DC Comics Capsule Reviews For 7/29 Releases

Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, Kate Kane
Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson almost meet. Image copyright DC Comics

Welcome to our weekly recap of DC Comics releases. This week, I’ll be joining Ray and add my own impressions of the books. We mostly agree, especially on Batgirl, have a bit of a disagreement over the latest Superman installment, and are definitely of the same mind with the stories featuring the villains.

League: Gods and Monsters-Superman #1, story by J.M. DeMatteis and Bruce Timm, script by J.M. DeMatteis, art and colors by Moritat

Ray: 9/10

Corrina: Buy It: Yes.

Ray: Probably more so than any other hero, Superman lends himself to alternate universes. For want of a nail, he could have landed anywhere and become a different kind of hero—or a villain. So it’s no surprise that the Superman chapter of the Gods and Monsters alternative universe by DeMatteis, Timm, and Moritat is easily the best yet. This isn’t quite the Superman we know—although it’s never stated in the book, this isn’t Kal-El, but rather Lor-Zod, the son of General Zod, who we’ve previously known as Chris Kent.

He’s rocketed to Earth in place of Kal-El, but he lands with a poor immigrant family in Southern California, where they work as day laborers. Hernan Guerra, as he’s named grows up to see his family struggle and fall victim to abuse from their employers and locals. His parents, worried what will happen if he’s discovered, urge him to keep his powers secret, but as he grows older Hernan bristles under their rules and begins using his powers to subvert the forces keeping his family down. He also starts displaying an odd sociopathic streak, which leads to an accident that puts his sister in a wheelchair and furthers his growing estrangement from humanity. After a violent incident with some locals, he goes on the run, becoming a transient and learning about humanity—until a brazen kidnapping by an evil cartel boss pulls him out of hiding, leading him to make his debut as a brutal vigilante who serves as judge, jury, and executioner.

Overall, it’s a fascinating look at a Superman who grew up with all the power but a jaundiced view of humanity. He seems like inherently a good person, unlike some of the dark villainous supermen we’ve seen, but one whose cynicism makes him more likely to rule the world rather than protect it. If the goal of this series of one-shots is to make me want to watch the movie, it’s succeeding. 

Corrina: What if a Kryptonian baby was found by Mexican immigrants in America who worked in the fields? He would receive a look at the American dream from the lowest rung, be immediately confronted with racial and prejudice, and become an angry man with the powers of a God. The fascinating element about this story is that it’s not clear if this elseworlds Superman naturally trends to the dark side or if he would have turned out differently if he’d not faced such hardship, because even as a boy, his powers fueled his arrogance.

The Gods and Monsters series of stories is based on an upcoming direct-to-video movie that was released on DVD Tuesday but with this story and last week’s Batman, comic readers are also getting fantastic elseworlds tales.

Superman, Gods and Monsters, Justice League
Young Gods and Monsters Superman, image via DC Comics.

Batgirl #42, Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, writers, Babs Tarr, artist.

Ray: 9.5/10 (Book of the Week)

Corrina: Buy It? Yes.

Ray: Batgirl under the new creative team of Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr has been controversial from the start, mainly due to its radically different tone from Gail Simone’s run. While I am a bit sad to see the last vestiges of the more mature Barbara Gordon who was Oracle fade away, I feel like this is an excellent run that probably would have been received a lot better if it kicked off a full reboot with no ties to the original.

This book’s Barbara is very much in the model of quirky, smart, sarcastic girl heroes like Buffy and Veronica Mars, and it works, as does the extensive new supporting cast. The writers find interesting things for every supporting character to do, such as Frankie getting deeper into her new role as Babs’ behind the scenes support, Qadir getting a new job working for Batwing Luke Fox, and even Alysia Yeoh making a return at the end of the issue and dropping a bombshell that probably won’t be all that surprising to those of us who have read Batgirl: Futures End.

The main plot of the issue has Batgirl trying to round up Livewire before she hurts anyone, but this cartoon transplant villain is more of a plot device for the real conflict—Barbara facing off with her father, the new Batman. This could easily have been a cliche in lesser hands, with Jim Gordon being portrayed as a by-the-book lawman looking to arrest a vigilante, but Stewart and Fletcher put a lot more balance in his role. He’s a man struggling with a new role and trying to balance his responsibilities with orders he knows are wrong. He and Batgirl are still on opposite sides—he makes clear he has to take her in and he can’t protect her forever if she doesn’t take his advice and hang up the costume—but it’s a much more subtle and well-written version than we usually see when heroes are pitted against each other. And this is done without Gordon knowing who’s under Batgirl’s mask.

If I had one complaint, it’s that Barbara’s dialogue is a bit too playful and light given the circumstances. It’s well-written, but she almost seems like Spider-man at points. Overall, though, this title has been promising from the start, but I don’t think any Bat-family title has benefited from the new Gotham status quo more than this one. 

Corrina: Livewire, from the Superman: The Animated Series, invades Gotham, forcing the new robot Batman (Jim Gordon) and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) to team-up. The dad and daughter confrontation from last issue is quickly resolved as Batman tells Batgirl he’s letting her escape because he disagrees with the directive to arrest unsanctioned vigilantes. Does Jim know that his daughter is Batgirl?

Unlike Ray, my guess is “yes” because he instantly trusts Batgirl, even to letting her devise the plan that takes down Livewire that also requires Jim to climb out of the suit and simply fight in Batman costume. It’s always fun to see Jim/Barbara interaction and this issue is no different.

Barbara Gordon, Jim Gordon
Panel from Batgirl #42, image copyright DC Comics

Batgirl Annual #3, Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, writers. Art by: Bengal, David LaFuente, Ming Doyle, Mingjue Helen Chen, Gabriel Eltaeb, and Van Plascencia.

Ray: 8/10

Corrina: Buy It? Yes.

Ray: A packed issue that weaves four short stories into one overarching narrative, this annual has the regular writing team on Batgirl paired with a quartet of guest artists, each teaming Batgirl with another member of the Bat-family. The first and longest story is by Bengal, as it sets up a mystery involving missing diplomats and a mysterious machine named the Negahedron. When Barbara goes to investigate, she’s confronted by Director, A.K.A. Helena Bertinelli—and that means that Dick Grayson, who is presumed dead, is also on site.

While there’s a lot of spy action in this story, the bulk of the story is devoted to Dick doing everything under his power to keep from being seen by Barbara—and the way he’s nearly exposed in the final page is one of the funniest scenes in any comic this week. From there, it’s off to a short segment by David Lafuente as Barbara’s stakeout is interrupted by a hyperactive Spoiler, looking to test her combat skills. Spoiler acts a lot more peppy than she normally does here, but it’s fun and sets up a cool dynamic between these two “generations” of Batgirls. From there, Ming Doyle tells the story of Barbara and Batwoman battling an assassin to rescue a friend of Batwoman’s who has the information they need. This is the weakest segment, as Batwoman—outside of Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III, at least—tends to be written as stoic and bland. This segment is sorely missing the fun dynamic that the first two had, and which comes back in spades in the fourth as Barbara heads to Gotham Academy to decipher a filmstrip she found and is greeted by the Academy’s teen detectives, Maps and Olive. Helen Chen does a great job aping Kerschl’s style on this segment, and Fletcher co-writes both books, so he’s clearly at home.

Overall, this issue’s main plot is kind of a generic excuse to set up these meetings, but by and large it’s a fun read. 

Corrina: This should be called “Batgirl teams up with everybody” because, aside from the “reunion” with Dick Grayson, there’s the Spoiler, Stephanie Brown (herself a former Batgirl but that was two reboots ago), Kate (Batwoman) Kane, and the kids from Gotham Academy. The issue is more of a lighthearted romp and the tone fits best with the Batgirl/Spoiler team-up, while Helene Bertinelli from Grayson seems more than a bit out of character.  But it’s great to see Kate Kane making her first appearance in Gotham since the Convergence series, especially since her segment (which I enjoyed, unlike Ray) and it’s drawn by Ming Doyle

Note: Since Ray won’t tell you, I will: Grayson’s identity is nearly given away by his scrumptious butt.

Gotham by Midnight Annual #1, Ray Fawkes, writers, Christian Duce, art.

Ray: 8.5/10 

Corrina: Buy It? Yes.

Ray: Gotham by Midnight has been pretty steeped in mythology since the start, so it’s nice to see them dial it back a bit and do a creepy done-in-one story that reintroduces a classic DCU rogue. That villain is the Gentleman Ghost, the famous Golden Age villain who has never been creepier than he is in this issue. Ray Fawkes is joined on this annual by Christian Duce, whose art is a lot more subtle than the regular artists’ but is nonetheless nicely creepy when it needs to be. The story opens with Jim Craddock, a handsome suitor, seducing a young heiress only for her to mysteriously collapse when the GCPD arrives and he absconds with a necklace of hers. He leads them on a twisty hunt through the mansion as he reveals himself to have ghostly powers that allow him to disappear and manipulate matter. There’s a hilarious segment where Officer Drake tries to arrest a ghost and it goes about as well as you’d expect.

The police cast is limited to Drake and Corrigan this issue, and you know what that means—the Spectre is coming out at some point. Fawkes seems to be channeling the vibe of a classic romantic ghost story this issue, revealing Craddock’s tragic backstory while still making him far scarier than any previous version of the character—his final form once he’s caught on a getaway train is fantastic. I did think how Craddock meets his fate in the end was a bit anti-climatic, but I suppose few fights with the Spectre last very long. This title seems to be finding its footing nicely, and this was easily my favorite of the five annuals this week. 

Corrina: The Gentleman Ghost is one of those Batman villains suited to either lighthearted fun as he appears and disappears through Gotham or something darker and sinister. Since this is Gotham’s horror comic, the Ghost in this one is someone who can literally steal breath away as he tries to obtain a necklace that meant something to his human self. It’s gothic, creepy, and, as Ray said, more than a bit romantic. A great story to try out this series, if you haven’t yet.

Lobo Annual #1, Cullen Bunn, writers, Robson Rocha, pencils, Guillermo Ortego, inks.

Ray: 7/10

Corrina: Buy It? No.

Ray: I’ve never been a big fan of Cullen Bunn’s Lobo series, mainly because I feel like it’s a return to the bland ultra violence that has pretty much characterized every Lobo solo series since the beginning of time. But what he does here is pretty inventive, and sets up what could be the most interesting story for the character in ages. Lobo is embarking on his biggest bounty hunt ever—targeting Sinestro, now the most powerful Lantern in the galaxy after the disappearance of the GLC. He’s been assassinating ring bearers, trying to draw Sinestro out, but with no success. The story sags a bit whenever Lobo is dealing with his own space crime connections, but it picks up in a big way when Lobo ups the stakes, capturing some Korugan prisoners that Sinestro hasn’t rescued yet and threatening their lives. Sure enough, that draws out the Sinestro Corps, and Lobo allows himself to be “killed” by them, following them back to their headquarters as soon as his body knits itself back together. There he finally gets his confrontation with Sinestro, overwhelming him and beating him—at which point Sinestro cancels the contract he put on himself.

This entire elaborate sting was a way for Sinestro to test Lobo against a ring-wielder so he could hire him for his own purposes. I still find Lobo a rather boring character—but fortunately, midway through this issue it turns into a very good issue of Sinestro.

Corrina: DC’s galactic cynical, arrogant, and murderous bounty hunter with immortality is hired to kill Sinestro of the yellow power ring corps. A decent story with an excellent (if gory) demonstration of Lobo’s ability to regenerate at will, but I’m utterly uninterested in the main character and while Ray enjoys Sinestro, I have no interest. However, Sinestro fans may well want this issue.

Deathstroke Annual #1, written by Tony Daniel and James Bonny, art by Tyler Kirkham.

Ray: 4/10

Corrina: Buy It? No.

Ray: This issue continues directly from the main series with Tony Daniel and James Bonny co-writing and Tyler Kirkham on art. Unfortunately, that means the story is just as forgettable as it was in the main book. Deathstroke was tricked into releasing the evil Titan Lapetus, and now he and Wonder Woman are teaming up to kill the villain before he can overrun the world with monsters. Lapetus is pretty much your generic fantasy villain, talking a lot about how he hates humanity and vengeance will be his, but not much beyond that. After some generic battles, Slade and Diana are swept up into a portal and wind up in Tartarus, where they battle monsters made up of thousands of smaller monsters and are confronted with specters of their worst nightmare. Diana is confronted with a post-apocalyptic world where she’s caused the end of the world as God of War. Slade is confronted with younger versions of his children in mortal danger. There’s some cool visuals, especially involving Tartarus, but the story here is thin and really lacks any likable characters to latch on to. Deathstroke is so out of place in this fantasy story that there’s almost a disconnect. Nothing is really resolved, either, as Slade and Diana escape and wind up back where they started, ready to face Lapetus. It’s not DC’s worst series, but it’s one of its most forgettable.

Corrina: Like Lobo, Slade Wilson is a cynical mercenary and given that the only interesting element about him, his backstory, has been mostly wiped away, I’m as interested in him as I am in Lobo, which is not at all.

The attraction here is Wonder Woman. Their team-up leads both of them through traumatic moments of their past. (Slade’s two kids make an appearance. I guess Grant is forgotten.) Like everywhere else, Wonder Woman is mostly out of character, flippantly threatening to kill Slade because that’s how Princess McStabby Sword operates now. There are hints of her compassion later in the issue but it’s not enough. However, the fights this issue are mostly filler until the big battle with the Titan.

Aside: Slade’s eyepatch and goatee have gone to the same place as Jim Gordon’s glasses and mustache. Is it a crime to look older in DC comics now? (The only exception seems to be Dick Grayson who basically adopts Slade’s old look to fool Batgirl over in her annual.)

Superman #42, Gene Yang, writer, John Romita Jr., penciller, Klaus Janson, inks.

Ray: 7.5/10

Corrina: Buy It? No.

Ray: While Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder have been handling the “Truth” storyline very well in their two titles, it’s up to newbie Superman writer Gene Yang to show how we got there. Two issues in, he seems to be setting up the pieces effectively, but there’s still a few major logical hiccups in the story that are causing me some trouble. First up, credit where credit’s due—Yang has created one of my favorite new Superman villains in years with the evil information collective HORDR. While a Supervillain take on Anonymous may at first seem like a better fit for a hip title like Batgirl, it makes perfect sense given how journalism and secrets are so key to Superman’s character. HORDR’s M.O. is to find secrets on powerful people, and blackmail them until they control the power brokers in every area of the world—and now they’re trying to lay claim to Superman.

The former HORDR member Condesa fills them in, but not before the group finds them and tries to kill them via engineered shadow ninjas. Clark fights them off, but this gives Lois the last bit of evidence she needs, and this forces Clark to admit to her that he’s Superman. We’ve seen this sort of scene a few times before, and I’ve got to say her anger and sense of betrayal sort of feels off to me here. Not only is she usually more understanding, but she and Clark didn’t have the same level of relationship that they did in other versions. Fortunately, the focus soon shifts to the group infiltrating HORDR’s base with the help of Condesa and some tech from Hiro the Toyman. Condesa and Jimmy seem to have a fun rapport that might indicate a future relationship, and the mystery villain behind HORDR is an intriguing figure. The loss of Superman’s powers is a bit of a deus ex machina—he’s using a solar flare when some mysterious figure shows up and zaps him, then disappears. There’s still a lot of questions to be answered here, but Yang is doing a good job with a story that would be a challenge for anyone to write.

I’m not entirely sold yet, but I’m intrigued.

Corrina: This is how much I hate this flashback story supposedly leading to the reason why Lois Lane outed Superman to the world: Lois reveals that through her investigative work, she knows Clark is Superman. It should be an iconic moment and a turning point in their relationship but my reaction is a shrug. It doesn’t help that Lois’ characterization this issue is so one-note angry rather than more nuanced. She literally rips his shirt off.

As Ray said, The plot revolves around a superpowered version of 4Chan (Ray said Anonymous but this group seems to be more wide-ranging than that), with an anonymous mastermind, Hordr_Root pulling the strings.  (If you read that as Hodor, you’re not the only one.) The banter between Condesa, a former member of the group, and Jimmy works but I thought the dialogue a bit off for Condesa, giving her a little too much slang.  Props to the art team. The issue looks great (though Lois is drawn a big young).

I’m so not sold on this premise or Lois’ characterization or even Superman’s characterization.

Flash Annual #4, Van Jensem, writer, Bong Dazo, Penciller, Norm Rapmund, inker.

Ray: 6.5/10

Corrina: Buy It? No.

Ray: Some annuals directly continue the main story, while others take the opportunity to do a key side story without actually interrupting the flow of the main series. This is the latter, as Van Jensen and Bong Dazo introduce us to Eobard Thawne’s acolytes who will be testing the Flash shortly. Each of them has been hit by lightning at some point, giving them powers, but the interesting thing is that they’re all from different decades or centuries, indicating that Thawne has been around far longer than anyone knew.

Unfortunately, by and large these characters don’t make that much of an impression. The story starts in 16th century Central America, as a Native woman is pursued as a witch by Spanish conquerers, due to her ability to age and de-age things around her. In 19th century Africa, where the Africans are forced to mine for diamonds by the Dutch colonists, a man with the ability to turn his body to shadow and fold into the walls steals the diamonds and returns them to the mine, hoping to drive the occupiers off. In early 20th century Australia, a Maori strongwoman is pushed too far by a local racist. And in 1980s America, a young boy can summon tornadoes. Each has their life destroyed by their powers, only to be recruited into Thawne’s army and trained for a coming war with the Flash. Then, in a series of brief segments, it’s revealed that Thawne was the one who set each of them up to have their lives ruined. These characters could develop into something interesting, but overall their origins tend to be a bit repetitive and we don’t know enough about Thawne yet for this to have the impact it should.

Corrina: It’s a villains issue as the Reverse Flash, Eobard Thawne, travels through time to recruit acolytes who believe he’s a hero and that Barry Allen is a villain. Eobard, of course, has set up the circumstances that cause this new band of villains to trust him in the first place. I supposed it’s all okay if you’re a Flash diehard but I’m not inspired.

Ray Goldfield is a writer/editor for Grayhaven Comics, as well as the author of two novels currently in editing. He’s a comic fan for over 20 years, particularly of DC and Superman, Batman, and the Teen Titans in particular. Now that Cassandra Cain is coming back, he will not rest until DC greenlights a Young Justice: Season Three comic.

Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.