Oct. 30, 2013

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

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

    Faora.

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

    Supermom Lara Lor-Van.

    Supermom Lara Lor-Van.

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

    The Power of Life.

    The Power of Life.

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

    Young Love.

    Young Love.

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

    No Mercy for the Merciless.

    No Mercy for the Merciless.

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

    Heavy Weighs the Cowl.

    Heavy Weighs the Cowl.

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

    Convocation of Dreams.

    Convocation of Dreams.

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

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

Illustration Credits:

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

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

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

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

Swamp Thing Annual #2:  Art by Kano.

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

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

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Oct. 23, 2013

This week brings to a close the regular scheduled comics of October and presents some very incredible issues, not least of which being two Forever Evil tie-ins in Justice League and Justice League Dark, and the penultimate installment of the “Lights Out” plot in the Green Lantern books before next week’s Green Lantern Annual #2.  A lot of really great storytelling happening.

  • Justice League #24 is very much an Ultraman issue.  With last week’s issue of Justice League of America we were clued into the basic situation the Justice League and Justice League of America are facing in their enigmatic prison.  So Justice League takes us to the other side of the equation, cluing us into who the new kids in town are and what makes them tick.  As stated above, Ultraman takes center stage in this issue, dictating his life and the formative events that have molded him into the person that stepped through Pandora’s gate from the desiccated Earth-3 to our Earth-1.  In his universe Krypton was destroyed and just before that his parents slaughtered their way to the escape pods, killing everyone so that their son could be the sole survivor and have no competition in his conquest of that universe’s Earth.  Everything is twisted about the world of Earth-3.  The benevolent scientist Jor-El is replaced by a twisted lunatic named Jor-Il, who sends his son away with ultimatums and recordings telling little Kal-Il how worthless he is and that he has to be strong and destroy anything weak.  When he arrives on Earth he is found by the abusive drunk Jonathan Kent and his equally abrasive wife, Martha.  The infant Kal emerges from his rocket and disturbingly tells them in full sentences that they will serve as his parents, shortly after he cuts Jonathan’s hand off with his heat-vision.  Cut to the present where the last son of Krypton-3 goes to the Daily Planet of to see how the counterparts to his Earth-1 self measure up.  First on the docket: his pal Jimmy Olsen.  Considering the polar opposites that Earth-3 predicates from our world’s characters, the Jimmy Olsen of Ultraman’s reality proves to be a very depraved person.  So depraved the he is able to take advantage of Lois Lane, aka Superwoman, and still be left alive, untouched by her and her husband, Ultraman.  Cut next to the end of the issue with the inevitable entrance of Black Adam following the events of his Villains Month issue of Justice League of America. The fight between these titans is then tantalizingly put off for two weeks until Forever Evil #3.  After that solicitations put Owlman as the subject of Justice League #25, promising the debut of even more of his past.  Considering that Ultraman narrates this current issue and the Outsider (Earth-3 Alfred Pennyworth) narrated Justice League #23.4: The Secret Society, it can be assumed that Justice League #25 will be written from Thomas Wayne’s (Owlman) perspective, giving greater insight into the incongruities of Owlman’s actions throughout the Forever Evil books.  Geoff Johns really digs into the inherent psychopathy and malice that is at the heart of the CSA and Earth-3 as a world.  In the past they have always been depicted as very menacing, cavalier baddies that are bad because they are bad.  Here Johns really mines the philosophical beliefs that fuel their deeply malicious drives in ways that are both logical in a very cold way and scientific in their adherence to very strict interpretations of Darwinism.  Ivan Reis, Johns’ many times collaborator on Blackest Night, Brightest Day, and Aquaman, provides stellar artwork to bring to life the very stark, steely life of Ultraman.
  • Justice League Dark #24 kicks off the series’ under the shadow of Forever Evil and the pen of new writer J.M. Dematteis with art still by original series artist Mikel Janin.  The issue picks up as John Constantine awakens from the events of Trinity War, most notably Justice League #23 in which the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 entered into our world.  He wakes up in the House of Mystery with patchy memories of what happened upon the CSA’s advent into our reality.  When he walks through the house, attempting to get his bearings it transports him across the world, showing him various situations around the world with shadowy creatures lurking around events of negative human emotion.  Most of these events aren’t super malicious or overtly terrible, but as Constantine witnesses them he sees how evil feeds and breeds off of small sins committed absent-mindedly every day, and through this culmination of thoughtlessness and callous actions evil snowballs and coalesces into something greater, like a perpetual motion machine feeding off its own momentum.  At the tail end of this revelation he sees these sins rise up from the collected sins of humanity in the form of a giant serpentine dragon, like a blight on humanity, towering over our world.  Matteis is definitely skewing toward the biblical in his choice of imagery and it is quite apt.  The most poignant thought Constantine strings together from his observations is, “It’s so convenient to blame it all on some sneering, arrogant Satan, sitting on a fiery throne, plotting to corrupt our souls.  But if there is a Devil he’s just another projection of our own sins.”  Pretty astute, considering what a callous jerk Constantine has always been.  When the House returns him from his “vision quest” he is confronted by a version of the Justice League Dark who call him out for his own sins and selfishness.  Zatanna does reveal that he isn’t actually talking to them, nor is he awake, but rather still reeling from the fallout of what happened when he witnessed the second opening of Pandora’s Box.  She reaches into his chest and pulls out a handful of black goo, which allows him to wake up, for real this time, in the House of Mystery.  “Zatanna” is revealed to be the Nightmare Nurse, seen first and last in Phantom Stranger #8-9.  She helps Constantine come to terms with what happened and to ready himself for what is going to happen. To do this she grows a Swamp Thing to aid them since Constantine burned bridges with Alec Holland in the pages of Swamp Thing #22-23. Whereas Justice League of America seems to be about the fate of the Justice Leagues and Justice League appears to be a mouthpiece for the Crime Syndicate, Justice League Dark seems to be a philosophical look at evil itself.  Whether that holds up as Forever Evil continues, or whether there will be a major paradigm shift coming later, remains to be seen, but Matteis has taken hold of this title and made it his own.  Considering the subject material and the tone, this Justice League Dark is ideally suited to Matteis’ style.  It is very similar to his work on the 90’s Doctor Fate series and his current run on Phantom Stranger, giving him lots of room for the dark, twisted, and bizarre.  Mikel Janin remains on the title, retaining a certain degree of continuity over the three writers the series has seen.  Not always the best title, Justice League Dark finds a place among the best as Forever Evil marches onward.

    A Great Blight Upon Humanity . . .

    A Great Blight Upon Humanity . . .

  • Red Lanterns #24 returns to the planet Ysmault following Bleez’s discovery that Guy Gardner is a Green Lantern embedded with the Red Lanterns as a spy. The conversation she witnesses Guy concluding is basically Hal Jordan reneging on the deal that he and Guy made, essentially stranding him in hostile territory and throwing him to the wolves. Thus, Guy finds himself in a situation where he has had enough and washes his hands of Hal and the Green Lanterns forever. So of course Bleez’s reaction is threatening to out him to their fellow Red Lanterns and having him killed. Bleez is a very confident, strong woman and peerless among many of her brethren in blood. It’s one of the things that has captivated my imagination when reading anything that she is involved in.  So going into this she is rather cocky and lays her cards on the table.  But Guy Gardner isn’t new to this game. Guy is a sonuvabitch that doesn’t play by the rules if those rules put him at a disadvantage and ornery-as-all-get-out, he is someone that won’t be pinned to the mat. He immediately throws Bleez’s plan on its head and creates a reverse scenario that puts here in the crosshairs.  She would out him as a spy, but if he said she was a spy, considering her time with Kyle Rayner and the “New Guardians,” it would be a literal case of he-said/she-said.  So politically he has her at an impasse.  As a Lantern, Bleez was never in a position to take Atrocitus (creator and Chief Lantern of the Red Lantern Corps) down in a fight, but Guy DID two issues ago.  So muscle-wise he has the edge.  This culls Bleez’s bravado and makes her docile as a house cat. I’m not sure I am ok with that, but if it is a momentary thing that facilitates Guy’s assertion of the “throne,” I can handle it.  But Bleez CANNOT be cowed like that again. It’s a disrespect to the heart of the character. Guy follows up his defeat of Bleez by escorting her to a meeting of the Red Lanterns and telling them exactly what Bleez was going to tell them: he was sent in as a spy for the Green Lanterns and he has changed his position and wants to lead them. However, Hal chooses that awful moment to show up with the Green Lanterns. Even worse, he still thinks that he can command Guy, stoking the rage within the former Green Lantern following Hal’s betrayal of their deal. Hal tries to placate him and explain the Relic situation, but Guy is seeing red and not listening. Par for the course. When he does calm Guy, Hal explains that the Red Lanterns are the only corps that can stop Relic because their power isn’t strictly light based, but also rooted partially in blood magic which the ancient being can’t fend off with his science. So Guy and Hal broker a deal where in exchange for their help, the Reds get their own space sector where the Green Lanterns will not encroach  Kind of like the deal the Guardians made with Larfleeze. All is agreed and they move forward. Elsewhere Atrocitus and his faithful companion, Dex-Starr the cat, have contained the Red entity the Butcher, morphing Atrocitus into a being called the Atrocity Butcher, giving him horns and bull legs. He kind of looks like Satan in this form.  Carrying on from Green Lantern: New Guardians, Kyle the White Lantern comes and takes the Butcher with the other entities, robbing Atrocitus of his power. Charles Soule is seeding a very different book from the one that began two years ago under the pen of Peter Milligan. To me this is both good and bad. Without Milligan on the book, it would be bad for another writer to try to keep pace with his amazing concepts, but at the same time he set up some very interesting ideas that I would have loved to see actualized. Charles Soule, assuming he doesn’t completely clip Bleez’s “wings,” has the capacity to write an amazing series with great strength and gravitas.  Alessandro Vitti’s art is head and shoulders above the previous work on the series by Miguel Sepulveda, but doesn’t quite match up to original series artist Ed Benes or later artist Will Conrad. However, his lines do emote menace and anger which is 80% of the job.  With these two men on the job, I am optimistic about the future of this book.

    Don't Mess With Guy Gardner.

    Don’t Mess With Guy Gardner.

  • Superman #24 brings about the third and final chapter of the “Psi-War” storyline, picking up from Action Comics #24 two weeks ago.  The H.I.V.E. Queen had been attempting to enslave the world with her collection of human telepaths in preparation for the return of Brainiac.  In this endeavor she came into direct conflict with Hector Hammond, the giant headed Green Lantern villain, who also sought to rule humanity psychically. Both are sucker punched by the Psycho Pirate, a member of the enigmatic “Twenty” that Brainiac created before leaving Earth.  Psycho Pirate was one of the Queen’s prized slaves until he broke his chains and escaped her clutches.  In Action Comics #24 he showed Superman the “Swarm” and told of his intentions to release them and his need of a massive psychic power source to do it.  That source is Superman and instead of asking, he decides to take what he needs by force. His mask, called the Medusa Mask, augments his natural psychic abilities while also partitioning his mind from the intrusion of other telepaths.  It also, true to its name, has golden vipers made of psionic energy that the Psycho Pirate uses to inject a telepathic “venom” into the Man of Steel that warps his perceptions and makes him relive altered versions of hallmark moments in his life.  The trauma these events elicit within his psyche feeds the Pirate the energies he requires.  Lois Lane shows up in a blue, supercharged form and fends off the Psycho Pirate.  Afterward she, Superman, Hector Hammond, and the revived Queen strike a deal to take down the Pirate.  Though they don’t want to, if they don’t work together Metropolitans will rip each other limb from limb and the city will descend into anarchy to further facilitate Psycho Pirate’s goals.  The four work beautifully in concert, allowing Supes to rip the mask off of Psycho Pirate.  We don’t really see what happens to him after that.  The man under the mask disappears and the mask itself attempts to bond with Superman and claim him mind, but Lois again comes to his aid and guides him telepathically to fighting its thrall.  The mask is then destroyed, but at the cost of Lois’s life.  Or so it seems. She actually goes back into a coma after Superman gets her to a hospital.  However, before she succumbs to the fatigue from expending that much energy from her overtaxed mind, she picks up from Superman’s mind that he is in fact Clark Kent.  The question remains as to whether she will remember this when she wakes up or will she think it was all a dream?  Logic would dictate the latter as the most probably event.  It doesn’t make sense that DC would blow his identity two years into the game.  With the defeat of the Psycho Pirate and the weakening of both the H.I.V.E. Queen and Hector Hammond, the Psi-War is officially over. With this door closing the issue ends with Superman being pulled off planet, setting up the coming “Krypton Returns” plotline that I have been eagerly anticipating since September 2o12 with the release of Superman #0 and Supergirl #0.  Mike Johnson once again takes this one home the help of artist Eddy Burrows, whose work on Teen Titans and Nightwing invigorated both titles.

    The Greatest Story She'll Never Tell.

    The Greatest Story She’ll Never Tell.

  • Flash #24 concludes the “Reverse Flash” arc.  The Flash was one of those rare series that wasn’t affected by Villains Month.  While Flash #23 ended with the revelation that Daniel West, brother of Iris West, was the Reverse Flash, Villains Month gave him his own issue which revealed how he got his powers, what his childhood was like with an abusive father, and how the desire for a better relationship with his sister has motivated him his entire life.  The trauma of their childhood under their dad’s tyranny created a divide between them and Daniel desperately wants that closeness back.  This led him to a life of crime, trying to find the quick way to make his sister’s life easier and his own.  It only made things harder though, sending him to prison and taxing his relationship with Iris even further.  After getting out of prison he immediately found himself in the middle of the Gorilla Invasion of the Gem Cities and pulled into the Mirror World where the Rogues were giving citizens refuge . . . while also robbing them, making them pay for the privilege.  Dr. Elias’ Speed Force monorail engine, powered by
    The Wrath of Reverse Flash.

    The Wrath of Reverse Flash.

    the Speed Force energy he had siphoned off of Flash, was also in the Mirror World and exploded, fusing onto Daniel’s body and giving him his Speed Force powers.  After killing other people who were in the Speed Force and taking their energies he gets the ability to travel back far enough in time to kill his father, engineering the childhood he always wanted and “ensuring” the relationship he always wanted with his sister.  Little did he know that the younger versions of himself and sister would be present when he does the deed.  Flash goes back and reasons with Daniel that the trauma he inflicts on the kids is far worse than the continued trauma of their father’s abuses. So he once again is only making things worse for himself, not better.  Barry also enumerates that all the energy coming off himself while he moves through the Speed Force is what actually moves time forward, so the fact that Daniel is the exact opposite of Flash, this is how he is able to travel backward.  While Daniel is distracted he is able to siphon his Speed Force energiesFlash24-2 back and move both back into the present.  Iris is then able to complete the job Barry started by guilting Daniel into submission and he is returned to prison, although completely unrepentant about what he did.  Iris on the other hand tells him that despite how horrific their childhood was it made them both strong and she wouldn’t change the past for anything.  It made her the woman she is.  After concluding this catastrophic time-altering nightmare, Barry is able to make it to Patty Spivot’s parent’s 40th wedding anniversary, meets her dad, and get the last dance with her.  On that note I must once again assert my absolute love of Patty Spivot.  She is an amazing character and I am glad that Buccellato and Manapul put her and Barry together in their run on this series.  After this tender moment, Flash meets Dr. Elias (the two-faced scientist that turned the city against him, stole his Speed Force energies, and tried to kill him a few times) and basically tells him that he created the Reverse Flash, imperiled Iris, and admits that if Iris had been killed Flash would have killed him.  With the ultimatum issued to stay out of Flash’s way, the consequences are left ominously open-ended.  The issue’s conclusion functions as a denouement of the entirety of what Flash as a character IS.  Barry had a really awful childhood, coming home at a young age to find his mother murdered and his father accused of the crime, which Barry has spent the last twenty years trying to disprove forensically, and Lord knows Flash would love nothing more than to go back and prevent it from happening or even witness the crime to discover the killer’s identity and exonerate his dad, but that isn’t who he is.  Probably a nod to Flashpoint, which started this reboot and also created a nightmare world of evil superheroes.  It is an examination of his moral compass and the realization that you can’t go back.  He can only go forward, which is a pretty optimistic perspective for himself and his readers.  You can’t change your past and even if you could you shouldn’t.  If you lived through something terrible it only shows your resilience and gives you strength to take in your forward facing journey.  Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul really get this character and the world he lives in.  There is so much heart and philosophical brilliance put into the scripting and rendering of each and every panel.  Their storytelling is peerless as is their combined artistic prowess.  This is a one of THE titles to get, encapsulating everything that is GOOD in the comic medium.

    Strength Out Of Weakness.

    Strength Out Of Weakness.

  • Aquaman #24 is the penultimate chapter of the “Dead King” arc, telling a chilling tale of the first King of Atlantis.  It began when a dead king came back to life from the ice of the southern polar ice cap, with the power to control water, as most Atlanteans do, but with the added ability to freeze water, which often is a means of heralding his advent.  He tells Aquaman that he is not the king of Atlantis nor was the throne ever rightfully his, causing some distress for Aquaman, who really sits upon it by necessity, not choice.  In this issue Aquaman wakes up after having passed out from using his telepathic ability to get the aquatic leviathan named Topos (a giant crustacean cephalopod) to attack the villain called the Scavenger from bombing Atlantis with his submarine fleet, thereby saving his subjects lives.  Six months have passed and he is being cared for by Vulko, his former Atlantean adviser who initiated the war between Atlantis and the surface world.  Obviously he is greatly perturbed by this man’s presence, but Vulko takes him to the Dead King’s throne room in Antarctica and shows him the history of the dead monarch.  King Atlan founded Atlantis with utopian dreams of uniting the world, leading many zealots among his court to rise up against him for the affront to their racial superiority.  Headed up by Atlan’s younger brother Orin they attempted to kill Atlan, forcing him into exile and prompting him to forge the six artifacts of Atlantis, seen in the “Others” arc of Aquaman several months ago.  When Atlan returned he found his wife and children were murdered to solidify Orin’s rule.  So the Dead King killed Orin, killed his Queen, and then sunk the continent beneath the sea with the scepter he had forged, killing 90% of the population.  The 10% that survived became the modern Atlantean people.  There were seven nations united under the Atlantean banner who were the scions of the seven seas. Four nations were wiped out and three survived, one of which was the Trench, the fish-like people seen in the first arc of this title.  The other two most likely were the proper Atlanteans and the Xebel, who now live in exile.  That second part is an assumption from context clues.  The issue ends with Arthur realizing that he isn’t the rightful king and Atlan is.  Atlan doesn’t have descendants, and Arthur is the descendant of Orin, a regicidal, fratricidal, racist lunatic.  That’s a tough pill to swallow.  Geoff Johns is a good writer, albeit one that has kind of gone crazy with power, lording over the Reboot willy-nilly.  However, in this final arc he is doing a very decent job writing a compelling story that honors the character and the facets of his character that have buoyed him above the mockery that surrounds the concept of Aquaman with most non-comic fans and a large number of actual comic fans.  This issue is a prime example of “Johns done right.”
  • Larfleeze #4 features the opening salvos of the “Revolt of the Orange Lanterns.”  The series’ protagonist, Larfleeze, is the sole wielder of the Orange Light of Greed making him the only tangible Orange Lantern.  The illusion of there being an Orange Lantern Corps comes from his theft of the life-force of beings he desires to serve him.  They are then recreated as Orange Light constructs and dispatched to do their master’s will.  After last issue, his Corpsmen are not only free of his control, but also returned to corporal life.  With their bodies and self-determination restored they turn on Larfleeze and seek revenge for their murder and subsequent enslavement.  What this issue does that is interesting is fully introduce members of the Orange Lantern Corps and give them personalities.  Conceptually, the members of the Corps always depicted in the background were given names and back stories, but never contextually within the Green Lantern titles.  Glomulus, Larfleeze’s cute little toadie, is the only Orange Lantern besides Larfleeze himself to be depicted with any sort of personality.  In this issue we meet Clypta (a faceless twi’lek-looking woman), Wrap (a cycloptic mummy), Sound Dancer (a fanged, green-skinned swamp monster with long stringy hair obscuring her eyes), Nat-Nat (a lamprey millipede), Tammal-Tayn (a squid-faced, furry arachnid), and a centaur-like character that has as of yet not been named. The depiction of Glomulus, I feel was very off, and falls short of the incredible way he was depicted in the “Ring Thief” arc of Green Lantern: New Guardians.  Tony Bedard hit on something really wonderful, now squandered by writers J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen.  Larfleeze is an obstinate, ornery psychotic, but even he cannot stave off that kind of assault.  Elsewhere in the universe, Larfleeze’s once butler, Stargrave, is escorted by his new mistress, the Wanderer, to the home of her sister, Dyrge, who is just as cheerful as her name implies.  Giffen and DeMatteis write an extremely comical and quick-witted cosmic farce (though sometimes misguided) that both explores the Green Lantern universe and lampoons it.  Scott Kolins’ art enlivens the script with sharp lines and action pack panels.  This is certainly a comic to read on a rainy day when you are down in the dumps.

    Beware the Orange Lanterns' Might . . .

    Beware the Orange Lanterns’ Might . . .

  • Talon #12 returns after the Villains Month hiatus with an insane amount of plot points converging in a perfect storm of chaos for Calvin Rose and allies.  Previously, Calvin had chased exiled Court of Owls grandmaster, Sebastian Clark, to Santa Prisca where the disgraced leader tried to use Bane and his mercenary army to crush the Court.  Bane, however, is not a force that can be controlled and though he sets out for Gotham with a massive strike force of highly trained mercenaries to destroy Gotham he does so with no intention of following someone else’s script.  Back in Gotham, Calvin’s lover Casey Washington and her daughter Sarah were captured by the Court.  Sarah was taken to a facility where she would be subliminally conditioned to be a weapon and Casey given to the 19th century Talon infamously known as the “Gotham Butcher.”  Casey escaped his sadism, finding her way back to Calvin, minus an arm and an eye.  This issue follows the Butcher breaking from Court control after the loss of their trump card against Calvin.  The Butcher gained his name in the 1860’s by slaughtering hundreds of Gothamites in very bloody and public ways, forcing the Court to retire him to protect their anonymity. The modern Court awoke him with the delusion that he could be tamed with science and high-tech restraints.  Where there’s a will there’s a way and the Butcher CANNOT be silenced or leashed, unleashing a whole new level of horror on Gotham, as if Bane and his commandos weren’t enough.  Writer James Tynion reinforces the connection of this series to the initial arc of Batman, which he cowrote, that first introduced the Court of Owls.  After his premature birth, Thomas Wayne Jr. (little brother of Bruce) was supposedly taken to the Carpenter House for Boys, which had been a haunted place since the fire of 1862.  The Butcher started that fire and also set into motion the steady decline of Gotham.  Bane, Clark, the Butcher, and the corner Court.  The stakes are high going into the final issue of Tynion’s run with “lucky” issue #13.
  • Teen Titans #24 is an unseated trip through time and space.  After being flung into the time-stream by Johnny Quick in Forever Evil #2 the Teen Titans are separated and tossed to the temporal trade winds.  When writer Scott Lobdell began writing this series two years ago, he had the Mexican meta-teen Bunker (aka Miguel Jose Barragon) meet Red Robin on a freight train, saying Red Robin had told him to meet him there.  Tim Drake (Red Robin) had no recollection of that ever happening.  Thanks to Johnny Quick and the roller-coaster ride he threw the team into that conversation is actualized.  Meanwhile, Wonder Girl (aka Cassie Sandsmark) and Superboy find themselves in ancient Egypt fending off an invasion of solar intruders called the Sunturnians, last seen in Lobdell’s Superman #19.  Solstice (aka Kiran Singh) and Kid Flash (aka Bart Allen) are sent into the 25th century, Bart’s native time, to witness the events that made Bart into a heinous criminal, unbeknownst to his amnesic mind.  Raven is sent to the medieval era and set against the Demon, Etrigan.  As these moments in time unfold before their eyes, connections are made and slowly the team find one another through the vast reaches of the ages and anchor themselves until Red Robin can find a way to extricate themselves.  However, there are forces within the team that are set to tear them apart.  Scott Lobdell has been one of the keystone pillars on this title.  His out-of-the-box plotting and edgy storytelling has led to some of the most incredible, engaging Teen Titans storylines since the days of Wolfman and Perez and their New Teen Titans series in the 80’s.  Providing guest art is Angel Unzueta, mimicking well the style of regular series Eddy Barrows.  This was really a great issue that carries on the overarching plot of Forever Evil while tantalizing the reader with plot reveals that have been in the works for months, if not years, including the identity of Bart Allen and the horrific acts he perpetrated in the future.  The traitor in the midst of the Titans.  Lobdell maintains this series’ must-read status.

    The Origin of Kid Flash.

    The Origin of Kid Flash.

  • The Unwritten #54 concludes the massive Fables/Unwritten crossover in an epic manner.  Mister Dark has the war with the Fables all but won.  Truly, every single modicum of resistance the defenders of Fabletown offer turn to dust before him.  What Frau Totenkinder knew and shows the reintegrated Tom Taylor is the nature of the world in which they exist and its relation to the power of the written word.  That has been the guiding principle of the entire series and, apropos the conclusion of this crossover event, harkens back to the very first pages of The Unwritten, almost five years ago.  The issue hits its ending hard leaving a cliffhanger whose ramifications resound through an infinity of possibilities.  Nearly all the Fables are dead and those that aren’t by issue’s end are close to it.  Mister Dark is an unstoppable force.  Only the undoing of everything can stop him in his tracks.  But once reality is undone can it be redone?  Will the world be made right again or completely restarted?  Through the imagery of the horn used in the opening pages of The Unwritten in the Harry Potter-esque “Tommy Taylor” books, cowriters Mike Carey and Peter Gross prove that they have been working towards this moment and the answers to come for nigh on half a decade.  THIS is a moment in Unwritten history that is both exciting and terrifying for the series’ faithful.  And what’s worse, it is put on a three-month hiatus forestalling the resolution to those troubling questions.  We’ll just have to wait until March to figure it all out.
  • T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents #3 brings to light the one of the most pressing questions of the series thus far.  Entitled “The Judgment Tower,” it has seen the international super-terrorist, the Iron Lady, seizing a top-secret T.H.U.N.D.E.R installation in Kashmir and capturing two agents.  The base was so secret the chairmen and women of The Higher United Nations didn’t even know about it until it went dark with two agents down.  When asked to explain her actions Director (Kat) Kane remains cryptic about what the facility’s purpose was and why she kept it secret from her superiors.  Interlaced within these moments are retrospectives of her time as an agent, alongside her twin sister, Kelly.  Kelly has been strongly insinuated to be the Iron Maiden and clearly this whole conflict over the cave not only springs from a power grab, but some familial connection from the past.  That assertion is confirmed in this issue with the revelation that Kane had found a giant subterranean medieval parapet of medieval design not far from T.H.U.N.D.E.R HQ.  The tower, though seemingly from the middle ages, dates back over a million years ago before the evolution of man as the dominant species on our planet.  It also emits a cosmic radiation encountered only via radio telescope from the depths of space.  So . . . who built this tower and for what purpose?  That remains to be seen.  But Kane not only found this tower twelve years prior with her sister.  She also found one in Kashmir.  That is what the facility was built to contain and study and that is why two elite agents fell into enemy hands guarding it.  Though the facility is under Iron Maiden’s control, the newest and perhaps most powerful T.H.U.N.D.E.R agent, Len Brown, aka Dynamo, is inserted into the base and several moles within her organization surface for the good of the mission.  However, the true purpose of the tower and its realization begin with the last page.  My familiarity with T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents has been painstaking, finding collections of the original series over several jumps in publishers and many decades.  Though not complete, I have read several versions of T.H.U.N.D.E.R and though this has its differences from several of the latter versions, Phil Hester’s attempt with this new series hits uncannily close to the style and feel of the original series by Wally Wood and the writer Len Brown who lent his name to the main character, Dynamo.  Fifty years later and the same characters are rendered with the same quality by Hester and his partner in art, Andrea Di Vito.  For superhero excellence outside of the Big Two, this series is the prime choice.
    The Dark Tower Rising.

    The Dark Tower Rising.

     

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

Illustration Credits:

Justice League Dark #24: Art by Mikel Janin, Colored by Jeromy Cox.

Red Lanterns #24: Art by Alessandro Vitti, Colored by Gabe Eltaeb.

Superman #24: Drawn by Eddy Barrow, Colored Pete Pantazis, Inked by Eber Ferreira.

Flash #24: Art by Francis Manapul, Colored by Brian Buccellato.

Larfleeze #4: Art by Scott Kolins, Colored by Mike Atiyeh.

Teen Titans #24: Drawn by Angel Unzueta, Colored Pete Pantazis, Inked by Art Thibert.

The Unwritten #54: Art by Peter Gross, Colored by Chris Chuckry.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R  Agents #3: Art by Andrea Di Vito, Colored by Rom Fajardo.

Sept. 25, 2013

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

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

    JusticeLeagueSecretSociety2

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

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

    A King's Mercy

    A King’s Mercy.

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

    Warrior Women of the House of El.

    Warrior Women of the House of El.

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

    Harsh Justice

    Harsh Justice.

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

    That Happened.

    That Happened.

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

    Evil Can Be Killed, But Kinnness Never Dies.

    Evil Can Be Killed, But Kinnness Never Dies.

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

    The Face of Freedom.

    The Face of Freedom.

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

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

    The Evil Genius of Lex Luthor

    The Evil Genius of Lex Luthor

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

    Fathers and Sons.

    Fathers and Sons.

  • The Wake #4 

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

    The Legend of Saeftinghe.

    The Legend of Saeftinghe.

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

  • T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 

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

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

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

Illustration Credits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sept 11, 2013

Two weeks in and Villains Month is heating up.  There are some grade A characters being represented this week and expectations are high.  The much sought 3D covers can only take them so far.  Here’s hoping this week maintains the momentum built last week.

  • Action Comics #23.2: Zod begins the exploration into the mystery that is Zod.  To be fair, I believe I went into this issue with extremely high hopes.   For those readers that have read my thirteen page review of this summer’s Man of Steel film, they know that Zod is dear to my heart and only the most faithful adaptation to the integrity of the character would do.  His entre into the New 52 came in the final installment of Action Comics’s backup feature, “World of Krypton” as Jor-El and Cadet Lara Lor-Van are saved from an overzealous Colonel who would overthrow the government by the loyal commander of Krypton’s military forces, Dru-Zod.  Even though this appearance is  short there was still promise in the way it was written by Scott Lobdell and Frank Hannah.  This issue, written by Greg Pak, is a little more heavy-handed and portrays Zod as a monster forged in youth by his battle with actual monsters in the Kryptonian wilderness.  Though it’s neither stated nor inferred in the text of the issue, it is reminiscent of the Frederick Nietzsche quote: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster.”  Throughout his rise through Krypton’s military and his befriending the Brothers El he came off a little strangely in my opinion.   In Man of Steel there was a harshness that belied a deeper nobility in the Kryptonian general and a certain efficiency.  Waste not, want not.  Unless something had to be done, Zod didn’t do it, but if it was necessary, he did it and did it right.  The Zod I imagined in the “World of Krypton” also had a nobility about him that came from utilitarian ideals and a love of Krypton.  In this version by Pak, I don’t believe he follows the same footfalls as the other two versions I mentioned.  I believe he IS as monster and lacking many of the quintessential qualities of a patriot of Krypton.  I will reserve my judgement for what looks to be his next appearance under the pen of writer Charles Soule in Superman/Wonder Woman #3.
  • Aquaman #23.1: Black Manta is a penetrating look at perhaps the greatest antagonist of Aquaman.  While he is  no longer the man who murdered Aquaman’s infant son, Arthur Curry Jr, he is still tied to Aquaman in a mutual circle of death and hatred.  It is revealed that Manta accidentally killed Arthur’s father by inducing a heart attack, and in retribution Aquaman attempted to kill him only to accidentally murder Manta’s father.  What results is a deadly spiral of two sons attempting to avenge the inadvertent killings of their fathers.  This issue is billed as being conceived of by Tony Bedard and Geoff Johns, but words by Bedard.  Considering that most of the actual interactions and dialogue in this issue are taken verbatim from Forever Evil #1 I am assuming that Bedard merely filled in the captions to give Manta’s perspective.  What is clear is that Manta’s “evil motivations” is nothing more than killing Aquaman.  After that, there is no malice left to rule the world, or continue to kill or oppress.  Just avenge his father’s death with his own hands.  Enter the Crime Syndicate who subjugate the world and proclaim, “The Justice League is dead!” and offer Aquaman’s trident as proof.  Essentially, a man whose sole motivation for continuing on was vengeance is denied that very impetus.  So if he cannot avenge his father’s murder anymore, he can replace that hatred with vengeance against those who robbed him of his chance at retribution.  Though this is Villains Month, this issue imbues Black Manta with a twisted humanity that makes him very relatable and almost noble.  Though it’s just a brief glimpse, this issue tells everything that is really necessary in the understanding of this iconic comic book character’s New 52 iteration.

    Spiral of Hatred

    Spiral of Hatred

  • Green Lantern #23.2: Mongul is an interesting issue that redefines the character while maintaining his essence.  In this issue the moon sized War World, Mongul’s vessel, appears suddenly in the territory of the Oblivoron Federation.  When the admiral of the Federation armada demands the surrender of the War World, he is beamed aboard the artificial planet and brought before Mongul.  Mongul then leads the Admiral around his “home”, displaying its defensive capabilities and the oddities that he has amassed from his travels across the cosmos.  All the while he waxes philosophic about the art of war, conquest, and ruling, while simultaneously giving glimpses at his past, demonstrating his principles through their context toward the immensely powerful being he has become.  Though the issue is almost entirely him just pontificating to his humbled “guest” it keeps the reader’s attention with the stark imagery juxtaposed against the quasi Sun-Tzu/Machievellian rhetoric.  Mongul is changed a bit in the New 52 from former tellings, but remains true to the inherent nature of his past characterizations.  This is largely because the issue was written by Mongul’s co-creator, Jim Starlin.  Admittedly, Len Wein was the writer who first wrote him and Starlin the artist, but this time around Starlin finds himself penning the character with the help of famed artist, Howard Porter.  The look and the feel of the character endures, and as the title he appears in foreshadows, the issue ends with War World closing in on a Green Lantern Corps chapter house.  It stands to reason that we will see him in the not to distant future in the pages of Green Lantern Corps.

    "We Shall Never Surrender!"

    “We Shall Never Surrender!”

  • Batman & Robin #23.2: The Court of Owls is a fantastically woven tale of the Court, of course, but more so of Gotham itself and how the Court has entwined itself irrevocably into the very fabric of the city’s infrastructure, its culture, and the people who populate it.  James Tynion IV (writer of Talon and protegé of the Court’s creator, Scott Snyder)  pens this issue brilliantly.  His writing tends to alternate between good and uninspired.  This issue REALLY captures the essence of the subject organization, driving home to those familiar with the Court why they are so immensely powerful, and does the same for those who may never have read about the Court, while also introducing them in a very conversational tone.  The issue begins in 1974 with a murder orchestrated by the Court, then cuts to the present day with Gotham tearing itself apart after the events of Forever Evil #1.  Watching all of this is a youngish, yet senior member of the Court (wearing his owl mask, of course) explaining to his daughter (masked herself and looking to be around 9 or 10 years old) why they have nothing to fear from the havoc that is tearing Gotham asunder.  The Court has weathered civil discord, plagues, riots, and the like many times before and only come back stronger.  The issue then alternates between the present and the past, showing how the Court has asserted its power time and again as the father owl tells his daughter more about the principles that bind them to Gotham’s very foundations.  These trips into the past range from 1974 all the way back to 1862, featuring the exploits of the Gotham Butcher.  Each episode drives home further the point that the Court can never be fully extinguished so long as a single stone of Gotham remains.  It also foreshadows a looming threat from the further past known as . . . the First Talon.  Considering the sinister nature of the Talons (assassins of the Court) we’ve seen so far, especially the Gotham Butcher, for the First Talon to be that frightening to members of the Court, it must be something quite horrifying.  Tynion writes it extremely well, but he gets a lot of help from artist Jorge Lucas, whose art is very gothic, with beautiful lines hashed out or blackened to give the impression of shadows and darkness in all areas and all times of day throughout Gotham.  No one is safe anywhere or anytime from the Court . . .

    Who?

    Who?

  • Batman #23.2: The Riddler was very blase.  I had high hopes for the issue, considering that Edward Nygma is playing such an integral role in Scott Snyder’s “Batman: Year Zero” storyline, however the problem lies in the delivery.  As the title page reveals, the issue’s story was conceived of by Scott Snyder and Ray Fawkes, but was written by Fawkes.  You can feel the presence of Scott Snyder’s style in the skeleton of the story, in which a recently escaped Riddler makes his way to the Wayne Enterprises Building and stages a very elaborate break-in.  His goals and the means in which he infiltrates the building is very Snyder-esque and you know that there is a lot of possibilities inherent in it.  The problem is that Ray Fawkes has a certain way of writing that isn’t always the best and unfortunately for this issue he really makes the character obnoxious and uninteresting.  The Riddler is a character that skews that way naturally and it takes a careful hand to write him in such a way that he is engaging and interesting, not pretentious and grating to the reader.  Unfortunately, Ray Fawkes hasn’t displayed any such talents in his time on Batgirl or Pandora.  The Riddler is a character I have enjoyed in the past, but not overly so, so the fact that this issue wasn’t written the best didn’t sadden me too much.  I did enjoy the art by Jeremy Haun, which was very reminiscent of Phil Noto.  An okay issue, but definitely not a “MUST get.”
  • Detective Comics #23.2: Harley Quinn was a giant contradiction and I say that in a way that is not condemning or negative.  I don’t really know whether I liked it or hated it, but I like that I don’t know.  That uncertainty underscores the essential nature of the character as depicted in this issue.  Writer Matt Kindt really hits on the contradictions of the character herself that seem irreconcilable, yet form the bedrock of who she is.  To the casual observer Harley Quinn is the ditzy blonde that epitomizes the stereotype into which she aptly seems to fall.  However, before the grease paint and the red and black costuming, she was a brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. Harleen Quintzel.  The issue shows her as a young overachiever who used her intelligence and immense drive to escape a traumatic, lower class childhood.  As a rising star in psychiatry she went to Arkham Asylum to cut her teeth on the sickest minds in the world.  After awhile of grinding her gears, she tried a revolutionary tactic of infiltrating them as a new “inmate” and studying them and treating them under the radar.  While occupying this persona and experiencing life from their perspective, everything she pushed herself to be and all the hard work and diligence fell away and she learned what it felt like to be truly free, releasing Harley from within Harleen’s confined, regimented psyche.  The rest plays out in a giant cathartic explosion of chaos and self-discovery.  This is the part of the issue I really liked.  The part I wasn’t too fond of was her actions in the present, disseminating handheld gaming devices to that masses laced with explosives that kill both adults and small children.  She also murders at least one cop, if not dozens in a pretty brutal fashion.  As stated before, I really enjoyed the look into how she split from a paradigm of order to a paragon of chaos, but her brutal actions in the present that are extremely harsh and without any rationale given in the narrative jarred me quite a bit.  I think this does cement her as a more feminized Joker-like character than she has been in the past, but I am not sure if her actions as they stand push her past the limits of her anti-heroic depiction in Suicide Squad.  I will give Matt Kindt a thumbs up for a very thought-provoking issue.
  • Justice League #23.2: Lobo was an issue that didn’t need to be written.  Worse, it didn’t even need to be thought.  The controversy surrounding this issue was something I tried not to jump into, being that DC was saying that the man we have seen since the character’s creation in the late 80’s was NOT in fact the real Lobo, but rather an imposter.  A BOLD proposition, but I chose to hear them out and not get bent out of shape until there was an actual reason.  Well, this issue presented nothing new.  Nothing interesting.  Nothing different.  To be fair, there are differences, but not good ones. Lobo, as created by Keith Giffen, was a big, muscular, space biker that was the last of his race (him having murdered his entire species) who bounty hunted across the universe for some spending money.  He did BAD, morally repugnant things, but you read him because of his penchant for over the top violence and his pseudo-swear words like “bastich” and “fragging.”  He won you over.  What writer Marguerite Bennett replaced him with is a thinner, more morose facsimile with a stupid looking pompadour.  Worst of all, she gutted his endearing vernacular for a schizophrenic, hipster style, no longer calling people “bastiches” when he does his business, but rather one who says, “Sorry. Not Sorry.”  Once or twice that might simply be tolerable, but by the fifth time you pray that the “fake” (REAL!!!) Lobo would come out of nowhere and cut the hipster bastich’s fraggin’ tongue out with something blunt.  Sorry, new Lobo.  Not sorry.  I don’t know whose fault this utter piece of tripe is, Bennett’s or DC’s execs who have been REALLY throwing out terrible ideas of late, but this experiment is a failure.  Sorry, DC.  NOT sorry!
  • The Flash #23.2: The Reverse Flash tells the tale of one of Flash’s most iconic villains reimagined for the New 52.  The Rogues represent a perennial  challenge to the Flash, but its the Reverse Flash that truly underscores the dark side of the Speed Force, the transcendental energy stream from which they both draw their power.  This issue, like so much of what co-writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato have done with this title takes the character of the Reverse Flash and reworked him in innovative, intriguing ways, while at the same time staying true to the spirit of what came before.  In their run Barry Allen (the Flash) is no longer married to the character who was his wife for decades, Iris West, and indeed as the series opened they had never been in a relationship.  Barry instead is dating fellow Central City forensic investigator, Patty Spivot.  Reverse Flash also finds himself in the shuffle of things with a new take and a new persona.  Whereas once he was Eobard Thawne or Hunter Zolomon, in the New 52 he inherits a third persona: Daniel West, brother of Iris.  However, like the two aforementioned Reverse Flashes, Daniel’s abilities and goals are heavily centered on time travel.  Thawne was a criminal from the 25th century who came back in time to our “present” with the use of Barry Allen’s original costume, slightly modified.  Zolomon was a paraplegic who after being refused help via time manipulation by Barry Allen’s successor and former sidekick, Wally West, took it upon himself to attempt time travel only to end up becoming a twisted psychotic whose powers were actually time-based and did not rely on speed at all.  This Villains Month issue tells us how Daniel got his abilities, tied integrally into the Speed Force, and how his past coupled with these abilities drove him insane. I don’t know if I have ever read anything about Iris’ brother, or if Daniel is in fact the father of Wally, but the representation of Daniel in this issue is complex, compelling, and despite his mismanaged rage and many flaws, you sort of find yourself rooting for him.  Francis Manapul has been the only one to draw the Reverse Flash since his introduction to the New DCU, even when all but the last page were drawn by someone else.  This special issue was drawn by Scott Hepburn, whose style very closely mimics Manapul’s lines, and its shocking ending is truly a hallmark in the New 52’s three year history.  This is not an issue to miss.FlashReverseFlash
  • Earth 2 #15.2: Solomon Grundy is the second issue written by Matt Kindt this week and comes off a little weaker than his Harley Quinn issue, though written in a similar fashion.  The last time we saw Grundy, Earth 2 writer James Robinson had Alan Scott’s Green Lantern strand the hulking zombie on the Moon.  This issue has him shooting back to Earth like a meteorite, but with no explanation of how that comes to pass.  Once back, he begins to do as he did when we first met him a year ago when Robinson introduced him as the avatar of the Grey (Rot), reducing everything living he touches to ash.  As he cuts a wide swathe across the American southwest, Kindt cuts the narrative back to Slaughter Swamp of 1898 to introduce Solomon’s human life as a sharecropper and butcher in a the slaughterhouse that gave the swamp its name.  His life was lived and ended in a very horrifying manner, resulting in an equally horrible after-life.  The parts of the narrative that take place in the past are well done, but when they cut to the present there is a serious disconnect for the reader.  Grundy almost destroyed humanity just by being on the planet for a few hours when we first met him, so the ending of him wreaking havoc unopposed is very unsatisfying and raises more questions than it answers.  In this way it is very much like Harley’s Detective Comics issue, but in that case the disconnect between past and present was indicative of the character’s persona.  This issue didn’t have that same appropriateness and just came off sloppy.  Artist Aaron Lopresti did a fantastic job rendering the issue artistically and is the real draw of the issue with a decent, but not entirely satisfying plot.  However, Matt Kindt wrote several issues this month, so it is completely understandable that some will be better than their fellows.
  • Teen Titans #23.1: Trigon, like Mongul above, is another Villains Month issue that features the character’s creator coming back decades later and re-imagining them for DC’s rebooted multiverse. In this version a young, smaller Trigon is brought before a holy trinity of universal guardians calling themselves the “Divine,” who purge evil from the known universes using a cosmic anomaly known as the “Heart.”  True to its name, it resembles a giant black, pulsating heart that sucks the souls from those with evil festering inside them.  This tactic doesn’t work on the young demon lord, and actually brings about the Divine’s ultimate undoing.  From there, Trigon descends upon world after world subjugating universes and realities one after the other through the impregnating of women in each sphere with his progeny.  However, few of his children survive birth or their mothers commit suicide before they can be born.  All of his sons also prove to be unimpressive specimens, but one human woman who gives herself to Trigon willingly and gives birth to a daughter, Raven, who becomes the greatest of his scions.  Raven, as we know, has found her way into the ranks of the Teen Titans and her allegiance is somewhat ambiguous at this moment.  Also tying into the Teen Titans title is the introduction of the first bearer of the Silent Armour (currently worn by Wonder Girl) and the only being to ever fight Trigon to a stalemate.  Wolfman’s story fits spectacularly into the overall framework of the New DCU, specifically the work that Scott Lobdell has done in Teen Titans.
  • Batman: The Dark Knight #23.2: Mr. Freeze is the Mr. Freeze issue that should have been from the start. Scott Snyder is a phenomenal writer, but his New 52 introduction of Victor Fries was totally lackluster and didn’t do justice to the character at all. Perhaps the keystone motivation of the character is his love and devotion to his wife, Nora. He was a man who was literally cold as ice in both demeanor and M.O., but underneath that frigid exterior beats a warm heart filled with love. While Snyder’s introduction to Freeze began that way in Batman Annual #1, it quickly soured as Batman reveals that the Nora in cryogenic stasis wasn’t actually Victor’s wife, but a Jane Doe with whom he grew an obsession. Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray take that imperfect start and re-establish Freeze as a man capable of feeling love, albeit a very psychotic brand of love. When the crap hits the fan with the Crime Syndicate opening the prisons and Arkham Asylum and chaos reigns all throughout Gotham Freeze intercedes in favor of an Arkham nurse that showed him kindness when she didn’t have to. His father walked out on him and his mother when he was a small child and though this sense of betrayal ruined his adolescence and ultimately killed his mother, upon finding out that his father had another family and he had a half-brother, niece, and nephew he never knew about he is excited. Many psychotics would be angry and resentful about this, but Victor’s cold demeanor belies a desire for meaningful human affection and to preserve it at all costs. This presentation of Mr. Freeze rings the most true of any so far in the New DCU. What also gives this the feeling of a true second chance for character is the art from Jason Masters, who was the same artist to first render him in the New 52 in Batman Annual #1.
  • Superman #23.2: Brainiac could be the most perfect Villains Month issue yet and I would dare say, probably the best that this month will yield.  It is literally perfect, just like the subject it depicts.  There are many variables that figure into this perfect storm of awesome: 1) Writer Tony Bedard, a proven master that knows how to write complex cosmic drama, 2) artist Pascal Alixe’s art is peerless!, the pencils and inks immersing the reader into a very comprehensive vision of the complex text, 3) both Bedard and Alixe stand on the shoulders of giants, drawing off of and adding to phenomenal Superman stories of the past two years by the likes of Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Scott Lobdell, and Kenneth Rocafort, to name only a few.   The issue begins with the systematic subjugation of three worlds by the “Collector”, colloquially known as Brainiac.   On the third world, Noma, the planet’s most brilliant scientist, Victoria Viceroy, is captured by the Collector’s Terminauts and debriefed by her robotic aide, Pneumenoid, slaved to Brainiac’s reprogramming. Pneumenoid attempts to persuade her that what is happening to her world is not a defeat, but rather a triumph for her planet and its culture.  He then recounts a tale of the most brilliant mind on the planet of Yod-Colu who became aware of the Multitude, the 5th dimensional hoard created in Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run that ravage planets and erradicate their populations.  It is for this reason that the scientist Vril Dox begins to perform extreme experimentations in the “upgrading” of the Coluan species using his son as the guinea pig.  When his wife, Lysl Dox, becomes aware of his crimes against their child she brings him before the planet’s justices who listen to his defense as to the danger the 5th dimension poses to their world and what his experiments would achieve toward the preservation of their way of life.  His pleas fall on deaf ears and he is exiled into deep space.  However, as the chief scientific mind of Yod-Colu, Dox had designed the craft that imprisoned him and the computer systems administering his captivity, thus allowing him easy access to override its programming and aid him in his endeavors.  On the way back to Yod-Colu, he has the ship’s A.I. complete on himself the operations he had begun on his son, transforming him into a walking biocomputer.  He returns to Yod-Colu and extracts all vital information on Colu’s civilization, history, technology, and culture and shrinks a city (his very first), bottling it to preserve also a small sampling of its people.  The poignant detail that bears mentioning is that, despite his cold logic and emotionless nature, the portion of Colu Brainiac bottles contains his wife and son, sparing them from the horrific apocalypse the Multitude rain down on the rest of his world.  This process of data extraction and bottling a city becomes his modus operandi on many worlds between Yod-Colu and his eventual advent on Earth.  One such world, of course, was Krypton where he stole the capital city, Kandor, which he bottled and added to his collection.  This was one of the few worlds that Brainiac failed to destroy before he left, and serendipitously so, because the foremost Kryptonian scientist, Jor-El, achieved the one thing that even Brainiac’s vaunted 12th level intellect could not: defeating the Multitude.  Jor-El was the only being to EVER defeat them until his son, Kal-El, did just that in Morrison’s Action Comics run.  But even Jor-El was not brilliant enough to prevent the inevitability of Krypton’s destruction by other forces, which we are scheduled to witness in two short months in the “Krypton Returns” storyline throughout the Super-titles.  Since then, Brainaic has preemptively preserved doomed cultures in the Multitude’s path and sought out minds that could do what Jor-El did.  Enter Victoria Viceroy, a very similar persona to Jor-El, both in intellect and disposition.  The issue plays out in a natural cycle of tragic fatalism inherent in the disparity between automated logic and the spontaneity of free will.  The tragedy of the comic is very moving and thought-provoking making it all the more enjoyable.  If there was a choice of only one issue to get this week, Brainiac would be the logical choice, with the word “choice” betraying the illusion of there even being one.  That is what Brainiac would most likely tell you, without bias of course.SupermanBrainiac
  • FBP (Federal Bureau of Physics) #3 continues off of yet another incredible Vertigo series launched in a new wave of titles. The premise of the series is that the laws of physics have come undone and random anomalies occur that defy the very principles of normalcy that the reader takes for granted. To counter these freak occurrences a governmental agency is created, which gives this series its name. Last issue Agent Adam Hardy and his partner and mentor Jay Kelly of the Federal Bureau of Physics went into a bubble universe (a small alternate version of an area juxtaposed on top of the original) to rescue four people trapped inside, before the bubble bursts killing them and causing damage to the space/time continuum. No big deal. However, Jay decides to take this moment to pull a gun on his protege and end that relationship. But for effed up physics Jay would have succeeded. However, Adam is able to escape and effect the rescue of his assigned person, James Crest, a disgraced C.E.O. facing an indicted from the SEC. While all this is going on inside the bubble, on the outside the very eccentric appearing chief of the FBP, Cicero Deluca, meets with his own mentor in the latter’s television repair shop. The character of Cicero is pretty cryptic, giving the impression in the first two issues that he’s a very closed off, unilateral bureaucratic sort mixed with a “Beautiful Mind” autistic prodigy, so seeing him defer to another person, especially someone who isn’t vaunted as a world-class physicist and to witness his recognition  of his humble origins learning about science through television repair is quite humbling and humanizing. On the other side, his mentor, Yarab, a wizened old Semetic gentleman, poses a very interesting foil for the cold fact character found in Cicero. Bouncing ideas back and forth, you hear the textbook theoretics come out of Cicero’s mouth, countered or abetted by the scientifically back insightful ideas of Yarab wrapped in colloquial, old-world metaphors accentuating his didactics and his characterization. The issue advances the series further toward being a quintessentially Vertigo title, delving intelligently into the realities of our world explored through well-reasoned unrealities. Adam’s odyssey from the sins of his father to becoming an FBP agent to getting shot at by his oldest friend, Cicero’s discourse with Yarab into nightmarish quantum physics, to the horrifying actions of Jay in the very last panels of the issue cement it as one of those Vertigo runs you tell your friends about for years to come to show them what comics are truly capable of.FBP3

This week in comics was not to shabby and definitely produces some gems with far-reaching connotions.  This week definitely proves it’s GOOD to be a comic book nerd.

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

Illustration Credits:

Aquaman #23.1: Black Manta: Art by Claude St. Aubin, Colored by Blond

Green Lantern #23.2: Mongul: Art by Howard Porter, Colored by Hi-Fi

Batman & Robin #23.2: Court of Owls: Art by Jorge Lucas, Colored by Dave McCaig

The Flash #23.2: The Reverse Flash: Art by Scott Hepburn, Colored by Brian Buccellato

Superman #23.3: Brainiac: Art by Pascal Alixe, Colored by Hi-Fi

FBP #3: Art by Robbi Rodriguez, Colored by Rico Renzi

Sept. 4, 2013

It has been a LONG time since I have posted, due to some scheduling conflicts and a REALLY busy summer, but it’s good to be back talking about comics, and DC’s Villains Month is a perfect time to get back in the swing of things.  So far this first week has produced some interesting specimens as well as some really out-of-the-box concepts for the hallmark villains of the DC universe.  That said, less talking, more comic book reviewing:

  • Forever Evil #1 starts off the post Trinity War mega event across the entirety of the DC Universe.  The Crime Syndicate of America from Earth-3 has descended upon our world from a portal opened by Pandora’s Box.  As a result the Justice League has been “killed,” though it is not depicted nor explained, and the CSA have set about creating a Secret Society to claim the world in the name of evil. It doesn’t so much seem like a Secret when they are doing it out in the open . . .  From the four corners of the globe their acolytes are recruiting the evilest minds the planet can offer, from Gorilla Grodd to the Scarecrow, to create a new world order.  The issues opens on Lex Luthor, newly emancipated from prison for services rendered to the government, trying to coerce Thomas Kord (possible father of Ted Kord) to relinquish his controlling majority of Kord Industries with horrific, thinly veiled threats and bribery.  In mid-flight the helicopter they are riding in crashes leaving only Luthor alive.  The power goes out and all hell breaks loose.  The Crime Syndicate proudly proclaim, “This World is Ours.”  That is when the prisons are opened and  evil is truly unleashed like an open floodgate.  Throughout the rest of the issue we see the twisted version of the Justice League systematically subvert the last vestiges of super-powered defenders to proclaim their own order upon the globe.  With issue’s end the part that Luthor will play in the proceedings is very ambiguous.  Geoff Johns does a pretty decent job writing this story, which is interesting considering his blunt, overwrought attempts at the main Justice League title over the past two years. Aiding him in art is David Finch, who helped him launch Justice League of America eight months ago.  Of the two, I think that David Finch is the one that most excites me on this title.  Johns had his day in the sun, but has either lost his touch or gotten too power mad in his new executive position.  Either way, I am infinitely enthusiastic about this issue, as it expands the multiverse by one more world, giving birth to the Crime Syndicate:  Ultraman, Superwoman, Owlman, et al.  Owlman is perhaps the one that has the most interest to me, especially after the way he was portrayed in the DC animated movie Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.  We shall see if this event and the New 52 does justice to the former incarnations of the Crime Syndicate and Earth-3.
  • Action Comics #23.1:Cyborg Superman is written by Supergirl writer Michael Alan Nelson following the shocking revelation of the Cyborg’s identity at the end of Supergirl #23 following his capture and rending the flesh off Supergirl in order that he could regain his Kryptonian body and his lost memories of his identity.  After stripping her flesh through  molecular dissolution and regaining his, he is revealed to be none other than Zor-El, father of Supergirl.  In this issue we see a man obsessed with perfection and obsessed with proving his intellect over that of his younger, seemingly brighter brother, Jor-El, in the face of Krypton’s destruction.  Undertaken out of pride, his efforts were also undertaken in order that his entire family could survive.  Using half understood Brainiac technology, he tries to save his native Argo City, only to see it collapse and his fellow Kryptonians slowly die.  When Brainiac returns he bestows upon Zor-El what the man himself had attempted: to force perfection upon him.  Many parts of Zor-El are completely replaced to make him more efficacious and that which is organic was rewritten genetically to resemble his “superior sibling,” hence his looking so much like Superman and not his blond, more round faced self.  What remains of the issue is an exploration of what cold logic and mechanized calculations deem “perfect.”  The Cyborg Superman issue encapsulates beautifully what Zor-El has become after Brainiac altered him and sets the stage for what is to come in the aftermath of his restoration in the pages of Supergirl #24.

    Extreme Cosmetic Surgery

    Extreme Cosmetic Surgery

  • Batman #23.1: Joker is a real treat.  Under the pen of the great artist Andy Kubert, scion of the legendary Joe Kubert, we see him (to my knowledge for the first time) write an incredibly introspective look at the Joker, glimpses of his past, and what makes him tick.  Opening on a traumatic childhood, we see a horrendous display of abuses heaped upon him by a violently insane aunt, including scrubbing his face and body down with bleach and coarse brush, in essence explaining his white skin and his psychopathy.  Cut to the the near-present (years before he cut his face off) where the Joker raises a baby gorilla he kidnaps from the zoo to be his son.  Truly touching, he gives the gorilla everything he was denied as a child including genuine love.  He molds the ape into his own likeness, but not with any malice towards his “son’s” feelings. However, since there is no mention of the gorilla in the present, the reader knows it won’t last.  The Joker witnesses his son’s death and from what follows the reader knows that this creature was literally the closest relationship the Clown Prince of Gotham has ever had, and indeed, the Joker begins crying.  But he quickly breaks into laughter and makes grossly morbid jokes about the whole thing.  Kubert shows us that the Joker is capable of emotions, but because of the incredible trauma of his youth, whenever they are too much to bear his brain reverts to a manic state of euphoric laughter to compensate.  Truly amazing storytelling, befitting his father’s legacy.  Kubert wrote this, but the art was done by another of my favorite artists, Andy Clarke.  Clarke’s art has made the backups of Detective Comics soar and his treatment of this entire issue augments and accentuates Kubert’s plots brilliantly.  This is a Villains Month issue that is not to be missed.
  • Batman & Robin #23.1: Two-Face written by Peter Tomasi and drawn by Guillem March chronicles the fate of Two-Face during the beginnings of Forever Evil.  Batman is “dead” and Gotham has gone dark.  For the former Gotham district attorney and current crimelord there are two paths to take: save Gotham or let her burn.  A tough call that is made simpler by a coin toss.  Interrupted by the Scarecrow, a third option is presented, or rather a second choice to be made.  Scarecrow represents the Secret Society who wish Two-Face’s allegiance in subjugating our world.  So the more pertinent question becomes: join the Society or fight the Society?  Another coin toss.  As Gotham cries out, Two-Face’s reactions to it, coupled with a few flashbacks to his past, really fleshout the man he has become and where his loyalties and druthers find themselves.  If his psychoses were simple to understand he wouldn’t have been sent to Arkham all those times, and Tomasi really feels out that space in his story, showing the true depth of his madness.  He also throws in some old friends from his pre-Reboot stint of the Batman & Robin title as well to shake things up.  If you like the character of Two-Face and await what Tomasi plans for him in the formerly titled Batman & Robin series, this issue is a must read.
  • Detective Comics #23.1: Poison Ivy, like Two-Face above, deals with Ivy’s emergence into a Gotham a without power, law, or the Batman.  As it has ever been depicted in such conditions, it is ANARCHY!  It is in this that Poison Ivy is reminded of the disgusting nature of humanity.  Among the insanities she witnesses is a scene of domestic abuse that she intervenes upon.  In doing this she is taken back to her childhood and her own battered mother finding solace in her garden, with peace of plants.  A horror would later await both in that garden, scarring young Pamela for the rest of her life and starting her path towards becoming Ivy.  That path is laid out through her entry into academia and the internship at Wayne Enterprises that brought about her physical transformation into the floral female terrorist she has become.   Derek Fridolfs writes this issue with the help of artist Javier Pina.  Poison Ivy can be written very two dimensionally, and this story skirts that territory with a semi-intricate explanation of her motivations, but still lacks some key element of why she is as generally misanthropic as she is depicted by issue’s end.
  • Green Lantern #23.1: Relic introduces us to the eponymous “Relic,” a petrified remnant from the Universe that preceded ours.  Since he awoke in Green Lantern: The New Guardians #22 he has been an enigma that has cryptically stated his good intentions while attacking viciously and unprovoked the Lanterns he dubs “lightsmiths.”  His goal is stated as “saving the Universe.”  This issue, written by Green Lantern scribe, Robert Venditti, chronicles his life in the universe that preceded ours and how that universe functioned.  The lightsmiths were wielders of the emotional spectrum, with all the same colors and emotions we have seen since Geoff Johns introduced them after the “Sinestro Corps War” in 2008.  However, despite their constant warring, the universe was built upon the light they used and instead of cities, civilizations, and infrastructures being built out of physical resources, the light constructs of the smiths served that function.  However, the greatest scientific mind of that universe saw that like physical resources the light came from somewhere and was not infinite.  It could run out and eventually would if it was used wantonly as it had been.  His warnings fall on deaf ears and it is because of this that the universe before ours ceased to be and he who was mocked as a “relic” in his universe, became a relic of his universe.  Upon awakening in ours he became aware of the likenesses of our universe to his and the presence of “lightsmiths.”  This time around he knew precisely the danger they posed to reality, and that arguing verbally with them was not the best course if anything was going to be done to save another universe.  Hence his cryptic tone, hence his blatant belligerence, and hence the “Relic” that we have seen thus far   The “Blackout” event is less than a month away and already the dimming described by him that preceded the cataclysms that claimed his universe has already been witnessed by the different Corps of Lanterns.  Venditti has set the stage for a true test of the Lanterns the likes of which (even under the pen of Geoff Johns) we have never seen the likes of.  Aiding him is artist Rags Morales who worked with Brad Walker, the Green Lantern: The New Guardians artist who first depicted Relic, on Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run.  Truly an issue to procure if you call yourself a fan of Green Lantern.
  • Green Arrow #23.1: Count Vertigo could almost be another issue of Green Arrow.  With the usual GA team on deck that is no insult.  This series is a delight, really tapping the limits and possibilities of the character to their peak potential.  However, being a Villains Month issue the dynamic creative duo focus their literary lens on Count Vertigo, by far  the most iconic of Oliver Queen’s nemeses depicted since the reboot.  Being in a rebooted universe, little is known about the man behind the disorienting device. This issue remedies that, telling the story of Werner Zytle, son of the late deposed Count of Vlatava.  He is raised in Canada by his  abusive mother who blames him for the fall of their family’s fortunes in the motherland.  She later sells him to a scientific research firm, prompting his implanting with the device that grants him his power.  It is here that his true power, both in spirit and body, takes hold.  From here he is able to reclaim his destiny, starting with his freedom, then regaining his homeland, and finally in the reunion with his mother he reclaims his past and identity.  He is very much a Mordred character, raised by  a single, overbearing mother to fulfill a destiny not of his choosing and ultimately becoming a monster that consumes the mother figure and becomes a plague upon humanity.  This is very much the case with Vertigo and though the issue is not structured like most of its fellows this week, it functions excellently in advancing the plot of Green Arrow and maintaining the integrity of the series, unlike many of the stand-alone stories out this month.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, but then again Green Arrow is one of my favorites.

    A Son's Vengeance

    A Son’s Vengeance

  • Justice League #23.1: Darkseid almost completely rewrites the entire concept of the New Gods.  I am not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.  Since Justice League #3 I have been up in arms against Geoff Johns’ blatant disregard for Jack Kirby’s seminal creations and the perfection of his Fourth World mythology.  Since then, Brian Azzarello’s work with the denizens of New Genesis have been slightly better.  High Father was done a little heavy handed, but the essence was there.  Scott Lobdell returns the character of Orion to a place that is well within the character’s original context and feels genuine.  And then we come to this issue, written by Greg Pak.  It begins by depicting Uxas and Izaya, mortals living upon the world of the (Old) Gods, scratching out meager existences.  On this world the monumental gods frolicked and warred with one another in complete disregard for the lives of those tiny mortals living beneath them like insects.  In this version, Izaya is married to Avia, as was so in the original Kirby books, but this time around Avia is the sister of Uxas.  Izaya and Avia are devout believers and worshipers of the  oblivious, elemental gods that plague them.  Uxas is more pragmatic and “blasphemes” them constantly.  He is cunning and engineers the ultimate death of these gods that brings about utter ruin to the planet, but also endows him with the powers of the gods he kills, forging him into Great Darkseid.  Izaya is granted the powers of those stricken gods that escape Darkseid, rewarding his faith with the powers that baptize him as Izaya, the High Father.  The planet is destroyed, but remade into the two planets of New Genesis and Apokalips.  The final eight pages introduce a character from Pak’s Batman/Superman title, Kaiyo the Chaosbringer.  This little sprite appeared at first to be a minor demon, but it seems very probable that she is in fact a New God of Apoklalips.  What’s more, her exploits in the last couple of pages make it seem probable that she is the lost daughter of Darkseid that he world-hops to find, prompting his appearance in Justice League’s first arc.  This issue put me off at first, because of the “heresy” of its divergence from Kirby’s Fourth World.  However, in retrospect, it was a well written, intriguing concept that accentuates Pak’s previous work in the firs three issue of Batman/Superman and sets the stage for interesting future developments with the New Gods.

    A So Was Born a Fourth World . . .

    A So Was Born a Fourth World . . .

  • Earth 2 #15.1: Desaad appropriately segues to another New God of Apokalips and someone whose sadism might even rival that of Great Darkseid.  Writer Paul Levitz who introduced Desaad into the New 52 in his Worlds’ Finest title chronicles the mad god’s advent to our Earth after the events of Earth-2 #1.  His goal is really two-fold, filling in blanks in the story of what Desaad has been up to since coming to Earth-1 as well as how that has affected things the reader witnessed since the first issues of Worlds’ Finest, and secondly proving how sick and perverse the mind of Desaad truly is.  One interesting thing that I think blew me away the most was in Desaad’s search for minds to corrupt and turn toward his dark aims, he stumbles upon an artist at a drafting table.  Desaad goes to the man’s home and emerges from a Boom Tube, renowned for the thunderous cacophony it makes prompting its name, and yet the man doesn’t turn around.  When Desaad looks over his shoulder, he stops short and seems apprehensive if not actually afraid, and decides to leave this man alone.  One would ask, what is going on, but the savvy comic reader who knows not only something of comics in general, but more importantly the character of Desaad and the other New Gods, will notice something very key.  The man at the table looks EXACTLY like a young Jack Kirby, creator of the Fourth World, of which Desaad is a denizen.  The hair cut, the physique, the thick eyebrows, the posture.  All so blatantly Kirby.  When we see a close up of his work over his shoulder from Desaad’s perspective the rough sketches have all the hallmarks of Kirby’s illustrative style.  Through meta-storytelling, Paul Levitz sets a real hook in the reader, inserting the King of Comics into a world featuring his own creations.  What his existence in this world will mean for Desaad and the other New Gods is a mystery, but one that I will faithfully follow to find out the answer to.Desaad1

    desaad2

    Behold Thine Creator, Ye Mighty God!

  • Superman #23.1: Bizarro was a slightly strange twist on the character, albeit a short lived one.  Sholly Fisch, who cut his teeth in the big leagues on the backup features of Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run, writes this issue with the help of artist Jeff Johnson.  In it we return to a seminal moment where Lex Luthor and Superman meet for the first times in the third issue of Action Comics.  Largely due to experiments Luthor conducted under military purview the young Superman was hurt to the point of bleeding (something VERY difficult to achieve under most circumstances) and as a result he used Lex as a hostage to procure escape.  Through this encounter Luthor gained two things: a personal animosity for the Man of Steel and a sample of his blood.  Using further contracts with the U.S. Military he attempts to augment a normal human being by re-splicing Kryptonian DNA gained from the small sampling of blood into their own genome.  The result of this is, of course, Bizarro.  To my knowledge, Bizarro was always either a clone or a refugee from a dimension where everything is backward.  Fisch makes a good sampling of Bizarro’s reversed Superman powers, i.e. Freeze vision and incendiary breath, but doesn’t quite pull off a Bizarro yarn that feels authentic.  Bizarro’s rampage lacks most of the quintessential “misunderstood monster” motif that characterize almost all of his appearances in the past.  This is an okay issue if the reader is just looking for Bizarro powers, but if they want Bizarro, the childlike villain speaking in opposites and conflicted in a limited understanding of the world and morality, this definitely is not the Bizarro story for them.
  • The Flash #23.1: Grodd is similar to, but slightly different from the Action Comics: Cyborg Superman and Green Arrow: Count Vertigo issues, in that it functions as a within the main story of the Flash series to continue on into later issues.  However, unlike both Cyborg Superman and Count Vertigo this doesn’t grant the reader any further insight into the past of Grodd.  What it does, however, is juxtapose his thoughts and philosophical beliefs against the depiction of the aftermath of the Gorilla invasion of the Gem Cities he lead which terminated in Flash #17.  Since then Solivar has taken over leadership of Gorilla City and worked painstakingly to not only make amends for the actions of the delusional despot, Grodd, but begun the process of making real steps to not only forge lasting peace between humanity and Gorillas, but have the Gorillas enter into the larger world we all share.  This is not something Grodd can abide and the manner of his return from the Speed Force is revealed, as is his overall place as an essential villain in the Flash andt he larger DCU.  Brian Buccellato, colorist and co-writer of the Flash, pens this issue with the help of artist Chris Batista.  Batista’s art is quite different than that of the usual Flash panoply of artists, including Buccellato’s co-writer on the title, Francis Manapul.  This is good in my opinion, because the Flash himself isn’t even seen in the issue and Batista’s art really depicts the Gorillas well.  Definitely a thoughtful, well written, well drawn issue.
  • Batman: The Dark Knight #23.1: The Ventriloquist was simply okay.  I am a huge fan of Gail Simone on the Batgirl title and I attribute its success almost entirely to her writing, reserving a generous helping of credit to Barbara Gordon herself, who is one of my favorite comic book characters. Top 10, without a doubt.  This origin of the Ventriloquist fell a little flat for me.  Sure it’s interesting and sure Shauna is a very complex, psychotic person with a very troubled past. However, for me the Ventriloquist is Scar-Face and Dummy.  There is something so “Batman” about them.  I say Batman, and although Shauna and Ferdie are currently appearing in Batgirl, I still think that the mundane nature of the original Ventriloquist works more effectively with unpowered vigilantes than this new version.  The original Ventriloquist, Arnold Wesker, was a non-powered guy with dissociative personality disorder, projecting his primary, dominant persona into a ventriloquist dummy done up like a 30’s era gangster named Scar-Face.  The premise fell well within the realm of reality and created a complex villain mired in a psychosis rife with situational drama.  Wesker and Scar-Face might disagree, but being that Scar-Face is the dominant persona, Wesker is going to be hampered in foiling the inanimate object, because his own drive is what is empowering the dummy.  Later there was a beautiful, blonde woman (Peyton Riley) who took over as Scar-Face’s ventriloquist, but still follows the same paradigm.  When you have a woman like Shauna who has telepathic abilities that she exploits years before she got her dummy, Ferdie, you kind of remove the intrinsic importance of the ventriloquism schtick from her psychosis.  Sure she named her dummy after her deceased twin brother, and yeah she was a product of a negative environment growing up, but that in no way enhances the nuanced concept of the Ventriloquist.  Basically, this issue and the iteration of the character in the New 52 reinvents the wheel, with more bells and whistles, but less functionality.  I like Gail’s work, but with a heavy heart I say that this issue can be passed on with no loss for any Bat-Family fan.
  • Batman: Black & White #1 is a title which returns in the New 52 to presents several intriguing short stories depicted completely in monochromatic black and white panels.  With the writing talents of Chip Kidd, Maris Wicks, John Arcudi, and Howard Makie, and the artistic talents of Neal Adams, Michael Cho, Sean Murphy, Joseph Quinones, and Chris Samnee, many unique perspectives are shed on the Dark Knight and his myriad interpretations.  Foremost of these is Neal Adams’ piece, both written and drawn by the Batman maestro who helped create Ra’s Al Ghul and the Man-Bat.  In his Batman: Zombie story, the impact of Batman as a fighter of evil is explored in great poignancy through the social issues of our day and just how effective a Dark Knight can be against the day to day evils of the 21st century.  His writing is razor edged and his art is at the top of its game. Chip Kidd and Michael Cho’s Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When comes in second in my opinion, giving a Darwyn Cooke-esque, Silver Age story of Robin and what truly makes him a worthy contemporary for the Batman.  What’s more, even Superman has to tip his hat to the Boy Wonder by story’s end.  John Arcudi’s Driven, drawn by Sean Murphy, is an interesting tale of Batman and his relationship with his most iconic accessory:  the Batmobile.  The other three stories are good, but these three especially epitomize innovation in the realm of Batman.
  • Codename: Action #1 is basically a Cold War, nerd boy fantasy mash-up.  It takes place in an ambiguous period during the Cold War following a strange amalgam of characters throughout its globe trotting plot.  In the background are two Golden Age comic book characters resurrected in a slightly more modern context.  In America there is the costumed adventurer, the American Crusader, and in Europe there is the British aerial operative, Black Venus.  American Crusader finds his vintage in 1941 as a crimefighter that gained powers from stray radiation from a device he was working with called an “atom smasher.”  Black Venus was a war nurse turned aviator during WWII famous for her black bodysuit and aviator goggles, who first appeared in comics in 1945.  In the foreground of the plot we see a new secret agent complete his tests of initiation, earning the designation Operative 1001.  He is then teamed up with Operator 5, the fifth agent ever initiated into the “Intelligence Service,” and a living legend.  Facing all four of these characters is a global diplomatic meltdown of epic proportions.  The French threaten war against the Soviets if they interfere with North African assets, the Japanese threaten war if the Russians movie into their territorial waters, the Chinese threaten war if the Japanese mobilize their armed forces, and the Soviet Union threatens to launch nukes if anyone doesn’t accede to their demands.  The kicker is that the Intelligence Services have intel that the Soviet General making the threats at the UN is in fact not the actual General due to a subcutaneous tracking device they implanted the real one with.  So the plot thickens . . .   Writer Chris Roberson kicks off this series, with no shortage of help from artist Jonathan Lau, in great style and panache, eliciting all the romance and intrigue of Cold War spy thrillers and the action of costumed superhero comics in a shaken, not stirred, suave superhero spy masterpiece.
  • Trillium #2 begins at the strange middle of the first issue with the meeting of two diametrically different people, whose shared intrepid nature is the sole bond that connects them in what is shaping up to be a REALLY innovative series.  Nika Temsmith, the intergalactic scientist from the year 3797 searching for a cure to a sentient virus, meets up with the English explorer William Pike on Earth in the year 1921, who himself is searching for purpose after losing his in the Great War.  Ironically what brings them together is the Incan temple that Pike and his expedition have just discovered after centuries of abandonment.  In Nika’s own time, a virus with the capacity for thought and higher reasoning is at war with the human race and reduced our population to mere hundreds of  thousands spread across the galaxy in weakly sustained colonies.  Seeking to find a cure she goes through a “primitive” alien race’s pyramidal temple emerging on Earth in 1921.  As can be logically deduced from the time gap, the English both speak are not even close to being mutually intelligible.  So the entire issue is merely them trying to communicate and ascertain who each other is and what each other desires.  Slowly as events unfold they get an idea of the situation and the revelation is powerful to behold.  Jeff Lemire writes and illustrates this series MASTERFULLY!

    Trascendence of the Trillium Flower

    Trascendence of the Trillium Flower

And so ends the first week of Villains Month and my first week back on “Off the Panel.”  Hopefully, you folks enjoyed it and will come back to enjoy future issues with me.

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

Illustration Credits:

Action Comics #23.1: Cyborg Superman:  Art by Mike Hawthorne, Colored by Daniel Brown

Green Arrow #23.1: Count Vertigo: Art by Andrea Sorrentino, Colored by Marcelo Maiolo

Justice League #23.1: Darkseid:  Art by Paulo Siquiera & Netho Diaz, Colored by Hi-Fi

Earth 2 #15.1:  Art by Yildiray Cinar, Colored by Jason Wright

Trillium #2: Art Jeff Lemire, Colored by Jose Villarrubia

Movie Review: Man of Steel

With the release of Man of Steel the first real superhero of the modern age gets a fresh start on the silver screen and a reinterpretation for the 21st century.  Whereas 2006’s Superman Returns tried to continue the Richard Donner movies’ version of Superman, this movie gives the Man of Tomorrow a brand new day.  It is a bold stroke that pulls no punches and goes for a very earnest overhaul.  As can be imagined, this has been to the delight of some and the chagrin of many.  This movie review will differ from all the ones I have done previously, being quite long and an amalgam review/critique/essay on the film, the source material, and all things Superman that are relevant to the presentation by filmmakers in the massive summer blockbuster.  Considering the considerable length of this critique, I won’t waste more space than necessary introducing it.  Here are the musings of this comic book geek on The Man of Steel:

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Krypton

The Krypton depicted in Man of Steel is amazing because of its amalgam of the many interpretations of that storied, utopian world.  Drawing from the many visions presented in the Superman line of books over the past seventy-five years the screenwriters and filmmakers create a vision, concept, and culture that forms the bedrock upon which the film’s premise is built.  It is because of Krypton’s many flaws and its repressed virtues that this film can exist and be what it is: bold, innovative, fresh, and infinitely moving.

The first thing that hits the viewer as they see Krypton is how beautiful it is.  Starting in the late 30’s with Shuster and Siegel’s first issues of Action Comics Krypton has been shown with beautiful architecture and wondrous looking cities, but the landscape itself is either non-existent, covered in the urban sprawl, or desolate as it was in the 1978 Superman movie and the comics of the 90’s and early 2000’s.  In Man of Steel we see not only Krypton’s verdant forests and vistas, but also a few majestic specimens of its wildlife.  These, while completely unique to the movie’s conceptual designs, I believe owe their existence to comic book legend Geoff Johns’ efforts on the Superman books.  With the “Superman: Last Son” arc of Action Comics, which he co-wrote with original Superman and Superman II director Richard Donner, Johns began a Kryptonian renaissance which really reformed the planet itself and its citizens.  I use the term “renaissance” because of how perfectly it defines what occurred in the depiction of Krypton.  I believe many writers (not just Johns) and even editorial had their parts in this as well, because over many issues in many different titles Krypton went from a desolate, isolationist world with no cultural heritage to a proud, casted society that worked like a well oiled machine fine tuned over millennia. There are the Science Guild that progress and maintain Krypton, the Military Guild that guard and protect its citizens, the Artists Guild that bring beauty and aesthetics to the lives of Krypton’s citizens (because even a society  at the cusp of technological advancement needs beauty), and the Labor Guild which does all the work.  No one said scientific advancement had to go hand in hand with civil rights.  Another change for the better that finds its way prominently into the movie is the costuming of Krypton.  Kryptonians have been depicted in many ways from the nondescript robes they wore in the 1978 film to the strange bodysuits with weird fringes that were predominant through the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s.  The “Kryptonian Renaissance” of the new millennium gave them futuristic costumes that retain a throwback sense of beauty and elegance as seen in the Renaissance culture of Europe.  This comes through in the gorgeous attire of Jor-El, his wife Lara, and the lavish costumes of the Council of Elders, seen in the first half hour of Man of Steel. To me, this represents a culture at its height, making the imminent downfall of that culture all the more poignant.  That is the look of Krypton.

Ceremonial Attire of Krypton's Elder Council

Ceremonial Attire of Krypton’s Elder Council

The people of Krypton are another aspect of this story that drew me in and sent my mind on a cascading trip through the different eras of Kryptonian culture shown over the last three quarters of a century.  For a very long time Krypton simply was a culture that reached its zenith and was destroyed by the instability of their planet’s core.  Simple as that.  Despite their technological marvels birthed from advanced science, they were powerless and even arrogant enough to ignore the magnitude of this coming cataclysm.  So Jor-El and Lara sent their son, Kal-El, to a planet he could grow up and thrive upon.  The last son of El.  The 90’s took this society and did something more drastic.  I do not know who initiated this vision, but during this time Krypton came to be a society that was isolationist in both its terrestrial and extraterrestrial policies.  Kryptonians had been to the stars, but because of their massive scientific achievements wars had erupted and social order had been threatened.  As a result, society was separated and Krypton’s citizens lived in isolated citadels away from one another.  Kryptonians rarely encountered each other and simply lived in their fortress-like homes interacting virtually through holograms and messenger automatons.  Reproduction was achieved artificially and overseen by the Kryptonian government, as was marriage which was obviously not conjugal, but rather political and sociological. To see this vision of Krypton vividly, I would suggest three pieces.  In the 1990’s Starman series by James Robinson the #51 issue, entitled “Midnight in the House of El’, depicts the eponymous Jack Knight, known as Starman, going back in time and meeting a seventeen year old Jor-El and his domineering father, Seyg-El, on Krypton, characterized in the above fashion.  Another version is the Elseworld story written by the late Steve Gerber called Superman: Last Son of Earth in which Prof. Jonathan Kent of Kansas State University discovers an extinction level cataclysm and when ignored by Earth’s leaders, sends his son Clark into space in a rocket that carries the human infant to Krypton where he is found by the young Jor-El and his reluctant future bride, Lara Lor-Van.  Clark is renamed Kal-El by his adoptive father and grows up in complete solitude from other Kryptonians (due to the predominant culture) while forced to wear metal braces on his body backed up by servos to prevent Krypton’s oppressive gravity from crushing him and restraining his human physiognomy.  Kal breaks free of these with a Green Lantern ring that finds him and allows him to save Krypton from the cataclysm that in regular continuity DOES destroy this world.  These evens then leads him to go to Earth to seek out his origins, only to find a post-apocalyptic society dominated by Lex Luthor.  Gerber also wrote a sequel to this called Superman: Last Stand on Krypton in which Jor-El and his loving wife Lara found a hippy-like movement on Krypton that advocates living together in communes, natural childbirth, and embracing emotions.  This heresy to the social order of Krypton maintained over centuries is dealt with by General Zod who consequently has to contend with the returned Superman.  Looking at these three titles, it is obvious that Man of Steel heavily draws from this era of Kryptonian storytelling to depict a culture of stagnation that inevitably leads to the ruin of its people.  A key part of Last Stand on Krypton is the conception of a child by Jor-El and Lara, though obviously it is not Kal-El.  In Man of Steel a Jor-El and Lara very similar to Gerber’s conceive Kal for the same reason; to be the father of a reborn Kryptonian race that will not be hindered by genetic predetermination or blind scientific innovation that atrophy morality and individualism.

1999's Starman #51 co-written by David Goyer

1999’s Starman #51 co-written by David Goyer

It should be noted that the story of Man of Steel was conceived by Christopher Nolan and David Goyer.  The name to look at in that duo who brought us the Dark Knight Trilogy is David Goyer.  Nolan is a masterful storyteller and director, but David Goyer is a comic book writer that has also branched out as a screenwriter in both television and film.  He wrote the Nolan Batmans exceedingly well, but his history with Superman is considerable.  He co-wrote the above mentioned Starman #51 with James Robinson, so his use of Kryptonian eugenics and a dystopian culture stem heavily from his own experiences as a worldcrafter in the comics of the late 90’s.  More recently, he also wrote the newsworthy short story for the 900th issue of Action Comics entitled “The Incident” wherein Superman went to Iran to stand non-violently in a student protest to lend strength to the oppressed Persian youths.  Doing this, Supes nearly caused an international incident leading him to renounce his honorary American citizenship.  Needless to say, Goyer knows how to handle Superman in a modern context and integrate social commentary seamlessly into engrossing plots, whether they are appreciated or not.

A Man with Two Fathers

Superman is perhaps one of the most philosophical heroes in modern mythology and it undoubtedly stems from the fact that he is really the first superhero.  Maybe there were others of lesser note that came before him, but he is the first one that captured the attention of the national audience.  Within the comic itself, his philosophy was born of his two fathers and what each of them left him upon their death.  Therefore, these men’s parts in Man of Steel were pivotal to the success of the story and the resultant character presented in this origin story.

Jor-El, the brightest mind of a civilization at its height of advancement, saw a world and a society that had crossed the threshold into ruin.  His son’s birth was a miracle, but so was Jor-El’s.  In a world where every person was bred for a singular purpose tied into the continuity of that “ideal” society, Jor-El, a man bred for cold science and logic, saw beyond statistics into the improbable.  He conceived of what someone unquantifiable could achieve and the value of free will to his society.  That child, his child, could be the father of a rejuvenated Kryptonian race on another, untainted planet.  Freedom of choice, but most importantly freedom of conscience, was what he imparted to his son.  The Master Ky he gave Kal before departure chronicled all of Krypton’s sins, so Kal could make sure that they were not repeated on Earth, as well as imparting the “hopes and dreams” of a dying race.

On the other end of the spectrum is Jonathan Kent, a simple farmer living outside of Smallville, Kansas.  Though we don’t learn a lot of facts about him, it can be insinuated by the presentation in this movie that like most representations in the past he is a man of  limited education, but deep philosophy born of experience and good old fashion Midwestern values.  Throughout the course of Man of Steel he is portrayed as a very imposing figure that reigns Clark in and encourages him to hide his abilities at all costs.  Sometimes even to the point of seeming callus.  However, as fathers go he is actually one of the best possible that Kal-El, now called Clark, could have had.  His affection for the boy knows no limit and forces him to be as strict and overprotective as he is.  In the course of Clark’s childhood under the constant tutelage of Pa Kent, he learns valuable lessons including restraint that are paramount to his destiny as Superman.

Portraying these two men correctly was of vital importance, because they had to be believable and effective in their roles.  Russell Crowe plays Jor-El in the film and does a very good job.  Despite what people might say about him as an actor, he portrays the analytical scientist quite well, but retains the ability to convey wellsprings of emotion beneath the surface.  This is never more apparent than in the scene where he and Lara put the hours old Kal into the rocket that will take him to his new home on Earth.  In other versions of this origin they depict the scene as somber, but in this movie it is agonizing.  Lara is barely able to go through with it, and Jor-El has to very calmly tell Lara the reasons why it must be done.  Though he is telling her in very calculated terms, Crowe’s performance makes you realize Jor-El is saying these things just as much for himself as for Lara.  Jor-El sacrifices everything for his son, including his life, so that he will have the tools and the opportunities for a better life.  That is the epitome of a father’s love.

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Jor-El

Jonathan Kent was portrayed by Kevin Costner, whose iconic roles in Field of Dreams, Wyatt Earp, and Dances with Wolves made him the perfect choice for Pa Kent.  He plays the rural protagonist very well while still having a wisdom in the way he delivers the poignant lessons that are essential to Clark’s upbringing.  While Pa Kent takes a lot of flack from people for being too hard and oppressive in this movie, he is actually written in a far more complex way and Costner’s acting brings that out.  Clark’s childhood is agonizing, but one thing that is constant is that Jonathan Kent is there.  He is present in the picture of Clark at the science fair. He was present and on the front lines when Clark saved the bus full of his classmates from drowning in the river and people began taking notice.  He was present when Clark was getting beat up outside the mill he was working at.  After the latter event, he asked his son if he was alright and when Clark said they couldn’t hurt him, Pa corrects his question, asking if he was alright inside.  He sympathized with Clark and knew that hitting those boys would have felt great . . . for a moment, and then it wouldn’t have.  Clark didn’t have the luxury of simple things like getting angry that most normal kids had and Jonathan was there to talk to him and try to give him comfort in those moments.  He wasn’t a touchy-feely dad giving hugs, but he was a dad that would do anything for his son.  He made Clark hide his abilities, which seems to make most diehard Superman fans scream in outrage, but his teachings of mistrust for humanity turn out to be sage.  Jonathan may fill his son with fear at being discovered, but it is done out of love.  He loves his son.  This is overtly clear when Clark finds out his alien heritage and asks if they can pretend that he is still Pa’s son. “You are my son,” says Pa, holding back tears.  Costner nails a very tender moment right there.  Then he proves his devotion to his son’s safety as well as his fervent belief that the world just isn’t ready for his son, by sacrificing himself to maintain his Clark’s secret.  If Jonathan Kent weren’t the BEST father in the world and didn’t believe in his bones that this was the right course, would he sacrifice his life as he did?  And if he didn’t have a point backed up by precedent and logic, would Clark have stood there and watched it happen?  I understand that people don’t like this scene, and neither do I.  It’s horrible to watch.  But it’s necessary.  This scene showed Clark the true depth of how much his father loved him.  It taught him self-sacrifice which is one of Superman’s key characteristics.  It taught him the measure of heroism. This final scene of Jonathan Kent with a resigned smile on his face and the silent conversation with his son was both tragic and beautiful, and executed brilliantly by Costner.

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Jonathan Kent

Both Jor-El and Jonathan Kent are original takes on these iconic figures in Superman’s past, but remained anchored to their basic drives through the utterances of equally iconic quotations: “You carry with you our hopes and dreams.” -Jor-El  “Son, you were sent here for a reason.” -Jonathan Kent.  Contained within each is the basis for each man’s motivations.

Jor-El was always a maverick and a voice of reason unheeded, but in Man of Steel he is seemingly a social revolutionary and perhaps anarchist in his attempt to recreate Kryptonian society peacefully through the birth of his son, Kal-El.  Zod is much the same, but seeks those ends through militarism, hoping to maintain the status quo of Kryptonian society.  Both men seek to save Krypton, but have diametrically opposed methods that are abhorrent to one another.  It could be argued that Krypton is the major change, not Jor-El’s character, but in either event, he is no longer just an ignored prophet of doom, but a heretic guilty of treason against the Kryptonian state.  What unites him with the original basis of the character is the above quote.  Kal-El represents the hopes and dreams of his parents and the legacy of the Kryptonian race.  He is like Moses cast into the cosmos with not only himself, but the genetic potential for every Kryptonian yet to be born in his own genome, leading his people to freedom from a society that would birth them into eugenic bondage.

A Father's Love

A Father’s Love

Jonathan Kent was always a man who told Clark to hide his abilities.  He takes a lot of flack for it from critics of the film, but that was a hallmark quality of the character from the start of the Superman saga seventy-five years ago.  The degree of urgency is all that has changed.  Jonathan always advocated caution, but in this film he is vehement about absolute secrecy, because due to the realistic slant filmmakers chose to pursue Clark’s abilities pose a real danger both to his own freedom and safety as well as the world’s collective sense of ease.  Critics of Jonathan Kent’s portrayal in Man of Steel may not be looking at the larger picture, despite both Jonathan Kent and Perry White plainly stating this concern over and over and the depiction of the military and US government’s distrust and outright belligerence towards Superman later on in the film.  Even after risking his life, beating back his fellow Kryptonians, and killing General Zod, they still distrust him at the film’s conclusion.  However, Jonathan Kent, while wanting his son to be safe also recognizes that Clark has the capability to become something incredible.  This leads us back to his famous quote, “Son, you were sent here for a reason.”  He was sent here for a reason and his powers could benefit humanity.  However, the timing has to be right.  People have to be ready for him.  Again, like a prophet, Jonathan knew that eventually people would be ready, but to reveal himself prematurely would be traumatic to Clark and the world, and could unravel whatever destiny Clark might have in store.  Like a martyr, he sacrificed his safety and ultimately his life for that goal, purchasing at a dear cost Clark’s possibility for a future, just as Jor-El and Lara did on their long dead world.

A Father's Concern

A Father’s Concern

Jor-El and Jonathan may be differently from past incarnations, but both cut a very stark and vivid character in a realistic world.  What they also epitomize is the perfect image of the selfless, loving father.  Both men sacrificed everything they had to ensure that Kal-El/Clark grew to reach his destiny as Superman.  Though people may not like them, these men cannot be impugned.

 

A Man with Two Mothers

The maternal relationship is not widely explored in this movie, nor do his two mothers play as integral a part in the film’s narrative as their husbands.  To a degree this was an aspect of the movie that I thought could have been better, but I have tried not to dwell too heavily upon.  I feel that both Lara and Martha Kent are characters that have a great impact of Superman in various tellings of the Superman myth, but rarely are recognized for it.

Martha Kent actually is a very substantial character in her own right.  It seems like she is the human parent that is the more openly nurturing in Man of Steel.  Perhaps it is an oedipal thing, where the divide between the two Kent men stems from the father wanting continuity and the son wanting self-determination, or it could just be conventions of modern masculinity in father/son dynamics.  As stated before, Jonathan does love Clark and makes himself available to his son whenever he needs to, but Martha is the one that engages with him on more level, emotional ground.  Diane Lane is the actress who portrays her and radiates maternal love in every scene.  The most apparent example comes when Clark’s heightened senses kick in with a vengeance at school.  The frightened nine year old takes refuge in the janitors closet and barricades himself inside.  Only Martha can talk him out.  She doesn’t scold him.  She doesn’t bargain with him.  She sits by the door, listening to her terrified child describe his overwhelming experiences and talks him through it.  She is the one who teaches him how to focus his mind and block out all the extraneous sensory information he is receiving.  She has no idea what she is talking about.  There is no “raising your Kryptonian child” book by Dr. Spock.  She does the best she can, driven by pure love for her little boy and somehow helps him surmount one of the largest obstacles he faces as a Kryptonian earthling.

A Mother's Love

A Mother’s Love

Lara Jor-El, mother of Superman, is depicted as a very tragic character.  She and her husband defy Kryptonian law and have a natural, unmodified child grown in her womb and not in the Genesis Chamber beneath the Kryptonian capital.  She literally gives birth to a miracle and is forced to give him up only hours after he is born.  She may not be bombarded with yellow sunlight, but having the strength to part with her newborn son so close to his birth makes her a super-mom!  She is played in the film by Israeli actress Aylet Zurer, whose performance as the benighted Kryptonian woman is truly heart-rending.  In the past, the Els have sent their child to the stars and it’s a somber moment, but in this film it is ROUGH!  Jor-El’s stoicism is apparent and Zurer’s portrayal of Lara holding her baby tightly to her breast and faltering in the final moments before he must leave make it all too real to anyone who has fallen in love with their child.  Amid the scramble to get Kal-El safely away from Krypton her husband also is taken from her in death, sacrificing himself for their son’s freedom.  With her son forever lost to her and her beloved Jor-El dead, she awaits the literal end of her world following the metaphorical one.  Her exit from the film is a morbidly beautiful scene, watching from her balcony as the planet bursts open in eruptions of magma from the planets interior, eventually enveloping her in flame.  Though she is depicted beautifully, Lara is more of a passive persona in the film.  Even though this is how she is often portrayed I was hoping for a little more from her.  That  is probably because I have been spoiled by the Superman line of comics coming out presently.  Under the pen of writer Scott Lobdell, Lara Jor-El (nee Lor-Van) is truly a formidable Kryptonian woman.  In Action Comics she is currently being written as a tough-as-nails military officer engaged to Jax-Ur and the only hope for Krypton’s Science Guild.  In Superman #0 (2012) she is shown as a brilliant surgeon who retains all the martial prowess she gained from her service in the military and as a badass momma bear who defies a kidnapping attempt and kicks the crap out of terrorists threatening her husband and the unborn child growing inside her.  Scott Lobdell seems to get that even though Jor-El is Krypton’s wunderkind, the mother of Superman would have to be one tough cookie.  I am sorry that vision didn’t translate into the film, but the Lara of Man of Steel isn’t without her merits.

A Mother's Farewell

A Mother’s Farewell

Both Martha and Lara are strong women whose love of their husbands and their shared child, Kal/Clark, empower them to great sacrifice and resilience.  Though they don’t take center stage like Jor-El and Jonathan, they are equally important to the depth of the film and the fate of their son. Well cast and well played.

The Eponymous Man of Steel

I would be remiss if I didn’t take time to comment on the man himself, Kal-El, last son of Krypton and the venerable House of El, Clark Kent, Superman.  Superman represents many different ideals, peoples, institutions, and concepts.  That is something that makes him such an immortal character.  He is both a paragon of what is good about humanity and an ideal of what humanity can be.  He is a flawed godlike figure in some tellings and a fallible, albeit superpowered, man with limitations in other tellings whose struggles, triumphs, and failures mimic the travails of the average person on a massive scale demonstrating that even superheroes have problems like ours.  He is an allegory of the immigrant sent to a new world for a better life, caught between the heritage and culture of his old world and that of his new world.  In that respect he reminds me of my grandfather who was raised in North Dakota on a farm, not unlike Clark’s upbringing in Kansas, albeit my grandfather was raised in a German speaking household by his Austrian parents and older siblings.  Come WWII, though a grown man, my grandfather was drafted by the US Army to fight Germans and Austrians.  Sort of like Superman in this movie, he was a man caught between his heritage and the culture he was raised in.  The House of El was one of the preeminent families on Old Krypton that advocated social responsibility, as well as the correct blend of science and conscience.  This is something that Superman brings to Earth, serving as a symbol of moderation so his new home doesn’t suffer the same fate as his old home.  The list goes on.

Man-of-Steel

This film has taken some criticism for its portrayal of the Man of Steel, but in fairness, those that condemn it for destroying their concept of Superman need to ask themselves one fundamental question: which version of Superman are you talking about?  Let us not forget, that Superman is 75 years old!  The original version was pretty much a thug that beat up people that didn’t fall into his view of social justice.  Not tie them up with a bow for the police unharmed to meet justice. HE BEAT THEM UP!!!  He also couldn’t fly, but rather “leap tall buildings in a single bound.”  The Superman these people talk about didn’t really come about until the 1950’s when the Silver Age was initiated and most heroes’ comics were canceled in McCarthyist hearings and those that remained, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc, were essentially spayed and neutered.  In the 60’s and 70’s Superman began to get his teeth back.  By the 80’s and 90’s he had gotten to be a very dark character during a period called the “Dark Age” of comics.  So again, when watching the film, the question remains as to what version of Superman is the watcher taking into the film?  This will determine how disappointed or elated the viewer will be.

Panel from Action Comics #1

Panel from Action Comics #1 written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Joe Shuster

Regardless of which Superman you prefer, Superman is going to continue to evolve as a character to fit the times in which he lives.  That is actually something filmmakers alluded to in the film through a quotation from Kryptonian Capt. Faora-Ul: “You’re weak, son of El. The fact that you possess a sense of morality and we do not gives us an evolutionary advantage. And if history has proven anything, it is that evolution always wins!”  This comment is a double-edged sword that can describe why Superman is moral in some representations, i.e. 50’s and 60’s, and why he became more hard edged in other depictions, i.e. 1930’s, 80’s, 90’s, etc.  Superman evolves and as Faora so bluntly states, those that cannot evolve, die.  Superman originally stood for “Truth and Justice,” fighting for the little guy, sometimes in brutish fashion, and against corrupt politicians and gangsters.  However, in the 1950’s amid the “Red Scare” and a stabilized society that relied much more on a strong central government Superman worked with authority figures and came to stand for “Truth and Justice” with the addition of the “the American Way.”  This was around the same time that “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.  Here Superman evolved to fit the times and what American society needed him to be.  He also took on several post-War misogynistic viewpoints that mimed the male sentiments of the time to get women out of the WWII workplace and “back where they belonged” in the kitchen and the home.  As a result he became more overbearing on his formerly intrepid journalist girlfriend, Lois Lane, in those Silver Age issues.  Not a pretty picture, but one that reflected the times he lived in.  The Superman we see in Man of Steel is no different. He is a product of a very real world that is far from ideal.  In the real world post-9/11, paranoia and hysteria have made us afraid of our own shadows.  The government and military are equally distrustful of anything that could  pose a threat creating an atmosphere of fear.  That is at the heart of this film.  Clark is raised on Earth by a very wise, albeit terse father who has a very fair grasp of humanity’s general temperament when it comes to things outside their ken. If you had a son with abilities like Clark’s and you loved him as much as  Jonathan, you would be overprotective too.  Apparently so much so that you would die for your son, assuming you are Jonathan Kent that is.  Witnessing his death and what it meant also put Clark in a shell, not wanting to directly engage with people.  It’s not healthy nor good, but it’s necessary.  Despite how poorly he is treated by the people he meets on his lonely odyssey he never stops trying to save them while still staying cloaked in anonymity.  That speaks volumes as to his character.  He has also drawn heat for not being powerful enough to stop people from dying and for being too somber and never smiling.  These two seem to cancel each other out.  Superman being too powerful would make the movie boring, because he’d save everyone and there’d be no struggle.  If he smiled while all those people were getting killed he would be a monster and not the concerned guardian of humanity he has always been.  He is mistreated for most of the beginning of the movie, sold out by the military, and marked as an enemy when he attempts to stop the Kryptonian army in Smallville and yet he never wavers for a moment or stops trying to help.  Others criticize him for killing General Zod at the end.  “Superman doesn’t kill!” says them.  In Action Comics #583 Superman kills his fifth dimensional nemesis Mr. Mxyzptlk. In the Death of Superman mega-event he kills Doomsday right before he himself succumbs to his wounds and bites the dust.  He even killed Zod in the comics in Adventures of Superman #444.  Superman kills when he has to.  Anyone who says otherwise is someone who doesn’t actually read Superman comics or know what they are talking about.  It’s his abhorrence to killing that defines him.  In this film he wants nothing more than to not kill Zod, but with the clock ticking and four humans milliseconds away from being sliced in half like cheap timber, he makes the hard decision and kills the genocidal lunatic who literally stated he was going to wipe out humanity person by person to avenge his race.  Afterward, when the moment passes and he looks down at the dead body of his countryman he freaks out at what he had to do, overcome with remorse.  I don’t know what else Supes could have done to placate his detractors, but that is a clean depiction of what Superman should be, a man who will do the hardest thing possible, tainting his moral code in order that four innocent people can continue to draw breath.  Maybe he should have let them die so he can say, “Hey, I’m Superman.  I don’t kill.” (Smile to the camera, wink, and a thumbs up.)  Was Superman spot on in this movie?  Close to it.  He was “Super” in all the ways he needed to be and faltered perhaps because he’d gone from holding up oil rigs to fighting a horde of militaristic, super-powered Kryptonians, bearing in mind that he was raised by a pacifist in the middle of the Corn Belt.  He’s a little new at this, so why don’t we all cut him some slack?

The Face of a Murderer?

The Face of a Murderer?

Henry Cavill plays Superman and he does so quite well.  He is very somber throughout the film, but he’s also a man with no purpose or sense of identity.  This movie is about him finding that identity.  As the film progresses he begins to thaw and have some very tender moments where his gentle spirit shines through.  In the scene where he is in an interrogation room talking to Lois Lane and slowly reveals that he can see through walls, hear what is happening on the other side of tinted sound and bullet proof glass, as well as snapping his handcuffs as though they were made from spun sugar, we see a very Zen Superman who is not threatened or irate at his treatment and who very genially offers his assistance.  At the end of the movie when the military, still not trusting him after he saved the world from a MASSIVE invasion and killed the only surviving member of his race (besides himself that is), attempts to locate his Fortress of Solitude with drones, he downs one and again in a very cordial manner asserts his privacy, telling the military he is only here to help, but won’t allow them to interfere in his personal life.  He’s polite but assertive.  Just like Superman should be.  That isn’t to say though that he doesn’t have his darker moments and that Cavill doesn’t nail those too.  The best scenes that convey this side are the aforementioned scene where Kal-El has Zod in a headlock, attempting to stop his heat-vision from slicing the trapped humans in the Metropolis train station and the scene preceding that where Superman downs the ship with the Genesis Chamber in it.  When Superman bursts into the ship carrying the artificial womb filled with Kryptonian embryos he thinks he is attacking Zod’s weaponry.  Upon learning from a very frightened Zod that he is not destroying arms, but rather “Krypton” itself, Superman gets a look of absolute horror on his face as the magnitude of the situation sinks in.  His actions come down to one genocide or another.  If he leaves the ship Earth and every human on it will be annihilated. If he downs the ship to save Earth, he will be responsible for the death of his race . . . again.  In a split second he weighs the consequences and makes his choice.  “KRYPTON HAD ITS CHANCE!!!”  In the train station he has a look of absolute pleading on his face as he attempts to stop Zod from killing four people he has never met before in his life.  He wants them to live.  He will do anything for them to live.  Complete strangers.  When the point of no return comes up, he does what he has never done (and you could tell hoped he’d never have to do) and takes another person’s life.  The cost hits him like a freight train as he collapses in hysterics.  He was raised by good people in Kansas to respect life and he was responsible for killing his own race twice over so that humans, who rarely in the film gave him a reason to, could live and retain dominion of our planet.  Tell me that isn’t a Superman!

Zod as a Hero

Every good story needs a villain.  Every great story needs a compelling villain.  General Zod is that villain for Man of Steel and fulfills the task on every conceivable level. His part in the story ties into the very being of Superman.  Like Ra’s Al-Ghul in Batman Begins, who was responsible both directly and indirectly for Bruce Wayne becoming Batman, Zod’s goals and his one desire are hindered by Kal-El’s birth at the beginning of the film and rest in the last son of El’s existence towards the end. Though he hates Kal-El for what he is and what his birth meant for Krypton, Zod’s goals and his one desire are hindered by Kal-El’s birth at the beginning of the film and rest entirely on the existence
of the  last son of El towards the end. For Superman, Zod represents the darkness of his own heritage.  Raised on Earth by decent parents with Midwestern values, he is shown two sides of his racial heritage.  There is the philosophically good, altruistic visionary Jor-El who imagines his son creating a utopia on Earth by resurrecting the Kryptonian race and guiding the human and Kryptonian peoples into a golden age of harmony and on the other side there is the Kryptonian army of Zod that wish to wipe the human race out like vermin and terraform Earth to support the new Kryptonian race.  Jor-El represents what Kryptonian culture could be and Zod represents what it is.  Jor-El and Lara gave birth to Kal to free Krypton’s future of artificial inbreeding that contributed to the planet’s downfall.  Zod is the epitome of that system, bred to ensure the vicious circle that has his race locked into a future without possibilities.

Dru-Zod

General Zod

Needless to say, portraying such a complex villain that is as integral to the plotline as General Zod you need the right actor.  Michael Shannon is the man filmmakers chose to do this job.  In my opinion, he looks nothing like how General Zod has looked in the past or should.  However, from the moment he emerged in the Elder Council Chamber I did not for one second disbelieve that I was beholding Dru-Zod, general of Krypton’s armies.  Shannon had the commitment and the unerring faith of this genetically predisposed zealot down pat.  His calm in moments of heinous action, his indignation in moments of existential frustration, and his steadfast candor in his intellectual debates with Jor-El all hit the mark.  Michael Shannon’s acting was one of the key factors that made this film soar.

The Passionate Hero of Krypton

The Passionate Hero of Krypton

However, what truly makes Zod such an engaging villain is the fact that he is in point of fact . . . a hero.  That is correct.  General Zod is an archetypal hero.  Let us examine the definition of a hero.  Merriam-Webster defines the classical hero in these terms: 1) Mythological or legendary figure, often of divine descent, who is endowed with great strength or ability, like the heroes celebrated in early epics, 2) Usually illustrious warriors or adventurers, heroes are often represented as fulfilling a quest, 3) Often possess special qualities such as unusual beauty, precocity, and skills in many crafts. Often inclined to boasting and foolhardiness, they defy pain and death to live fully, creating a moment’s glory that survives in the memory of their descendants.   Now taking these one at a time let us examine how they pertain to Zod.  Looking at the first point, his divinity is a concept open to debate, but he is endowed through Kryptonian genetic engineering with both strength, ability, and leadership qualities of the highest caliber.  It is what he was bred to be. The second point is infinitely true as Zod and his faithful followers were cast off their homeworld for his beliefs and then sent on a cosmic quest to rebuild Krypton from its own ashes via the spread out remains of former Kryptonian colonies throughout the galaxy.  That is perhaps the most noble quest any hero could embark upon: resurrecting a dead race from oblivion.  The third requirement fits Zod to a tee.  Zod is a genetically engineered warrior titan that is quite grandiose in his candor and makes no attempts at humility whatsoever.  His goals are singular and he does not waver from them for even the slightest moment.  Even amid the pain of Earth’s overwhelming sensory overload on his heightened faculties, he pushes on, taking a lesson from Superman and focusing his mind, blocking out all extraneous noises and sights.  Clark mentions it took time for him to learn how to do this.  It took Zod a few minutes.  Though it could be said to be his genetic predisposition that lends him that kind of prowess, the more likely explanation is that, as the third hero requirement states:  “they defy pain and death to live fully, creating a moment’s glory that survives in the memory of their descendants.”   Zod isn’t fighting for a moment’s glory to hand down to his descendants   He is fighting to ensure that he and those Kryptonians under his command HAVE descendants.   He pushes through the pain and the frustration to save his race.  When he is defeated and Kal-El destroys the Genesis Chamber housing Krypton’s unborn children, Zod is literally broken because he no longer has the purpose he was bred for.  He says in a moment of pure pathos that, though he is a monster, his whole purpose was to protect his people and ensure their survival.  Without them, he cannot go on living, because he doesn’t have the one thing in his life that gave it any meaning.  That is a powerful statement, begging a second look at his horrific deeds.  Jor-El warned the Council of Elders not to mine Krypton’s core and in ignoring him they doomed Krypton and her people to oblivion.  So Zod breaks from their dominion and initiates a coup to depose them, killing a few right off the bat to establish a new order and salvage what time is left to devise a plan to save what parts of Kryptonian society he can.  He extends a hand to Jor-El, the brightest mind on the planet, to help achieve that end.  When Jor-El fails to comply and the truth of his breach of Kryptonian protocol in the form of a non-modified, naturally born child come to light, Zod is forced to purge this threat to the already fragile society and social order he was bred to protect.  This means killing Jor-El.  Did he want to?  No.  He even tells Superman as much.  It haunts him constantly because of the good man Jor-El was, but it had to be done for Krypton.  For his people.  Then he scours the universe for the means to rebuild their world.  All of this is for Krypton.  All of it is for his people.  Can anyone say that this is not heroic?  We call him villain because of the disregard he has for humanity, and yes that is quite heinous, but if Greek mythology (most notably the Trojan War) has taught us anything, it’s that heroes very often do horrific things in the course of doing their duty to their kings and their peoples.  Odysseus, king of Ithaca and hero of the Odyssey, caved in the skull of the infant son of his rival, Prince Hector of Troy, with a rock after the fall of Troy.  It was for Greece, it was for his people so Troy wouldn’t rise again under a young prince to kill and make war on this massive scale again.  But it was also so the child would not grow up filled with anger and live a life poisoned by vengeance.  Heroic?  Doesn’t sound like it, but Odysseus is still classified as a hero.  When dealing with Zod, one might be cynical and say that the fact that this urgency is built into his genes removes choice and therefore makes his singular drive for the rebirth of Krypton mechanical and unheroic.  However, the fact remains, he is a tragic figure with real feelings and love that are for something outside of himself.  Say what you like, but sacrificing everything, including your very soul for the survival of another person or better yet, an entire race is heroic.  Zod is a hero.

The New Kryptonite

What Man of Steel also did was present new takes on Superman’s Kryptonian biology and how it interacts with Earth’s environment.  His Kryptonian biological makeup is keyed to red solar radiation from Krypton’s sun, an ancient red giant called Rao.  Krypton is also much larger and denser than Earth.  Thus when Kal is exposed to yellow solar radiation from our sun (Sol) and Earth’s lesser gravitational force his body is granted the heightened abilities we are all too familiar with.  However, every titan has their weaknesses, not unlike the great Achilles and his fabled heel.  Everyone knows kryptonite, the glowing green radioactive remnants of his homeworld.  An overused trope.  Lex Luthor and kryptonite are perhaps the most tired Superman conventions ever.  This movie is free of that, thank God.  However, Superman’s weaknesses aren’t limited strictly to kryptonite.  There are a few others.  Magic is one that few people think about and for good reason.  It works alright in the comics, but will NEVER be utilized in a Nolan-produced/Goyer-written film.  As stated previously, yellow solar radiation supercharges Superman’s cells and heightens their functioning.  Conversely, red solar radiation mimicking that emitted by Rao will dissipate the stored energies in his cells and return him to a regular man, no more super than you or I.  This film creates another alternative, most likely to replace the never-to-be-used magic weakness.  When Superman is brought aboard Zod’s ship, he is forced to breathe Krypton’s atmosphere which de-powers him and and almost kills him when he first inhales it.  This actually makes sense and plays off of something that has been done before, most notably in the DC mega-event from 2006 entitled 52.  In that story Superman was exposed to particles that acted like carbon monoxide in human lungs.  Just as carbon monoxide bonds tighter to hemoglobin in red blood cells than oxygen preventing the blood from absorbing essential O2 molecules for us to breathe, so too do some particles bond with Superman’s cells preventing them from absorbing the yellow solar radiation that gives him his power.  Just like a person who has inhaled carbon monoxide, the body can work it out of its system over time.  In Superman’s case, this medical malady cost him his superpowers for 52 weeks while it was metabolized and dissipated.  Krypton’s atmosphere appears to act in the same way, almost immediately leaching the surplus energy from his system.  To be sure, the filmmakers have created a logical, very intriguing weakness.  It may never be utilized again, but sonuvagun, it helped make this story interesting without having to resort to magic or kryptonite.  That’s a major virtue to the film, elevating it above anything that has been done in television or film to date.

Overdone Trope

Overdone Trope

 

Miscellany

The film has many other aspects of note, but the main points that needed to be discussed have been above.  There are also aspects of the film that could have been better.  However, there are scores of people pointing those out that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to list them.  I stated that I feel that Lara could have been more of an active player in the movie.  I feel that though Lois Lane does have her merits, such as finding out Clark’s real identity before he even dons the “S”, she lacked a lot of the hard-edge that she usually was portrayed with and much of the teeth when dealing with certain people.  However, she was a journalist for only a third of the movie, so that can be forgiven until the sequel.  Perry White also didn’t seem like the stern editor with high blood pressure he has always been.  Laurence Fishburne kind of made him seem like a teddy bear.  Again, he wasn’t really a major part of this movie as news outlets weren’t as important to the plot, so this also is forgive until the sequel.  Jury is still out on the glasses secret identity.  It happened, but what can they really do?  Clark has to be a reporter and Superman cannot wear a mask.  It’s an inherent conundrum grandfathered in by the series’ prosaic 1930’s origin.  Otherwise, I feel like I have enumerated in a more than thorough fashion about what this movie did right and why.  The rest is up to the viewer’s taste.


Conclusion

Superman embodies a great number of things and this movie captures most of the important ones that still hold true in a very troubled age in human history.  The most important thing Superman represents (and why this film proves its relevance) is the last scion of a failed race doomed to extinction because of their massive failures and inability look upon their actions objectively.  The hubris of Kryptonian society is inherent in the human condition as well, and that is what Jor-El empowers his son to prevent.  “You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”  Both of his fathers know he was born with the capacity to do exactly that.  However, they also know that in order for him to do this the people have to be ready.  The entire film is seeking the answer to that very question.  Are the people in the movie ready?  Are we the viewers ready?

Are we?