DC Comics This Week – It’s Event Time!

Oeming's glorious splash page. image via DC Comics
Oeming’s glorious splash page For Cave Carson #3. image via DC Comics

Yes, event time, that time that rolls around every…well, a lot…with major comic book publishers, especially DC and Marvel. This week introduces the new DC event, that of the Justice League versus the Suicide Squad. At least its hero against villain this time, rather than hero versus hero, and it’s good to see Amanda Waller in her usual ambiguous place in the DC universe. There’s a teaser to the event in Batman #13, which nails the ending of Tom King’s second story arc on the title.

In our other reviews, Corrina is still enjoying the new Green Lanterns title, while Ray reviews the new Star Trek/Green Lantern crossover from Dark Horse.

And we both rave about Cave Carson and His Cybernetic Eye #3, which is our favorite among all the Young Animal imprint titles.

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

DC Premieres of the Week:

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1 – Joshua Williamson, Writer; Jason Fabok, Artist; Alex Sinclair, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Good Writing But Stil Not Thrilled With “Event Time!”

Ray: A competent and exciting debut from the first major event in the post-Rebirth era, this comic has an advantage over the majority of “Vs” events from the competing publisher – its two sides are actually natural enemies. You need to push things in a certain direction to get the Avengers at each others’ throats, but the Justice League and Suicide Squad are natural enemies. Fair warning – this comic spoils some details of this week’s issue of Batman, as it details a confrontation between Amanda Waller and Bruce Wayne that is set up there. You may want to read that first before diving in here. The issue opens with someone using mind control powers to break into a top-secret prison and unleash an army of criminals far more dangerous than the Squad. The Squad, meanwhile, is abroad on a mission in the fictional country of Badhnisia, where Waller has sent them without Rick Flag’s approval. This segment is at least partially a recap of the Squad and their abilities, including new recruit Killer Frost, and the villain Apex is unmemorable, but it’s all set-up for when the JLA shows up.

The JLA has been briefed by Batman on the existence of Task Force X, and they’re all repulsed by the idea – some of them because they don’t like the villains being abused, others because they’re horrified that the Squad could get the villains back on the streets earlier. The League shows up just in time for Superman to pluck Deadshot off a collapsing rooftop, and they promptly inform them that the Squad is over and they’re coming with the League. There’s just one problem – Waller still has the bombs implanted in the Squad’s brains, and she lets them know that she’ll let them blow before she lets the League take them. The Squad has zero problem taking the fight to the Justice League, and we’re off.

The conflict here makes sense, and is driven by an actual malevolent figure playing against each other, so it works a lot better than most “heroes fight” event. Oh, and as for the actual villains of the arc? MIA villains from the pre-Rebirth era, Doctor Polaris, Emerald Empress, Lobo Classic, Johnny Sorrow, Rustam, and leading them…none other than Maxwell Lord. People who are partial to classic wacky Max Lord may be displeased to see the evil version back, but based on this first issue, I’m excited to see this event play out.

Corrina: Oh, the conflict here makes emotional sense. These are villains; that’s one big issue between the teams. Two, even if they are villains; they’re being illegally misused. But my whole problem with this event? It should be over in two seconds. The team the full Justice League encounters in this issue can by no means hold their own for two seconds with the full Justice League. Superman, Wonder Woman or Flash alone could knock out the Squad in no time flat. The Squad simply doesn’t have enough firepower, even if they are fighting to kill. Heck, amost villains are fighting to kill all the time, so the heroes are used to it!

Or, you know, Cyborg could just follow Waller’s broadcast to the Squad and send Flash to take away her bomb detonator. Or Cyborg could block the signals or…well, you get the idea. The writing is fine but the fight is twisted into pretzels to even make it equal. (Unlike, say, the Superman and Deathstroke contest in Deathstroke last week, where the far weaker Deathstroke created a stalemate but certainly not through a direct fight sequence.)

I suppose this is all leading to…SPOILER…Max Lord controlling the Justice League and his villains and Waller getting the Squad to save the day. Or something like that. For those who like big villain-hero battles, that may be your thing, but the story lost me with Maxwell Lord, secret overlord.

Star Trek/Green Lantern: Stranger Worlds #1 – Mike Johnson, Writer; Angel Hernandez, Artist; Alejandro Sanchez, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Ray: The original Star Trek/Green Lantern crossover distinguished itself by not resetting the status quo at the end of its run. Instead, it leaves the core cast of Green Lantern – and most of their top villains – stranded in a new and strange universe, setting up countless future adventures. It’s clearly an alternate universe, but one that I’m surprised and glad both companies were comfortable enough to set up. The first chapter of the sequel does not disappoint at all, with all the Green Lanterns slowly settling into their new roles as refugees. Guy is hilariously attempting to teach Starfleet recruits, while Hal is giving Jim Kirk a run for his money in ridiculous risk-taking antics. Sinestro, meanwhile, has happily entrenched himself as the new ruler of the Klingon empire – a warlord they can believe in.

There’s just one problem – one by one, their rings are running out of juice with no way to recharge them. No batteries in this world, no Oa or Guardians, and all the GLs, no matter their color, are facing a future where they eventually become normal. Some are dealing with this with more grace than others. The bulk of the first part of the book is slice-of-life humor and some action, but then things kick into a higher gear with the capture of Saint Walker by Klingons and the apparent discovery of a native Manhunter in this universe. It seems there is an Oa on this world after all – and both sides will stop at nothing to get it. This probably works better as a GL story than a Star Trek story, but as a fan of both, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

DC Rebirth Reviews:

Batman #13 – Tom King, Writer; Mikel Janin, Artist; June Chung, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: It All Pulls Together

Ray: After several issues of high-intensity action and strong emotional context, the conclusion of “I Am Suicide” is here, and it’s a surprisingly intimate affair, almost all taking place within the confines of Bane’s throne room as a high-stakes game plays out between him, Batman, and Catwoman. The issue opens with Bane looming over Batman, Punch and Jewelee’s bodies seemingly being removed, and Ventriloquist…waiting. For something. But before that story ends, Alfred Pennyworth gets an unexpected and unwelcome visitor in the Batcave in the form of Amanda Waller, who proceeds to take all of Batman’s files on Task Force X and try to intimidate Alfred. As Bane and Batman battle, Bane offers Batman the same “gift” he’s gotten from the Psycho-Pirate, a way to purge all the pain from his system. As we learned last issue, that is the absolute last thing Batman wants, and his response is the best scene of the issue.

Meanwhile, Punch and Jewelee have apparently faked their deaths and score a high-heat escape from the furnaces of the fortress via…trick bubble gum. Never underestimate the clown-themed villains, I guess? As for Selina’s inevitable face-turn…well, we knew it was coming. Tom King wasn’t going to actually turn Selina Kyle into a villain again, and we’re all better for it. I’m amused that Batman and Bane’s relationship is essentially a never-ending streak of back-breakings, but we already know that Bane will be back in action soon – his injury this issue seems mainly designed to force him back on Venom and rekindle his desire for revenge. Once Ventriloquist’s purpose on the mission is revealed, the story becomes alternately disturbing and hilarious, and a suitable payoff – albeit brief to the hype for Wesker’s role. It’s an excellent conclusion, although many storylines – most of which is Selina’s fate – are yet to be revealed.

Corrina: Given the lead-up to this conclusion, with all its twists and turns, the payoff had to be good to make it worth it. And it is excellent. I expected the final triple cross by Catwoman (hoped for it, actually, because one never quite knows what DC wants for the character, long-term) but I was surprised to see my other big objection, that Batman callously allowed Punch and Jewelee to be killed, to be reversed, thus preserving Batman’s heroic status. However, when it became clear the only reason Batman brought along Ventriloquist was because he was immune to Psycho Pirate..well…I mentally took a step back from the story and gave King a round of applause. That’s an excellent twist and while it doesn’t cover Batman in glory, it makes sense that Batman would trade Ventriloquist’s sanity for Gotham Girl’s life.

But the core of this finale was the confrontation between Bane and Batman that is the best characterization of Bane since his time in Secret Six. Bane, of course, has been sinned against a great deal and the reader feels sympathy for that but he never can make that transition to hero or even anti-hero. He has that fatal flaw of arrogance, of course, but also self-doubt. If he can get Batman to admit the same self-doubt, that’ll make them even. But, of course, they’re not.

Superman #13 – Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Writers; Doug Mahnke, Penciller; Jaime Mendoza, Keith Champagne, Norm Rapmund, Inkers; Wil Quintana, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Off-Topic But Surprisingly Touching

Ray: While it’s good to see Frankenstein back, it feels like this storyline has put the actual lead characters on hold for two issues so we can see the tragic family drama of the Frankenstein family play out. When we last left off, Lois’ editor at the local paper had been unmasked as an alien impersonator, an evil tyrant who Frankenstein had been chasing. I did like seeing Lois immediately just start whaling on the alien until she knows her friend is safe, because isn’t that just the most Lois thing ever? However, before Frankenstein can lock her up, his ship is blown up by a rival bounty hunter – The Bride, his ex-wife. They broke up after the death of their evil son at the Bride’s hands, a wound that is still wide open. I love the Bride’s design, I will say, but most of their interaction seems to just be rehashing their previous story.

I will say, though, Doug Mahnke draws some great monsters. There’s few better, and the battle sequence that erupts looks suitably creepy – with Kroog being blown up by heavy artillery, only to reveal himself as a shape-shifter that can disappear piece by piece and transform into anything he touches. They wind up battling the monster piece by piece – or at least Superman does, while Frankenstein and the Bride spend more time whaling on each other. By the end of the issue, Kroog is rounded up, but Frankenstein’s attempt at reunion with his Bride is rebuffed and the two go their separate ways. It seems like the Frankenstein family drama is used primarily to contrast their broken family with Superman and Lois’ loving unit, and the last scene is sweet, but this storyline still feels like a diversion from the fantastic stories we got in the last couple of arcs.

How come even female *monsters* have to be sexy? image via DC Comics
How come even female *monsters* have to be sexy? image via DC Comics

Corrina: I expected to hate the second part of this story mostly because it did put Superman and Lois in the background. But Frankenstein and the Bride’s story got to me right here. ::hits heart:: At the end, the contrast between that broken family and Lois, Clark and Jon Jr. pulls the theme together. Those last couple of pages will likely become a famous high watermark for those who love Lois and Clark together.

Last I saw Mahnke’s art, it was making Wonder Woman look odd in Superman/Wonder Woman. But here, the artist is on point, from the Frankensteins to the bits and pieces of the monster, to the fugitive becoming whole again. However, I’m not thrilled that the Bride must be posed in a such a sexy manner. (Unlike Ray,  I’m not that happy with her design.) I guess even Frankenstein Brides must be teh sexy. A minor niggle in an unexpectedly enjoyable story.

Nightwing #11 – Tim Seeley, Writer; Marcus To, Artist; Chris Sotomayor, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: A Super-Villain Anonymous Group. Interesting

Ray: While the first issue of this arc was a bit of a slow start, this issue sets up some very interesting things that haven’t really been touched on before in Batman comics. Namely – there is a chance for some villains, the small-timers, to go straight. That’s rarely addressed in Gotham, but in Bludhaven, the concept is front and center in this first arc. The last issue ended with Dick finding out that his new boss is actually a costumed criminal – one he knows from years back. The start of the issue reveals that she was the teen henchgirl to a villain Batman and Robin put away years ago, and it was implied that because of her age she wouldn’t get serious jail time. Before Dick can get the story out of her, he’s promptly attacked by a bunch of other z-list supervillains, but it soon turns out they’re not a criminal gang – they’re a support group.

It seems Bludhaven’s become the go-to place for reformed villains to try to start over, and Gorilla Grimm – the Gorilla City refugee Dick fought last issue – was one of them before falling off the wagon. Still, the program’s founder believes he’s not guilty, and that sends Dick to the city’s underground crime market to find clues. The latter half of the issue is a little slow-paced until the final few pages, when Defacer is accused of murder, it becomes clear that the police in the city are targeting this villain group, and one of the washouts of the group – Orca, aka the environmentalist version of King Shark – is now working for the bad guys. What the arc lacks in the intensity of the last arc, it makes up for in a quirky group of new villains that I’m intrigued by.

Nightwing has had a day. Image via DC Comics
Nightwing has had a day. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: I love this whole concept. If it’s okay in this universe to put on tights to fight crime, essentially a lawless act, of course, some people would go the other way to get what they want/need, and become supervillains, at least for a time. In one short issue, this story has managed to put the reader on the side of these villains trying to go straight–mostly because they stand up for each other.

The attitude of the police seems to be “let’s round up the usual suspects,” while the real villains are free to do whatever they want. I’ve seen this kind of story touched on with some independent stories but rarely in a mainstream superhero story and Dick Grayson, with his empathy, is the perfect hero to be at the center of it. Plus, I never expected to be happy to see Orca again (Orca! Someone’s been reading their back issues!) but her appearance made me smile with anticipation.

Green Arrow #13 – Benjamin Percy, Writer; Otto Schmidt, Artist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: On-The-Nose. Perhaps Too Much?

Ray: I’m glad to see Green Arrow getting back to its roots as a politically active comic, but it does feel like it’s trying a bit too hard to be current at points early in the issue. Case in point, don’t use words like “Mansplaining” if you don’t know how to use them – no woman would ever call it mansplaining when she literally just asked the guy to explain his love for something to her! However, once that slightly awkward conversation is over, things pick up in a hurry. The mysterious assassin archer that is targeting the people Green Arrow has been interacting with – both the people he’s saved and his targets/critics – is stepping up their game, and Green Arrow’s attempt to explain that he’s not the person behind the shootings goes about as well as you’d expect, resulting in a tense chase segment as Ollie and Dinah dodge the police.

Meanwhile, it seems that the brutal officer who Green Arrow dealt with last issue isn’t going away anyyime soon. Suspended pending an investigation, he’s filled with rage and proceeds to act it out by forming a new gang of vigilantes in Seattle, calling themselves the Vice Squad and wantonly targeting places they see as dens of crime. Kind of like a more brutal, more racist version of the Punisher, he seems like he could be a good villain – although his name, Sgt. Notting, seems a bit too on the nose given the Robin Hood theme of the series. The new status quo, which finds Team Arrow camping out in the forest, adds some lighter touches to the issue, and the end of the issue deepens the mystery. Some dialogue issues aside, this continues to be a fun, much improved run.

Corrina: I’m all for Ollie and Dinah tackling contemporary issues and being bastions of liberal politics. They always have been, though Dinah’s views tend to show through in compassion and direct help, whereas Ollie does tend to specialize in speechifying. But, still, injecting politics into plot has to arise from the characters, not out of some Trumped-up plot situation. This doesn’t feel organic but preachy. I agree with the politics but not the storytelling technique.

I would say that the disgraced cop is too obvious except…he’s probably more realistic than anything else in the comic (which makes me sad.) Overall, while Ray believes this is much improved, I see the same writing flaws as always. However, Schmidt’s artwork is amazing and the comic is worth buying for that alone.

Green Lanterns #13 – Sam Humphries, Writer; Ronan Cliquet, Artist; Blond, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: Buy This Book. NOW.

Ray: As the story of the Phantom Ring continues, this issue neatly splits the action between the current story, as Jessica and Simon battle their own demons to defeat Frank Laminski and the very distant past when Volthoom first emerged as the threat that led to the creation of the Green Lantern Corps. In the latter story, it’s revealed that Rami, the exiled Guardian, was their initial lightsmith who forged the very first Green Lantern rings. That adds an interesting wrinkle to the character and complicates his role in the series. Right now, though, he’s trapped by Volthoom as the insane half-dead villain tries to force a twisted merger with him in order for Volthoom to restore himself to full life.

While the past segments are beautifully illustrated and have a great epic vibe to them, it’s the present-day stories where this book really shines. Currently, Laminski is channeling the yellow ring, and as such has conjured up a pair of constructs that represent Simon and Jessica’s greatest fear of what they could become – Jessica a twisted reclusive wreck, and Simon a brutish, violent monster. However, it soon becomes clear that Frank isn’t controlling the ring – it’s controlling him, switching based on his dominant emotion at the moment. Since the ring doesn’t have a battery, it draws on its bearer, and quickly seems to be bringing him to potentially a deadly detonation. I like that the book didn’t ever fully villainize Frank, keeping him as more of a pathetic, grasping wannabe who seems headed for a tragic end. Volthoom and the Phantom Ring are a huge upgrade from the first arc’s villains, and this book continues to improve.

Corrina: When a comic makes me wince for a villain, it’s doing a great job of emotional storytelling. And that’s what happens as the ring consumes Frank Laminski: I feel pity for him Not because he deserves it, I suppose, but because he’s just that pathetic and sad. That’s the same emotion that  Simon and Jess feel, too. I love that they want to save Frank. It’s what they do because it’s what they are. The art shines as Frank falls apart even as he’s filled with the power he always wanted.

The Guardian backstory worked too, providing some humanity to what seemed like just another arrogant Guardian at first. This book is my pick for one of the best DC comics of the last few years.

Trinity #4 – Francis Manapul, Writer; Emanuela Lupacchino, Penciller; Ray McCarthy, Inker; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Is This a Test?

Ray: The first arc has taken all three members of the Trinity to different points in their past, and now it’s Wonder Woman’s turn. Superman got an inspiring meeting with his younger self and his father, while Batman got a traumatic visit to the aftermath of his parents’ murder. So what’s Wonder Woman got in store? The Trinity winds up arriving on Themysrica, and an attack by the Amazons is quickly stopped by none other than a preteen Diana. We very rarely see young Diana explored in any way outside of the phenomenal Legend of Wonder Woman (Boo at this week’s news, DC. BOOOOOOOOOOOO.), so this is a good opportunity to delve into the character. Her youthful grit and her willingness to follow these strange visitors makes me think she’d be a great lead character in an all-ages series.

The Trinity is subjected to tests by Hippolyta to determine if they’ll be allowed to stay, and Clark and Bruce are sent to the mysterious realm known as the Dark Quarters. This is a new wrinkle in Amazon mythology, I believe, and I wasn’t thrilled that the Amazons seemingly regularly send unknown men to some sort of shadowy underworld containing certain death. However, I loved young Diana following them (and Wonder Woman, who chooses to go with them). This segment has some spectacular visuals, including a giant serpent that provides the best action scene of the issue. We see a little of Lois, Diana, and Jon this issue, and we also get the reveal of the big bad, who is kind of predictable but calls back to a truly classic DC story – and potentially has a big reveal about the content of this issue. Looking forward to all these journeys converging as we ready the conclusion of the first arc.

Corrina: After years of being dismissed and destroyed, the Amazons have come into their own lately. They’ve been at center stage in Legend of Wonder Woman, DC: Bombshells, and the year one story over in Wonder Woman‘s current title. Add this one to the reading list for lovers of Paradise Island and the Amazons. Note: I could happily have Emanuel Lupacchino draw younger Diana for issues and issues and issues. They’re something so strong and yet so vulnerable about her depiction of the girl who will be Wonder Woman.

As this issue ended, I wondered if this was an attack by Poison Ivy at all. It occurred to me to wonder if Batman had asked Ivy to do this so the trio could resolve all their issues with each other, including how they’ve hidden their secrets. That Ivy didn’t want to hurt Jon adds fuel to my theory. I guess we’ll see if I’m right later on.

Justice League #11 – Bryan Hitch, Writer; Neil Edwards, Penciller; Daniel Henriques, Inker; Adriano Lucas, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Fight, Fight!

Ray: It’s the conclusion of the “Outbreak” arc that saw the entire world threatening by a mysterious hacking attack that later turned out to be the work – through a series of misunderstandings – of a grieving family that lost their mother in the recent Kindred attack. Last issue saw the mysterious app behind the attack summon a whole host of the deadliest villains in the DC Universe, culminating in the all-powerful Amazo. The bulk of this issue is just a giant slugfest as the heroes try to hold their own against a horde of mainly B-list villains. A lot of these villains normally fight the Teen Titans, so it’s a bit odd to see them as JL villains. What does work, though, is everything involving the family.

The entire attack is based around a program on an iPad, and the family – including their genius daughter – spends the entire issue trying to figure out how to undo it. This story could have been easily a boring revenge tale, but there’s a human element here that works really nicely. The return of Jessica Cruz is very welcome, although I’m not sure – and neither is she – if she’s back for good, and I enjoyed seeing the heroes get the better of the villains by using their own attacks against them. Still, while there’s gems of an interesting story in this arc, and the quieter moments are excellent, it feels like this arc relied a bit too much on fight scenes, same as the first one. I’m still waiting for this book to really develop its own personality.

Corrina: I imagine many readers pick up a Justice League comic hoping for pages and pages of fight scenes. That works for me sometimes but here, it only works about half the time, as I thought the fight scenes tended to repeat themselves to fill up pages. Still, the emotional heart of the story, with the Justice League attempting to save the family, and the family itself, does create the feels missing from most of the smackdowns. Good characterization can overcome weak plotting and that happens with this conclusion, but just barely.

Aquaman #13 – Dan Abnett, Writer; Scot Eaton, Penciller; Wayne Faucher, Inker; Gabe Eltaeb, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: The Surface World Hates Atlantis. Vice Versa. Also, Water Is Wet

Ray: After a fairly spectacular first issue to this storyline, the next chapter quickly gets back to the routine that was dragging down the first arc of the book. Essentially, Atlantis seems to have become the new mutants for the DCU, with the public acting randomly irrational towards them. The mysterious organization NEMO, led by Black Manta, has launched a false-flag war on the US seemingly by Atlantis, leading to retaliatory military strikes against Atlantis by the US. Aquaman is trying to keep things from escalating, but that’s not going well. The US fleet sinks an Atlantean battleship, and the rest of Atlantis is calling for blood.

Aquaman enlists the help of the Justice League to try to bring the standoff to a halt, and while Superman and Batman are skeptical, they agree to help when Aquaman shows them the evidence pointing towards NEMO’s involvement. However, that’s when the issue goes downhill, at the point when the Justice League heads to the White House to present the evidence. They’re met with skepticism and outright hostility, as the US government seems determined to go to war and essentially accuses the JL of colluding with the Atlanteans. It feels like the conflict is forced, and there’s very little in the way of suspense because we know exactly who’s behind it. I’m very much ready for the story to move away from Aquaman vs. the surface world and focus on Atlantis for a while.

Corrina: My favorite Aquaman stories have always been those that delved into Atlantean politics and mythology and allowed Aquaman’s story to be rooted in fantasy, rather than the superhero world that dominates DC Comics. Since Rebirth, this story seems uncertain of which way it should go, trying to point out the fantasy aspects but also having lots of time in the superhero universe. That can work but, in this case, it’s like cutting a baby in half: it’s messy and it satisfies no one.

I liked the glimpse I had of the Atlantean resistance leader but he vanished fast. Mera’s ‘education’ by the equivalent of Atlantean nuns also seemed like a good thread to tug on until it became just one of those “your relationship will destroy the world, so stay apart” prophecies. There are good Atlantean supporting characters, like Tula, but they receive little screen time.

Meanwhile, we’re back to Atlantis and the surface world being close to war, with the Justice League being worried about Aquaman’s motives, yet again. It strikes me that this might be a decent story idea for Marvel, given Namor’s imperious personality and his prejudice against the surface world but Aquaman isn’t Namor and this plot is forced for him. It also cuts into the time for the supporting characters we met on the surface world who seemed potentially interesting. Also, is no one concerned that if Aquaman is right, there’s a secret (well, not ANYMORE) organization out there with the ability to attack a place like Atlantis? Because if I were President of the DC Universe, that would worry me. A lot. (Aside: citizens of the DC universe must be wary as heck about beachfront property.) Like Ray, I wish for this book to focus.

Harley Quinn #10 – Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Writers; Moritat, Joseph Michael Linsner, Bret Blevins, Inaki Miranda, Artists; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Merry Harley Christmas

Ray: A strange, offbeat done-in-one issue as Harley takes a break from the ongoing stories of the book to take on Christmas as only Harley can. Harley loves Christmas, you see – despite being Jewish, as Red Tool points out – so her Christmas spirit is massively harshed when Santa doesn’t show up for his shift at a department store. After Harley and an army of kids nearly destroy the store, she gets word that Santa is in critical condition at the hospital. Heading there, she finds out that he’s been afflicted by some sort of mind parasite, and the only way to save him is to go inside his head and fight the monster that’s emerged within it. Yep, it’s basically Fantastic Voyage, Harley Edition.

A story like this needs to be genuinely surreal, and this book delivers in spades. Some of the places Harley heads to in Santa’s head are light and funny, others are dark and disturbing. A lot of classic Christmas characters meet horrible fates this issue, and Santa himself turns out to be looking to quit. Shades of Rankin-Bass? I’m not really sure why the dark spirit in Santa’s head looks like the Joker, though – he doesn’t need to be in every Harley story and could stand to be in a lot fewer stories overall. Still, this is one of the best issues of this series since the relaunch, and the host of guest artists deliver some great visuals this issue. It’s not quite on the level of Dini’s Harley stories in the other holiday specials this year, but it’s a fun story.

Corrina:
Cab driver: Can I hit people on the way?
Harley: No Lil’ Old Ladies, no animals and only people thatta been naughty.”

That about sums up Harley’s Christmas spirit. About 50 percent less homicidal than usual and determined to save Santa and thus Christmas for everyone. The plot is ridiculous, of course, but the point of this book is to have fun with Harley, not to pay attention to the plot. And this story has fun with the idea of shrinking Harley inside Santa’s mind. But it’s not so much Fantastic Voyage as it is about Santa’s mental landscape. We’re not inside blood vessels, we’re inside Santa’s fantasy of hanging out with beautiful women on a tropical island. The jokes and sight gags are one after the other and it’s hard not to smile when reading this.
Just remember to toss logic out the window.

Cyborg #7 – John Semper Jr., Writer; Paul Pelletier, Penciller; Tony Kordos, Inker; Guy Major, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Rushed

Ray: The last issue set the current storyline into fast forward, as Cyborg’s female counterpart was created, got used to her powers, went out on a date with Cyborg, got her memories back – and then promptly betrayed Cyborg. This issue reveals that she’s in league with a mysterious shady weapons dealer who plans to hack the world’s weapons system and use it to take over the world’s governments. The big problem is that Scarlett has so little time as a character that her betrayal has virtually no impact for the readers, and it’s hard to buy its impact on Cyborg. After a lot of monologuing from the villain, Scarlett attempts to hack Cyborg – and he hacks her right back and stops her from carrying out the plan.

The villain quickly proves to be without any redeeming qualities, as he intends to kill Scarlett too in his attempt to destroy Cyborg, but he’s defeated without much difficulty. While Cyborg wants to turn Scarlett over to the authorities, they plan to shut her down and destroy her as a living weapon. He manages to get them to keep her in stasis at STAR Labs instead – and then the main plot of the series suddenly comes to a head as Cyborg stumbles onto his fake father and exposes him as a villain, only to be knocked out himself. This book has some decent characterization, but the pacing is really all off right now.

Corrina: Again, the plot seems rushed, with a two-issue arc to introduce a new major player to Cyborg’s world, plus introduce yet another overall threat, and lots of conflicting loyalties. This could easily have been drawn out to four issues though I guess that would leave our other major subplot, that of Silas being replaced, hanging too long. I was thrilled to see Vic not caught completely off-guard about Variant’s true loyalties. I like it when characters are clever, though given how one-note our villain was, defeating him was easy enough.

What’s more interesting is Vic’s protection Scarlett/Variant after she’s been defeated. The DC Universe powers-that-be can’t make up their minds about who’s too dangerous to keep alive, can they? Variant should be destroyed while Amanda Waller plays around with General Zod, who is at least as powerful as Variant. But I’m looking forward to Vic rescuing his father and confronting the main villain.

Additional Reviews:

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #3 – Gerard Way, Jon Rivera, Writers; Michael Avon Oeming, Artist; Nick Filardi, Colorist

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Brilliant

Ray: Four months in, one book has firmly established itself as the best of the new Young Animal line, and that is the offbeat father-daughter adventure of Cave Carson. While the family conflict at the core of this book is its emotional heart, I don’t think I can say enough about just how spectacular the action is in the issue. When the issue picks up, Cave, Chloe, and Wild Dog are in a car being chased by a giant monster. How they get away – using Cave’s custom car to delve into the Earth and lead the monster deep under the ground where it gets attacked by giant subterranean worms – is probably the most spectacular double-page spread of action I’ve seen in months.

Still, as big and bombastic as the issue can be, it knows exactly when to dial it back and focus on Cave and Chloe. Chloe’s pain over being kept in the dark about her mother’s origin and where she went feels genuine, but you can also understand Cave’s perspective. The addition of classic Cave Carson supporting characters like Johnny Blake manage to show off just how much the creative team knows about this obscure character and his world, and Oeming’s art somehow manages to be exceptional in both big and small moments, and the ending takes the story in a much darker direction. All four books in the line have some very intriguing elements, but this is the one that’s rising above the rest on every level.

Corrina: You have to love father-daughter bonding and bickering and revealing family secrets in the middle of a spectacular chase scene. The dialogue and the artwork are so in sync, especially in that spectacular sequence Ray mentions, that the emotional conflict is reflected in the physical conflict. One literally drills down, the other emotionally drills down.

I’ve never read Cave Carson comics before so it’s all new to me but it was easy to guess that Johnny Blake was a long-time character, especially with how he fits. This book is the perfect synthesis of art and story.

Raven #4 – Marv Wolfman, Writer; Alisson Borges, Artist; Diogenes Neves, Penciller; Ruy Jose, Inker; Blond, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Ray: Raven’s been a fixture of the DCU for a while, but most of her stories center around the Teen Titans. Wolfman giving her a solo focus for a change works because he has such a great focus on her inner turmoil, and he makes her personal struggle compelling enough to sell the series on its own. Most of the most compelling scenes in this issue actually find Raven unconscious in a hospital bed, literally battling her inner demons on the psychic plane. Guest artist Diogenes Neves has a history on Green Arrow, but his work here with the bizarre creatures that inhabit Raven’s psyche are fantastic. There’s a genuine spooky vibe to the series that works really well for the character.

I don’t think the external villains work quite as well as the internal ones, as we still don’t know all that much about the mysterious white dome that is absorbing half the people in Raven’s new hometown. I did think it was clever that the mysterious new villains unveiled last issue as the source of the dome are actually liars and con men who are trying to take advantage of the chaos. They’re in far more danger from Raven than she is from them, and it actually reminds me of Quakemaster from the Gotham: Cataclysm story in the 90s. Overall, this issue doesn’t give us too many answers, but I’m continuing to enjoy the book as a whole.

Corrina: In only four issues, the story has me caring not only about Raven and her struggle to be part of a normal life but also in her classmates and her aunt, uncle and cousins. Perhaps because this version of Raven is more off-balance and more emotional than the original Raven, who kept the world at a distance. This is a young woman with obvious empathy.

I’m worried for her and her new friends and family and I’m intrigued by the source of this mysterious energy dome and why it’s absorbing so many people. While it was interesting to see villains take advantage of the panic to extort the city, I’m impatient to get to the main event and the conclusion of the first storyline. (However, I wish DC would finally do away with the silly bird costume.)

Suicide Squad Most Wanted: El Diablo/Amanda Waller #5 – Jai Nitz, Vita Ayala, Writers; Cliff Richards, Matt Merhoff, Artists; Hi-Fi, Beth Sotelo, Colorists

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Spotlight For Amanda Waller

Ray: Consistently since this series began, there’s been one ongoing issue – the backups which end after two issues each are far more consistent and intriguing than the main story, which goes all six issues. The lead story, featuring El Diablo, is essentially a generic fight comic that keeps introducing new character after new character. This issue has El Diablo, his day-of-the-dead themed femme fatale ally, and a White Martian dressed up as a Mexican God, up against a team of Suicide Squad rejects including a Thanagarian and a goatman, and they’re then joined by a team of Mexican superheroes who want to apprehend them. Some of the action looks pretty great, but it’s overall just bland.

On the other hand, the backup featuring Amanda Waller by Vita Ayala (making her DC debut) is pretty great. I was wondering how they would make an Amanda Waller solo comic, since she doesn’t go on missions herself, but that’s solved pretty nicely by making this a suspense comic with a mission playing out in the field while Waller deals with the fallout back at the base. You’ve got a conspiracy unfolding, a potentially possessed agent or two, and a last-page image that very much makes me want the next issue. Ayala’s Waller is great – a highly intimidating, intelligent master of her domain, and the scenes with the Squad are entertaining as well. Based on this, I wouldn’t mind seeing Ayala take over the Suicide Squad comic down the line.

Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad Most Wanted, image via DC Comics
Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad Most Wanted, image via DC Comics

Corrina: I need to take a minute and applaud DC for reversing itself on Amanda Waller. When the new 52 reboot arrived, Waller was transformed from a middle-aged woman of considerable girth to a hot twenty-thirty something. That was a problem for two reasons. One, there are already so few women in superhero comics who aren’t superhero thin and hot. Erasing Waller’s look erased what was unique about “the Wall.” Second, by de-aging her, middle-aged women were again erased. Now, either thanks to the movie, where Viola Davis was awesome but not a stick-thin supermodel, or an editorial decision, Waller is back to her original look.

And it works. She’s more intimidating, more in charge, and is unique again among all the studly/sexy spies that run around comics. You can’t mistake the Wall and neither can you fight her, as she proves in this back-up story. Her spotlight was the first time I’ve been interested in this series, so hopefully there will be more of that. And more nuance overall, too, in her portrayal. More like the animated version and not the new 52 one-note basically evil version.

He-Man/Thundercats #3 – Rob David, Lloyd Goldfine, Writers; Freddie E. Williams, Artist; Jeremy Colwell, Colorist

Ray – 3/10

Ray: This isn’t a good book. Not by any means. It is, in points, though, one of the funniest books of the week. And all that humor comes from the villains, Skeletor and Mumm-Ra. These two are the whiniest, most petty and incompetent big bads I’ve ever seen. The issue opens with a big, elaborate fight between Skeletor and the Thundercats. Where this scene goes wrong is in the fact that the fight sort of plays by its own rules, with magic mysteriously tilting the balance for no apparent reason. The Thundercats are only saved by Mumm-Ra’s psychic imprint interrupting Skeletor and reasserting itself. This then descends into the two villains insulting each other like fifth-grade schoolboys for several paves before coming to an agreement. The issue ends with some decent scenes of Lion-O paying tribute to He-Man at the funeral in Eternia, but overall, it’s halfway through the series and the plot is a mess that feels like it’s barely starting.

Injustice: Ground Zero #2 – Brian Buccellato, Chris Sebela, Writers; Daniel Sampere, Penciller; Juan Albarran, Inker; Rex Lokus, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Ray: Things are starting to come into focus for the next phase of this story, as the heroes from a better universe recruited by Flash are arriving and scouting out the world, only to find the horrors of Superman’s tyranny everywhere. It’s still Harley who steals the show, though, as she and her gang of reformed Joker acolytes decide to take the fight to a battalion of regime goons. This series does a really good job of combining Harley’s insanity and fixation on violence with her genuine compassion for her minions. Even if she refuses to listen to their actual names and assigns them generic rhyming ones for her amusement instead. The issue gets weaker when Regime heavies like Sinestro show up because it very quickly descends into a routine fight comic, but when Harley is front and center, it’s a pretty strong story. Not sure about the arrival of another Joker at the end, though – I find Harley is far stronger when she’s not dealing with him,

Disclaimer: GeekDad received digital copies of the 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.