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.

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