DC This Week – Only Harley & Ivy Enjoy Their Holiday

Super Powers #1, copyright DC Comics
Super Powers #1, copyright DC Comics

It’s settled. It’s mostly a bummer week to be a hero.

The Batman Family is still struggling emotionally in the wake of what seems to be Tim Drake’s death, Wonder Woman’s Paradise Island is still missing, Hal Jordan is dead again, Flash and the Shade are stuck in the Shadowlands with no Hope, and Deathstroke is having problems of the ex-wife kind, and the new Vigilante dives into the noir even deeper.

However, Batgirl is victorious, as her first arc under the new creative team finishes with a victory.

But it’s Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy who have the best time of all, going on a romantic tropical vacation together. Yes, they have been an official couple for a long time. And what a fascinating relationship it is.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR ALL OF THIS WEEK’S DC COMICS

DC Premieres of the Week:

Super Powers #1 – Art Baltazar, Franco, Writers; Art Baltazar, Artist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: A True All Ages Comic

Ray: Art Baltazar and Franco, the creative team behind Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures, as well as indie projects like Itty Bitty Hellboy and Action Cat, have produced some of the best all-ages comics DC has put out in a long time, so I was very glad to see a return from them in the form of this new comic. Although the character designs are a bit different, with some influence from a new toy line, this is very much in the vein of those earlier books, fusing together wacky all-ages storytelling with a surprising depth of DC continuity. Actually, it’s interesting – if I had one complaint about this book, it’s that the continuity may be a bit too dense for a line that’s been MIA for a few years now. This picks up directly from the end of Superman Family Adventures, a brighter, happier take on the DCU. Among other things, Superman was able to rescue his parents from the Phantom Zone and they now live on New Krypton with other Kryptonians. Jor-El and Lara and even expecting a second child of the House of El.

It’s sort of a strange status quo that this book throws the reader into right away, and I could actually see it throwing some people if they’re not familiar with the previous books. However, where Baltazar and Franco have always excelled is in fusing superhero action with family comedy, and the main plot this issue – the strange sibling rivalry between Superman and Brainiac – is hilarious. After all, Jor-El created Brainiac. They’re family, and it reminds me of one of the best Tiny Titans gags – Superman and Luthor awkwardly trying to co-parent Superboy. Batman and Wonder Woman have smaller roles in this issue, with Batman trapped by Brainiac and Wonder Woman currently training on Themysrica until later in the issue, but the issue is packed with cameos and there’s even a mysterious mastermind behind Brainiac’s plan teased at the end of the issue. I’m a bit surprised that this isn’t a fresh start but a direct continuation, but either way I’m thrilled to have these masters of all-ages storytelling back on the job.

Corrina: As I finished this absolutely fun comic, I realized it could have been a mainstream DC Comic, with the art changed. Of course, then there would be added angst with Jor-El feeling guilty about creating Braniac, and Superman wondering why he failed to notice Batman missing sooner and…all that stuff would drag down what’s essentially a story of super-powered sibling rivalry between Superman and Braniac. Superman is his heroic self, even popping into Gotham to talk to Gordon about why Bats isn’t answering his signal.

And how cute are the reviewed Jor-El and Lara? I like them so much here I wish this could play out in the regular Superman comics. I always thought DC wasted the potential setup of New Krypton on the other side of the sun by instantly making them villainous and then destroying it. (I think it was destroyed.)

So, if you’re looking for the fun in superhero comics, for yourself or your kids, this is your book.

DC Rebirth Reviews:

Detective Comics #945: Spoiler has never been shy about talking back to Batman.
Detective Comics #945: Spoiler has never been shy about talking back to Batman.

Detective Comics #945 – James Tynion IV, Writer; Al Barrionuevo, Artist; Carmen Carnero, Penciller; Scott Hanna, Inker; Adriano Lucas, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Too Much Realism?

Ray: One of the things I’m enjoying the most about the post-Rebirth take on the Batman universe is that while it’s definitely not running away from the family aspect of Batman’s world, it’s also not shying away from the fact that being a vigilante in Gotham would be hell on a teenager. We’ve seen it with Duke and Gotham Girl in the other book, but it’s the most at the front here, as we see Stephanie Brown start to slowly unravel in the aftermath of the trauma she experienced in Eternal and the apparent death of Tim Drake. Batman’s attempt to interrogate her about the First Victim’s visit goes about as well as could be expected, even with Harper Row attempting to mediate. Meanwhile, Batman is trying to figure out the identity of the First Victim, going back to his first night in Crime Alley. While he finds out about couple who was ripped apart by stray gunfire from the Red Hood gang, he doesn’t get any closer.

Meanwhile, there are growing pains within the team, as Batwing’s introduction to the team continues to cause some tension. Batwoman reacts to his presence in a particularly negative way, culminating in a rant from her that felt a bit out of character, given the horrors and loss he encountered in his own title (including the death of his sister). This title does a great job with the ensemble, here seen in psych evaluations with Leslie Thompkins. I’m particularly impressed with how well Clayface is written overall. I’m also really happy to see more bonding between Cass and Steph (finally!) and to see Harper and Jean-Paul get an increased role. There’s a reveal about Harper that I picked up on two weeks ago, and continues Tynion’s personal mission to make the Bat-verse a more diverse place. I’m not sure how I feel about Batman keeping a whole host of Colony soldiers imprisoned in his private base, though – keeping Kane made sense, but this seems a bit…big brother-y. The last few pages, including an epic face-off between Steph and Batman, and a rather disturbing reveal about what she’s been doing in the Belfry, set up some really interesting subplots for the future. This issue is low on action, but remains one of the best books on the stands.

Detective Comics #945: Spoiler has never been shy about talking back to Batman.
Detective Comics #945: Spoiler has never been shy about talking back to Batman.

Corrina: As I was reading this book, I glanced at my copy of Captain America: Civil War and thought about Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and numerous comic books of the past decade (including last week’s Justice League) that have taken Denny O’Neil’s magical realism of Batman in the 1970s-1980s and made it simply “realism” instead. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed the Monster Men crossover so much because it made no apologies for being an unrealistic, ridiculous super-hero story.

But if you approach the Batman mythos with more realism than even the stylized realism of Frank Miller’s Batman, what you get is the inevitable conclusion that Batman should never exist in the first place. It’s dumb, after all, to fight crime this way, to have teenagers involved, even of their own free will, to have fights with villains in which civilians are ultimately hurt or killed. The only thing to take away from this as a citizen of Gotham is “a plague on both your houses.”

And that bums me out. All this concentration on “what would it be like in reality” takes away the one thing I love in the superhero genre: hope. Either superheroes are heroes who help people or they’re vigilantes who only make things worse. No offense to Tynion and this creative team, who have produced an excellent book, but I’m so tired of reading about superheroes who aren’t heroes and instead are simply vigilantes with slightly better ideals.

Flash #11 cover
Flash #11 cover

The Flash #11 – Joshua Williamson, Writer; David Gianfelice, Artist; Ivan Plascencia, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: This Is My Shade (Well, James Robinson’s Shade)

Ray: I was a little worried after last issue that Josh Williamson was going to be turning Shade back to the dark side given his monstrous appearance and seeming habit of kidnapping people to the shadowlands, but this issue is, fortunately, a great saving throw for one of DC’s best anti-heroes – while also being a nicely creepy thrill ride that takes the Flash family well out of their depths. The issue starts with Wally West trapped in the shadowlands, fighting off an endless horde of shadows in a great double-page spread. In the regular world, Iris and Barry piece together what’s happened to Wally when they get contacted by the Shade who warns them that Kid Flash is in danger. Iris charges into the shadowlands after him, and Barry follows – but Iris is already gone. Barry quickly finds Wally, and the two are able to fight off the shadows, although Wally is already exhausted.

That’s when Shade shows up, and in the Shadowlands he looks much more like his old self. The story of how he wound up succumbing to the power of his shadows is actually something I think a lot of people will relate to – at its core, it’s about a person in recovery from an addiction who is consumed by fears of returning to that addiction, and allows those fears to sabotage themselves. His “relapse” then caused the shadows to claim his love, Hope O’Dare (hence his mantra “Hope is gone”). Although James Robinson is so firmly associated with Shade (and will likely never write him again, unfortunately, due to the way his last tenure with DC ended), Williamson steps right into a complex character. The ending is a bit of a stock superhero twist – the possessed loved one – but this is looking like another very strong arc that’s doing some great things with the Flash family and DC history as a whole.

Corrina: It’s so hard to come up with foes for a speedster. Often, the default is to create another speedster and that’s what Williamson did, albeit with a twist, in his first arc. But this use of the shadowlands and Shade and corruption as the villain is brilliant, putting Wally and Barry into an unfamiliar environment where their speed is useless.

I got nothin’ to add to Ray’s great comparison of Shade’s powers to addiction. Shade has always had is a self-loathing that becomes apparent not when he’s fighting a foe but when he’s with people he cares about. He’s always failed those he loved and believes that he always will. Are these shadows under his control or not? We’ll see. But I still hold out Hope for the Shade.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #9 – Robert Venditti, Writer; Rafa Sandoval, Penciller; Jordi Tarragona, Inker; Tomeu Morey, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: John Stewart To Center Stage

Ray: You never know. Through the first arc, this seemed to be one of the most uninspired titles in the DC stable, essentially rehashing Hal vs. Sinestro plots from all of Green Lantern’s history. However, with the apparent deaths of the two leads, this title has a new focus and with it a ton of momentum. The world has opened up, the art seems to be brighter and more energetic (Rafa Sandoval is an underappreciated talent), and the book is pulling in all sorts of surprising and unexpected elements that remind me of the anything-can-happen nature of Geoff Johns’ GL run more than anything. When we last left off, the Lanterns – both green and yellow – had been lured into a trap by Brainiac and imprisoned in one of his bottled cities. There’s some great scenes as the GLs try to break free – Guy’s reckless blast causing a ricochet that nearly takes off a fellow Lantern’s head.

As the Green Lanterns and Sinestro Corps attempt to get along well enough to figure out where they are and break out, as well as free the planet’s people from Starro, there’s a great cameo from one of the all-time best obscure Lanterns, Rot Lop Fan. Meanwhile, Ganthet and Sayd have found Hal’s ring as it goes in search of its host, and they both quickly discover that Hal is not fully gone. In fact, Hal is in the realm of dead Lanterns, the Emerald Space, despite not being fully gone – and he’s not alone there, being greeted by the man who gave him his power, Abin Sur. I’ve always wondered when he would make his return to the title, as it seems like almost every dead character makes a comeback eventually. I was even more excited to see the return of Kyle Rayner, making his first appearance since Omega Men as Ganthet and Sayd call him in to find Hal. Overall, this title is unpredictable, exciting, and thrilling again. The GL line took a bit longer, but like the rest of the DCU, Rebirth has revitalized it.

Corrina: I could do without Hal in the land of the ghosts, where he’ll have yet another “come to the ring” moment, and the Guardians will again pronounce him the greatest of the Green Lanterns, despite his many and myriad failings. I had no hope that he’d stay dead but I hoped he might be on the sidelines a little longer.

That’s because I like the Green Lantern Corps as a whole, especially when being led by John Stewart, who is more solid and noble than Hal. (At least in my book.) Again, there’s some fun with Guy being Guy and an excellent plan that requires all the Lanterns to work together, including Soranik’s yellow group, to combat Starro. But that only solves one problem because along comes problem #2: being stuck in a bottle city. Can Hal stay ghost long enough for me to enjoy that part? We’ll see.

Teen Titans #2 – Benjamin Percy, Writer; Diogenes Neves, Penciller; Ruy Jose, Sean Parsons, Inkers; Jim Charalampidis, John Kalisz, Colorists

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Okay, I See a Reason For This Team Now

Ray: Original series artist Jonboy Meyes, unfortunately, left the series after only two issues, and Diogenes Neves is a competent replacement this issue. However, the story this issue is where I have some quibbles after two strong previous issues. The story opens with a good scene involving Damian on his thirteenth birthday, as he gets a visit from Talia while on patrol. I’ve enjoyed the take on Damian and Talia’s relationship outside Morrison’s run, as it’s clear she genuinely does care for her son even if they’re on opposite sides, and she’s trying to protect him from Ra’s Al Ghul’s plans for him. However, once we get back to the present day, the story sort of loses me a bit. Damian briefs the Teen Titans he’s recruited/kidnapped on the Demon’s Fist, the assassins who have been deputized to kill him and his friends, and they all sort of come across as generic villains – some of them have very clear shades of the Victim Syndicate, oddly.

One thing that puzzles me about this comic is that it seems like Damian is an unknown quantity among the young heroes of the DCU. They express incredulity when he tells them he’s the son of Batman, seem betrayed when they find out Ra’s is his grandfather, etc. While it’s understandable that the young Wally West wouldn’t know anything about him, being a civilian until weeks ago, Raven and Beast Boy were close to Tim Drake and Starfire spent a while with Jason Todd. Damian isn’t some rookie on the scene – he’s been Robin for a few years DC-time and died a hero at one time. I get that he’s prickly and hard to like, but the suspicion seems more significant than that. The second half of the issue is an elaborate battle with the Demon’s Fist, followed by Damian escaping with the team. It’s a decent story, but this book still doesn’t really feel like a Teen Titans team. A major step up from the previous run, though.

Corrina: As a counter to Ray, while Damian has had extensive experience with the Batman family, he’s never encountered the Titans before, perhaps save through conversations with Tim Drake. Starfire spent time with Jason Todd but Todd spent little time with Damian; Raven and Beast Boy were on the run as outlaws, remember, since that run is still in continuity. And Wally is completely new at this hero gig.

While this version is already light years ahead of the past series, it has its issues. I realize all things Batman sell and Damian is the marquee character but having the focus be on him and his relationship with Talia and Ra’s and bringing in the League of Assassins makes it feel more like a Batman comic than a Titans comic. We only have Damian’s perspective so far. What does Wally think of all this? Would he even know about the League of Assassins? He likely wouldn’t. And Raven? She’s all too familiar with evil parents who want their children to follow in their footsteps but we haven’t seen a moment between them yet either. Instead, the series started with this big action set-up/fake-out where Damian took out all his potential teammates. Kids are capable of learning. Maybe he could have, say, called Raven for help?

As for the new assassins in Ra’s crew? They all seem generic versions of villains keyed to the hero they have to kill. I saw this in a Legion of Super-Heroes comic once, where the Legionnaires had to fight off potential Legionnaires angry that they were rejected for membership. The solution, naturally, is to switch foes. (And I expect that will happen next issue.)

In short: a decent version of the team but not essential reading yet.

Titans #5 – Dan Abnett, Writer; Brett Booth, Penciller; Norm Rapmund, Inker; Andrew Dalhouse, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: The Art? YIKES.

Ray: I do think this initial Abra Kadabra story is dragging on a bit too long, especially as it’s almost entirely a spotlight story for the original Wally West that has relegated the rest of the Titans to the background. However, this penultimate chapter turns out to be a very satisfying high-speed (literally) adventure. Abra Kadabra has placed Wally in a seemingly impossible situation, teleporting the various captured Titans and Linda around the world in assorted deathtraps, and the only way Wally can save them all is by moving faster than he’s ever moved before – which has the potential to kill him, exactly as Kadabra wanted. Now, for fans of the Mark Waid Flash run from the 90s, this will seem rather familiar. Wally was constantly transcending the Speed Force and vanishing back then. Homage? I would guess yes.

First Wally rescues Roy from the Puppet Robin, and then he’s off to Coast City where Dick and Donna are being psychically tortured by the Puppet Lilith. Next up is the Puppet Roy threatening Garth and Lilith with arrows, who Wally stops by catching the arrows in mid-air. All the while, Kadabra is tormenting him in spirit form as Wally pushes himself further and further. Eventually, he finally gets to Linda and pulls her out of the path of the molten metal Kadabra has suspended her over. He’s able to say a few words to her before the speed force begins to discorporate him and he vanishes as Kadabra celebrates his victory. Clearly, we know Wally’s going to be back, so there’s no real emotional impact, but the story is tense and exciting throughout.

An example of the art, so you can judge for yourself. From Titans #5, copyright DC Comics
An example of the art, so you can judge for yourself. From Titans #5, copyright DC Comics

Corrina: Yes, I’m going to pick on the art because this kinetic and overwrought style is one that I find garish and ugly. It may be decent as showing Wally’s speed and given what we see in this issue is all Wally’s speed, I suppose it works well enough but I can’t imagine the art drawing anyone to buy this comic.

Okay, the story. The story is an original Wally West solo spotlight which has shades of “I’m Wally West and I’m the fastest man alive,” from Mark Waid’s run on Flash. That’s great but the other puppet Titans add nothing to the story and nor do the Titans have a chance to show off any teamwork. (Either in this issue or the ones before.)  So, yes, a tense Flash story, but so far it’s not a good Titans series.

Action Comics #968 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Tyler Kirkham, Artist; Ulises Arreola, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Fight Scenes Dominate

Ray: Although Dan Jurgens remains one of the definitive Superman writers and his take on the classic characters remains extremely welcome in the DCU, the threats and ongoing plots are causing this title to lag behind the increasingly excellent Superman title. That’s pretty clear with this issue’s main threats, the Godslayers. The issue opens with an obnoxious tourist harassing a helicopter pilot, only to be interrupted by Superman fighting the larger of the two Godslayers, Zade. The brutish, giant warlord just comes out of nowhere and starts pummeling Superman, leading even the Man of Steel to wonder what the point of the fight is. Meanwhile, the less musclebound but far more dangerous of the duo, L’Call, has captured Luthor and is planning to execute him for crimes he’ll supposedly commit in the future – but Luthor is, as always, several steps ahead.

This issue is a little less compelling than previous ones because Lois and Jon are sort of sidelined. Lois barely appears, only showing up in brief segments as she was trapped with Luthor when the attack started, while Jon has been told to stay on the sidelines. He doesn’t listen, of course, and that leads to the best scenes of the issue as L’Call shows some humanity and it becomes clear that his reason for wanting Luthor dead is likely very personal. Zade and L’Call escape to fight another day, taking Luthor with them to face trouble in their time/world, but while Superman is determined to get him back, the mysterious Clark Kent isn’t sure that’s a good idea. There’s some interesting moral questions at play in the issue, but by and large they’re covered in a fairly generic slugfest.

Corrina: The Superman comics in Rebirth have certainly loved their fight scenes, starting with Doomsday himself and now these two space assassins. Where the story excels is Jon being torn between helping his father and obeying his father. The interesting thing is that he’s consistently never been afraid of anything, save his own abilities. That’s a great take on someone who is the son of Superman and Lois Lane, two of the most fearless people in the DCU.

Hmm…so now Superman has to save Lex? A plot that’s been done before but it’s usually not from interstellar assassins who worry about the safety of children. This could have promise but I’d hoped for more forward momentum about the mystery of the other Clark and about Lois taking her place at the Daily Planet.

Wonder Woman #11 – Greg Rucka, Writer; Liam Sharp, Artist; Laura Martin, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Tense Issue

Ray: It’s a breather issue as The Lies comes to an end, which is kind of a surprise – I would expect a big finale issue to have all sorts of reveals and showdowns, but this slow-burn arc seems more of a transition to the next major arc as Diana comes to a horrific revelation about herself and her family. The issue starts with Etta Candy and Sasha Bordeax discussing Diana’s situation and her return home, but it soon becomes clear to Etta that Sasha is not what she appears to be. This leads to a showdown between Etta and the woman pulling the robotic Sasha’s strings – Veronica Cale. It also provides the single creepiest visual this series has had yet once we get a look at what is hiding under Sasha Bordeaux’s artificial skin. However, while this plot sets up some interesting things for future issues, it’s Diana’s part of the story that delivers the best visuals and the big twist.

Diana and Steve are now back on Themysrica, and while Diana is being welcomed back with open arms by her mother, Steve is facing an unusual level of suspicion. He’s also the person who starts to notice that something is very wrong. As Diana’s conflicting memories make her wonder exactly what is going on on the island, Steve’s travels around the island make him notice that none of the Amazons he saw on his last visit are there – instead replaced with a hostile, suspicious group that threatens him for looking too closely. Meanwhile, Diana has a mysterious pain in her wrist, under her bracelet that gets worse through the issue, and eventually leads her to the revelation that this isn’t Themysrica – and in fact, she has never returned home since she left. How she came to this reveal is a little vague, but I have no doubt it’ll be explained more fully in future issues.

Corrina: This reminds me of a horror movie where our heroes walk into what seems to be Paradise only to find out it’s anything but. That could apply to Wicker Man or even that first season episode of Farscape. Paradises are never what they appear to be in science fiction unless they turn out to be that Star Trek planet of amusement where dreams do come true and they can bring people back from the dead.

Not just the pencils but the colors make this visit to Paradise Island ominous, showcasing Diana’s growing terror that nothing she’s known about her home has been true since she left. A crushing realization and that she allows Steve to share it shows how close the two have grown.

In the other plotline, man, Rucka really likes to mess with Sasha, doesn’t he? Things never go well for her.

Batgirl #5 – Hope Larson, Writer; Rafael Albuquerque, Artist; Dave McGaig, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Solid Conclusion 

Ray: It’s the conclusion of Batgirl’s Asia-spanning road trip, as she finally comes face to face with Teacher and her band of twisted supervillain “students”. Although the series started with a very intriguing concept, I feel like the actual villain is a bit of a letdown, as Teacher comes off as a generic villain without a particularly unique motivation. The first half of the issue is almost entirely a fight scene, as Batgirl chases Teacher through the city and picks up clues indicating that the formula she’s using to boost her strength and brainpower is actually destroying her from within. However, the issue picks up a good deal when Barbara gets knocked out by the villain and wakes up in her dreamscape along with Fruit Bat and Kai. Together, those two friends help her realize that to win, she needs to rethink things.

That means turning off her photographic memory, in essence making her brain temporarily weaker so it can focus more on one thing instead of juggling everything she normally has. After she wakes up and quickly destroys Teacher in a one-on-one fight, we get a nice example of how Batgirl is a lot less focused on punishment than Batman is – essentially pardoning Teacher’s “class” of young villains and setting them up with Fruit Bat as their new teacher. She even has a goodbye with Kai (as Batgirl, not Barbara) before she gets a phone call that sends her home to Bludhaven. This arc may have been lacking a bit in the villain area, but it did a great job with Barbara and I’m hoping that continues once she’s back on familiar ground.

Corrina: It’s been a fun and solid first arc for the creative team, especially with the depiction of the fight sequences, and the use of the Asian setting. The villain is, as Ray said, a bit of a letdown, as I expected someone more powerful given the build-up. But the characterization of Barbara has been solid, reminding me as much of her 1970s Pre-Crisis self as the more recent Batgirl of Burnside. It’s good to see a relatively angst-free Batgirl on a quest to right wrongs.

It’s especially good that Barbara uses her best weapon, her intelligence, to win. I loved her thought processes though I’m not sure one can really “turn off” a photographic memory. Nevermind, it was a good gimmick.

Deathstroke #7 – Priest, Writer; Larry Hama, Breakdowns, Carlo Pagulayan, Penciller; Jason Paz, Inker; Jeromy Cox, Colorist

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Such a Fantastic, Twisty Comic

Ray: Deathstroke continues to be the biggest surprise of Rebirth – or maybe it’s not a surprise anymore, given just how good most of Priest’s comic work is. However, every issue manages to deepen the conspiracies at play here as all the enemies Slade has made over the decades come back to haunt him. The issue begins with a 12-panel page where Adeline Kane makes the hard sell to Superman that it’s his responsibility to help bring Slade in – and then we immediately cut to a brilliant two-page spread where Superman drags a massive tanker ship with an unconscious Slade on top to shore. We then flash back a day to see exactly how we got here.

It’s a complex plot that wouldn’t be out of place in something like Memento, as we get to see Jericho and his lover discuss the nature of the Ikon Suit, as well as the best scene of the issue – a spectacularly tense showdown between Slade and Adeline in her suburban home, the tension occasionally cut by her gruff second husband mouthing off to Slade or coming inside for a beer while they threaten each other. It all builds up to the confrontation with Superman that we already saw – and that’s the best thing about this comic. It manages to seamlessly combine the huge-scale action that makes comics what they are with the tense, intimate moments that make us care about the characters. And it does this with a formerly one-dimensional villain whose solo book was an afterthought for most of the New 52. Amazing.

Deathstroke #7
Deathstroke #7

Corrina: I keep recommending Deathstroke to comic readers on Facebook and the reaction usually is “Deathstroke? Are you kidding?” And I say “It’s Christopher Priest,” and the lightbulb goes on. I keep coming back to what Priest said when I interviewed him in July at Comic Con. He said he wanted to pack each single issue with as much as he could, so people would finish it and have a lot to digest. He’s succeeded beyond my wildest expectations, as each issue builds on the last and yet adds yet another element to the story, from Adeline’s possible involvement in the contract to kill Ravager to Joe’s complicated love life, to the portrayal of Slade as someone who could easily destroy Adeline and her second husband but chooses not to do so, for whatever reason.

And, of course, to Adeline herself, who knows exactly what buttons to push with Superman. Deathstroke may be the master assassin but Adeline seems to be the master manipulator. It’s different from her past versions but it’s also a layered portrayal and it works in this world.

Batman Beyond #2 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Bernard Chang, Artist; Marcelo Maiolo, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: The Man With A Plan.

Ray: It’s still good to have Terry McGinnis back, as he and his network of friends and family are absolutely the core of the Batman Beyond property. It’s not really Batman Beyond at all without him, as we saw with the ill-fated relaunch with Tim Drake. It still doesn’t feel the same, however, and part of this is undoubtedly the absence of both Bruce Wayne and Terry’s mother, neither of whom survived the war with Brother Eye. However, I think the bigger problem is that the neon cyberpunk style of the originals and the villains it created has been replaced with a Mad Max inspired post-apocalypse, complete with murder gangs. The Jokerz, who were in the background of the original property, are now the primary threat.

This issue includes a flashback to the death of the Joker in this world, as told by low-rent Joker wannabe Terminus. However, the big problem is that this version of the Joker’s death is a lot more bloody but a LOT less interesting than the spectacular one we saw in Return of the Joker from the original animated series. There are some good points here, as Terry’s infiltration into the Jokerz gang provides some amusing moments, and I enjoyed Max and Matt’s chance to “play Batman” to help Terry sell the fact that he’s one of the villains. However, the sooner this comic gets away from the Joker and back to what made Batman Beyond originally great, the better.

Corrina: Any story would likely pale in comparison to Joker’s “death” in Return of the Joker but this version here feels much more like a generic villain death. It’s not even close to the death of the Joker of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.  That makes the stakes seem lesser than it would be if the Joker himself were the villain. (But this could be colored by the fact I don’t find the original Joker all that interesting.)

However, what I do like is that Terry began thinking again and put a plan in motion, so he can overcome these agents of chaos with his intelligence rather than brute force. Like Ray, I’m not thrilled with this post-apocalyptic future, but I’m happy the comic is taking strides to counteract that and make it more like the original Beyond world.

Blue Beetle #3 – Keith Giffen, Writer; Scott Kolins, Artist; Romulo Fajardo Jr., Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Could Have Been a First Issue

Ray: Blue Beetle is starting to find its groove this issue, as Keith Giffen – one of Jaime’s original co-creators – starts to really get into the strange experience of what having an alien being bonded to a teenage boy would be like. The issue opens with a two-page spread as a strange dream Jaime is having about fighting an alien army leads to him waking up in an unusual place, with no memory of what he’s been up to. There’s actually no villain in most of the issue after the tease in the opening, until the ending, and that works – it gives Jaime time to deal with the ongoing battle he has for control with the Scarab and seek out help from both the mentor figures in his life.

Ted Kord, as always, comes across as vaguely squirrely as he gets Jaime to agree to tests but hedges on whether it’s possible to remove the Scarab. It’s not clear if he really does have a hidden agenda, but there’s something going on there. It’s the segment involving Jaime and his father, though, that has the most impact in this issue. The Reyes family has always been the strongest selling point in this character’s history – it’s also where the previous run in the New 52 fell short – and it’s great to see both Alberto and Bianca get prominent roles in this series. Now let’s just give more page time to Milagro as well!

blue-beetle-3Corrina: What did I want from a Blue Beetle comic? Mostly, an issue like this one that reintroduced the characters and the concepts that I enjoyed so much from the first run of the series. If this had been the first issue, I’d have been all-in from the beginning. As it is, it’s issue #3 but later is better than never. The focus on a teenager who has strange alien technology is far more interesting to me than Ted and Jaime exchanging not-so-witty banter in the middle of battles. This issue gives that concept room to breathe, allowing Jaime himself to come fully into focus.

Harley Quinn #8 – Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Writers; Chard Hardin, Andrew Robinson, Bret Blevins, Artists; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Sweet and Disturbing, Like Harley.

Ray: Harley’s been feeling much more random ever since it made the jump to Rebirth, and this issue is no exception. It seems like every issue is chasing a new weird and wacky plot, and the quality varies massively based on who is the focus and what the main plot is. This is one of the better issues, as it returns the focus to Harley and Ivy and doesn’t distract with a generic villain or (too much) gross out humor. After waking up from a particularly disturbing dream involving Egg-Fu being eaten by pets, she heads off on a vacation with her best gal pal courtesy of her friend Sy Borgman, who owns a resort on a small island along with his cyborg girlfriend from the previous run. This segment is funny enough, but it relies too much on gross-out humor relating to old people running around the island naked.

However, in between gags about naked old people, the issue has some surprisingly strong moments worked in there. Andrew Robinson draws a great flashback segment involving Joker playing mind games with Harley during her time as an Arkham doctor. These strange interludes are becoming a regular feature and are bringing in some top talent from around comics, so I hope they continue and slowly shed light on Harley’s past. Really, though, this issue is about Harley and Ivy’s complex relationship – and really, the reason why as functional as they are, they won’t be settling down to domestic bliss too often. This comic can deliver some real emotion when it wants to, and I wish it would go there more often.

Harley & Ivy on vacation.
Harley & Ivy on vacation.

Corrina: What will people be talking about after this? The Harley/Ivy romance. Showing the bond between the two women is all the issue wanted to accomplish and it does that perfectly, showing how screwed up, tender, and sweet the relationship can be, in equal measure. For an issue with a lot of implied nudity, it’s handled well by the art team, rather than being exploitive.

As always, the insights into how Harley’s mind works are fascinating, from her nightmare–maybe she also wonder what the heck Egg-Fu is?–to her memories of the Joker and his mind games.

The Hellblazer #4 – Simon Oliver, Writer; Moritat, Artist; Carrie Strachan, Tony Avina, Colorists

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Swamp Thing/Mercury Greater Than Constantine

Ray: This continues to be an entertaining, if oddly disconnected story, as the two plotlines couldn’t be further apart. John Constantine has the title, but he shares the lead with Swamp Thing, creating a unique fusion of the surreal and the down-to-earth magical realism. When we last left off, Constantine and Chaz had been captured by an old enemy of John’s, a racist Neo-Nazi soccer hooligan straight out of central casting. This is probably the most British issue Constantine’s been in since the Vertigo days, and the volley of insults between John and the so-titled “White Boy” are hilarious, but the plot quickly gets serious as the villain wants John to summon the Djinns stalking him.

Meanwhile, in the Rot, Swamp Thing and Mercury are exploring, but Swamp Thing quickly gets attacked by a gang of eldritch beasts that are hunting him and targeting him as a foreign entity in the body. This segment is briefer, but the moments we see of these creatures are easily the most memorable in this issue. Likewise, the moment the Djinn attacks and the villainous Neo-Nazi meets a horrible fate has some real grindhouse horror appeal to it. This comic is sort of a mixed bag, shifting drastically in tone and style even within a single issue. That can be a bit jarring at points, but in a way it feels true to what Constantine is supposed to be.

Corrina: I’m not finding a quality difference between Rebirth and the previous creative team on Constantine. That’s good, as I thought those issues were high quality. But it’s also bad in that I’m less interested in the Djinn and their issues that I was in the demons that lurked in the corners of New York City. As Ray said, it’s a very British issue and, I admit, New York City and it’s myriad residents are more interesting to me than a stereotypical English Neo-Nazi.

But Swamp Thing and Mercury’s quest has resonated, with an offbeat father-daughter vibe between them. Swamp Thing has sarcasm that outclasses Constantine’s, and that’s always a plus when beasts are attacking. I find myself more interested in what happens next with his quest than anything that happens to Constantine.

Additional Reviews:

Vigilante: Southland #2 – Cary Phillips, Writer; Elena Casagrande, Artist; Giulia Brusco, Colorist

Ray – 3/10

Corrina: Solid Noir

Ray: The first issue of this miniseries was a readable, if somewhat generic story introducing us to Donny Cates, who takes up the mantle of an urban vigilante after his girlfriend Dorrie is murdered under mysterious circumstances. It hit far too many tropes and kicked off with a prototypical WIR moment, but it had some potential. This issue pretty clearly diverges from the routine feel of the first issue – but that’s not a good thing. This issue is one of the most bizarre, graphic DC comics I have read in a while. For one thing, this is essentially a mature-readers book that just happens to be set in the DCU. It’s more clearly R-rated than the average Vertigo book. There’s quite a few F-bombs, and at one point Donny fights a sadistic dominatrix in an S&M club while a middle-aged businessman in a large diaper scurries away from his paid whipping session. It’s that kind of book, apparently.

When it comes to the main story, the mystery unfolds at a slow pace, as Donny goes from clue to clue and beats up people for information, his corrupt father beats up enemies in his circle of criminals, and Dorrie’s mother infiltrates the inner circle of corrupt businessmen to try to get information out of them in a more subtle way. There’s a few decent scenes, such as when Donny gets some training from his wheelchair-using mentor Mike. The plot doesn’t really get moving until Donny confronts his prime suspect – who is then promptly and violently ruled out panels later. It feels like it’s going for an urban noir vibe, but the tone is all over the place and the characters aren’t really grabbing me yet. Vigilante as a concept has been a hard sell for DC for a while.

Corrina: Hmm…I must be reading too many Vertigo books (or romance novels) lately because the X-rated nature of the dominatrix and all the f-bombs didn’t register until Ray mentioned them. But, yes, this is a mature readers book that is definitely not suited to younger teenagers.

But does it succeed as what it is, a graphic noir story with a hero slowly taking responsibility and control over his life? Donny’s story fails to hit me emotionally but I may not be the target audience for that. As I said in the first review, I was much more interested in Dorrie than Donny. However. Dorrie’s mother and her family contain the promise of adding layers to what so far been a basic street noir story. So we’ll see.

Future Quest #7 – Jeff Parker, Writer; Evan Shaner, Ron Randall, Steve Lieber, Artists; Veronica Gandini, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Best Issue Since #1

Ray: Finally, after months of split stories and fairly slow progress in the main story, the various dangling plot threads unite in a massively satisfying old-school read that brings together three great artists for a full-length tale. The story opens with the UN being briefed on the otherdimensional threat to Earth by Falcon 7. From there, the heroes arrive at the base of Dr. Kim Conroy, a longtime ally of the Quests, and encounter her Spider-bots and the giant robot she and her son are building. Meanwhile, the team’s newest hero, Mightor, is getting some training in the use of his new powers courtesy of Birdman. Ron Randall does a great job of filling in for Shaner on these pages.

The second half is where the story really hits high gear, as the reveals come fast and furious. For one thing, Bendon Quest and Dr. Zim are in fact working together, and against a much bigger mutual enemy. This otherdimensional being, Omnikron, has been destroying worlds and assimilating lifeforms since the beginning of the series, and it’s what took out Space Ghost – who finally makes his return at the end of the issue. Virtually every loose element we saw over the course of the series, including Fantastic Four analogues The Impossibles, come together into one story here, as it looks like Future Quest is really hitting top gear again for the first time since the first arc.

Corrina: Now that all our heroes are together and their backstories told, it seems the story has hit high gear into the action. I’m still not familiar with all these characters and not always certain who are the original creations and who are the ones from the cartoons but that’s fine as Parker handles the large cast well. Randall has great fun with the giant robot and the arrival at Conroy’s base.

Next: massive superhero team-up! (Well, so I hope.) This is basically like the original DC Crisis on Infinite Earths–battle sequences and human moments mixed together. And when it works, it’s wonderful.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #20 – Sholly Fisch, Writer; Dario Brizuela, Artist; Franco Riesco

Ray – 7/10

Ray: It’s Space Ghost’s turn to team up with the Mystery Machine gang, and this issue sort of illustrates this series’ dual nature. Some of the issues are actual issue-long mysteries following the classic Scooby Doo format, complete with a creative reveal at the end. Those issues usually spotlight the series’ best, especially when combined with a deep dive into DC continuity. Other issues, including this one, sort of ditch the format for a random adventure featuring the cast. This issue falls into the latter category, as Space Ghost gets ambushed by his two arch-enemies, Zorax and Moltar.

This leads him to Earth along with his kid sidekicks Jan and Jace, and their monkey Blip. The Mystery Machine is rigged to travel into space, and the whole gang goes to the moon to fight the villains. There’s a couple of fun gags, including a great reference to Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, but while it’s an amusing comic, it’s a lot more straightforward than this comic usually is. As “Shaggy and Scooby Doo Get a Clue” proved, it’s just not Scooby Doo if someone doesn’t get their mask pulled off at the end.

Six-Pack and Dogwelder: Hard-Travelin’ Heroez #4 – Garth Ennis, Writer; Russ Braun, Artist; John Kalisz, Colorist

Ray – 2/10

Corrina: Once Again, I Pass on Reading This. Yes, I Find It That Bad.

Ray: This continues to be the strangest comic DC has ever put out, as last issue we saw the gang of would-be heroes – plus John Constantine in a space suit, for some reason – traveled to Egypt and battled mummies. As Dogwelder fights them off, somehow he’s summoned into a mystical space filled with statues of former Dogwelders who have “served humanity” somehow over the millennia. We get the secret origin of Dogwelder, as it’s revealed that Anubis was created through some guy putting a rabid dog’s head on top of a human, and he cursed the mad scientist who created him to be the first Dogwelder, a role passed down through the eons. And the reason for this is…I dunno. And the purpose of Dogwelder is…I dunno. But hey, we get to see Bueno Excellante leer at a pile of sentient organs again, so yay?

Disclaimer: GeekDad received digital copies of these comics for review purposes. 

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.