DC Comics This Week: ‘Midnighter’ & ‘Secret Six’ Steal the Show

Panel from Superman: Lois & Clark #6, copyright DC Comics
Panel from Superman: Lois & Clark #6, copyright DC Comics

It’s the next to last issue of the all-Robin-team on Batman & Robin Eternal, there’s a terrific reunion and the reappearance of a fan favorite villain Secret Six and We Are Robin gets real with school violence in this week’s comics.

Plus, Cyborg fights the power, Superman, Lois & son go after Intergang, Harley Quinn goes to the roller derby, Grayson is close to cracking Spyral apart, the Outsiders are teased in Suicide Squad, and, oh, there were issues of Justice League 3001, Deathstroke and Teen Titans.

For our reviews of the landmark Batman #50 and Wonder Woman #50, check out our in-depth article.

Batman & Robin Eternal #25, James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder, story, Steve Orlando, script, Javi Pina and Goran Sudzuka, artists

Corrina: Midnighter Steals the Show.

Ray – 8/10

Ray: The penultimate issue before the giant-sized finale! This issue is almost entirely action, as the Bats make a last desperate play to cure Mother’s army of the effects of Icthys and defeat the new wave of Orphans. The breakout star of this issue, bar none, is Midnighter, whose unconventional method of dealing with the Orphan problem is to have the entire crew teleported to him to fight one-on-ten. It’s a very good week for Midnighter, as he steals the show in another comic as well (which we’ll discuss later).

Meanwhile, on his way to stop Mother, Dick is stopped in his tracks by Azrael, and I was glad to see one storyline in this issue resolved without violence. Orlando definitely gets that Dick is probably the most compassionate and humanistic of Bruce’s “children”, so it’s great to see him make that effort to bring one of Mother’s former cultists back over to the light. Speaking of which, he’ll need all those charms to keep Harper Row from going over to the dark side. As Mother tempts her with the chance to get revenge for her mother’s death, she repeatedly mentions just how much of a failure Cass is and how she wants Harper to take that final step and become one of her soldiers. I’m thinking she played the wrong card there – essentially emphasizing how Cass was only ever a pawn and how being forced to kill Harper’s mother broke her is going to push Harper in the opposite direction. A lot of action, not as much plot advancement as I thought, but it sets things up very nicely for next issue’s epic finale.

Midnighter is missing from the cover but not the comic. Image copyright DC Comics
Midnighter is missing from the cover but not the comic. Image copyright DC Comics

Corrina: I didn’t notice this issue was all-action because that action was put in the context of characters. Midnighter having fun was a highlight, of course, even as the world is chaos around him, because that’s who he is and he’s been a grand addition to this series. I love that Cullen seems to view him as sort of a role model.

The other strong character here is Dick, as honest as he ever was, and instead of fighting (as Midnighter would do) using compassion to win Azrael over to his side. This is all leading up to the final confrontation with Mother and that she’s still so one-note to me is either a sign that, yes, she’s a bad character, or simply one I’m not connecting with at all.

I’ve been skeptical in parts about this series but I’m stoked for the finale. Now, if only Cass, Harper, and Steph stick around after we’re done. Batgirls Incorporated, anyone?

Secret Six #12, writer, Gail Simone, artist, Dale Eaglesham and Tom Derenick

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Poor Dears. They Try So Hard To Be Heroes.

Ray: This issue shows exactly what Secret Six does so well. It’s one of the few books that can perfectly balance strong action, hilarious dialogue, and emotional character development this well. How can you not like a story that opens with Scandal, Knockout, and Liana discussing Catman’s pluses and minuses as a sperm donor?

From there, we cut to the main action as Lady Shiva arrives at the Six’s house to claim Strix. After quickly dispatching a local policeman, she turns her attacks on Catman and bests him fairly easily. However, before she can do any real damage, Strix decides to surrender and go with her to the League of Assassins. There are some really nice moments involving Batgirl and her boots as Strix goes that humanize everyone involved nicely. I feel like in the last few issues, some of the characters who had been a bit thin until now – Strix, Porcelain, Freddie – have been fleshed out a lot, and now I can safely say I care about the entire cast. Well, maybe besides Ventriloquist.

However, the scenes that everyone will really be talking about are at the end. As the Six discuss whether to go after Strix or respect her choice, Big Shot finds out that Sue is waiting for him upstairs. After a powerful reunion scene, he re-emerges with a new determination to reunite their family – and with a new look that will have you leaping out of your seat cheering. It’s a crime that this title doesn’t sell better. One of DC’s best.

Panel from Secret Six #12, copyright DC Comics
Panel from Secret Six #12, copyright DC Comics

Corrina: For those who remember Identity Crisis, the Ralph and Sue reunion was special. For those who don’t, well, I hope it still resonated. Big ‘thank you’ to Gail Simone for bringing this pair back together and I hope we never have to refer to Identity Crisis again. (For those of you wondering what my problem with that story is, my rant is too long to go here and besides, I want to talk about the Six.)

Yes, having the married trio discuss whether Catman is a proper sperm donor is awesome. I gather they’re hoping for someone human, rather than super human. But the scene is everything Ray said it is.

Also good to have back is Lady Shiva as a villain. However, I’m a little skeptical about how easily she beat everyone with so little effort. She is the best but none of these people are pushovers. Perhaps if they’d worked together, they might have held her off. But maybe that’s the point, as much as the Six like to be a team, working together is not something that comes naturally to them. Even with the cliffhanger decision to go after Strix, I’m worried that this issue might be part of a series finale. I hope not. I’m enjoying this too much to say goodbye.

We Are Robin #10, Lee Bermejo, story and cover, Jorge Corona, art

Corrina: Jokerz vs. Robins: It’s On.

Ray – 8/10

Ray: We’ve seen a lot of Joker copycat stories over the years, ranging from punk thrill-seekers like the original Jokerz to scheming manipulators like in Layman’s Detective. However, Smiley and his Jokerz are something else. This issue is extremely timely in some disturbing ways, with Smiley using his new platform as leader of the Jokerz to spread a message of chaos, violence, and anarchy across the city. As his message spreads, the various Robins are caught up in their own personal dramas.

Duke is struggling to help his parents recovering from the Joker toxin, while Izzy clashes with her mother and Reiko takes out her frustration on her karate partner. Dax and Dre are the only ones still in the superhero fray, as they follow on the trail of the Jokerz. What I mainly want to talk about, though, is the last few pages, as Smiley makes his move and urges his minions on towards a large scale attack – in what looks like it’s going to be an armed attack on the Robins’ high school next month. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comic really tackle the scourge of school violence like this, if that’s where they’re going, and I can see it being very controversial. We Are Robin has always excelled in fusing realistic urban elements of teenagers’ lives with the Bat-action parts of this book, and while this issue was a bit of a breather, next month has the potential to be the book everyone’s talking about depending on how it plays out.

We Are Robin #10Corrina: The school violence threat this issue is the one that took my breath away too, Ray. As much as we’re set in the somewhat unrealistic world of Gotham, this creative team always manages to ground the characters’ struggles in reality. Given what has happened in some schools over the last couple of decades, that someone like Smiley and his gang would take over a school like this cuts almost too close to the bone. But it’s this realism that makes the book so unique.

Duke continues to be a fantastic main character. He’s solid every time he’s on the page, even when he’s having doubts and when he’s down about his parents and the Joker-venom illness. If this title goes away, it looks like we’ll have one big sequence of the Robins versus the Jokerz before first. I won’t say it will be epic, because this is a little too realistic for that, but it will hit hard, whatever the outcome.

Superman: Lois & Clark #6, Dan Jurgens, writer, Lee Weeks, penciller, Scott Hanna, inker.

Corrina: Hey, Look, It’s SuperKid!

Ray – 8.5/10

Ray: The best Superman book on the stands continues to be top-notch this month, as we take a break from the big superhero action and focus more on Lois and Jon. The issue opens to a flashback of this Lois and Clark finding out that this world’s Lois has outed Superman’s identity to the world. Original Lois is saying what we’re all thinking.

Meanwhile, Superman is on the trail of Lois’ publicist, who has been kidnapped by Intergang to try to find out the identity of her mysterious author. Before Clark can get back, Intergang strikes and kidnaps both Lois and her son. Superman would be on his way – except that he’s derailed by the debut of supervillain reality show “Bad Ass Nation” and its winner’s debut destroying a crowded bridge. This is a small detail, but I like the way Jurgens is bringing back the style of his 90’s Superman comic where he was constantly bringing in new small-scale threats for Superman to face on the way to bigger problems.

While I’m not the biggest fan of the hero’s wife and kid being put in jeopardy yet again, Lois never comes off as less than capable in this issue, and the entire plot is a set-up for Jon to discover what we’ve known is sort of inevitable – he’s got powers of his own. Could he be one of the “Super-Sons” in the upcoming title? I hope so, and one way or another I’m hoping these versions of the characters are sticking around for the long haul.

Corrina: I suspect the difference with Lois being kidnapped versus many other kidnap stories is that many of them are about the victimization of the woman or child and this comic never makes Lois or even young Jon victims, only people struggling against odds who, the reader knows, will eventually succeed.

The conceit of Superman needing to get to Lois but distracted by other people in jeopardy is an old one but it works well here, especially with our poor supposed “villain” being a dupe of the reality television producers. I’m not sure where that’s going but I’m hoping for some sort of redemption for the poor schlub.

This is the Superman comic to read.

Harley Quinn #26 – Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, writers, John Timms and Chad Hardin, artists

Ray: 8/10

Corrina: Reunited and It’s Good.

Ray: After the huge events of last issue that sent several regular characters out of the book and hopefully put a cap on Harley and Joker’s relationship for good (via Harley delivering a pre-Flashpoint Joker the beating he so sorely deserved), this issue is very much a breather, showing Harley’s daily life and setting up a suitably absurd new villain for her for next issue. The issue opens with Harley returning to New York and having a creepy, surreal Joker nightmare while sleeping, but the ending of the segment, fortunately, seems to indicate she’s putting all that behind her. She beats up some scuba-diving themed criminals, puts a sexist metal detector hobbyist in his place (which leads to the most hilarious interaction of the issue), and prepares for a big bout in her Roller Derby league.

Still, some clouds are gathering. The Mayor is still plotting against her, with the help of a sinister new Chief of Police. And running through all of this is flashbacks to a former victim of Harley’s, a soldier of fortune who was maimed by one of her attacks and left with a prosthetic arm and a disturbed mind. He’s back for revenge – and looking to take her down in roller derby? That’s an interesting choice. This issue isn’t the most memorable in the run, but it’s a good spotlight for what this kind of series does right. I’m glad to see the series get back to basics after the plot-heavy past arc.

Corrina: Harley Quinn delivering feminist smackdowns is always interesting and that scene that Ray loved is why people bond to Harley: if you pit her against the right opponent, it’s easy to be on her side. This creative team has been brilliant in putting her against the right opponent, even if they’ve strayed a little too over the line for me, like using assassins as human cannonballs. The blackmail of the Mayor is a necessary evil to keep Harley from being arrested though it is playing out a little slowly for me.

I look forward to the inevitable showdown on the roller derby rink and I will be disappointed is prosthetic parts aren’t used in the middle of this fight.

Grayson #19, writers: Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, artists, Roge Antonio and Geraldo Borges

Corrina: Spotlight on Helena Bertinelli

Ray – 7/10

Ray: Lanzing and Kelly come on board for the last few issues of Grayson, and the quality stays…mostly solid. Everyone seems in character, although I will say it seems like a good deal of King and Seeley’s trademark humor is missing. It’s much more of a standard spy thriller with a lot of the very dense storytelling of the early issues.

Helena Bertinelli falls in battle against the team of assassins who were sent to target Spyral, and she’s rushed to the core of Spyral to undergo healing while Dick and Agent Tiger fight to keep St. Hadrian’s from being overrun. Things pick up a lot when Midnighter shows up and bails Dick out via a massive curb-stomping of the villains, and Tiger’s reunion with his former partner has some really tense scenes. Being blunt, though, I don’t care about Dr. Netz, her sister, and whoever just came out of the portal. That was the weakest part of Grayson in the early run. The callbacks to Morrison’s early material involving Spyral and St. Hadrian’s, though? Very good. I’m hoping this team will bring the series to a strong conclusion, although it disappoints me that King and Seeley won’t be writing the last act.

Corrina: Sometimes it takes a creative team swap to realize the unique voice provided by the previous team. It’s good in a sense that this new team is more straightforward, as spy stories are twisty enough without the plot sometimes veering off into confusing directions. On the other hand, having those twisty plots (especially drawn by Mikel Janin) forced me to pay close attention and made this comic something different from everything else on the stands.

But, as Ray said, everyone is still in character, and that’s the best outcome for a creative team swap. I’m glad to see Midnighter again, though he’s fast becoming the Deux ex Machina of the DC universe. Overloaded in a fight? Call Midnighter, he’ll love it and be there in an instant with his handy transporting doors. Then, again, why am I complaining since this is so fun?

St. Hadrian’s still confuses me. We’re back to my being uncomfortable with Helena (now revealed as supposedly under deep cover for years) running a school for teenage assassins. If it’s bad for Batman to train assistants, it’s equally bad for Helena to create a whole school of them. But it looks like the Spyral/Grayson plotlines are going to wrap up. After that, we’ll only have to worry about Dick being undercover with the Courts of Owls. :sigh: I do still miss Nightwing.

Cyborg #6, writer, David Walker, Felipe Watanabe and Julio Ferreira, pencillers, Oclair Albert and Julio Ferreira, inks.

Corrina: Cyborg Goes Inside the System

Ray – 7/10

Ray: Man, this issue could not have lost me any harder than it did at the beginning. The opening scene of the government showing up to order Cyborg to turn himself in to them, and Cyborg and Shazam getting into a fight when Shazam takes the government’s side? Bad shades of Civil War, and deeply out of character for Shazam, to say nothing of how quick Cyborg was to fire on his friend. Almost as if…yep, not everything is as it seems. After the cringe-worthy opening segment, we flash back to the last few months as the Cybernetics Regulation Act ramps up. Cyborg, seeing the bad way things are going, puts a plan into effect to uncover the powers behind the scene trying to bring all cybernetics under their control, and part of that plan involves getting captured and taken to their base. So he shows his closest friends including Shazam what he can do now, and sets himself up to be captured. The pacing of the issue is a bit awkward, but the idea is strong and I would have liked to see how Walker would have wrapped this story up. So naturally, he’s off the book after this issue. Frustrating. I’m hoping Rebirth will have a lot less of these aborted runs.

Corrina: The government is always the bad guy in these situations, right? Listen, I understand why governments are so concerned, but this trope should be put on the shelf for years, as it’s run the course and deserves to be put out of its misery.

However, my sour grapes over the trope detracts from a strong issue of this comic. I loved Vic’s friendship with Billy/Shazam and that he trusts his friends in the Justice League so much, and that Vic is willing to be proactive about finding out what’s really going on in the government.

Psst..aside, government guys, don’t you realize that grabbing a guy with internal tech that can take over your computer systems is a bad idea?

Suicide Squad Most Wanted: Deadshot/Katana #3 – Deadshot: Brian Buccellato, story and words, Viktor Bogdanovic, pencils, Richard Friend, inks; Katana: Mike W. Barr, writers, Diogenes Neves, artist

Ray: 7/10

Corrina: Entertaining Enough, Not Essential.

Ray: Well, I was expecting this kind of thing to happen in the Deadshot story, I just wasn’t expecting it to happen halfway through the story. Which makes me think Buccellato may have a swerve for us yet. When we last left off in Deadshot’s story, he had gone rogue, killing his parents and preparing to take out Amanda Waller for her betrayal of him and his daughter. That leads to most of this issue being a full-length standoff between Deadshot and the rest of the Suicide Squad, despite Harley Quinn’s intervention. She convinces him to surrender – only for Waller’s goons to shoot him. The issue ends with Deadshot incapacitated in a prison hospital while Henry Hayes dons the Deadshot costume. Like I said, this was extremely telegraphed given the movie – but it happening halfway through makes me think something’s up.

The Katana story is pretty straightforward and old-school, but it’s also the more consistently entertaining of the two. It’s been a while since we saw Markovia, and it may be making its New 52 debut. Prince Brion – aka Geo-Force in other versions – is a wild card, and Kobra makes a suitably sinister villain. The one thing I like about this story more than anything else is the way it showcases Katana’s compassion in between action scenes, which sets it apart from most stories involving the character. There’s a tendency of writers making Katana overtly stoic and bland, which I’m glad to see subverted here.

Corrina: Katana is often depicted as an emotionless ninja-style character and that’s not who she was when first introduced. Instead, she was often seen as a voice of reason, a maternal figure even, especially to Halo on the original Outsiders team. Naturally, Katana’s creator, Barr, remembers this, and that makes his Katana more relatable than any depiction I’ve read in a long time.

It does look like Barr’s getting the band back together with the introduction of Geo-Force. Perhaps this is not only his origin story but the origin story of a new Outsiders team? I can hope.

As for the Deadshot story, Ray said it all. It’s a predictable ending, a way to move the original aside for a movie version, which still keeping some hold on the original if DC needs Floyd again.

Aside: was Waller always so awful about children? It seems to me that the best way to control Deadshot is to take care of his daughter and then you can threaten to endanger her if he doesn’t complain. Completely losing sight of her seems not smart, on many levels. But, then, I’ve had problems with this new 52 Waller for some time.

Deathstroke #16, written by James Bonny, art by Paolo Pantalena

Corrina: Deathstroke Fights Everyone in the DC Universe Continues, Ad Nauseum

Ray – 6/10

Ray: Corrina describes this as “Deathstroke fights everyone in the DC Universe” and that’s about the size of it. This arc – hell, this title – has essentially been Deathstroke starring in the South Park reality show “Fighting ’round the world”. And like any comic like that, the quality of the issue depends heavily on who he’s fighting. That’s why this issue was a bit of an uptick for me. His current enemy, Red Hood, brings some much-needed levity to the book, snarking and poking at Deathstroke’s reputation regularly. Of course, that’s just a sideshow in a series of stabbings, shootings, and explosions, leading to Deathstroke trucking an unconscious Red Hood and his traitorous friend Victor onto a plane in search of his daughter. And after the six months, he finally comes face to face with Lawman and Rose – only for Rose to turn on him. Not expecting too much out of this arc’s conclusion, but at least this issue has Red Hood being sarcastic.

Corrina: Red Hood is funny for a bit, then he’s unconscious, and then I kinda lost interest in what was going on amidst the fighting. Look, if I’m going to care about Deathstroke’s search for his daughter, I’m going to have to care about Deathstroke himself and his angst over losing his daughter. But I don’t care about Deathstroke, therefore, I don’t care about his quest, and therefore, his inevitable confrontation with Rose and her captor/brainwasher only makes me yawn.

Justice League 3001 #10, Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Scott Kolins, comic art auteurs

Corrina: Is That Wonder Woman? I Thought That was Barda

Ray – 4/10

Ray: Okay, so the good news – this comic did make me laugh a few times. That’s mainly due to the main story entering into some truly absurd territory. I couldn’t care less who is and who isn’t the latest manifestation of the Convert, and two spread pages of Supergirl getting angry and beating up generic monsters was pointless, but two unexpected character returns this issue were a step up. First up, Gnort! As a harmless servant of the evil God-kind of the planet and Lady Styx’s rival – Larfleeze! Both of these two goofballs still being alive in this era amuses me, and Larfleeze works best in small doses, so I’m glad to see him as a villain again. That being said, the less said about the backup involving Lois, Ariel, and a pole-dancing Sinestro, the better. Weirdest comic on the stands.

Corrina: Um, the creator credits made me laugh? Because they did. As for the introduction of the Green Lantern characters, ho-hum. They’re vaguely amusing, I suppose.

I do feel bad for Supergirl. I’d be angry too if all my stories in the DC Universe the last few years were this awful.

Teen Titans #18, writer, Greg Pak, penciller, Ian Churchill and Tom Derenick, inkers, Norm Rapmund and Art Thibert

Corrina: Wonder Girl Origin #3,678!

Ray – 7/10

Ray: My eyes nearly rolled out of my head when I saw the cover with Wonder Woman standing over the defeated Teen Titans and holding an unconscious Wonder Girl over her head in triumph. Nothing could lose my interest in this arc quicker than an adult hero getting baited into a fight with teenagers and assaulting them. Fortunately, it’s just another in a series of inappropriate DC covers that have nothing to do with the actual story. After a brief confrontation, Diana is one of the more reasonable characters in this story, as she’s got good reason to trust her former villain Cassandra, from the Azzarello/Chiang Wonder Woman run.

A little too much in this issue is devoted to exposition, as Pak has to briefly explain most of the rather complex Wonder Woman backstory and how it ties in to Wonder Girl – especially as it was last mentioned back in the first Lobdell run. I didn’t need the reminder that WG is bonded to a demonic hell-armor (good god, that design), but I did continue to enjoy her characterization this issue, and the rest of the team ranges from tolerable to likable here. I found myself grinning when Cassie essentially geeks out when she finds out that she’s Wonder Woman’s niece. This is closer to what I want to see out of a Teen Titans book, but the issue is full of little reminders that this is Pak trying to dig his way out of a very big ditch – the armor, for one. It’s the best TT has been in years, but it makes me wonder what could have been in Pak actually had time to establish his version of the team.

Corrina: Ray is so optimistic. Yes, this comic is readable and that’s a step up but Pak’s writing is marred by Churchhill’s ugly art. I know the artist has his fans. I’m not one of them and, even if I were, his style isn’t suited to this collection of teens.

Pak is stuck trying to put the mess of a book back together and it somewhat collapses under the weight of correcting bad past stories. But any book that depicts Diana as a reasonable person has one big positive.

Reviewer, comic book writer, and the author of Alex Actonn, Son of Two Seas - novel available on Amazon now! DC superfan who is loving everything about Rebirth. Feels very strongly about Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, and Young Justice. Can also be found on Graphic Policy doing sales analysis with Glenn Matchett, and on the Rabbitt Stew Podcast with Glenn and Brandon James.