DC This Week – Wonder Woman Turns 75 in Style

Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special
Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special

Everything is coming up Wonder Woman. She has stamps honoring her, she was named an honorary U.N. Ambassador on October 21st, her movie is the most anticipated flick of 2017, and she was on the cover of the Comic Con/San Diego and New York Comic Con programs.

This week, she’s honored with the Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special that includes an all-star lineup of creators and the most recent issue of the Rebirth Wonder Woman series, which has lived up to hype. Both are excellent.

It’s far cry from 2014, when I wrote a column about how DC didn’t want a feminist Wonder Woman. It seems like Warner Bros. and DC realized what an icon they have in the Amazon Princess. I can only hope that the movie is good. Please be good!

And, of course, our regular reviews. Deathstroke is a highlight as always, but there’s also Detective ComicsFuture Quest, and the debut of Vigilante: Southland #1, among the 19 titles we review.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW FOR ALL OF DC COMICS RELEASED 10/26/2016

Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special #1 – Rafael Scavone, Rafael Albuquerque, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Mairghread Scott, Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp, Fabio Moon, Marguerite Bennett, Renae De Liz, Jill Thompson, Hope Larson, Gail Simone, Writers; Rafael Albuquerque, Karl Kerschl, Riley Rossmo, Liam Sharp, Marguerite Sauvage, Jill Thompson, Ramon Bachs, Colleen Doran, Artists; Ray Dillon, Inker; Dave McCaig, Michele Assarasakorn, Ivan Plascencia, Romulo Fajardo Jr, Ray Dillon, Mat Lopes, Hi-Fi, Colorists

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Worthy of Wonder Woman

Ray: A 76-page celebration of all things Wonder Woman, this is a combination of anthology stories, tie-ins, previews, pin-ups, and even a prose story mixed in. All in all, it winds up being a very enjoyable read, although like all anthologies there are highs and lows. The opening story, Rafael Albuquerque and Rafael Scavone’s “Gives Me Strength” is a compelling WW2-era story of Wonder Woman vs. the Nazis that is both intensely dark and hopeful, with gorgeous art. “Predators”, by the Gotham Academy talents of Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl, is a mostly silent tale that emphasizes Diana’s community with animals in a powerful anti-poaching message. I wasn’t as big a fan of “One Side Alone” by Mairghead Scott and Riley Rossmo, a Diana vs. Giganta tale that portrays both Giganta and the general public as brutal, revenge seeking bullies, and feels like it takes place in a more cynical world.

One of the highlights of the issue is the prose interview between Wonder Woman and Lois Lane, as written by Greg Rucka, which reminds us why these are arguably the two best female characters in comics. It’s the first of several great stories, as it’s immediately followed by Liam Sharp’s solo story “Oh, Themysrica”, two pages of gorgeous art and poetry. “The Age of Wonder” by Fabio Moon is probably the most unique story in the volume, focusing on how Diana influences the women around her. Marguerite Bennett and Marguerite Sauvage give us a new theme song for Wonder Woman in a two-page story, and then comes the undisputed highlight of the issue. Renae De Liz’s eight-page tale out of “The Legend of Wonder Woman” pits Diana against Baroness Paula Von Gunther, a former humanitarian turned Nazi bomber. De Liz manages to illustrate Diana’s compassion nicely, and the guest appearance by real WW2 hero Irina Sendler was a great surprise.

Next comes a preview of Jill Thompson’s “Wonder Woman: The True Amazon” comic, which I wasn’t really a fan of. A surprising amount of violence and coarse language in this preview, and its Diana doesn’t really bear any resemblance to WW yet, but I haven’t read the full book. “Democratic Design” by Hope Larson and Ramon Bachs also didn’t really work for me. A broadly comic brawl between Diana and a d-list supervillain in the middle of an Ikea, this comic seemed to be more about puns than any actual storyline. The book ends on a high with Gail Simone and Colleen Doran’s “Big Things One Day Come”, a sweet story guest-starring Superman and introducing a young new superheroine, Star Blossom. The strawman villain was a bit too obvious and over-the-top, but overall this story very nicely captures what makes Gail’s take on WW work so well. Overall, there’s highs and lows, but if you love Diana, you’re going to love this comic.

Wonder Woman and Star Blossom, art by Colleen Doran, story by Gail Simone
Wonder Woman and Star Blossom, art by Colleen Doran, story by Gail Simone

Corrina: When you ask readers to pay $7.99 for a comic, it has to be worth it, and this is worthy of the price tag and the Amazon Princess. There was no story in here that I disliked and several others may become among my favorite Wonder Woman stories ever, including the “Legend of Wonder Woman,” short, which included a tribute to the real-life hero, Irina Sendler.

But there’s also the sheer fun of “Big Things One Day Come,” that made me put my hand over my heart and say “D’aww…” and the long text interview between Lois and Diana, which includes many of the concepts and plot points that Rucka is exploring in his current run. As for the villain rampaging through the fictional IKEA-based store, I laughed. But then, I’m one of the people who had to put one of those things together. Anyone who has will appreciate this villain.

But there’s also the incredible pin-ups included in it. There are pencil covers by Brian Bolland that were never used, for example, and it seems like every other page there is another piece of stunning artwork featuring the Amazon.

So, yeah. Go buy it.

Wonder Woman #9 – Greg Rucka, Writer; Liam Sharp, Artist; Laura Martin, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Terrific. And One for the Steve/Diana Shippers

Ray: The big action ended last issue with the defeat of Barbara Minerva’s patron demon, but there’s still a lot to be revealed in “The Lies”, and this penultimate chapter is full of big reveals and brilliant art by Sharp. There’s one two-page spread – first showed off at New York Comic Con and now in full color – that contains more detail in two pages than I’ve seen in a long time. Sharp reminds me a lot of Jiminez and Perez in places, but maybe more realistic and vivid. The story opens with Steve Trevor returning to the states and reporting to Sasha Bordeaux, while Diana, Etta, and the newly human Barbara Minerva go shopping in a local mall now that Barbara actually needs clothes again. This soon turns into a spectacle as Diana’s celebrity attracts a massive crowd to meet her. Maybe she should have come incognito? But then we couldn’t get the aforementioned Sharp spread. This segment does a great job of emphasizing Diana’s compassion and essential human nature, but the issue isn’t all hope and optimism.

Veronica Cale, one of Diana’s newer archenemies (and an original Greg Rucka character), returns and is revealed to be one of the powers behind the scenes of the Cadulo regime and his pact with the demon. I’m not sure who her partner Adrianna is, but my first thought went to Adrianna Tomaz, aka the anti-hero Isis. While Etta and Barbara continue to work on unraveling the mystery of the location of Themysrica, Diana has other things in mind – reuniting with Steve Trevor in a segment that essentially puts to rest any memories of the ill-advised Superman romance. Diana and Steve have more chemistry together in five pages than she ever had with Clark, and it surprises me because Rucka never wrote Diana with Steve in his previous run. Then, maybe a bit suddenly, a breakthrough leads Diana back to Themysrica – a version that looks a lot different, and not in a good way. I have no doubt there are some big twists to come, and I can’t wait for next month to discover “The Lies.”

Corrina: Thematically, this fits in nicely with the flashback to Minerva’s career. She finally found what she is looking for with the Amazons, only for her quest to be transferred to Diana, who is the one now uncertain of the truth. It’s another parallel that emphasizes the strong bond between the two of them. The scene in the mall where Diana is taking Barbara and Etta shopping is terrific, starting with a private conversation between them and opening the angle wide so the lens can reveal where they are and why Wonder Woman matters to the world.

Reading the dialogue between Steve and Diana, it’s easy to see why the relationship works. This version of Steve is in awe of Diana to some extent, and it would be hard for a mortal not to be, but he also may be the one person who sees through to her insecurities and finds them endearing. And, of course, he’s not threatened in the least by her. They share kindness and consideration, along with passion. As for the ending, I was surprised to see this vision of Themysrica appear so soon in this story but it’s not really soon, is it, given its issue #9.

Vigilante Southland #1, image via DC Comics
Vigilante Southland #1, image via DC Comics

Vigilante: Southland #1 – Gary Phillips, Writer; Elena Casagrande, Artist; Giulia Brusco, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Good Noir Revamp of an Old DC Character

Ray: DC has built up the debut of the new Vigilante a lot in the media, reframing the Punisher-influenced ’80s anti-hero as a modern African-American vigilante fighting against entrenched power and racism. Very similar to Marvel’s quickly canceled Nighthawk, but DC putting crime novelist and community activist Gary Phillips at the helm gave me hope that this take on Vigilante would be digging deeper. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work out that way.

This book is essentially every “grieving avenger” anti-hero story ever written, albeit with a bit more social relevance. The main character is Donny Fairchild, a former pro basketball player who is currently living a life of leisure playing pick-up basketball and getting high at his local medical marijuana depot. The only person really pushing him towards something more is his girlfriend Dorrie, a community activist and the daughter of a prominent political figure. The first issue lays it on pretty thick – Donny is directionless, Dorrie is passionate and the best thing in his life. Trope-wise, we know what’s coming.

Sure enough, soon Dorrie is cut down in a suspicious hit-and-run after digging too deep into a local shady corporation, and her mother wants justice. The police quickly write off her death as an accident, but Donny isn’t buying it. Donny is grieving her loss when he looks through her belongings and finds the suit she used to break into corporations. Dorrie’s mother introduces Donny to an associate of hers, a mysterious scientist in a wheelchair. Soon enough, Donny is putting on the costume Dorrie left behind and getting into fights on the street as he tries to shake information about the man who ran Dorrie down out of local junkies. The one interesting beat is the reveal that Donny’s father is a local crime boss who he’s estranged from, but Donny is ready to play that card to find out the truth. However, overall this is very much a paint-by-numbers comic that goes back to a lot of the tropes we associate with characters like this. I applaud DC for bringing in new and diverse talent, but I’m hoping the rest of this miniseries has some new twists up its sleeve.

Corrina: I’m not sure how to critique this comic. On the one hand, it’s good to see DC supporting work with a black lead character and a black writer. That is long past due. This is also a fine comic, better than Ray says, because the artwork reminds me of some of Sean Phillips’ best work with Ed Brubaker. There is a particularly great art sequence with no dialogue with Dorrie as the original Vigilante breaking into an office to film evidence, juxtaposed with Donnie simply coming home to smoke pot. It shows the difference between their two characters. It also uses lighting effectively, with the darks emphasizes both Donnie and Dorrie as they first open their respective doors. The dark colors are exchanged for light as Dorrie photographs her evidence and Donnie lights up to toke. This is excellent storytelling, with the writer stepping aside to let the visuals tell the tale.

There are also lines that remind the reader this is written by someone with knowledge of this community, such as Donnie saying Dorrie was “getting all Spike Lee on me.”

On the other hand, the far more proactive character in this story is Dorrie. I’d heard none of the hype of the story and had no idea she wasn’t the lead until it became clear that the story focused on Donny and Dorrie would suffer an inevitable death. In the page I talked about with no dialogue, Dorrie is a more compelling character because proactive characters usually are. It’s hard to write a depressed person and Donnie certainly is that, and we have several hints why, including his former career and his father who is a crimelord. The scenes with Donnie’s father show our new hero is far from stupid as well.

But still, I’d rather not the entire story be built on the premise of a dead woman, especially one who was more interesting to me than the hero. But this is a moody and intense book.

Teen Titans #1 – Benjamin Percy, Writer; Jonboy Meyers, Artist; Jim Charalampidis, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Still DisPleased With the Premise

Ray: After a very strong Rebirth issue, this title continues to redeem the Teen Titans franchise with a unique new team and a lighter vibe than the book has had in years. This issue begins with a flashback to Damian spending his 13th birthday with Alfred, and the interaction with his “grandfather” is well done, although I have a bit of an issue with Damian’s seemingly strained relationship with his father. Why are Damian and Bruce not close? Why does Damian barely see Bruce? Bruce has never been more in dad mode. He picks up two or three new kids a week over in Batman and Detective. From there, we flash forward to Damian’s capture of the other four members of the Teen Titans. Damian is very much an awkward mess, as his introduction to the team involves insulting them and dismantling their personality flaws. This goes over about as well as you’d expect when they escape. I also like just how scared everyone is of Goliath’s presence, despite Goliath acting like an overeager puppy.

A large chunk of the issue is a fight between Damian and Goliath and the other four Titans. Once they neutralize Goliath and corner Damian, he introduces his plan to make them work together as a team with him as the leader – and it goes over about as well as a kidnap plan should. After Beast Boy essentially calls out all of Damian’s many personality flaws, Damian hesitantly admits that he really doesn’t have any friends and doesn’t know how to act around them. I also like that he basically calls out the entirety of the New 52 Teen Titans for the disaster they were in his pitch. The team is still hesitant, so Damian reveals that he needs to get them working together so they’ll survive what’s coming – an attack by Ra’s Al Ghul, who is building his own gang of teenage assassins to send after his grandson. Cool designs on these future villains, and overall I haven’t felt this optimistic about a TT run in a long time.

Corrina: I’m so done with heroes fighting each other and the Teen Titans have been arguing with each other for what seems like years now. (And probably is.) I had hopes that this revamp will be better and it is better. Just not as good as I wanted. Damian’s characterization is strong, which adds to his enjoyment of the issue but, let’s face it, Damian is a kid and these are experienced powerful heroes, and it just seems too much like jobbing for Damian to have captured them in the first place. Yeah, I know, Starfire escapes and frees the others. But Damian works best when he’s wrong about something, not when he’s being insufferably right. Or when he’s in peril. (See Deathstroke, where he’s terrific.)

Also, the focus on R’as Al Ghul means this Titans version is bound to be Bat-centric, and while Ray liked the designs, they were ‘meh’ for me. Look, hey, another batch from the League of Assassins. When the Teen Titans were revamped in the 1980s, they focused on new challenges and new villains. Every revamp since then seems to only reuse villains. Where is the next Trigon or the next Brother Blood?

Batman Beyond #1 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Bernard Chang, Artist; Marcelo Maiolo, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Good To Have Terry Back. Story Has Issues

Ray: Two issues in, I really think that falling back on the Jokerz as the first villains of this new series may have been a mistake. Sure, they’re definitely an iconic visual, but they also make the world of Batman Beyond feel much more similar to the main continuity. The issue opens with Dana being held hostage by Terminal, the leader of the Jokerz who is attempting to resurrect the original Joker. Terminal is essentially a leader of the cult of the Joker, believing that Joker is the true spirit of Gotham and that everyone has a bit of his chaotic evil in them. Meanwhile, Matt and Max descend to the Batcave so they can use Bruce’s technology to contact Terry while he’s in battle. He’s currently trapped under a giant pile of rubble after having his head handed to him by a Venom-powered Jokerz leader.

After an explosive escape, Terry manages to recover, but his suit is damaged, taking his communication offline. The rest of the issue is a long battle with the roided-up villain, who essentially comes off as a more generic version of Bane, complete with Terry beating him the same way Bruce beat Bane in the animated series. It’s tossed out there that Terry seems to have some residual health effects from his time under Spellbinder’s control, but it’s barely mentioned before Terry is attacked by an army of Jokerz and another big fight scene begins. The ending which has Terry deciding to go undercover as a Joker to destroy them within has some promise, but the bigger problem with this issue is that the series is still very much set in the post-apocalyptic Futures End universe, which is a weak, grim version of the original Batman Beyond universe. I still think it was a mistake to throw over the digital-first Batman Beyond Universe series for the Futures End version.

Corrina: Terry being out-of-shape and rushing into things is consistent with who he’s always been in the comics and his own television show. But it seems beyond (hah!) the need to have a damsel in distress for his first big arc coming back and then there’s the problem of so many unimaginative fight scenes, like with the Bane knock-off. Those panels seem wasted.

Where are the really cool villains that were a hallmark of Beyond? Like the TT, this felt like things being recycled, rather than rebirthed. I keep expecting this series to level up and it never has.

DC Rebirth Reviews:

Batman: Detective Comics #943 – James Tynion IV, Writer; Alvaro Martinez, Penciller; Raul Fernandez, Inker; Brad Anderson, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Look at the Ever-Expanding Cast! (Unless we just blew some up…)

Ray: More of a character-driven breather after the huge-scale action of The Colony and Night of the Monster Men, at least for this issue. When we open, Wayne Manor has been the victim of a terror attack of some kind that has left several police officers dead, Lucius Fox traumatized, and an anti-Batman message scrawled on the lobby. Exes Renee Montoya and Batwoman try to awkwardly attack the case, and we see the event unfold in pieces via security footage.

Anti-Batman sentiment is starting to rise in Gotham, as the Belfry team starts to fall apart. Batman is more and more obsessed, withdrawing from the team while interrogating Jacob Kane. Stephanie has essentially pulled out of the squad, refusing to take Bruce’s phone calls and finding comfort in her friendship with Harper Row, who now works as a volunteer at Leslie Thompkins’ clinic. The quiet moments, like their conversation and the strange friendship that’s starting to develop between Cass and Clayface, are this issue’s top strength.

Of course, there’s business to attend to as well and the team needs to pick a new tech expert after Tim’s “death”, and Bruce has his eye on young tech genius Luke Fox. Kate is less than enthusiastic, seeing Luke as a playboy with no sense of the stakes the team is dealing with. She’s not entirely wrong, given Luke’s characterization here, although that’s an ongoing problem – this new Batwing seems to come off differently here than in Batgirl, and differently in both from his solo series. I find him to be the weak link of the Bat-family right now, and his presence just makes me miss the fascinating and complex David Zavimbe from Judd Winick’s original Batwing run. Luke is portrayed as a futurist who wants to put non-lethal weapons in the hands of the police, but he doesn’t get much time to make his pitch at the GCPD gala before the villains, the Victim Syndicate, show up in all their horrifying glory. Very strong first issue introducing us to the team post-Red Robin, as well as an intriguing new group of villains. This series is not missing a beat.

Corrina: First, a quibble. Why do Bruce and Kate need to attend a big gala in order to speak to Luke Fox about using his expertise when he could just call Babs and have her set up a meeting? Ah, because we need a big gala where something bad happens because this is Gotham. One would think every charity in Gotham City would know to never, ever, ever, ever hold a public gala with a red carpet. That’s like painting a target on everyone who attends. But I digress.

The rewards of this run are, as always, in the interactions with characters. I’m thrilled to have Renee Montoya back on the force and back as a friend to Kate Kane. I hold out hope that Maggie and Kate will somehow patch things up but I suspect that won’t happen, which is a sad thought. (I’ll go read DC: Bombshells, I suppose.) Steph and Harper talking about grief and Tim’s death at Leslie’s clinic is a welcome look again at all aspects of Gotham. I’m not sure what more Batman could be doing to help Steph, given she won’t return his phone calls, but at least he knows it’s a problem. I like the “I will call you out on your stuff,” relationship between Kate and Bruce. It’s a relationship of equals, which is unusual for Bruce.

flash-123
The classic Flash of Two Worlds cover, image via DC Comics

Luke Fox’s appearance was a welcome surprise too but he’s so different than in his Batgirl appearances that I was puzzled. (See my comments about galas in Gotham.) But, still, if you look at Batman’s current team, he’s the only straight white dude among them and given his team used to be nothing but raven-haired young men, it’s a good change. My nitpicking also sounds like I didn’t enjoy the issue but I did, a great deal.

flash-9-
cover to Flash #9, image via DC Comics

The Flash #9 – Joshua Williamson, Writer; Jorge Corona, Artist; Ivan Plascencia, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Cover Homage! “From one Carmine to Another.” Perfect

Ray: Ever since the Rebirth run of The Flash began, Josh Williamson has distinguished himself in two ways. One, a renewed focus on the Flash family, and two, liberal use of the mythology centered around Flashpoint. This breather issue after the Godspeed arc makes good use of both, as one of the most anticipated meet-ups of the Rebirth era finally happens – the two Wally Wests come face to face. The issue begins by focusing on the young Wally, as he and Barry make a hasty exit from Iris’ office to run off to attend to a bridge disaster – only to meet up again on the bridge. This Wally’s become a lot more likable since this run began, putting to rest all the bad memories of his past characterization. Then the original Wally shows up to help, and I have to say I’m happy they’re sticking with him calling himself the Flash as well. He has a unique book, but he’s leaving the Kid Flash role to the young Wally.

Of course, things can’t stay calm and friendly, and when Barry and the original Wally shake hands, something odd happens that affects Barry’s mind. He starts being pulled out of the timeline just the way Wally was in DC Universe: Rebirth, and in the process starts acting cruel, pessimistic, and vicious, telling both Wallys awful things – including spilling the secret of the young Wally’s parentage, which sends the kid into shock. Still, he’s composed enough that the two Wallys can work together to pull Barry back. However, the young Wally is angry at the secret being kept from him, and runs off. The conversation between the two Wallys that follows is really the heart of this series, but I’m sure it’s the final page – revealing a very famous Flash-related artifact that Barry glimpsed in the speed force – that will have people talking. Another exceptional issue by one of the DCU’s most-improved books.

Corrina: The Flash has quickly become one of my favorite books since Williamson took over but he picked big shoes to fill with the meeting of the two Wallys. Flashes from alternate worlds have been a thing, maybe the thing, that has propelled the alternate worlds of DC Comics for decades.

No need to worry. First, there’s the terrific cover homage to Carmine Infantino’s classic “Flash of Two Worlds” cover by cover artist Carmine Di Giandomenico who signs it inside as “from one Carmine to another,” a nice tip of the hat to the late Infantino.

It all works inside too, with the two Wallys able to sort out their distrust of each other to each help Barry Allen. But more than that, it gives this new Wally West more of his own backstory and history with the Flash, so the two can be distinct from each other. And just when we might be ready for two Wallys and Flash to represent the speedforce well, there’s that final image, saying the speedster corps may grow again. But we need Jesse Quick. And Bart, too.

Superman: Action Comics #966 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Stephen Segovia, Penciller; Art Thibert, Inker; Ulises Arreola, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Ray: I’m all in favor of quiet, character-driven issues, but I have to say, this is probably the calmest issue I’ve ever read in a Superman title. It’s all about people talking to each other like reasonable human beings and sorting out their problems! When we last left off, Lois Lane had infiltrated the Daily Planet in the guise of her deceased counterpart, only to be confronted by Superwoman who wants to know who is impersonating her dead friend. When the issue starts, though, we’re back on the farm with Clark and Jon, as father and son bond on a nightly flight and discuss the fact that mom might be going back to work. It feels like a conversation that could be happening in any home across America, except for the super-powers.

Meanwhile, in Metropolis, Lois and Lana are quickly able to talk things out and Lana realizes that this Lois Lane is connected to the Superman she met at the late Superman’s fortress in the Superman: Rebirth issue. Superman shows up to mediate what he thinks is a conflict, and Lana reveals her identity to them to gain their trust. They watch Lois’ final message, and Lana fills them in on the events of the Superwoman series and the fact that her powers might be killing her. It’s decided that Lois will resume the life of her counterpart, rejoining the Daily Planet to finish the other Lois’ work and discover exactly what she was on the verge of uncovering. Then a pair of armored 90’s-esque supervillains show up at the end of the issue, and we’re thrown right back into comic book land. A nice change of pace issue that feels like it’s right out of the weekly Superman era of the 90s. The pace of a Superman title every week allows for a lot more breathing room for issues like this.

Corrina: Ever since this world’s Lois “died” in Superwoman #1, I’ve thought she’s coming back, as disintegration could easily be a fake-out of some sort. This is the first story where it seems like that might not be the case, with the older Lois taking over her counterpart’s life. This makes me angry. So angry that I was completely distracted by what otherwise is a fine story with excellent characterization of this Lois Lane, complete with a scene that has Superman explain to Jon why his mother needs to go back to work, essentially pointing out her work is as important to Lois as Superman’s work is important to him, and that’s a good thing. Go you supportive husband, you.

I also like the possible friendship hinted at between Lana and this Lois too. But all that overshadows what, to me, seems the final death knell for the other Lois. Prove me wrong, DC. Please.

Deathstroke #5 – Priest, Writer; Joe Bennett, Penciller; Mark Morales, Inker; Jeromy Cox, Colorist

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Superlative (Sorry, Running Out of Postive Adjectives For This Book) 

Ray: For the second time this month, Deathstroke is the best book of the week. What a bizarre world DC Rebirth has taken us into. Priest’s take on the character doesn’t change too much, but it does give the anti-hero hitman genuine screwed-up relationships that make him far more interesting. This issue combines intense action with some of the best, funniest dialogue I’ve read in a comic in a while as Batman and Deathstroke engage in a twisted protege swap of sorts. Deathstroke’s kidnapped Damian Wayne with the help of his daughter, and in order to get Robin back, Batman is forced to work with Rose (who is a fallen hero of sorts who once trained under Nightwing). A bit of the dialogue, such as Batman being seemingly unconcerned with Damian being captured, rings false at first, but then you realize that Batman is just supernaturally confident in his pint-sized hellion of a son’s abilities.

Mind games are the order of the day in this comic. More obvious is the one Deathstroke and Robin are playing with each other. Robin is locked in a vault with slowly rising water. While Deathstroke seems to have the upper hand, it’s Damian who knows exactly what to say to unbalance him and set up his eventual escape. While Batman and Rose are in the Batmobile together, both are playing with each other’s minds as well, as Rose tries to conceal what she knows while Bruce places doubts in her head about exactly what Slade knows regarding the contract on her head. It plays like a twisted buddy comedy and a conspiracy thriller all in one. I sort of saw the reveal about who placed the contract on Rose coming, but I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

Corrina: Oh, so many mind games. How does this creative team get more tension into scenes with people simply talking at each other rather than in the action sequences? However they do it, it’s brilliant. I said when I reviewed the last issue that messing with Batman seems a supremely bad idea for Slade but, well, he seems to have set this all up in order for Rose and Batman to have a conversation. Did Slade really want Batman to talk some sense into his daughter about her current life choices? I kinda think he did and, what’s more, so did Batman. But what Slade didn’t expect is psychoanalysis from Damian Wayne/Robin, and I enjoyed Damian’s arrogance and pointed barbs in this issue far more than in Teen Titans.

In the end, Rose is left with the fact that her father loves her enough to be worried about her but shows that love by seeing if she can survive assassination attempts and a night in the Batmobile with Batman. Okay, then. Rose, you have my sympathies. Slade, you’re a hot mess but at least you’re aware of that on some level.

Titans #4 – Dan Abnett, Writer; Brett Booth, Penciller; Norm Rapmund, Inker; Andrew Dalhouse, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Churning in Place

Ray: He’s only appeared a few times there, but I’m finding Josh Williamson’s take on the classic Wally West far more compelling than Dan Abnett’s so far. While Williamson gets to weave Wally in with the complex and growing Flash family, Titans seems more concerned with repeating many of the character’s story beats from the 1990s. The choice of Abra Kadabra, the hammy evil magician from the future, makes that especially pronounced. He’s kidnapped Linda Park, who Wally loves but barely remembers him, and leads Wally on a chase filled with teleportation before finally revealing that she’s chained up in an elaborate circus deathtrap, guarded by his puppet Titans. I did enjoy Linda’s utter annoyance with everything happening around her, and I’m hoping she gets to do more in the future as her relationship with Wally develops.

However, Kadabra’s motivations are fairly vague, save for “revenge”, and it felt like the Titans in this issue were almost side characters, mainly serving to calm Wally down and to battle the puppet Titans so Wally can take the fight to Kadabra. I have to say, I laughed at the ending, because it’s so self-aware. One of the running jokes of the 1990s Flash comics was that Flash would run faster than the Speed Force allows and essentially blink out of existence, usually being replaced by a doppelganger or another Flash for a short time before coming back. Kadabra’s become aware of this fact and is actually seeking to invoke it by creating a situation that forces Wally into exceeding the Speed Force and destroying himself. We know it won’t happen, so the tension the title is trying to create really doesn’t work. I’m glad Wally’s back, but I hope after this arc the book goes back to being an ensemble, the way Titans Hunt was.

Corrina: Four issues in and we don’t know more about why Wally’s back, and there have been far too many pointless action sequences of the Titans fighting their magic dopplegangers. I might be satisfied with that if I were a fan of Booth’s art but it looks garish and jarring to me. I like how it suggests Flash’s speed but little else. And, as Ray said, Abra Kadabra’s motivations are so shallow and basic that he’s also boring.

The book may be hamstrung by having to draw out the mystery of Wally’s return and the manipulation of the time stream that led him to be lost in order to wait for the big Rebirth conclusion but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. Titans Hunt had a clear goal and motivation for everything and this series lacks that.

Batgirl #4 – Hope Larson, Writer; Rafael Albuquerque, Artist; Dave McGaig, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Larson’s Run Reads Better As a Whole

Ray: The story of Batgirl traveling through Asian countries to improve her training could have easily turned into stock “white girl seeks out Asian fighting guru” martial arts tropes, but fortunately Hope Larson did her research about each of the countries she’s setting her story in, creating a fascinating culture clash combined with high-octane martial arts action. The issue opens with Barbara in South Korea, in battle against several agents of the mysterious Teacher, who she dispatches while getting information from them. It turns out that the root of the conspiracy comes from the South Korean school entrance exams, where one test literally determines the course of your future. With the stakes that high, Teacher has found an opening to prey on kids who fail and are seeking an edge.

Realizing Kai’s in danger, Barbara pursues him to Shanghai, but he’s already been found by Teacher’s agents and injected with a mysterious substance. Frankie manages to dig up information on Kai’s partner Neil Barry, who’s been experimenting with a mysterious drug. Batgirl finds Kai in the hospital, only to find that the encrypted bacteria he was carrying was neutralized by the antibiotics he was given. Batgirl agrees to protect him – but scares Kai off Barbara. That’s a new twist – using your secret identity to scare off a guy from you. Pursuing Teacher to her secret “cram school”, Barbara confronts the villain – only to accidentally power her up for the final battle. It continues to be a fast-paced comic with a lot of fun twists, but I’m already looking forward to the return to Burnside and that supporting cast.

Corrina: Obligatory grumble about missing the older Barbara still. Okay, now that it’s out of my system, I can look at Larson’s run with clearer eyes. I don’t know if she’s read the older Sino-Superman story in the 1970s Batman Family comics but I like to think she has and that they inspired her to include similar elements in Babs’ road trip to Asia. I also love that this arc differentiates between the Asian countries, making each one distinct, like Babs in South Korea and then Shanghai. Each city/setting is more than just “generic Asian city.”

I smiled when Barbara bailed out of the initial fight. That’s something not enough superheroes do–recognize when a fight is useless and that they need to solve the overall problem. I’m glad to have an answer to why Kai “ran into” Barbs but I still wonder why Babs didn’t worry about the coincidence before. Perhaps I’m used to her being too paranoid. In any case, this has been an enjoyable ride, the action sequences have worked great, and I look forward to the big confrontation teased at the end of the issue.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #7 – Robert Venditti, Writer; Rafa Sandoval, Penciller; Jordi Tarragona, Inker; Tomeu Morey, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Is Sinestro Gone? Pretty Please? 

Ray: Hal and Sinestro’s face-off reaches its conclusion this issue, as both parties escalate to an explosive finish. The comic still has a lot of the problems that haunt this run – the issue opens with yet another origin recap for Hal, and the hero and villain spend way too much time yelling their worldviews at each other. However, Rafa Sandoval’s art seems to get better and better with every issue, and some of the splash pages are genuinely stunning. Meanwhile, Guy Gardner is still being held captive by Administer Lash and tormented by Lyssa Drax. Hal is overwhelmed by the Parallax-powered Sinestro, and all seems lost – until Soranik Natu switches sides and stages a coup, ambushing Lyssa and freeing Guy.

Hal turns the tide of battle by tapping into the mysterious hidden power he displayed at the end of the previous run, turning into living Lantern energy and literally detonating Warworld in a blaze of green light that seems to kill both Hal and Sinestro. John Stewart, leading the Corps through space, can do nothing but watch as the planet explodes. With Hal’s fate in doubt, the GLs mobilize for a coming attack of Sinestro Corps – only to see it led by Guy and Soranik, bringing with them a group of Sinestro Corpsmen who are switching sides. This cliffhanger has some promise and the issue is exciting, so hopefully this title is turning the corner a bit.

Corrina: Yay, Hal Jordan destroyed Sinestro and his big Planet of Fear! Of course, there was much speechifying first. I know this was supposed to be epic and the art of the planet blowing up, as well as multiple green and yellow lanterns zooming through space tries to produce that feeling. However, I’m mostly relieved that this plot is mostly done, rather than impressed, though I doubt either Sinestro or Hal is dead. They tried that with both already, several times (I think) and it never sticks.

I hope we see more of the Corps doing good work next issue but I expect it’s going to be more Hal and Sinestro fighting on some sort of higher plane instead.

Suicide Squad #5 – Rob Williams, Writer; Jim Lee, Penciller; Stephen Byrne, Artist; Scott Williams, Jonathan Glapion, Sandra Hope, Inkers; Alex Sinclair, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Meh.

Ray: The split story continues this issue, with Jim Lee on the main story (with three inkers) and Green Arrow’s Stephen Byrne on the far-superior backup feature. The main feature picks up almost immediately after the capture of General Zod by the Squad, which resulted in the death of Captain Boomerang. Amanda Waller sees the acquisition of Zod as a potential killer weapon for the Squad, while Rick Flag is enraged that a living atom bomb could be let into the field after killing one of his teammates. Aside from a few fight scenes and an odd friendship starting to build between June Moon and Killer Croc, not all that much happens in this segment – that is, until Rick Flag starts to act unstable, pulls his gun, and tries to shoot Waller before she can free Zod. Maybe he’s headed for the Squad as a member instead of as a leader?

The backup this month focuses on the newest member of the Squad, Hack. When she first appeared, I was wondering if she was a member of Harley’s Gang of Harleys because of her look, but it seems she’s an original character, coming from a Kenyan slum where her brother died horribly at the hands of one of the local gangs. She later discovered that she could transform herself into living code and use it to teleport herself anywhere around the world. She used that power as a thief and to get her revenge on her brother’s killers. She’s an intriguing character, and maybe the one member of the Squad who has some interesting characterization so far. I’m hoping for more of her in this book.

Corrina: You know, the original concept of Suicide Squad in using villains as cannon fodder to handle problems that superheroes can or won’t do is fine but it requires some suspension of disbelief. But when you push that suspension of disbelief too far, like making me think (for one minute) that Amanda Waller would risk Zod getting free to use him….I’m gonna call foul on that one. (Yes, I know she does the same in the movie with Enchantress and it’s one of the reasons I didn’t get into the movie much.) But this is Zod, the uber-Kryptonian, and he’s a giant to boot. I could see wanting to study his corpse but harness him? Waller isn’t that stupid.

However, the back-up is more interesting, though I momentarily confused Hack with the Israeli hero from Heroes, as she could do much the same thing with code. But there are a lot of possibilities with her power, including me wondering if a bomb inside her neck would even work. The woman corrupts code, ya know.

Blue Beetle #2 – Keith Giffen, Artist; Scott Kolins, Artist; Romulo Farjado Jr, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Character React to the Plot Instead of Moving the Plot

Ray: While I really like Jaime and his supporting cast, it feels like this title is starting to slip into one of the frequent problems Giffen’s titles have – the overall plotlines don’t live up to the characters surrounding them. The villains in particular, a superpowered gang called the Posse, have some interesting character designs but sort of lack characterization. I’m amused that their leader is essentially Groot in a bandanna, but he’s not the one who gets the most page-time this issue. That’s Blur, a female teleporter who has a special interest in Blue Beetle and spends most of the issue chasing him around in a strange flirtation that Jaime doesn’t seem very interested in.

The big reveal this issue, of course, is that Jaime’s mother is working as the doctor for the Posse, helping them stay safe and out of sight when they need help. They may be a gang, but the issue shows pretty clearly that they’re mostly kids playing at being local supervillains, rather than an actual threat. While Alberto got most of the characterization in the previous runs, it’s good to see Bianca play a more significant role here, and the brief confrontation between her and Jaime at the end of the issue played out as well as I hoped for. Overall, it’s the characterization in this issue that sells the story, as Jaime, his friends and family, and Ted are all written very well. It just feels like the book could use a bit more plot advancement and better villains.

Corrina: There are all the pieces from the original Jaime Reyes comic included in this reboot but it’s like they’re all jumbled and tossed around the board so I can never get a solid read on any of them. The long conversations between Ted and Jaime on their comms during battle and other confrontations are meant to be light and funny but instead they’re too long and interfere with what’s happening on the page. Similarly, I guess I’m supposed to be upset along with that Dr. Reyes is providing free medical care to those who’ve been “altered,” but I’m not, so that point falls flat.

But not as flat as the scenes with Blur. She’s scary stalkery–and I think she’s meant to be–but what we see most is her aggression and meanness, without any hint of vulnerability that would make her more interesting. She’s just unpleasant, not intriguing. Which, sad to say, is the case with a good chunk of this comic.

The Hellblazer #3 – Simon Oliver, Writer; Moritat, Artist; Andre Szymanowicz, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Non-Constatine Scenes Are the Best

Ray: The most classically Vertigo Constantine run since he was brought back into DC continuity continues to unfold, and whether you prefer this run or the recent Tynion/Doyle run will largely depend on when you got into Constantine. The current run is definitely slower-paced, extremely rooted in British culture, and very opinionated. Simon Oliver’s narration for Constantine doesn’t shy away from political and social digs, ranging from British politics to Disney movies. But on the balance, the Constantine here feels very much like the original one. On the run from mysterious supernatural beings chasing him, he finds his friend Map down in the sewer. Map is a strange man who can find anything in London – but at the cost of his mental stability most times. This leads to the reveal of Djinns as the source of Constantine’s attackers.

However, while Constantine’s story is intriguing, it almost feels like a co-starring comic at this point, as Swamp Thing’s story is actually far more intriguing to me. Together with the young sorceress Mercury, Swamp Thing descends into the Rot in search of Abigail Arcane. Moritat’s art nicely captures the strange world of the Green and the Rot, and the issue has quite a few creepy visuals, especially in the scenes dealing with Constantine’s friend Clarice. Overall, another very strong issue. This feels like it’s going to be more of a niche comic for old-school Constantine fans, but I hope it finds a place in the market.

Corrina: Having read this and the Tynion/Doyle run before it, I can say that while I see the appeal of Constantine, he’s best portrayed when he’s not always at the center of things unless he’s forced into the role of the hero. Which is to stay that Mercury and Swamp Thing, with their snarky dialogue, and their search for Abby inside the rot, is of much more interest to me.

Djinns, eh? Okay. I can go with that.

Doctor Fate #17 – Paul Levitz, Writer; Brendan McCarthy, Artist; Mark Harrison, Colorist

Corrina: Metaphysical Again

Ray – 7.5/10

Ray: The penultimate issue of Paul Levitz’ reinvention of Doctor Fate introduces another major new villain, just in time for the series to wrap up. The story begins with Khalid joining his friend Akila at a protest outside the Freedom Tower. However, while they’re marching, strange technicolor threads start coming out of the memorial pool and attach themselves to the protestors, and only Khalid can see them. Though the marchers don’t seem to be concerned at all by this, Khalid sees the threads start to burn, and realizes he has to take action. He grabs onto one of the threads and follows it to its origin – which turns out to be in another dimension.

McCarthy’s surreal art is the main attraction here, as Khalid finds himself in a strange colorful space filled with giant man-sized insects. They trap him in their threads and pull him towards a massive central hub where an evil giant caterpillar named Clothorus is planning to devour the souls of everyone attached to its strings. The creature has some sort of ancient grudge against Fate, and when Khalid escapes he finds himself in an alternate history of Earth where the pyramids are built by aliens. It’s exactly as bizarre as it sounds, and a lot of fun, even if it doesn’t really make all that much sense.

Corrina: I just realized that every time this book centers on Khalid and his normal life, and his learning to integrate his powers and heroism into that life, I’m interested. Every time the book goes overly metaphysical, like Khalid following the threads of life to their source, as he does in this issue, my attention wanders. I fear somehow that this will lead to Khalid handing over the mantle to save Akila and Kent taking on the Fate helmet again.

Also, at this point, doesn’t everyone have a grudge against Fate? How come Khalid gets all the flak? Send them over to Uncle Kent, kid.

page from Future Quest #6, copyright DC Comics
page from Future Quest #6, copyright DC Comics

Future Quest #6 – Jeff Parker, Writer; Evan “Doc” Shaner, Ron Randall, Craig Rousseau, Artists; Veronica Gandini, Jeremy Lawson, Colorists

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Fun.

Ray: Much like Suicide Squad, this comic continues to be split into two stories, with Jeff Parker writing both but Shaner only illustrating the first half. That, as usual, is the strong half. When we last left off, Ty picked up an enchanted club and found himself transformed into a super-strong adult caveman superhero. Just in time to help the rest of Team Quest to fend off an army of evil spies and prehistoric beasts. This comic is old school in the best way, with plenty of epic action and great art, and there’s some story progression with Space Ghost as well. We find the classic superhero trapped in another dimension, fighting off eldritch abominations. Before the story’s over, Benton Quest is kidnapped, and mysterious vortexes are opening all over the world.

And then, it’s over til next month and we cut over to the second part of The Impossibles. Craig Rousseau’s cartoony art style is great and well-suited to the Kirby-esque story, but this is overall probably my least favorite segment we’ve gotten in Future Quest. The Impossibles are clearly a Fantastic Four pastiche, but their powers are so goofy and the dialogue so campy that it doesn’t really work for me. Still, even the weakest Future Quest story is still better than almost anything else the Hanna-Barbera line is putting out. I’m hoping for some full length Shaner features in the future, though.

Corrina: When the series focused on the crazy fun action that was the hallmark of the cartoons that are the basis of this story, it’s terrific. Of course, I’m a sucker for Race fighting, but it’s also cool to see Ty take center stage as the caveman, even if I’m missing any knowledge of the cartoon on which his transformation is based.

I believe that’s the beauty of this series. Even without knowing the cartoons, it’s still great fun. Also, I’m not worried about Benton Quest. I’m sure his lifemate/bodyguard Race will get him back. (Psst…Ray…I kinda liked the Impossibles back-up.)

Hard-Travelin’ Heroz: Six-Pack/Dogwelder #3 – Garth Ennis, Writer; Russ Braun, Artist; John Kalisz, Colorist

Ray – 2/10

Corrina: Did Not Finish

Ray: …I mean, what else needs to be said? Much like Wacky Raceland, this is very much a comic that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Section 8 from Hitman is a collection of bit characters, played mainly for laughs. That’s a stretch to make them lead characters from the start, but the bigger problem is, this comic isn’t funny. At all. And it’s never less funny than when it’s focused on Dogwelder, a deranged man who maimed his own children and apparently is possessed by some sort of cosmic entity that even the Spectre is afraid of. Most of this comic is devoted to a very awkward standoff between Dogwelder and his former family, including his ex-wife’s new husband. Which he conducts with his hand up a dead dog’s butt. Constantine’s vague disbelief that he’s in this comic at all, as well as the fact that he seems to have a laser gun that he calls his “Hellblazer” is amusing, but that’s about it. This comic doesn’t work as comedy or tragedy. It’s just off-putting.

Corrina: Instead of reading this comic, I decided to look up and read scenes from Ennis’ Preacher written with co-creator/artist Steve Dillon, who passed away last weekend at 53. That was a far better use of my time and I recommend it to you as well.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #19 – Sholly Fisch, Writer; Dario Brizuela, Artist; Franco Riesco, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Ray: Another magical-themed issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up, this issue turns the focus on Zatanna as the gang attends one of her famous Halloween magic shows. However, after the show ends, Zatanna reveals that her father has been missing for several weeks, and as the team begins talking to other magical heroes for help, they figure out that all of them have recently had their enchanted objects taken as well, including the Helmet of Nabu among others. The issue is basically a tour through all the magical corners of the DCU, with cameos from characters like Baron Winters, Traci 13, Klarion, and Black Alice. There’s even a Constantine reference, although he doesn’t appear – I suppose he couldn’t quite be contained in a kids’ comic. The reveal is a bit predictable, but I’m always amazed by just how much obscure comic knowledge Fisch shows in each of these issues.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received these comics for review purposes. 

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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.