Weekly DC Comics Capsule Reviews: Released 7/22/2015

Cyborg #1, copyright DC Comcis
Cyborg #1. Copyright DC Comics.

Welcome to a new feature on GeekMom, a look at DC Comics’ weekly output in a nutshell by columnist Ray Goldfield.

Ray 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. 

Ray’s been reviewing DC comics published each week for years, informally, and we’re happy to give him a formal platform.

Cyborg #1 – 9.5/10 (Book of the Week)

DC has been trying to make a go of turning Cyborg into an A-lister for a while, complete with a permanent slot on the Justice League and a movie in development, but this is his first try at a solo series. They’ve said they were waiting for the right pitch, and it looks like it paid off. David F. Walker, an experienced indie filmmaker and writer, knows what makes Cyborg unique, and that’s his connection to the world of technology. Walker is partnered with superstar artist Ivan Reis, a clear show of faith in this book, and they waste no time throwing us into the action via an intergalactic battle between two alien forces. The Technosapiens, menacing beings of organic technology, are in pitched battle against the technology-hating Tekbreakers. Back on Earth, STAR Labs is being besieged by protesters angry that their tech isn’t being given out to normal amputees, but Dr. Stone has more pressing concerns. His son has shown up, sporting a new, more advanced look that he evolved after being killed off in the Convergence preview story.

If I had one complaint about this issue, it’s that it’s very dependent on you having read that short story in some places. It’s all recapped much more smoothly than Omega Men or Lost Army were, though. Walker does a great job digging into Victor’s complex relationship with his father, as well as his interaction with childhood friend Sarah and how he feels about his unique link to the technology that rebuilt him. Reis does a great job of capturing Cyborg’s new powers, and Walker works in just the right amount of humor in the script. To no surprise, the cliffhanger makes clear that the Technosapiens are coming for his technology, and it’s a great hook. I find that the best DC runs in recent years have taken a hero’s concept and used it as an intro into a much bigger world. One of the best first issues to come out of DC’s new wave.

We Are Robin #2 – 9/10

A lot of new titles, especially team books, spend a lot of time getting the team together and setting up characters. It’s often the first full arc before the team is fully together. Not We Are Robin. In fact, most of the team is fully formed before the series even starts, and the only piece left is to recruit POV character Duke Thomas. When we last left off, Duke had infiltrated the lair of a new villain—reminds me a lot of the Ratcatcher, although he hasn’t been identified—who has been hypnotizing survivors of the Joker gas, possibly including Duke’s parents. When the villain turned the crowd on him, Duke found himself bailed out by the mysterious team of Robins.

What I like about Lee Bermejo’s script is that he makes clear that even the more experienced team members are still amateurs, getting overwhelmed at times and making close escapes. This feels very much like a group of amateurs deciding to play hero, as opposed to the way the “official” Robins function. Duke’s narration to his parents grounds things nicely, giving a human face to a pretty big ensemble. Midway, Duke gets left behind and finds himself in the custody of a mysterious “recruiter” who gives him the hard sell on joining up without ever revealing who he is or who he works for. After escaping, he meets back up with the team and they make plans to stop the villain’s bombing scheme. There’s a couple of intriguing mysteries in this issue, both the identity of their benefactor and the being pulling the strings of the villain. It doesn’t quite have the same thrilling energy of the first issue, but this book is very quickly establishing itself as one of the elites in the new wave of Gotham books.

cover copyright DC Comics
Cover copyright DC Comics.

Grayson #10 – 8.5/10

This is one of the DC titles that’s taken the biggest jumps in quality since the Convergence break, and it did it without a single creative change. The original run of the title relied too much on convoluted conspiracy theories about Spyral, as well as bizarre plots involving super-organs. Now, it seems to have been retooled into a straight-forward spy thriller that allows Mikel Janin to show off his art. A mysterious serial killer is hunting Spyral agents who have worked with Dick, and he’s on the run after sucker-punching and framing his partner, Agent 1, for the theft they just pulled off. New director Helena Bertinelli, who Dick had grown close to, struggles with keeping Dick’s cover intact while Agent One wants to hunt him down.

The highlight of this issue, easily, is Dicks’ secret rendezvous with a top-tier Spyral client, Lex Luthor, who is trying to sell the agency some advanced cloaking tech in exchange for Kryptonite. Seeley and King’s Luthor is perfectly oily, the right mix of brilliant businessman with scheming criminal, and it’s great to see these two play off each other again after their memorable encounter in Forever Evil. There’s still some weird continuity hiccups with Batman’s status after Eternal, but it’s a minor issue. Next issue promises a major confrontation between Dick and Agent 1 in the catacombs of Rome. It took a while to get here, but this is a title that I’m pretty sure most Dick Grayson fans are going to dig.

Sinestro #13 – 8/10

Cullen Bunn, probably the most prolific writer in comics with books at DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Oni, Boom, and Dynamite, had made a name for himself as the king of anti-heroes. While it doesn’t quite reach the near-masterpiece that is his Magneto run, he’s writing probably the best GL-verse book right now in Sinestro. Last issue, we saw him forcibly remove his daughter’s GL ring and turn her into a Sinestro Corps supposedly to punish her for her rebellion—but this issue makes clear that thanks to Lyssa Drak’s prophecies, he knew about the disappearance of the GLC, and did it to spare her that fate. As well, of course, as forcing her to join his side and have her under his thumb, because Sinestro never does anything without an agenda. Despite the Sinestro Corps’ new member, they still have the pressing problem of New Korugar about to explode due to the treachery of a mole within the Corps. Sinestro, partnering with new member Bekka of the New Gods, travels to the core of the planet and uses his connection to Parallax to seal the core, but it requires him to let go of his hold on the fear entity, and Bekka is the only one who knows he’s lost that power.

The final scene reveals that Sinestro has known all along that Lyssa Drak was the mole, attempting to remove the distraction of the Korugans, but Sinestro still has use for her. So in a fantastically ruthless move, he executes a trio of foot soldiers to give the impression that justice has been done and cover his ally’s crimes. I’m hoping Bunn stays on this title for a while, because no one besides Geoff Johns has been able to do Sinestro stories this compelling.

Batman ’66 #25 – 8/10

There are two stories this month in this retro digital-first title, and I think it’s one of the best combos they’ve had in a while. Both stories perfectly capture the offbeat nature of the original series, and use concepts we’ve seen less often in this world. The first story, by regular series writer Jeff Parker and Lukas Ketner, features the return of this world’s Harley Quinn. Originally a nurse whose sanity was destroyed by the Joker’s mind machine, she breaks out of Arkham and sets out to establish herself on the Gotham criminal scene.

While I maybe would have liked a longer story featuring this character, the fast-paced tone is perfect for Harley and the way Batman and Robin get the drop on her is clever. I was partial to the second story, by guest team Gabe Soria and Ty Templeton. Barbara Gordon gets a day in the spotlight, as her new temp job at an ad agency is hijacked by the villains of Gotham seeking to rebrand themselves. With the agency taking hostage and Babs without her Bat-gear, it’s up to Barbara to play them against each other long enough for Batman and Robin to show up and take them down. This title is always fun, and I think this was one of their best issues in a while.

Gotham After Midnight #7 – 8/10

This is another title where I feel like the fresh start after Convergence has given it a shot in the arm. Juan Ferreyra, while not quite as distinct as Ben Templesmith, has a really strong, creepy style that suits this horror book well. The addition of Kate Spencer as a district attorney trying to warn the unit that they’re being investigated adds a new threat as well as a new fan-favorite character who had been missing until now. She hasn’t been given quite enough to do in this series yet, but I’m hoping that Ray Fawkes will expand on her character soon. This issue expands on the backstory of Sam Weaver and how he wound up on the Midnight Unit, as well as presenting a new supernatural threat for the team in the form of a parasitic demonic plant that kills people through sheer apathy. When it infects them, it simply causes them to give up on life and lie down until they die from lack of food and water.

The scene where the unit confronts this evil force is tense and well-drawn, but I wonder—is this book falling back on the Spectre a bit too often? Either way, it’s good to have an old-school horror book in the Gotham stable, and I’m hoping the book continues to balance the case of the month with the overarching story effectively.

Justice League: Gods and Monsters – Batman #1 – 7.5/10

Speaking of horror, this new digital-first title spins out of the upcoming DTV movie, and J.M. DeMatteis and Matthew Dow Smith do a good job of introducing us to a very different Batman. In a world where Kirk Langstrom attempted to cure his Man-Bat infection with an experimental procedure that turned him into a vampire-like creature, he attempts to slake his thirst on the blood of the guilty while protecting the innocent. I’ve liked the recent new takes on Batman that are very different from the iconic one, starting with Jim Gordon and now this book. This is a Batman that reminds me much more of the Hulk than anything, in that he’s a true loner with a monster always just shy of the surface.

After confrontations with his parents and some old friends from his hometown, the story really kicks into high gear when he massacres the Gotham crime lords, led by Lew Moxon. Despite how evil his targets were, he’s haunted by his actions and attempts to befriend Moxon’s seemingly innocent son. The story develops into a series of lies and betrayals leading to a tragic conclusion. This is only a setup for the main story, but it’s an intriguing alternate version of Batman that I’d like to see more of.

Aquaman #42 – 7.5/10

Cullen Bunn’s run on Aquaman is certainly ambitious, switching back and forth between two timelines as we see how Aquaman went from King of Atlantis to a hunted fugitive. Now accompanied by an ancient Atlantean sorcerer, Aquaman has become a protector of a secret race of ancient Atlanteans that are trapped in the strange artifacts that are bursting to the surface around the world. It’s a bit too talky at points, with Aquaman frequently expressing his doubts to his new ally. Things come to the surface towards the end, as a town in Alaska comes under attack by supernatural forces, and Aquaman and his team shows up to fend off the threat—only to come under assault by an Atlantean strike team of assassins led by Tempest and including King Shark and classic Aquaman villain Charybdis, as well as a pair of originals.

As this team of Atlantean radicals attempt to destroy their former king, a massive stone golem rises out of the Pacific and bears down on the town. Even if this comic is a bit of a slow burn as it reveals what caused the rift between Aquaman and Mera, the visuals are fantastic.

The Flash #42 – 7.5/10

This is another title that’s improved a lot since it came back from break. The interminable evil future Flash story is gone, Patty Spivot seems to have been written out for now to allow a bigger role for Iris, and an intriguing new mystery has been set up. When we last left off, Barry’s father suddenly broke out of prison along with a trio of super villains, going on the run after getting reason to worry about his son’s safety. Barry is being kept at a distance on the case by Singh and Frye, forcing him to do his detecting as the Flash. Meanwhile, Professor Zoom is stalking them both, manipulating things using his control of time, such as tricking Henry Allen into killing an innocent security guard.

The highlight of the issue comes when Barry confronts Girder at his grandmother’s home, attempting to get the information out of the villain while also dealing with one very devoted and persistent old lady. Barry is able to find the source of the escape—the guard at Iron Heights, who Henry bribed into looking the other way by promising to help his cancer-stricken wife. The issue ends with Zoom showing up to taunt Barry and lead him to the house where his mother died. This title has ditched a lot of the things that weren’t working and is bringing itself a lot more in line with the TV series. Definitely a good move.

Harley Quinn/Power Girl #2 – 7/10

These two have one of the most amusing buddy-team dynamics in the DCnU, as their adventure through deep space continues. Unfortunately, for the first half of the issue, they’re mostly separated on different adventures on the planet. Harley Quinn gets the better of the two stories, as she and one of Vartox’s allies wind up on the run from a sadistic robot with an obsession with sewing up orifices—that is, until Harley uses the planet’s strange art resources to reshape the robot into a giant bunny rabbit. Power Girl, meanwhile, mainly beats up alien spaceships and tries to close up a portal until she’s bailed out by a mysterious group of female alien warriors (and one male one), who are revealed to be an alliance of Vartox’s exes.

The one guy really doesn’t like that they keep saying “ex-girlfriends.” Harley, naturally, makes her typical excellent first impression by assuming they’re villains and assaulting them. And in the villain’s headquarters, Vartox is being brainwashed into a mindless slave. It’s a pretty light read, but fun, even if it drags a bit in the beginning. I suppose the lesson here is that if you have two characters with a great dynamic together, keep them together as much as possible.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #12 – 7/10

The second anthology comic DC releases this week, this one is 30 pages and two stories—one full-length and one half-length. As often happens with anthologies, there’s a pretty big gulf in quality between the two stories. Fortunately, the strong one takes up the majority of the issue. Derek Fridolfs and Tom Fowler team Wonder Woman with Poison Ivy in a story that takes Diana back to her fantasy roots. Themyscira is under assault by monsters, and Ivy’s arrival on the island is taken as an attack, but it soon becomes clear that she followed Gaia’s call to the island to help in the fight. The villain, Typhon, the father of Monsters, unleashes a monstrous invasion of the island and the Amazons battle his forces while Diana and Ivy descend to the depths of Tartarus. This story portrays a fairly light take on Ivy, but it’s effective and Fridolfs is obviously experienced at handling her. I always like seeing WW kill some monsters.

The second story, by Matthew Manning and Georges Jeanty, is a quick read where Wonder Woman, dealing with the fall-out from a gruesome case, decides to take Batman’s advice and take a vacation to a small village where she fights Solomon Grundy. It’s not bad, but it’s too brief to really make much of an impression.

Wonder Woman #42 – 6/10

The second main arc in this run is a definite improvement over the first, but that’s still not saying all that much, given that the first arc turned Donna Troy into a genocidal monster. The issue opens with Diana and her friend Hessia out on the town, where Diana beats up a sexual harasser and is about to give a homeless man a meal when she’s nearly hit by a magic arrow. She pursues her attacker into the sky, and it’s the same young warrior obsessed with killing her so he can steal the power of Ares. The thing that makes this guy work pretty well is… well, he’s a terrible villain. And this series makes this clear. He’s an arrogant, pouty teenage jackass who believes that he’s entitled to the power of the Gods because he’s a descendant of Poseidon. While he’s fairly incompetent as a threat, he’s more entertaining than most WW villains because of this.

I’m less interested in Donna’s unearned redemption arc, as she’s now wracked with guilt and seeking a way to end her life. Strife covertly releases her from prison and sets her on a quest to find the Fates, who can cut her thread and kill her. I’m assuming this book is planning to eventually turn her into a hero given the solicits for Titans Hunt, but if that was their intention, they probably shouldn’t have introduced her by having her kill a bunch of innocent civilians.

Prez #2 – 5/10

In a strong candidate for quickest cancellation ever, this offbeat relaunch of one of DC’s most obscure properties was cut back from 12 issues to six after only one issue was released. Honestly, it’s not hard to see why. This title doesn’t seem to be very clear on what it wants to be. On one hand, it seems to want to be the story of Beth Ross, aka Corn Dog Girl, aka the President. However, it also seems to revert her to a supporting character in her own comic. Aside from a rather forced scene where her father dies after giving her a motivational speech, most of the comic is actually a very broad political satire about influence trading.

As the presidential race is tied and in Congress, the candidates offer more and more elaborate favors to the various representatives, winding up playing them against each other until more and more wind up voting for protest candidate Beth. When Beth is elected, she’s met by Prez Rickard, a mysterious former teen politician who wants to be her vice president—warning her that she’ll need someone even more controversial than her to protect her from assassination. I salute this book for trying something original, but the total picture isn’t working. It’s way too broad and doesn’t have the compelling characters needed to really work as a satire.

Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Four #6 – 5/10

This title has always been incredibly dark, but for the first two volumes, it was a rather fascinating study of the slow deconstruction of the DCU under Tom Taylor. We saw some of DC’s brightest heroes turn into monsters, and some of the rest sell their souls to protect the world from Superman’s invasion. It seemed like anything could happen and usually did. But since Brian Buccellato took over, it seems like this title has been spinning its wheels a bit. Each season seems to be focused on Batman recruiting a new powerhouse force into the battle against Superman, and then failing.

Last season was magic, this season is the Gods of Olympus. There’s an interesting subplot involving Luthor creating a new Superman clone to oppose him, but most of the issue is devoted to Superman in a fairly pointless battle with Hercules that resolves nothing. We know the main players have to survive to the game’s timeline, so there’s really little more to cover here.

Deathstroke #8 – 4.5/10

With last issue, I was starting to think this title might be finding its footing a bit by putting Slade in a different genre. However, things soon take a turn for the less-than-promising. Last issue, Slade shattered an ancient statue that contained the essence of the evil Titan Lapetus on Themyscira. Wonder Woman is less than happy with this, as you might imagine. This results in most of the issue being an extended battle between Slade and Wonder Woman, which goes about as well for Slade as can be expected. After he is sentenced to banishment for violating Themysciran soil, he and Wonder Woman reluctantly agree to work together to fight Lapetus.

One thing I really disliked about this issue was Wonder Woman’s bizarre defeatist attitude, constantly yelling that they’re doomed. It just doesn’t seem in character. The art is strong, and Lapetus shows up at the end of the issue and looks impressive enough. Hoping things pick up a bit next issue, but story is not this book’s strong suit.

Justice League 3001 #2 – 4/10

Slightly less of an embarrassment than last issue, which mainly seemed to be about how much this team hates each other and Superman not understanding gender issues, this book still thinks we’re way too interested in 31st century slavery law than we really are. While the League battles thousands of Starro slaves and Ariel Masters—who is actually evil Lois Lane—attempts to keep up the facade in the media, the team gets yet another new arrival as Supergirl’s spaceship crashes a millennium off schedule. She’s able to team up with the new Flash to find the prime Starro and stop the attack, but it’s then revealed that Ariel/Lois was working with the Starros all along.

It’s so weird that this is the only title Supergirl is currently starring in, given how big she’s about to get as a character in a few months. She deserves much better. The issue ends with a pair of strange “FAQ” pages featuring Ariel and Max Lord breaking the fourth wall with abandon, and it just makes me miss JLI.

Teen Titans #10 – 1/10

I’ve got a lot to say about how far Teen Titans has fallen as a franchise, but I think this issue nicely encapsulates most of them. The Teen Titans, which have been essentially a second family in most of their iconic versions, are at each other’s throats in this book, divided between the main team and the Wonder Girl-led “Elite,” bankrolled by Manchester Black. They’re out to apprehend Superboy, who’s accused of murder, except that the Elite contain Bar Tor, a known 30th century war criminal responsible for thousands of murders! He yells at Red Robin for leaving him behind on Takron-Galtos—after he was fairly convicted of mass murder!

There’s a lot of characters in this comic, such as an Indigo Lantern on the Elite, who are essentially blank slates. The main Titans spend most of the issue brutalizing each other, such as Superboy bringing Wonder Girl within an inch of drowning. Tim and Raven try to confront Black directly and force the information they need out of him, but Raven gets a vision of a secret prison that shuts her down, and Tim winds up alone against the Elite. This book is repetitive, ugly, and completely devoid of anything that should make a Teen Titans book. I don’t know who enjoys their TT like this, but it’s certainly not me.

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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.