Nov. 6, 2013

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

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

    The Best of the Worst.

    The Best of the Worst.

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

    A Self-Aware Superman.

    A Self-Aware Superman.

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

    Separating the Wheat from the Chaff.

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

    He's Gonna Need a Bigger Light . . .

    He’s Gonna Need a Bigger Light . . .

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

    Battle of the Billionaires.

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

    GreenArrow25-3

    A Mother’s Love.

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

    Do NOT Mess With Kilawog!

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

    GreenLantern25-2

    The Tethers of Heart.

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

    A Father Dies to Bring His Daughter Back to Life.

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

    A Darker Dark Knight.

    A Darker Dark Knight.

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

    Heroes.

    Heroes.

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

    What Hath Man Wrought?

    What Hath Man Wrought?

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

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

Illustration Credits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sept. 18, 2013

In this third week of Villains Month quite a few big names get their spotlight in individual issues:  Lex Luthor, Black Hand, Ra’s al Ghul, Penguin, and the new kid on the block whose made his meteoric mark across all four Super-titles, H’el.  This should be good.

  • Action Comics #23.3: Lex Luthor presents a very comprehensive vision of Lex Luthor, depicting events between his emancipation from the Hypermax Prison (which he himself designed for himself) and the opening moment of Forever Evil #1.  The issue begins with a very iconic image that sets a comparison between Lex and his arch-rival, Superman.  It is split down the middle with the left half bearing Lex ripping open his orange prison jumpsuit to reveal a white undershirt and the right showing him donning his pristine business suit.  Whereas the imagery borrowed from Superman has him ripping open his suit to show his heroic costume and nature, or straightening his tie to hide his identity and resume anonymity, Lex’s duality portrays the exact opposite.  Ripping off his prison oranges he is prematurely exiting his punitive captivity through backroom dealing and corruption showing the ignominy of his nature, and putting on his suit he prepares to enter the limelight, not stray from it.  The issue then continues to show his paranoid narcissism, malice, and lack of humility   Luthor’s first thought when he is clear of the prison is, “Where is Superman?”  The point being, “Why isn’t the Man of Steel here to see me leave the prison? Obviously I am the most important thing in his life, so why isn’t he here?” From there Luthor goes about ruining a fellow businessman’s life for sport and animalistic territoriality, while also staging an elaborate test to draw out the Man of Steel, if in fact he is still on Earth or close enough to take notice of the goings on that Luthor has set into action.  He has the best plastic surgeons on the planet remove the massive scars Superman burned into the left half of his face when he put Luthor into Hypermax.  And then when the massive calamity he engineered reaches its apogee, he stands at a crossroad of action: Step in and save the day, stealing Superman’s thunder or hold back and let events unfold leaving Superman to blame for not intervening.  Both are appealing choices for Luthor, but his choice and the inevitable monologue that comes with it in explanation underscore just how cunning and brilliant he is, and how multi-tiered his machinations are when all elements are stacked one atop the other.  Charles Soule writes the character keenly with all the guile and artifice requisite for this pillar of DC canon, balancing the many aspects we’ve come to expect from the greatest criminal mind on the planet.  Ray Bermudez provides art on the issue, and even if everything else is thrown out, his renderings of Lex make the issue soar.  Throughout the issue Luthor exhibits many different emotions: disgust, condescension, anger, frustration, smug success, thoughtful introspection.  Bermudez depicts each on the bald headed megalomaniac with masterful skill.  How this rendition of Lex will figure into Forever Evil, we will just have to see, but it’s truly something exciting to ponder.

    You'll believe a man can walk . . .

    You’ll Believe a Man Can Walk . . .

  • Green Lantern #23.3: Black Hand is the second issue penned by Charles Soule that came out this week and the less impressive of his works, unfortunately.  His writing of it is good, but the material given him was a little sparse.  Black Hand figured prominently into Blackest Night, of course, and from there he played his part in the “Secret Origin of the Indigo Tribe”, and later the “Wrath of the First Lantern” where he seemingly was locked away in the Dead Zone. However, as the issue begins his black ring makes it to Earth, deus ex machina, falling into the ash piles behind his families’ mortuary where the unclaimed bodies of the crematorium are dumped.  Through this is he able to regain a body, but not memory.  Slowly as he walks the Earth and feeds upon death he regains his mind and his power.  Once his memories reassert themselves, so too do his old enmities leading him to a revenge he has sought for some time, but never had the chance to enact.  That revenge come with the visiting of a very special grave and the resurrection and desecration of a body that is sacrosanct to his greatest foe.  There are good ideas written about in this issue, but the presentation of them is drawn through a drawn out plot that is filled in which cheap zombie theatrics that play off the Walking Dead hysteria.  What I loved about Blackest Night was that it didn’t play to cheap zombie fetishes as Marvel Zombie was wont to do.  The undead were utilized in thoughtful, provocative ways that were chilling and manipulative to those whose loved ones were brought back.  This issue was just cheap, unintelligible masses of reanimated corpses mindlessly causing havoc.  Granted this is a single 24 page issue so there wasn’t a lot that Soule could do, but I also feel like his hands were tied by restrictions from doing something worthwhile placed upon him by editorial, as it may have stepped on Geoff Johns’ toes.  Merely a theory.  I will say that the use of dead bacteria in a policeman who was recently vaccinated to kill said officer was quite interesting.  Considering the massive undead quotient in this issue, the use of former Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. artist Alberto Ponticelli was quite apt.  His depictions of both black hand and the ambling dead are ghastly, really setting the morbid mood.
  • Superman #23.3: H’el is the much awaited follow up to Scott Lobdell’s “H’el on Earth” storyline in which the eponymous villain attempts to save his destroyed planet of Krypton by converting all matter in our solar system (including Earth) into energy to power a chronal incursion into the past so that himself, Superman, and Supergirl could prevent the sequence of events leading to Krypton’s doom.  His plan is thwarted, and yet somehow at the end of the final issue of that arc, H’el is transported back to Krypton around the time he wished.  In this issue, writer Scott Lobdell picks up right where he left off with the help of artist (and Lobdell’s authorial predecessor on the Superman title) Dan Jurgens.  H’el is in a coma and with no name, severe scarring and mutilation throughout his body from the rigors of untested space travel, and a giant shard of kryptonite in his chest that would kill the average Kryptonian, he proves to be quite the scientific enigma. Such a riddle calls for the appropriate mind, and Krypton’s answer is the young, up-and-coming Jor-El.  Like Sherlock Holmes, Jor-El is able to deduce almost everything there is to know about H’el from his condition, including that he is Kryptonian, had recently been in outer space despite the fact that no spaceship or wreckage was found anywhere on Krypton, and that he also had to have come from the future.  His cunning in deducing the improbably with such clarity of mind is mind-boggling.  H’el, though unconscious, is aware of what is going on via astral projection of his psyche in an externalized form, owing to heightened mental capacities endowed by the previous events from “H’el on Earth.”  It is through this that he is granted the TRUE revelation as to his origin, his history, and the lie that led him on his genocidal bid to resurrect his race at the cost of the human race and any others existing in our solar system.  He even comes to learn the meaning of his name, “H’el.”  This issue is so visceral if the reader took the whole journey of “H’el on Earth” and saw the man H’el was throughout that series.  His passion and his goal of resurrecting Krypton came from a wellspring of love for his people that completely cut his psyche off from acknowledging any other lifeforms’ significance in the universe in comparison.  Now we see a complete diametric flip.  Like flipping a light switch that turns light to utter darkness and vice-verse, we see the flipping of a switch with H’el following his apocalyptic moment of remembrance transforming him from savior into destroyer.  All this leads directly to October’s Action Comics Annual #2.  Lobdell hits this one out of the park.  He has become the quintessential architect of the New 52 Krypton and this issue is a keystone in that foundation.

    H'El is Born

    H’El is Born

  • Swamp Thing #23.1: Arcane presents the third and last of Charles Soule’s issues to come out this week.  This time he takes on the villainous lord of the Rot who was last seen in Scott Snyder’s final issue of Swamp Thing, after which Soule took control of the title.  Though Snyder put him into exile and Soule left him there in the three issues of Swamp Thing he has written so far, now he is granted the chance to look back and work his magic on Arcane himself and Arcane’s lovely yet deadly (pun intended) niece, Abigail.  Firstly, Soule depicts masterfully the kind of purgatory that would most amply punish a man like Anton Arcane, former avatar of the Black.  A man who thrives on death and decay is consigned to forever green fields with flowers, trees, babbling brooks, and small adorable creatures such as rabbits poking about.  No matter what he tries, nothing dies and nothing decays.  Life never stops.  Even his own self mutilations do not last.  When Abby, bearing the mantle and powers of avatar of the Rot, comes to him in glory she asks that he tell her about what happened to her mother.  In his story we learn the origin of his birth, the advent of his connection to the forced of death and decay, and how he came to defile through perverse affection the body of Ilse Arcane.  However, despite the profanity of his deeds, there is a dark twist to the true end of Abigail’s mother.  Soule may not have written or engineered the current iteration of Arcane or Abigail, but he writes them both as though he had.  Jesus Saiz provides art on this issue providing soft beautiful lines when necessary and terrifying horrors the rest.
  • Batman & Robin #23.3: Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins is another Villains Month issue written by James Tynion IV and drawn by Jeremy Haun, whose art was last seen in the Batman: Riddler issue one week ago. This issue differs from the Court of Owls issue in that the story presented of Ra’s al Ghul seems to be more of a means to an end than an actual story. It begins during the Fifth Crusade with a Teutonic prince entering a dark tower in the east to ferret out the fabled demon that lived within. Cut to the present another outsider, this one an unnamed representative of the Secret Society, comes to the dark tower with an offer of membership to join the Society and have a part in the reshaping of the world that is to come. Ra’s won’t even consider it until this Society lackey tells him more about why this is something that he would do. The narrative then goes through several stages of recounting his history and making a hodgepodge of versions from the past come together in a single back-story that will be his “official” history going forward. The origin as a vengeful husband and physician to a corrupt sultan as presented by Ra’s creator, Dennis O’Neil, is maintained. Next they factor in Ra’s involvement with the All-Caste and the Well of Sins, as written in Red Hood and the Outlaws by Scott Lobdell. Next Tynion sets the up a string of events throughout history that establish Ra’s as an architect of history through the engineering of calamities. Like in the film Batman Begins they have him being responsible for the Great Fire of London, as well as addicting the Chinese people to opium in the 1700’s, creating the cholera epidemic in New York in 1832, and orchestrating the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. The final touch is bring in Talia’s failed Leviathan rebellion against her father for leadership of the League from Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated title, establishing the last major event to occur in recent days. With that out of the way, Tynion has the freedom to do with the character as he likes with all or most of the questions of who Ra’s al Ghul is answered. This issue has a lot of similarities with Tynion’s Court of Owls piece, delving heavily in flashback and anecdotal explanations of megalomania, but unlike it the Ra’s al Ghul issue feels very mechanical. The Court of Owls, while just as far reaching as Ra’s in the comics’ reality, is relatively young from the reader’s perspective, less than three years to Ra’s thirty years in comics, so while Tynion and Court creator Scott Snyder are still making things up as they go, Ra’s’s history is being cut and cobbled together from several different time periods from several disparate creative voices. The Court felt very smooth and homogeneous, because there are no preconceived notions surrounding that organization, owing to its fledgling nature, and contrarily the Ra’s al Ghul story suffers from many preconceived notions and the feeling that there is a great deal of shoehorning material into a small space to make a presentation that honors varying concepts from his past presentations. While interesting, it’s far from my favorite Villains Month issue.
  • Justice League Dark #23.3: Eclipso resurrects the evil shadow demon, reworking him in a similar manner to most of the better characters and concepts in the New 52.  His entrance to the New DCU was very erratic, coming piecemeal in several disparate titles such as All-Star Western, Team 7, Demon Knights, Catwoman, and Sword of Sorcery.  The lattermost title had Eclipso’s origin not dwelling in the Judeo-Christian inspired role of God’s first angel of vengeance, but rather as the unholy offspring of Houses Diamond and Onyx of Gemworld.  There his name was Lord Kaala. When he returns to the place of his birth from his exile in our world, he does so in the body of Alex Montez, his second host in DC canon.  This issue opens with Eclipso infiltrating the life of his primary host . . . sort of.  Originally Eclipso was bonded to Bruce Gordon, a scientist specializing in solar energy.  This time around writer Dan Didio maintains the character of the first host, while changing his name to Gordon Jacobs.  Purportedly, Bruce Gordon’s name came from a mash-up of Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon.  The name is definitely a worthy change.  Whereas before Gordon was infected by a shaman on a remote South Pacific island wielding the black diamond, this time around he is a disgraced energy prodigy whose failed “Solar City” experiment cost him his reputation, his sanity, and the woman he loved.  This led to his obsession with finding the fabled black diamond whose properties he hypothesizes might aid in his research.  What it ends up doing is opening a dangerous door into unfathomable darkness.  Bruce Gordon was a decent man whose possession by Eclipso was a horrible accident.  Gordon Jacobs’ on the other hand was both premeditated and of his own choosing.  Through embarked upon by paying heed to honeyed words from an infernal entity’s lips, he is still the one who inflicted the wounds with the black diamond that set Eclipso free.  Whereas Bruce Gordon was an unfortunate innocent cursed by chance, Gordon Jacobs condemned himself in a devil’s pact.  Didio teams up with Philip Tan again, after the two worked on Phantom Stranger together several months ago.  Didio’s writing and Tan’s artwork combine to create very eerie storytelling that is worth looking into, especially considering the transient nature of this enigmatic villain who slips into titles where seemingly he has no place.  Yet there he is in 19th century Gotham, medieval Europe, an other dimensional gem world, Gotham of the 21st century, Hell, a prison in the middle of the ocean.  You never know when or where he will next appear, so it’s best to know thine enemy.

    JLD-Eclipso

    The Many Lives of Eclipso

  • Justice League #23.3: Dial E is the biggest enigma of Villains Month.  I admit to not having read the final eight issues of the series, but even still the plot of this special issue was all over the place and hard to pin down.  The main character of the first thirteen issues, Nelson Jent, was completely absent in the story.  The other operator he met halfway through the first arc of the title, Manteu, also is absent.  The villains they encountered are absent.  There is a group of four teenaged kids, two girls and two boys, who get their hands on a dial.  The blonde girl, Gwen, who stole the dial, spins it and becomes a villainess called “Suffer Kate” with the power to make those around her choke for breath. The issue then unspools with the kids alternately turning into various versions of various schizophrenic conceptual characters.  Ironically, the only concept they didn’t use was the strange masked villainess that Brian Bolland drew on the corner throwing candy bars.  Nelson is also depicted on the cover, though not in the story.  The biggest draw to this issue is that every single page is done by a different artist, none of whom bear any stylistic resemblance to the others.  These artists include the likes of Matteus Santolouco, Jock, Jeff Lemire, Frazier Irving, Alberto Ponticello, and Dan Green.  It’s fun to look at, but not much fun to read unless you crave a heavy dose of insanity.

    JusticeLeagueDialE

    Brian Bolland’s Amazing Cover Art

  • Batman #23.3: Penguin is a pretty straightforward Penguin story.  The Penguin is the ultimate abused psyche that climbed to power and influence with intelligence and hard work.  In this way he is admirable and someone worth emulating.  However, this issue also underscores the opposite and what Oswald Cobblepot lost on his way up to the top.  Penguin was always a man to be feared, but following the events of the “Emperor Penguin” storyline in Detective Comics that reputation has plummeted to next to nothing.  The issue opens up with that misconception illustrated very colorfully, that the Penguin is weak after his cockfight with his former protege, Oglivy.  This misconception proves to be fatal for those that thought it and the consequences bolstering his image as someone not to be trifled with.  It also draws attention of the wrong sort upon him by the governor himself who plans dramatic changes for Gotham to cut crime and make the city more wholesome.  Clearly this would cut into the Penguin’s pocket and cause him issues.  However, the twist comes in Penguin’s relationship to the governor, Carter Winston.  At school due to his freakish appearance, Oswald was bullied ruthlessly.  Handsome, rich, popular Carter was the only one who stood up for him without really having a reason to.  So the stage is set to see how these old school chums will sort out their affairs, what power and influence mean to those that have it and those that don’t, and what a reversal of fortune can mean to both.  Frank Tieri writes a very Machiavellian plot that really explores these very harsh principles that unfortunately govern human society, no matter the age.  Christian Duce provides art and like Bermudez’s work on this week’s Lex Luthor, Duce’s rendering of Penguin is all that matters in the issue.  Cut the rest out and his Penguin drawings will be worth the cover price.  The sinister, angular, sophisticated savagery that he imbues into the Gotham crime boss are stunning.  This issue was pretty darn good, and Penguin doesn’t even make my top ten list of Batman villains.  That says something.

    The Original Bird of Prey

    The Original Bird of Prey

  • Detective Comics #23.3: Scarecrow is a pretty round about issue that doesn’t really talk about the Scarecrow as a character, but more facilitated the coming limited series Forever Evil: Arkham War.  Before this, Scarecrow had been depicted as Secret Society stooge running around evangelizing DC villains left and right to the cause of the Crime  Syndicate.  This issue has Scarecrow running around, this time organizing the demarcation of Gotham into spheres of influence among the big names of Arkham: Mr. Freeze, Riddler, Poison Ivy, and seemingly Croc. In this way the issue is interesting in its scope, but not in its relevance to Scarecrow.  It does bear mentioning that Gregg Hurwitz’s origin of Scarecrow in his first arc on Batman: The Dark Knight could hardly be improved any, so the lack of elaboration here isn’t surprising.  Peter Tomasi writes the actual issue pretty well, despite it’s unorthodox story structure.  Artist Szymon Kudranksi provides the eerie art to coincide with the haunting subject.
  • Batman: The Dark Knight #23.3: Clayface was one of the worst issues I have read in some time.  Clayface is a character I don’t care about.  Occasionally he is done well, as in the Batman: The Animated Series cartoon or in the few instances that Scott Snyder has used him. Gregg Hurwitz’s usage has only been so-so in the current run of Batman: The Dark Knight.  Despite not liking the character, I bought this issue with those past examples in mind and because John Layman, whose run on Detective Comics I feel is one of the best ever, was writing it.  Bad idea.  The whole premise of the comic is Clayface is a loser that won’t amount to anything. He was a loser as an actor and so he became Clayface (which Layman didn’t even provide a back-story on) only to continually get shortchanged, make dumb decisions that cheated him out of his paydays.  When the Secret Society shows up he waits for his call and it doesn’t com, seemingly because he’s a loser and not worth their time.  He attempts to do something to get their attention, only to get in their way and mess up an operation they were running under the radar, prompting him to be back in a bar with his proverbial tail between his legs.  Then he gets wind of a job and signs on for what inevitably will be another SNAFU from his inept personality.  Perhaps this is a pessimistic view and the moral is that no matter how rotten he messes up, he picks himself back up and tries again.  That’s a sunny outlook, but one that is predicated off the understanding of learning from one’s mistakes.  Clayface is depicted time and again doing the exact same things and falling into the exact same traps.  This precludes the “pick yourself up and try again” proverb and points to the “stupidity is doing the exact same thing and expecting a different outcome” adage.   This in no way dents my faith in John Layman as a writer, but it does unfortunately hurt my idea of Clayface as a character.
  • The Flash #23.3: The Rogues ranks up there among the issues put out during Villains Month that NEEDED to be told.  The Rogues are a cornerstone of the Flash title that holds the concept up and comprises a inextricable part of the overall mythos.  Separately Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Heatwave, Weather Wizard, Golden Glider, and the Trickster are decent characters, but together they combine to create a whole larger than the sum of its parts.  Together the Rogues form a sort of family that behaves much like any family does, acrimoniously sometimes, but often with love and respect for one another.  Since just before the Gorilla War was incited by Grodd, Lisa Snart (a.k.a Golden Glider) had taken over leading the Rogues from her older brother, Leonard Snart (a.k.a Captain Cold).  Cold wasn’t so keen on the idea, but the Rogues voted and so it was.  The issue opens with Lisa leading the Rogues on a bank heist into a vault through subterranean tunneling after hours.  The job is aborted when the structures of surround buildings, both occupied at the time, are nearly compromised and the lives of those people are jeopardized.  It wasn’t a popular move, but the Rogues don’t kill innocent people.  It’s part of the code they live by.  Afterward, the strain of their situation catches up with them.  Jobs tend to keep the Rogues focused on forward motion, but during periods of lag the ghosts of their past catch up with them, namely the nature of their powers.  One of the interesting things co-writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato did when they took over the Flash is convert the gadget equipped Rogues to super-powered villains, internalizing their abilities inside them, with no external sources, i.e. Cold’s freeze guns, or Heatwave’s flamethrowers, Weather Wizard’s weather wand, etc.  Their bodies now generate their respective powers autonomously.  When Captain Cold initiated this through the use of a device called a “genome recoder” he unleashed nightmarish results on his teammates in varying degrees.  Heatwave is a walking burn victim, scarred from stem to stern, Mirror Master is trapped perpetually in his Mirror World, and worst of all Lisa is in a coma that she can’t be awoken from and is only able to exist as the Golden Glider by astral projection.  It is because of this that Cold isn’t as well liked at the moment by the other Rogues and why he maintains the icy disposition that he does.  Taking responsibility for ruining your family’s lives is a hard pill to swallow.  Writer Brian Buccellato does a masterful job of really making you feel the pain of each Rogue in accepting their fate and the consequences that lie in trying to change that fate.  As stated before, the Rogues have a code they live by, so though they are villains and aptly deserve their place among the panoply of DC baddies that are getting their own issues this month, the Rogues are far from evil and it is that anti-heroic nature that sets them apart from most of their fellows.  At issue’s conclusion, the family of Rogues, after a healthy, cathartic shouting match come together as a family and make a stand.  The conclusion of the issue prompts its continuance in a series entitled Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion.  Thus stated, in the absence of heroes, as with the Gorilla War, the Rogues are stepping up to the plate and doing what they do best . . . spitting in the face of anyone who dares try to tell them what to do.

    Honor Among Rogues

    Honor Among Rogues

  • Teen Titans #23.2: Deathstroke was another issue that only dealt topically with the subject and gave a cliffsnotes version rather than a cohesive story.  The plot jumped around like a dog with fleas.  First it’s at one point in Deathstroke’s life, then on the next page it jumps to a few minutes later, fine.  But then it jumps back twenty years, then to an unrelated point in his life ten years later, then ten years later than that, then the present, then the birth of his son, then he’s home with his daughter.  Trying to keep up makes the reader wish for a Dramamine.
    It’s clear that writers Dooma Wendschuh and Corey May are new to the comic writing gig.  I know that they are responsible for the writing of the video games “Assassins Creed” and “Batman: Arkham Origins,” but I think writing single issue comics is something they need time to acclimate to. They don’t have a ten hour game to exposes a plot over.  Moritat’s artwork is amazing, however, and truly makes the issue worth at least looking at.
  • Justice League of America #7.3: Shadow-Thief adds another new face to the New DCU. Although Shadow Thief isn’t a new villain, the woman portraying it is. The Shadow Thief was originally a man named Carl Sands who got his powers from a device called the dimensiometer and used his abilities for crime. This time around Shadow Thief is an Israeli intelligence operative named Aviva.  Right off the bat she foreshadows (pun intended) that working in her occupation can cause you to lose your soul.  Like General Zod last week, the Frederick Nietzche quote, “battle not with monsters lest ye become one,” is very apt. Her past paints her as paranoid, reactionary, and already a monster before she donned the black shadow skin that gives her the powers inherent to it.  As a Mossad agent she killed her superior officer to unilaterally launch  a missile strike that did neutralize enemy combatants . . . along with killing hundreds of innocent civilians.  She didn’t shed any tears.  This led her to flee Israel and get work with A.R.G.U.S in the United States until she came into contact with a Daemonite who inadvertently put her in a position that cost her the lives of her mother and younger brother. From there she also accidentally donned the shadow skin and discovered she could control shadows, travel through shadows across the globe, and become insubstantial like a living shadow.  With this she wages a war against aliens. But she also realizes she is becoming more like the aliens she fights and the skin, which she has to rip off when she is done with it every time, is becoming harder and harder to separate. One day it won’t come off at all.  But she doesn’t stop, because she can’t. She’s already lost everything that could save her. Now she is adrift in a sea of all her worst traits. Time will tell what the Void will do to her.
  • Wonder Woman #23.1: Cheetah is another comic that I just could not get into.  It just grated me in the wrong way and I feel like it brought out the worst instincts in me as a person.  Perhaps that was what writer John Ostrander was going for when he wrote this, as the Cheetah is the worst, animalistic instincts that come from the bowls of the character, Barbara Minerva.  I also feel like it is an examination of the different conceptualizations people have of feminism.  Wonder Woman is perhaps the greatest feminist icon in the comic medium and a paragon of strong women that extends outside of comics as well.  It is something that has haunted the character almost from her inception, putting her on a pedestal of scrutiny that many female characters in comics, television, film, and other forms of literature rarely are subject to.  She has to be perfect and has to be a role model for girls, but what exactly should she embody and convey to the women who read her?  That’s the question with no answer.  It also is a major reason that apart from the Linda Carter TV show, there has never been a live action adaptation of the Amazing Amazon.  However, focusing back on the character herself  the general assumption is that Wonder Woman is a “real” woman who embodies strength, wisdom, honor, and integrity of a female warrior race.  Cheetah in this comic began her association with Wonder Woman as her friend and confidante.  She was a professor of antiquities, Dr. Barbara Minerva, who helped curate magical artifacts for A.R.G.U.S.  Since Wonder Woman was brought into governmental affairs by Col. Steve Trevor, she also was involved in the arcane aspects of A.R.G.U.S’s collecting.  Ostrander posits that Minerva was raised by her Aunt Lyta in worship of the goddess of the hunt as the Amazons did before them and that the Amazons were goddesses themselves.  Wonder Woman laughs at this, because from her perspective, the thought is ridiculous.  Amazons (who could be viewed symbolically as empowered women) were not and are not goddesses or any better inherently than anyone else.  They are equal to men or women found in the world of men.  This results in an immediate reaction of unbridled anger at the deeply fostered beliefs in Amazonian divinity embedded in Barbara’s psyche.  That process of indoctrination and being raised in what could be described as a Hellenistic cult is truly horrifying, considering that she was made to hunt her own brother while her mother was forced to watch by Lyta, all to prove a point about the strength of women descended from Amazons.  However, years later after turning into the Cheetah and literally becoming an acolyte who kills in honor of the goddess of the hunt, she realizes the futility of her insane aunt’s proselytizing.  Wonder Woman was right about Amazons, she was right about worshiping the hunt and violence as a solution, but she accepts that this path has led her into being a monster that consumes that which feeds it, namely returning to where it all began and hunting her Aunt and giving the “glory” of the insane woman’s death to the goddess which that same priestess worshiped above all others.  What separates a noble warrior like Wonder Woman from a cold blooded killer like Cheetah and her aunt is compassion, wisdom, and understanding, always trying to understand those that oppose you and treat with them before resorting to hostility.  When Geoff Johns first wrote Wonder Woman I did not like her at all, because she did not embody these key principles.  I feel that since then it has been made clear that what we see here is the Wonder Woman that needs to be depicted and that these traits are what makes her not only a strong woman, but just a very strong character in general.  If you take those characteristics away from her, as DC creators (looking at you Johns) tried to in the beginning, you turn her into a ravenous beast like Cheetah.

    The Beast Within

    The Beast Within

  • Arrow #11 marches closer and closer to completing the storytelling omitted from the first season of the television series.  Inside is the story of a low level enforcer for the mob doing horrible things to scratch out a living for him and his family.  Following this is perhaps the most anticipated side story of the season.  Laying in a hospital bed, Malcolm Merlyn recounts the journey that led him to become the Black Archer.  While it’s very short, only ten pages, there is a a great deal of revelation in those ten pages, including the desired vengeance for what happened to Malcolm’s wife that led him down the road to his “Undertaking.”  The issue ends with a look at a formative episode in Roy Harper’s life before the start of the show.  Roy maintains that he can be more than what he is and after his abduction in the episode “Salvation” he tries actively to fulfill that potential.  In his segment in this issue we see him given a chance and blowing it completely, but despite that he learns that even the people he wrongs still have faith in him.  It also explains how he got his distinctive red hoodie.  If you love the show Arrow this comic is definitely a worthwhile bookend that fleshes out the plots even further.

There were some really incredible stories told this week, and quite a few that failed to measure up.  What didn’t quite pan out was more than made up for in the comics that exceeded expectations and fulfilled their subjects’ potential.  After this there is only one more week in September’s Villains Month.  I can’t wait to read the final batch of issues and share my thoughts.  Hope to 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:

Action Comics #23.3: Lex Luthor: Drawn by Raymund Bermudez, Colored by Ulises Arreola, Inked by Dan Green.

Superman #23.3: H’El:  Drawn by Dan Jurgens, Colored by Hi-Fi

Justice League Dark #23.2: Eclipso: Drawn by Philip Tan, Colored by Nathan Eyring, Inked by Jason Paz.

Justice League #23.3: Dial  E: Cover art by Brian Bolland

Batman #23.3: Penguin:  Art by Christian Duce, Colored by Andrew Dalhouse

The Flash #23.3: The Rogues: Art by Patrick Zircher, Colored by Nick Filardi

Wonder Woman #23.1: Cheetah:  Art by Victor Ibanez, Colored Wil Quintana