cooperation in procuring the Helm.  On the other side of the world (hard to say) Alan Scott mourns the death of his boyfriend, Sam Zhao, and learns that his death was not collateral damage, but actually the reason for the deadly train crash.  Writer James Robinson maintains his reputation of excellence with a very engrossing plot that is its own self contained universe and continuity.  Nicola Scott’s art continues to be gorgeous, making the characters spring from the page.  Well worth the read.
  • Worlds’ Finest #10 is very much likened to Detective Comics #18 above, as it continues its ongoing plot while at the same time taking a moment to pay tribute to the departure of Damian Wayne.  Though they met only briefly, Helena still felt like Damian was her little brother and his death pangs right alongside the deaths of her mother and father, the Catwoman and Batman of Earth 2.  But, as Batman taught her when she was still Robin, one soldiers on.  Helena breaks into Michael Holt’s laboratory after the aforementioned industrialist and ex-boyfriend of Karen Starr (Power Girl) sent a mercenary group to Karen’s island laboratory/home.  While Huntress employs stealth and planning, Power Girl unleashes a biblical list of calamities upon a handful of Holt facilities with careless abandon that imperils the lives of scores of people.  The end brings about a curve ball that may prove enlightening considering all that has transpired between the two Earths.  Paul Levitz is amazing, truly, and Kevin Maguire renders his script (solo this month) with his usual ease.

    An Older Sister's Lament

    An Older Sister’s Lament

  • Batwing #18 picks up from the tense cliffhanger from last month’s installment with the Chinese mercenary, Sky Pirate, “nuking” Batwing’s hideout and the civilian side of Batwing, Police Inspector David Zavimbe, facing off against his former childhood friend, Racheal Niamo, now the mercenary named Dawn.  This issue shows the cost taking a stand against corruption can have in an environment as corrupt as the Congo.  David Zavimbe is facing off against hell as he tries to prove that justice can’t be bought or traded for any price.  With only one more issue to go in his run on the title Fabian Nicieza is pulling out all the stops and making this a must read title on the periphery of the core Bat-books.
  • Green Arrow #18 gives us the second issue of the new and improved Green Arrow title.  Oliver Queen has been dealt a really rough hand.  His company has been seized, he’s lost his wealth, he’s been framed for the murder of his father’s friend and the corporate regent of Queen Industries, Henry Emerson, and what’s more, he’s been marked for death by a black archer known as Komodo with ties to both the island he was marooned on as well as his father’s past.  In this issue we learn the identity of Komodo as well as a little inkling of what he is after.  In the meantime, Oliver gets more hints as to his father’s past that by no means come anywhere close to answering the most pressing questions facing him.  Only the eyeless mystery man, Magus, knows what is truly happening and as is usually the case with such enigmatic figures, withholds information, telling Oliver to go to Black Mesa, Arizona to get the answers he seeks.  Another departure from the first sixteen issues, is the descent into rock solid reality.  The events within have consequences that cannot be written away nor held at bay.  In this issue especially, writer Jeff Lemire shows that he is playing for keeps with dark, horrific events precipitating a very ominous future for the Emerald Archer.  Jeff Lemire is in rare form with these first two issues and Andrea Sorrentino’s art finds a complimentary place with a title in need of its stark, shaded lines.

    Another Victim of Komodo

    Komodo Claims Another Green Arrow Ally

  • Phantom Stranger #6 continues on the the Stranger’s quest to locate his kidnapped family.  His first stop last issue was an all out brawl with the Specter.  This issue has him going to Las Vegas in search of them and getting involved in a card game with the three sons of Trigon: Belial, Ruskoff, and Suge.  The main body of the issue is like a telecast of the World Poker tournament.  The story reveals the characters of the demonic brothers as well as the Stranger himself through their playing of the game, but doesn’t advance the overall plot very far.  The ending, however, is quite intriguing and terrifying if one is a fan of the series.  Dan Didio has done a very good job of taking this nebulous, very alien character from the DC pantheon and re-imagining him in a manner that both maintains his integrity and makes him relatable to the reader at the same time.  With the Trinity War on the horizon this series promises to be a keystone title in the future of the New DCU.
  • Smallville: Season Eleven #11 continues the “Haunted” story arc with Clark and Bart attempting to find the answer to the Black Flash and how to stop the Speed Storms that are springing up in Bart’s wake, killing innocent people.  The duo go to meet Jay Garrick, the old member of the Justice Society, and the first speedster of the modern era.  His forecast for what is to come in not encouraging and all signs point to the death of Bart to allay the death toll.  But of course Clark will find a way.  On the other side of the Multiverse, we go to Earth 2 and see how Chloe Sullivan from that world is the sole survivor of so many other meteor freaks.  Also how, despite his relationship with Lois Lane, Chloe seduced Oliver Queen.  Between the two of them, they may even be able to topple the super-powered despot, Clark Kent, aka Ultraman.  Bryan Q. Miller keeps the Smallville series alive not only adding to the mythos of the show, but building upon it and answering questions posed in its early seasons, seemingly left to the wind with the cancellation after Season 10.  And yet it goes on, and brilliantly so.
  • Legends of the Dark Knight #6 presents three more tales of the Dark Knight.  The first one written by Jeff Parker and entitled “Gotham Spirit” shows Batman putting down a liquor store robbery.  Reading it one wonders why you even bothered.  There is nothing poignant or out of the ordinary about it.  Maybe that’s the point.  You can’t always have a Poison Ivy, Mister Freeze, or Joker causing trouble.  Sometimes its just procedural.  That may be the point, but it wasn’t really what someone picks up a comic to read.  The next story written and drawn by Michael Avon Oeming tells of Batman fighting a dragon in the sewers beneath Gotham.  Yes you read that correctly, a real, honest to goodness dragon, complete with scales, teeth, and leathern wings.  Only the fire is missing from this mythic beast.  However, its not quite as mythic as it seems, but rather engineered by a man for Killer Croc.  Croc wanted something that was his that he could love and would love him in return, like a man and his faithful dog, so he could salvage something real.  Even Batman can’t help but be moved by the pathetic nature of Croc’s wish.  The third and final story in this issue has the Penguin hiring a supernatural old man to take out his competition.  From his white suit to his full on albinic pallor, this man is perhaps one of the most unsettling characters to grace a Batman comic, and as the story progresses that assertion is proved ten times over.  Even Batman doesn’t fully grasp the horrors he represents.  That Batman can withstand them proves that the Dark Knight is a master of his own inner terror.  As ever, hit and miss vignettes for the mythology of Batman, but well done.

So ends the first month of March with an encouraging handful of truly excellent comics.

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

Illustration Credits:

Green Lantern Annual #1: Art by Ethan Van Sciver, Colored by Hi-Fi

Detective Comics #18:  Art by Jason FAbok, Colored by Jeromy Cox

Swamp Thing #18: Art by Yanick Paquette, Colored by Nathan Fairbairn

Worlds’ Finest #10: Art by Kevin Maguire, Colored by Rosemary Cheetham

Green Arrow #18:  Art by Andrea Sorrentino, Colored by Marcelo Maiolo