DC This Week – Creator Showcase

superman-annual-1
Superman and the Swamp Thing clash in Superman Annual #1, image copyright DC Comics

This is the fifth week of the month and, for comic fans, that means only a few special publications. DC used their fifth week to publish a New Talent Showcase, Batman and Superman Annuals, and the final chapter of Bryan Hitch’s Justice League of America, which was delayed because of DC’s new direction in Rebirth.

Are any worth buying? The annuals are well done but while the New Talent Showcase gives us tantalizing glimpses of creators on the rise, it doesn’t showcase their self-evident skills nearly well enough.

Plus, Ray reviews the unnecessarily grim Wacky Raceland,. (Only Ray was brave enough for that one…), Suicide Squad #7, and  Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Five Annual #1.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW FOR THIS WEEK’S DC COMICS

Batman Annual #1 cover by David Finch, copyright DC Comics
Batman Annual #1 cover by David Finch, copyright DC Comics

Batman Annual #1 – Tom King, Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes, Paul Dini, Steve Orlando, Scott Bryan Wilson, Writers; David Finch, Declan Shalvey, Neal Adams, Riley Rossmo, Bilquis Evely, Artists; Gale Eltaeb, Jordie Bellaire, Ivan Plascencia, Mat Lopes

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Solid and Heartwarming (Mostly)

Ray: The first of two a-list annuals released on this skip week from DC, they take very different approaches. This one gathers a collection of the best Bat-writers (and a few surprising choices) to tell a series of holiday-themed Bat-stories. This actually feels much more like a holiday special than a traditional annual, but it works. And by and large, all the stories are top quality. The opening story, by Batman creative team King and Finch, tells the story of the secret origin of Ace the Bat-Hound, giving it a touching twist in Alfred’s determination to save one of Joker’s brainwashed hounds from an awful fate. The second story, by Snyder and Fawkes (who have co-written together before), has Batman staking out an odd group of mysterious masked acrobats in Gotham, preparing for the worst, only for calm to reign in Gotham for a change.

The next two stories are probably the two people will be talking about the most. Paul Dini makes his return to Batman alongside Neal Adams, on a Harley Quinn/Batman story that finds Batman escorting Harley out of Gotham and getting pulled into Christmas Eve antics with her. Maybe a bit too socially acceptable behavior for Harley Quinn, but holidays tend to take the edge off everyone, and it’s great to see Dini writing Harley again.

Steve Orlando’s story starts off lighthearted and introduces a new friend of Bruce, an old man who has been a towering figure in the Gotham charity scene for decades – only for the story to take a dark turn at the end and set up a future storyline that I hope will be followed up on (remember BKV’s “The Skeleton” from the 90s?). The book ends with an oddball story by new-to-DC writer Scott Bryan Wilson, introducing a new villain with biotoxin powers. This story didn’t click with me quite like the others did, but good use of Arkham. Overall, a lot of story in one package, and not a dud among them.

Corrina: I’m a sucker for Batman opening up emotionally and what better way than with his adoption of Ace? Love it and it packed a more emotional punch that I expected it would at the end. And, yes, the entire issue reminded me of a holiday special, with heartwarming twists packed into Gotham, such as the acrobats entertaining the crowd.

I recognize that Dini writing Harley Quinn is going to pull fans into this book but while it’s a decent story, I saw nothing earth-shaking in it. Instead, it’s good, solid fun. Dini fans should be more than satisfied and it’s good to be reminded of how influential Dini has been on the Batman-verse. Orlando’s story made me raise my eyebrows, in that it was one of those stories that fills in the gaps in Gotham, in this case, it created a character who, in his own way, gave as much to Gotham as Batman ever did. I love that kind of story, until it took the dark turn, but I would love to see this character appear in flashback stories and as a well-remembered presence in Gotham. It also seemed like quite a teaser for an upcoming story.

The final story, by Wilson, featured a new villain. (If neither Ray or I remember who she is, she must be new.) It’s hard to do that but this one does an excellent job of making her creepy, powerful, and yet ultimately with a fatal flaw.

Superman Annual #1 – Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Writers; Jorge Jiminez, Artist; Alejandro Sanchez, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Felt Like a Classic “DC Comics Presents” Issue. And It Works.

Ray: While the Batman annual serves as an anthology, the Superman annual commits to a single story and sees it through, as it centers around a very unusual team-up. While the main Superman book has essentially been a family title, this issue keeps Lois and Jon in the background for the issue, although I think the book suffers from it. In his new home of Hamilton, Superman starts to notice that a drought is plaguing his fields and the whole town. Investigating, he finds that some supernatural event is affecting the town’s water, and a closer look leads him to the source of the mysterious events – Swamp Thing, who has burrowed deep under the soil and comes out to confront him.

It seems Superman’s presence as a refugee from another world is affecting the soil, as he absorbs more solar energy than his counterpart does. When the two make contact, it affects Swamp Thing negatively and we’re off to the races for the fight part of the issue as Swamp Thing rages out of control and then becomes more convinced than ever that Superman essentially needs to be “exorcised”. There are some good visuals in this battle, and Swamp Thing is always an entertaining x-factor to introduce into any title. Once they stop fighting, it does seem like the conflict is resolved a bit easily as Superman is able to get in sync with this world by letting go of his past, so he no longer has a negative impact on the soil. Not a groundbreaking issue by any stretch, but an entertaining enough one.

Corrina: I love a team-up that becomes more than the basic “fight, distrust, fight together, end as friends.” This is not that.

This is Swamp Thing with a serious problem, namely that a foreign body is hurting his world. That this foreign body is Superman doesn’t seem to phase him. Swampy never loses focus, despite Superman’s show of temper at supposedly being “attacked.” This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Superman react with fists first and questions later, to the point where it’s becoming an essesntial part of his characterization. This Superman is traumatized by all he’s lost (an entire universe) and instantly ready to fight anything that threatens his new world. In a way, this story could be read as the “Earth” in the person of Swamp Thing, healing Superman’s trauma.

I like that very much.

New Talent Showcase #1 – Adam Smith, Vita Ayala, Michael Moreci, Erica Schultz, Christopher Sebela, Hena Khan, Emma Beeby, Michael McMillian, Joelle Jones, Writers; Siya Oum, Khary Randolph, Barnaby Bagenda, Sonny Liew, David Messina, Emanuela Lupacchino, Minkyu Jung, Juan Ferreyra, Sam Lofti, Artists; Ray McCarthy, Inker; John Rauch, Romula Fajado Jr., Moreno Dinisio, Tomeu Morey, Trish Mulvihill, Pete Pantazis, Colorists

Ray – Too varied to give a number score to

Corrina: Needed To Showcase The Talent Better

Ray: I appreciate what DC was trying to do here, giving all the graduates of their first writers’ program a showcase for their first DC work in anticipation of bigger projects (three of these writers are being spotlighted in Suicide Squad Most Wanted, and one is working on an Injustice miniseries next), but there’s a very odd choice made that makes this comic rather hard to review or enjoy – and that’s that none of the eight-page stories in this anthology feel like completed stories. They all end with a cliffhanger or something set up for future stories, which may have been the assignment in the workshop, and that’s a puzzling choice.

Are these stories going to be followed up on at some point? I kind of doubt it, since some of them are out of continuity or feature characters who have been shelved or whose status quo has changed significantly.

Corrina: I was thrilled to have this land on my doorstep as I love to see new talent. But I expected full (if short) stories, not teasers of concepts that will never come to be, or incomplete stories that probably won’t be used later. Frustrating!

It also makes me sad because the glimpses of collective talent here is impressive. And the art never takes a wrong turn.

New Talent Showcase #1, copyright DC Comics
New Talent Showcase #1, copyright DC Comics

Ray: It’s not a surprise that the three most effective stories in this volume are from veteran indie comics hands. Chris Sebela’s Deadman story does some very clever things with the character’s powers (although it has one of the most puzzling and random cliffhangers), while Mike Moreci is paired with Omega Men artist Barnaby Bagenda on an exciting GL story that pairs Kyle and Carol on a space mission just as they’re having relationship problems. Joelle Jones, maybe the most famous name in this class, has a post-apocalyptic Harley Quinn story as she leads her fellow Arkham inmates to break out just as Gotham is going to hell in some sort of Kaiju invasion. Fun, but clearly not anything resembling the Harley who is DC’s current hit character. I also liked Adam Smith’s Constantine story set in a unique version of hell, although it drops a MAJOR Zatanna bombshell over the course of the story that seems odd if it’s not going to be followed up on.

Some of the other stories didn’t work quite as well due to odd character choices, such as Vita Ayala’s Wonder Woman/Flash team-up which features an aggressive Wonder Woman whose new status as the God of War (long since reversed) is making her an intimidating figure. Erica Schultz’ Hawkgirl story is fun (and has great art by Sonny Liew), but I spent most of the story trying to figure out which version of Hawkgirl this was and what her status quo was.

Corrina: The Hawkgirl was the story that stuck with me after I put the book down. Obviously, the concept of a Hawkgirl “under-cover” as an Earth detective and being pulled into a mystery regarding her homeworld hit a nerve with me. I want this to be a series now, though, alas, how DC would fit it into continuity, I have no idea. I also loved the Catwoman/Wonder Woman story, but more on that below.

The Constantine story had real emotional punch behind it but, as Ray said, leaves the reader up in the air. Like many of these stories, it seemed like it belonged to an assignment of “reinvent me a DC Character.”

Ray: McMillian’s Superman story starts with a creepy alien invasion scene – but then segues to a battle with the Joker and a Jokerized Lois Lane, and never gets back to the good stuff. Emma Beeby’s Catwoman/Wonder Woman team-up story sets up a heist that then never happens, and the two spend most of the issue arguing with each other. The most puzzling story is Hena Khan’s Wonder Girl tale which digs up old plot points from the early Scott Lobdell Teen Titans run, of all things, and brings back Cassie’s evil ex-boyfriend Diesel. I thought (or hoped) DC would put that version of the character in the rearview mirror.

Corrina: I wanted to like the Jokerized Lois Lane story but it’s so hard to judge with so little on the page, especially when a story is incomplete. What I liked about the Wonder Woman/Catwoman tale is their respective personalities shone through and their interaction made perfect sense, so it was satisfying in that respect, even though the story is just beginning. (I wouldn’t call it arguing, I would call it more like verbal fencing until Diana felt comfortable asking for something.)

Ray: Overall, this is an interesting look at what these new talents will bring to DC, but it feels like almost all of them are hamstrung by the odd format of the issue. Some good art and a few stories that grab the attention, but overall, I would urge people to look up these writers and see what they can do in full-length stories, because there are some very talented writers at work here – but who could do a great story in an incomplete eight-page fragment that will likely never be concluded?

Corrina: Agreed! For instance, M3 by Erica Schultz is a terrific international crime story and a much better showcase for her writing talents. (And also a fine book. Fans of Ed Brubaker’s noir stories should check it out.)

Suicide Squad #7 – Rob Williams, Writer; Christian Ward, Artist; Jim Lee, Penciller; Scott Williams, Jonathan Glapion, Sandra Hope, Inkers; Jeremiah Skipper, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Ray: After a small delay (likely due to Jim Lee slowing down as his first arc comes to a close, with three inkers needed to finish off his segment of the story), this penultimate chapter brings Harley Quinn into focus and reveals the source of all the chaos in Belle Reve. The twist at the end of last issue – that Harley Quinn’s reaction to the gas that drove that everyone else insane instead turned her sane again – was a clever twist, but the overall problem with the main story is that the threat is very vague and most of the segment is spend beating up various crazed teammates. Also, the Croc/June Moone pairing…I don’t know where they pulled this one from. The reveal about the source of the chaos is clever, but was heavily spoiled in solicits for the upcoming crossover.

The backup, focusing on June Moone/Enchantress and illustrated by the surreal, brilliant Christian Ward, is the highlight of the issue, giving us a better look at how Enchantress and June awkwardly collaborate, and sending her into a supernatural mystery involving a prominent politician seemingly possessed by a demon when he murdered his wife. The story is short and doesn’t flesh things out as well as it could have at times, but it’s definitely memorable, partially due to the visuals. These backups tend to vary between repetitive and the most compelling part of the issue.

Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Five Annual #1 – Brian Buccellato, Writer; Mike S. Miller, Xermanico, Marco Santucci, Artists; J. Nanjan, Rex Lokus, Colorists

Ray – 7/10

Ray: This is the final act of Buccellato’s run on Injustice before the relaunch turns the reins back over to original series writer Tom Taylor. While Buccellato’s writing on this title was never bad, it was never strong enough to escape the orbit of the source material. While Taylor’s run was a tense geopolitical superhero thriller with real stakes, the book often felt like the video game tie-in it was in later “seasons”. This final oversized collection of stories sets up some new plot points for the new run and the bridge miniseries, but doesn’t really break any new ground.

The first story focuses on Harley Quinn, as she tries to reassume her old Harleen Quinzel persona, only to run afoul of a gang of Joker-themed mercenaries looking to restart the resistance. After the requisite fight scene, she winds up joining up with them despite the rest of the resistance not approving. The second story reintroduces Ares to the story, as he escapes his captivity on Apokalips and comes to Earth seeking to align with the Regime. He also seems to be getting his hooks into Damian. The third, and best of the three stories focuses on Superman consolidating his hold on the government of the world as he tries to rebuild Metropolis, and delves into Black Lightning’s hard decision to switch sides. Overall, none of the stories are bad, but none of them are exactly memorable either.

Justice League of America #10, cover copyright DC Comics
Justice League of America #10, cover copyright DC Comics

Justice League of America #10 – Bryan Hitch, Tony Bedard, Writers; Tom Derenick, Penciller; Scott Hanna, Daniel Henriques, Inkers; Jeremiah Skipper, Colorist

Ray – 5/10

Corrina: Delays Killed the Story Momentum

Ray: So, clearly this book has been massively behind schedule. So massively, in fact, that Hitch has completed two full arcs on Justice League post-Rebirth. The end to this arc has been canceled and re-solicited multiple times, but this conclusion is…to put it politely, not what was advertised. It’s a perfectly serviceable comic in some ways, but it is neither written fully (only plotted) nor drawn by Hitch, which was the main selling point of this run. Instead, the regular DC utility team of Tony Bedard and Tom Derenick comes in to give this arc a rushed conclusion.

Rao leads an army of Kryptonian soldiers to Earth, invading and leading to a major battle between the entire JL and the Kryptonian warriors. There’s some interesting and exciting moments in the battle and some good use of Aquaman’s powers in particular, but it’s hard not to imagine how great some of these scenes would have looked if Hitch drew them. Then Rao’s past self kills his future self, all is resolved in a hurry, and the mysterious time travelers comment on the coming death of this version of Superman (in likely his final appearance). Overall, a completely inauspicious conclusion to what was looking like a great run. Shame.

Corrina: This conclusion offers tantalizing glimpses of what could have been, especially in how the Green Lantern storyline in the past hooked up with Rao in the present day. From what I can discern, Hitch was working on a DC version of a Kang the Conquerer story in which one version of the character sees what they’ve wrought and goes back to change it. (Though here, the savior is the younger version, not the older one. So much for being older and wiser.)

And, sadly, we never see quite how all the multiple Superman dying fit into Hitch’s original idea either.

It’s a decent story and at least it has it’s conclusion, so I’m glad DC published this but it makes me sad for what could have been.

Wacky Raceland #6 – Ken Pontac, Writer; Leonardo Manco, Artist; Mariana Sanzone, Colorist

Ray – 1/10

Ray: Easily the biggest misfire in the Hanna-Barbera line (at least Scooby Apocalypse provides some basic zombie action and tries to fill out its characters on occasion), this pitch-black Mad Max pastiche concludes by turning the focus on its big bad, Professor Pending – here revealed as the architect of the entire apocalypse and all the mutants that fill the environment now. He’s not actually the villain, though – that’s his wife, now a giant evil brain in a jar who is also the announcer that has been tormenting the racers through the battle. This leads to an absolutely ridiculous final battle where all the high-tech racecars form into some sort of Megazord and battle the evil tentacle brain monster. The art, while technically good, is so dark and unsuited to the subject matter that it doesn’t work, and the miniseries – which will not be coming back if the sales are any indication – ends on a cliffhanger, of all things.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received digital comics from DC for review.

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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.