I am SUPER overdue on this week of reviews, which is a shame because it was one of the best, comprised of some hallmark issues. Unfortunately, some of my paying writing jobs have gotten in the way of this enjoyable hobby blog. I’ll stop with the long winded intros and just get the long overdue reviews. Enjoy:
- Action Comics #20 moves into the the second issue of a new era in Action Comics. Cowriter Andy Diggle and cowriter/artist Tony Daniel left Superman recovering from a nanite infection that turned his hand into what looked like a living metal clawed monstrosity. This issue has him waking up in the care of the brilliant and seductive Dr. Shay Veritas after his initial infection. She teleported him away from the population to ensure their safety, but apparently Superman’s super immune system was able to separate the infection from his body. However, the nanite virus, still in the shape of the clawed hand, maintains its bite. The virus apparently was able to latch onto his DNA and sap many of his talents and abilities into its own hybrid genetic code. Succeed or fail, this synthetic mutating virus is the opening salvo in Lex Luthor’s renewed war with Superman. The next move in the chess game with the Man of Steel proves to be a nightmare straight out of a George Romero movie. Following in the tradition of the $3.99 titles, writer Scott Lobdell and assistant dialoguist Frank Hannah begin a World of Krypton backup feature with the help of Philip Tan on pencils. This feature begins with a young Jor-El discovering an ancient underwater city built by a pre-Kryptonian species. His exploration, though groundbreaking and rewriting everything that had been known about Krypton’s natural history, doesn’t fail to annoy his fellow members of the Science Council, nor the Military Guild who guard them and who are holding an emergency vote on a key issue of great importance to the stability of Kryptonian governance. In the wake of their disgruntled waiting, we see Lara Lor-Van (Superman’s mom and Jor-El’s future wife) maligning the starry eyed visionary and also find that she is at this moment engaged to her partner in the Military Guild, Jax-Ur. Quite interesting for the Superman faithful, because Jax-Ur is a renowned Kryptonian criminal of great infamy in all Superman mythologies. Ending on an explosive note, this first installment of World of Krypton accomplishes SO much!!! The political balance of Krypton is established quite well, as are the characteristics of several important characters. Jor-El and his future wife Lara are both obvious, playing well toward their depictions in Lobdell’s Superman #0, which we saw last September. Also featured briefly, but certainly of prominence is Kra-Hu, the Afro-Kryptonian senior member of the Science Council who seems to be Jor-El’s mentor and father figure in the Kryptonian governmental structure. Jax-Ur, engaged to Lara and predating his criminal destiny, will no doubt cut an interesting figure as well with Lobdell’s attention to canon and genius of innovation balancing toward a nice middle ground. Everything about this new arc in Action Comics has me giddy as a school boy. Keep it coming, DC!!!
- Detective Comics #20 is in essence the endgame to writer John Layman’s open arc on this title. With his opening issues he’d paved the way for the slow rise of Ignatius Ogilvy in the shadow of his boss, the Penguin’s grandiose bid to claim a place in the public eye of Gotham. Using this distraction he was able to wrest the Penguin’s empire out from under his feet and establish an iron grip on Gotham’s underworld, installing himself as “Emperor Penguin.” Well, now with Penguin in prison and his power base entrenched he steps out of the shadows and calls the Batman out. Suicidal right? Not entirely. Ogilvy had this whole drama choreographed to the last movement and the Bat finds himself more than evenly matched when he meets Emperor Penguin face to face. What Batman finds is no longer a human being, but rather a nightmare comprised of bits of all his nemeses. Kurt Langstrom’s man-bat serum in his blood, mixed with Bane’s super-steroidal venom, and Poison Ivy’s plant elixir giving him bark-like armored skin beneath the course bat hair. Quite frankly, with his analytical mind and enhancements, Ogilvy has the Bat outmatched. Who will save him? The answer will surprise you. In the backup feature, also written by Layman, we are given a look at the childhood and rationale behind Ogilvy’s meteoric rise through the Gotham underworld. His journey started when he was a child leaving a movie theater in a bad part of Gotham and his mother and father gunned down in front of his eyes. Mirroring Batman’s traumatic catalyzing event, Ogilvy went the other direction from Batman, not seeking to end crime but rather to immerse himself in it and control it from the top echelon. From Blackgate prison he narrates all of this and shows his preternatural ability to navigate circles of power and insert himself into the key positions through a Machiavellian display of cunning and physical strength. Ogilvy came out of nowhere in the world of comics. He has existed for less than a year and already John Layman has set him up as a Batman character of the highest caliber. Kudos, Mr. Layman. I had deep reservations about your competence at handling this title and you proved me infinitely wrong. Layman is the man for Detective Comics. Long may he write.
- Aquaman #19 was a late addition to the roster, laid over from last month’s lineup. Aquaman continues to struggle with the weight of the crown he once forsook for a simpler life. Now it weighs heavier than ever as he is forced to “swim against the tide” of his usurping his younger brother Orm’s throne and his defense of the surface despite the catastrophic war between Atlantis and the United States. To rally his troops he takes them against the submariner terrorist called the “Scavenger.” Upon the engaging of one of the Scavenger’s submarine’s Arthur and his chosen elite discover a ghastly secret. On land Mera is abducted by the resurrected Dead King of Atlantis, the first to sit upon the throne. We have heard tell of him starting with the first arc, “The Trench” where the fish-men monsters are introduced, then later with the introduction of the Dead King’s scepter in the next arc “The Others”, and finally in the previous “Throne of Atlantis” crossover. Now we see the ancient monarch for the first time and he is chilling. Finally, this issue surprises with the reappearance of a shocking figure from her past. Geoff Johns has been teetering this series between quality and throwaway storytelling. The political intrigue following “Throne of Atlantis” and very personal depictions of the main characters amidst the aforementioned arc’s fallout is really engaging at this point and well worth the read.
- Green Arrow #20 is a title I have begun to look forward to month to month. Following Jeff Lemire’s taking up the title with issue #17 this series has gone from tragic joke to a hard-edged, thrill-a-minute roller-coaster ride. Ollie Queen has lost it all! His company has been forcefully ceased by a rival businessman, Lacroix, who also dons a black hood and mask, kidnaps his two employees/confidantes, murders one, and attempts to kill him using archery skills that rival Ollie’s. To top that off a blind wiseman named Magus leads Ollie down a rabbit hole of discovery, pointing him in the direction of Lacroix’s (nom-de-guerre Komodo) secret lair with a picture of the enigmatic businessman/assassin with Ollie’s dad, Robert Queen ON THE ISLAND OLLIE WAS STRANDED ON!!! Obviously this was before Ollie was stranded on it, but still more than coincidental and raising the question of how Lacroix, Ollie’s father’s death, and so many other things tie into a larger plan? This issue opens with Ollie having escaped his first encounter with Komodo by the skin of his teeth and regrouping. Komodo returns to his lair to make contact with the group he works for, the Outsiders. This isn’t the para-Batman army we have seen in the past or anything like it. This is a new Outsiders and their significance is crucial, tying into this series and Katana. Ollie has it out with Komodo a second time in this issue and this second encounter not only ups the ante but showcases just how intelligent, versatile, and strong-willed Ollie truly is when lives are at stake. Jeff Lemire is KILLING IT!!! This series is ridiculously awesome and in no small part thanks to artist Andrea Sorrentino’s stark rendering of the plot in stark light/color vs. black/shadow styling. Just a phenomenal series so far and one not to be missed.
- Batwing #20 begins a dubious new direction in this title’s future. David Zavimbe was created by Grant Morrison to be a Batman for the continent of Africa. A large task, but one that David could feasibly achieve considering his personal history as a child soldier in Africa and his experiences since growing up in a complex, corrupt political structure. The first 20 issues (including Batwing #0) all show very vividly how intricate the balance of power leans in parts of West Africa. New writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have retired Zavimbe and decided to replace him with Luke Fox, son of Wayne Enterprises Executive Lucius Fox. Luke Fox whose only link to Africa is that he is African American. To me it seems kind of racist that they would assume that if you are black you are interchangeable. Just because your ancestors came from Africa doesn’t mean you have a preternatural knowledge of African history and the inner workings of the post-colonial political workings of dozens of nations. Luke makes a joke about it in this issue, but despite them joking about it Palmiotti and Gray still made that decision. Perhaps they have a goal in mind that will validate the concept, but they have a long way to prove that. One thing Luke does have is enthusiasm and conviction. Going to an undisclosed part of Africa, Luke faces off against a criminal organization called the the Marabunta that run money and guns to warlords and terrorist organizations throughout Africa. In his descent into their world he battles a woman in insectoid-mech armor called “Lady Marabunta” and an anthropomorphic lion named Lord Lion-Mane. The issue is entertaining and intriguing. My objections remain unrebutted so far, but its only been one issue. I will say that Palmiotti and Gray with the help of artists Eduardo Panisca and Julio Ferreira have earned another issue.
- Swamp Thing #20 brings forth the second issue of the massive paradigm shift between Scott Snyder’s incredible inaugural run on the title and that of new series writer Charles Soule. The issue itself is really well written and the plotline pretty rough. Last issue, Scarecrow was trying to steal a rare flower from the Metropolis Botanical Garden when Swamp Thing stepped in to stop him. Scarecrow unleashed his fear toxin on Swamp Thing causing the avatar of the Green to freak out and thereby the plants within the City of Tomorrow to utterly freak out by extension. Inside his head, Swamp Thing sees Alec Holland living the life he would have led if he hadn’t been made into Swamp Thing. He sees a life with Abby Arcane with a lovely house and children. Everything is perfect except when he comes into his dream life, bringing the power of the Green with him. Living out his deepest fear upon committing himself completely to the Green, he must face the real possibility that he will slowly lose his humanity and in so doing bring death and destruction upon all the people he comes into contact with at the behest of his plant-like masters. Outside of his inner delusions his control of the Green is making monstrous vines, trees, venus fly-traps, etc, tear Metropolis apart and fulfill the very nightmare that bore them, that Swamp Thing will hurt all the people he comes into contact with. Superman of course comes to the rescue of his adoptive city, takes out the main threats, such as the massive vines taking down a suspension bridge, then susses out the cause and intervenes to snap Swamp Thing out of his stupor. Swamp Thing initially came to Metropolis to talk to Superman and ask him about the how to cope with his powers and the fear of those same powers robbing him of his humanity. Superman is pretty harsh, albeit fair, and lays down some very harsh truths. There is, however, a note of optimism at the end of his sermon that might just be what will redeem Swamp Thing. Charles Soule, with Kano’s awesome art, really spins a beautiful Swamp Thing yarn that seems to wrap up in a two issue mini-arc. The final page of the issue seems to be the start of an interesting new development to take us into Soule’s second, semi-connected story arc. I greatly anticipate it.
- Earth 2 #12 concludes the introduction of Doctor Fate. Khalid Ben-Hassin has fought for years the influence of Nabu and falling under the thrall of the ancient mage as well as that of his totem, the helmet of Fate. No more. Last issue Khalid accepted his destiny and donned Fate’s helmet becoming Doctor Fate. Now he and Nabu’s ancient foe, Wotan, go head to head for the first time in centuries in a blaze of sorcery and hexes over the skies of Boston. Meanwhile in China, Alan Scott (Green Lantern) and Kendra Munoz-Saunders (Hawkgirl) investigate the death of Alan’s lover, Sam. In Macau they find storage containers at the docks full of decaying parademon corpses neatly stacked within. The plot thickens as the question is raised as to what they are doing there and how do they fit into Sam’s murder. This is put on hold as Green Lantern is drawn to Boston by his ring to aid in the relief effort of the magical battle. Writer James Robinson really is sewing up the plot of this book by moving individual storylines forward, such as Alan’s investigation of Sam’s murder and the fallout of the Apocalypse invasion years prior, while at the same time introducing exquisitely new characters like Khalid’s Doctor Fate and folding them into the plot. By issue’s end, Flash, Green Lantern, and Fate are brought together just in time for another plot point Robinson is skillfully sewing back into the main plot: Steppenwolf. With this issue the world has learned that Darkseid’s uncle and one of the most dangerous men in the multiverse is being harbored, as well as ruling, the independent republic of Dherain. There is a great deal afoot at present and Robinson has given himself a very advantageous position plot-wise to move forward from. I very much look forward to future installments of this series, especially since Mister Miracle and his wife, Big Barda, are also in the offing. Nicola Scott’s art on this series is another aspect not to be missed, especially when given such round and incredible characters to depict.
- Worlds’ Finest #12 begins a dark chapter in the journeys of Power Girl and Huntress. Picking up from last issue we find that the newly returned Michael Holt is in fact Desaad, torturer to Darkseid and one of Apokalips’ most dangerous New Gods. He attacks Helena and Karen, but when they defend themselves and return his assaults, they discover that Desaad still has an illusion over himself that keeps people seeing him as Michael Holt, upright business mogul and scientist, and the two superheroines as thugs who are attacking him for seemingly no reason. That discovered, they are forced to beat a hasty retreat and re-assess the situation. However, Desaad is a creature that operates on many fronts. Starr Industries (run by the disguised Power Girl) begins to drop in its stock value and have its top researches wooed away to other companies, and one of their top research facilities explodes. However, this is not the most shocking thing that happens in this issue. Paul Levitz is a genius. This series is one of his crowning achievements. The plot segues so nicely into a bookend for the above mentioned Earth 2, following exiles from that world in ours and showing how their odyssey is tied into the events happening concurrently on their homeworld.
- The Movement #1 was a bit of a disappointment. I was eagerly anticipating it due to its penning by master comic writer Gail Simone, but unfortunately Simone doesn’t live up to her reputation here. Perhaps its the premise of the piece. Set as a “point/counterpoint” piece with the new title The Green Team, this book and its sister series are supposed to be comics representing the 99% and the 1% of America and their place in the DCU. The product is super-trite. Elements of social commentary can come into comics effectively when done in thought provoking ways, but this blatant attempt to force the issues seems really forced and uninspired. I could bemoan it much more, but I will stop. I couldn’t find anything redeeming to say about it. A shame that it couldn’t do what it set out to do, but in my opinion it fell flat. I will read The Green Team, but I assume it will also fall flat.
- Phantom Stranger #8 is an apocalyptic issue insofar as it features the “death” of the Stranger (something few even thought possible) and in his death reveals what has really been happening in the past several issues. Issues #0, 1, and 2 key us into the Stranger’s role as a betrayer and agent of transcendental neutrality. The last six have followed the Stranger’s attempt to locate his kidnapped wife and children. This issue gives resolution as to what did happen to them and who was behind their abduction, but even more intriguing is the revelation of how the Phantom Stranger, the most asexual, ambivalent being in the universe, could come to have a wife and kids. Philip Stark and his family existed before the Phantom Stranger entered into any of their lives and in point of fact, his co-opting of them and Stark’s life create a poignant, humanizing moment for him. Dan Didio and co-writer J.M. DeMatteis have created an incredible series that has taken the concept of the Phantom Stranger and not only made him relatable to readership, but actually sympathetic. When we have seen him briefly here and there in the past decade or so, it has often times been him heralding a crisis and then making matters more difficult than necessary for the heroes involved. In this series we have seen that representation unchanged, but we also see how he is forced to do these things and the demons and displeasures they engender in his metaphorical heart (which DOES exist). The series has been phenomenal , but issue #8 stands as a call to arms for readership as to HOW good the series is and has the potential to be in future. Long story short: READ IT!
- Legends of the Dark Knight #8 delivers two more astounding tales of the Dark Knight. In the first story, entitled “Carved”, writer Paul Tobin and artist Tadd Moore tell the tale of a kidnapper/thief in Gotham who abducts people and objects and replaces them with exact replicas sculpted out of mahogany. Already there is a great setup for a psychological villain, which is an interesting turn for Batman. Most of his foes are theatrical, but this one is just a person with deep seated issues, enveloped in a very methodical psychosis. A fascinating, extremely well written story. The next one, “Unnatural Selection”, written by Ricardo Sanchez and drawn by Sergio Sandoval also provides a very out of the box, rarely attempted story in the Batman titles. A series of grisly murders leads the Dark Knight to a cryptotaxodermist’s creation of a Barghest. Cryptotaxodermy is the creation of mythic animals from the parts of deceased members of its constituent parts, i.e. making a stuffed griffin from an eagle’s head, lion’s body, snake’s tail, etc. However, how can a stuffed, fictitious creature murder a slew of people throughout Gotham? The answer is very intriguing and quite fascinating to wrap one’s head around. This story in particular touched me deeply in how tragic every aspect of it is. Every aspect. However, both stories were AMAZING! This series is a crap shoot, sometimes delivering the cheddar and other times falling flat. I personally would suggest this issue for someone that wants a good reason to begin a long standing love affair with the character of Batman, or simply find out the potential inherent in Batman stories outside of the stereotypes of capes and masks that make up 90% of Batman stories.
And thus wraps the first week of May’s batch of comics.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
Action Comics #20: Drawn by Tony Daniel, Colored by Tomeu Morey, Inked by Batt
Detective Comics #20: Art by Jason Fabok, Colored by Jeremy Cox
Green Arrow #20: Art by Andrea Sorrentino, Colored by Marcelo Maiolo
Batwing #20: Art by Eduardo Panisca & Julio Ferreira, Colored by Jason Wright
Swamp Thing #20: Drawn by Kano, Colored by Matthew Wilson, Inked by Alvaro Lopez