DC This Week – The Holiday Celebration

Page from the DC Holiday Special, image via DC Comics
Page from the DC Holiday Special, image via DC Comics

It’s that time of year, where DC grabs all its talent and puts them together a special holiday issue! This year’s edition is a strong entry in the time-honored tradition, so much so that it caused Corrina to reminisce about her favorite DC holiday story of all time, written by the great Alan Brennert.

In the other big news of the week, Diana talks about missing her female lover from Paradise Island in Wonder Woman #12, part of the Year One story in which Diana first comes to the modern world. Combine that scene with a scene from issue #2 and DC has firmly established Wonder Woman as LGBTQ, something it implied but never outright stated previously.

Plus, reviews of all of this week’s DC comics, with standout issues of Deathstroke, New Super-Man, Batman: Detective Comics and Gotham Academy.

Kickstarter Alert: SwapBots Augmented Reality

DC Premieres of the Week:

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

DC Rebirth Holiday Special #1 – Paul Dini, Tim Seeley, Eric Esquevel, Heath Corson, Mariko Takami, James Tynion IV, Gene Luen Yang, K. Perkins, James Asmus, Bill Freiberger, Steve Orlando, Vita Ayala, Writers; Elsa Charretier, Ian Churchill, Gustavo Duarte, Matias Bergara, Robbi Rodriguez, Andrei Mutti, Paolo Pantalena, Thomas Pitilli, Artists; Dan Jurgens, Reilly Brown, V. Ken Marion, Pencillers; Norm Rapmund, Scott Hanna, Mick Gray, Inkers; Alex Solazo, Hi-Fi, Marcelo Maiolo, J. Nanjan, Alejandro Sanchez, Ben Hunzeker; Arif Prianto, Tony Avina, Colorists

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: A Worthy Entry To the Holiday Tradition

Ray: Anthologies are usually a mixed bag, with drastic difference in quality from story to story. However, as of recently DC has had surprisingly strong luck with putting together collections of stories that feel like a cohesive whole from beginning to end. While the New Talent Showcase suffered from an odd story structure, both the Batman Annual and this 86-page one-shot succeed – and coincidentally, both have a holiday theme, and both feature Paul Dini writing Harley Quinn. Here, Harley is the star of the framing sequence, themed to a strange old-fashioned holiday revue with guest appearances from a huge cast. Zatanna sings a magical version of the “12 Days of Christmas,” Flash sings carols with the Rogues, and Harley wears menorah antlers. It’s classic, old-school Harley fun with great art by Elsa Charretier.

The stories that fill the rest of the rest of this huge comic are all very entertaining, starting with a strong duo of stories featuring the new Superman and his family. I never thought I’d see horror writer Tim Seeley write a story that essentially boils down to Superman vs. Batman in the plot of Jingle All the Way, but it works, even if Damian seems to have some of his rough edges softened a bit for the purposes of the season. Eric Esquivel’s follow-up story focusing on Krypto and Jon’s attempt to make his dog feel more like he belongs on Earth will be a perfect treat for any dog lover. Maybe my favorite story in the volume is the Batman/Detective Chimp team-up by the creative team of the recent Bizarro miniseries. Classic, strange Christmas comedy.

Some of the stories have a darker edge, such as the Constantine/Wonder Woman team-up by Tamaki, which deals with some of the older Pagan traditions of the yuletide season, although it has a hilarious final page. Tynion’s Flash story (featuring amazing art by Robbi Rodriguez of Spider-Gwen fame) puts Flash and the Rogues in a story that shows the hero and villain often have more in common than it may seem, and calls back to some of the 90’s Rogues characterization. The Batwoman Hanukkah story by. K. Perkins is more action-packed than inspiring, but it’s great to see a respectful Hanukkah story featuring a proud Jewish hero.

The Titans story by Asmus is probably my least favorite of the lot, but nothing featuring Ding Dong Daddy could really deliver much emotion. It does have some great Roy Harper characterization, though. While Orlando and Ayala’s Green Lanterns tale covers some of the themes we’ve seen in the main book, it does have some great visuals and emphasizes that Jessica Cruz is one of the best new characters brought into the DCU in some time. There’s also a pair of one-page stories featuring New Super-Man by Gene Luen Yang, and Nightwing and Batgirl by Freiberger. Both are enjoyable and fast-paced.

Overall, this is a fun collection and well worth the purchase. I have a lot of fond memories of the 90s DCU Holiday Specials, and this is a worthy successor.

Deadman and Kara
Deadman and Kara, Christmas With the Superheroes #2, copyright DC Comics

Corrina: What is great about this issue is how inclusive it is. It covers many different holiday traditions and yet, as Ray points out, the theme of goodwill and hope runs through all of them. We always need that during the holiday season.

My favorite scene in this issue is always going to be Wonder Woman explaining her holiday traditions, which seem to include mock hunting of each other and then dancing and entertainment, in a sort-of-violent way. One never knows whether the Amazon is putting one over on the others or being completely serious.

What this issue also did is make me take a trip down memory lane. I collected as many of the DC Holiday issues as I could growing up and my main recollections tend to be Batman-focused. Perhaps because Batman always seemed to be the hero in most need of holiday cheer or perhaps because, somehow, Santa Claus always seemed to be involved in his stories and that stuck in my mind. There’s a terrific rundown of the best of the DC specials over at Comics Alliance. Their list includes a Jack Kirby Sandman story, along with the classic Harley Quinn/Poison Ivy Christmas by Paul Dini.

But my top story is #2 on their list, inside Christmas With the Superheroes #2, published in 1988. In a story called “Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot,” a forlorn Deadman wanders around trying to help people at the holidays while fighting his own depression and his feeling that, despite all his good deeds, no one will remember him. But a young blonde woman (ghost?) shadows him in the story and tells him that “We do it because it needs to be done. We do it because, if we don’t, no one else will. And we do it even if no one knows what we’ve done, even if no one knows we exist. Even if no one knows we ever existed.”

This is, of course, Kara Zor-El/Supergirl, who had given her life in Crisis on Infinite Earths. I wasn’t surprised the story was written by Alan Brennert, who produced a tiny body of work for DC but all of his tales are classic. Reading this used to make me sad because that Supergirl never showed up again in DC Comics but now this version of the character is back and beloved on-screen. (Psst…Amazon had a used copy listed for $13.99.)

So, yes, Kara, people still remember you. And remembering those who inspired us is part of what the holidays are all about.

DC Rebirth Reviews:

Suicide Squad #8 – Rob Williams, Writer; Jim Lee, Penciller; Giuseppe Camuncoli, Layouts; Francesco Mattina, Finished Art; Scott Williams, Richard Friend, Sandra Hope, Inkers; Jeremiah Skipper, Hi-Fi, Colorists

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Points Out the Problem With the Existence of the Squad

Ray: This issue serves as the first prequel to the upcoming Justice League vs. Suicide Squad event, which kicks off next week and unfolds over two months and three titles. Until that’s here, though, this story still has to wrap up the current event. When we last left off, General Zod had unleashed some sort of madness plague inside the base and everyone had gone primal and insane – except for Harley, who had gone sane. Meanwhile, Captain Boomerang wasn’t killed, but was somehow digitized and placed inside the mainframe, causing chaos inside the base at the same time as everyone goes nuts. While Hack tries to restore him to proper life, Harley risks everything to take down Zod. Most of the rest of the ream just sort of wanders around making threats, but there’s a few good moments towards the end. The first arc of this series as a whole was pretty much straight action, and I’m hoping the series finds its footing with a new artist who can tell full-length stories next arc.

The backup, and the actual tie-in this issue, is the introduction of Killer Frost into the post-Rebirth DCU. As we all know already, her stint with the Squad is going to be relatively short, as she’s going to wind up not with a bomb in her neck but as a member of the new Justice League of America. That’s a pretty big transition in only a few issues, and this issue does a good job of setting that up. Caitlin Snow is, of course, the woman behind the blue skin, and the issue makes her more of a victim of circumstance, mutated by a technological mishap in the arctic. There’s some unique art effects in the issue, such as the fact that Caitlin can see inside people’s character by the energy aura coming from their hearts. There’s enough familiarity to the character from the Flash TV show that I think fans will be satisfied, and based on this first issue I can potentially see the character making for a good anti-hero in the future.

Corrina: I, too, liked the back-up better than the main story, primarily because it reminded me of a recent Killer Frost story that emphasized the “misunderstood monster” aspect of her personality. She’s not evil, only a heat vampire, for lack of a better word.

As for the conclusion of the main story, I’m glad Zod is on ice again but the reader’s enjoyment of the tale will depend on how much they enjoy following these characters. For me, that’s not much lately. The entire plot with Zod reminded me of the same problems I had with the Suicide Squad movie—at this point, Waller is simply gathering more and more dangerous people around her and their primary job? Seems to be stopping each other . Whereas if Waller had simply stashed Zod somewhere safe, this particular crisis would never have happened.

For someone who’s unhappy with the potential misuse of power by the superheroes of the world, Waller never seems concerned that she’s also using her powers in a way to endanger the world as well. That would make an interesting character realization for Waller but, so far, the book seems not to realize that this is the message it’s sending.

Batman: Detective Comics #946 – James Tynion IV, Writer; Eddy Barrows, Penciller; Eber Ferreira, Inker; Julio Ferreira, Finishes; Adriano Lucas, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Stephanie Brown: Hero or Villain?

Ray: James Tynion, before he took over this title, made clear that his favorite character in the Bat-family was Tim Drake. This proved ironic when Tim was written out for big plot-related reasons only one arc in, but it’s being proven true more and more with every issue. The issue opens with a conversation between Batman and Tim, set months before the events of the first arc, that sets up how Batman came to put together the Belfry and his team, and it’s probably one of the best-written scenes involving Batman I’ve read in a while. Once it gets to the present day, Tim still looms large, as Stephanie Brown has taken to using the Clayface-linked shapeshifting program in the lair to generate a double of him, using it as a sounding board as she tries to figure out her next move.

The majority of the issue is fairly action-packed as the heroes take the fight to the Victim Syndicate, with Batwoman taking on Madame Crow and Batwing defeating Mr. Noxious, while Blackbat and Harper manage to outwit the Mute. It’s the scene with Clayface taking on his former assistant Glory, now Mudface, that packs the biggest emotional punch, as the reluctant hero is forced to do something that clearly pains him. As for the First Victim themselves, they continue to lurk around in the shadows, taunting Batman and potentially turning Spoiler against him. The end of the issue leaves a lot of questions about exactly what Stephanie is planning, but it continues to be one of the most compelling books DC is putting out as it enters the last act of this arc.

Tim and Bruce in happier times. Image copyright DC Comics
Tim and Bruce in happier times. Image copyright DC Comics

Corrina: I love the art team on this book, especially the way they draw Clayface, which is reminiscent of my late, not-nearly-lamented-enough favorite from the Martian Manhunter series, Mr. Biscuits. They also do a terrific job with the creepy and amorphous look of the First Victim. But, as I said last week, I’ve had issues with the general premise, in which bystanders injured in past hero/villain battles blame the hero, rather than their attackers.

Still, that’s presented Tynion with a chance to explore how each member of the team feels about their mission, from Clayface’s doubts and fears about what he’s become to Kate Kane’s single-minded focus, to Harper’s ambivalence about assuming a costumed identity again. No one’s been struggling more than Steph–and she’s used effectively in her scenes with not-Tim and her continuing doubts about why she put on a costume in the first place. It’s not easy being the daughter of a supervillain. She and Cass need to have one of their talks again. It’s my hope that once this arc is over, Bruce focuses again on  Tim’s dream of using the idea of Batman in other ways, especially that idea tossed out about a team of trained medics who can quickly respond to crimes. (This is an awesome series idea, DC!!)

The Flash #12 – Joshua Williamson, Writer; David Gianfelice, Artist; Ivan Plascencia, Christopher Sotomayor, Colorists

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: Williamson Has a Sentimental Streak and I Love It

Ray: It’s the conclusion to the second major arc of Josh Williamson’s Flash run, and surprisingly, what started out as an arc with distinct horror overtones has become a story that is far more optimistic than what we’ve seen out of DC in a while. It’s essentially a story of overcoming one’s demons – figurative and literal – through the power of trust and cooperation. When we last left off, Barry, Wally, and the Shade had worked together to survive the Shadowlands, only to find out that Hope and Iris had been possessed by the Shadowlands and were under the control of the shadows. This issue, Iris seems to be fighting back, but Hope is fully under the thrall of the shadows, and the residents of the Shadowlands are quickly starting to overwhelm the speedsters.

The opening of the issue shows that Wally’s hit a roadblock in his training with his hesitance to learn how to shift through solid objects, and that plays a big role in the two Flashes managing to defeat the horde of shadows coming after them. Where the story drags a tiny bit for me is in the relentless positivity at points, with every hero being almost overly eager to sacrifice for the others. However, the vibe is definitely better than the alternative. The hints for Rebirth’s fallout continue to be dropped, with Shade – a character who seems to exist partially outside of normal continuity and to be tied into bigger forces – dropping a major bomb about what he knows about Flash and setting Flash on a course that readers had been encouraging him to follow for some time. In two arcs, this has quickly established itself as one of the most improved books in DC’s stable.

Corrina: Hey, I like relentless positivity. So few comics these days seem to focus on the hopefulness of superheroes. Williamson, however, seems to get the “hero” part of superhero as well as the “super” part. (Which is interesting because his new Vertigo series is deeply pessimistic about people so far. A writer of many talents, apparently.) I’ve been concerned all along that the appearance of the Shade would somehow negate what has gone before in the Shade’s life, both from the classic Starman series by James Robinson and Robinson’s solo Shade series, which are high on my list of favorite comics of all time.

But, no, this story is interested in fighting off those demons, not giving into them. That means Hope isn’t dead and all five of our heroes triumph in the end. Hope is quick to forgive her lover’s lapse, perhaps, but, hey, she did know what she was getting into with the Shade, so I’ll let that go. The Shade has also been one to toss off advice to heroes, some of it cynical, but most of it good, and he does that at the end, as Ray says, telling Barry that it’s time to stop futzing around with his attraction to Iris. Excellent. I’d rather read a story of the slow growth in the relationship between them than the merry-go-round they’ve been on lately. Of course, I fully expect Barry’s vanished Speedster girlfriend to show up just as things are becoming serious with him and Iris.

Supergirl #4 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Brian Ching, Artist; Michael Atiyeh, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina; More Optimism and Maturity From Our Heroes

Ray: Orlando quickly set up that he has one of the best takes on Supergirl in the modern era, establishing a full supporting cast with interesting subplots and a status quo that fuses the best of the TV show with something new. That being said, I think it may have been a bit of a mistake to go right for the big threat of Zor-El/Cyborg Superman in the first arc, without giving the status quo time to breathe. Ben Rubel and Cat Grant are basically limited to a few scenes at the beginning, Kara’s high school is off-page for most of the arc, and Eliza and Jeremiah are split up on different planets. While Jeremiah is busy helping to fight off an army of cyborg-ized Argoans, Eliza is on the resurrected Argo City with Kara.

Still, there’s a lot to like in this comic. The dialogue is well-written and there’s a good emotional core to just about everything. Kara spends most of the issue trapped in an elaborate prison set up by the Cyborg Superman, as the resurrected Alura slowly drains Eliza’s life-force. Kara’s refusal to give up on either of her mothers and to trust that Alura’s humanity and love for Kara will win out is very well-done and emphasizes Kara’s essential humanity (despite not being technically human.) Maybe a bit too much of the issue is devoted to armies of flying robot attackers on Earth, but even if this isn’t the strongest issue of the series, it’s still another piece in a great new take on the Girl of Steel.

Cover to Supergirl #4, copyright DC Comics
Cover to Supergirl #4, copyright DC Comics

Corrina: I like that the first arc is about Supergirl realizing she has to move forward and that’s what her rejection of Cyborg Zor-El is all about. This is a Kara who’s grieving and still somewhat lost but she’s mature enough to realize what’s being offered is a facsimile of what she used to have. Another person might be tempted to change sides–another writer might have written Kara as someone who is tempted. But Orlando’s heroes are nothing if not confident in who they are and Kara never wavers from her belief that what the cyborg has done is wrong and a desecration of her memories. That Kara calls on Allura to realize that shows what a great take this is on Supergirl.

I’m looking forward to more of Kara being awkward on Earth once this arc is done, as I suspect this story came first to firmly establish her as moving forward rather than backward.

Superman: Action Comics #969 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Patrick Zircher, Artist; Arif Prianto, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Not One Of The Better Issues

Ray: Dan Jurgens on Superman is always a good thing, and Patrick Zircher is one of the most underrated artists in the business. While he’s great with superhero comics, his strength may be greatest when it comes to fantasy characters and settings, so the world of L’Call and Zade is very well-suited to him. Unfortunately, while all the pieces are in place here, this winds up being the weakest issue of the run so far, and that falls on the fact that Superman and Luthor are essentially relegated to bit players in the issue. The story starts with Superman looking for Lex Luthor, determined to rescue him from being executed for crimes he hasn’t committed yet, while the mystery Clark Kent argues that maybe he should be left to die. This kind of flies in the face of “Clark Kent had the same moral upbringing as Superman”, which was set up a few issues ago.

While Luthor protests his innocence to his ruthless alien captors, the majority of the issue turns out to be a flashback to what sent L’Call and Zade to Earth to capture Luthor in the first place. This segment is where the story goes off the rails, as the characters (along with Ch’arr, a prophetess and leader who L’Call and Zade answer to) come off as very flat. Zade is still a one-note brute, while Ch’arr is mysterious and suspicious. L’Call’s tragic backstory is laid on very thick. We’re clearly supposed to sympathize with him, but even with his backstory he still comes off as rather flat. It reminds me of one of the weak points of Jurgens’ Superman work, which was spending way too much time on minor characters whole neglecting the ones we’re here to see. Superman and Luthor are still fine, and once the focus returns to them, the title will likely resume its past quality.

Corrina: Once again, I’m somewhat annoyed that a writer is telling his story a bit out of order. Finally, the two fantasy characters become more than the “extreme” bounty hunters that they first seemed. Had the story led with this information about them, I would have been more intrigued and more invested in whether they captured Luthor or not and the slug-fest last issue would have had more meaning. I realize the style nowadays is all flashbacks and flashforwards but I yearn for more straightforward stories. There’s a reason they worked for so long.

Okay, now that that’s out of my system, I hope this issue is just a bridge to something more interesting in Luthor and this new Superman’s eventual growth. It’s not that I want to see a Lex Luthor who is an unabashed good guy but I would love to see a Lex trying to do the right thing for a change, a sort of ally. Lex has claimed to do that before but it’s always been with a hidden agenda. Seeing it done well might be a treat.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #10 – Robert Venditti, Writer; Ed Benes, Artist; Jason Wright, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: Love the Lanterns In a Bottle

Ray: Another jam-packed issue of this title, as Robert Venditti finally seems to have found his footing on the franchise and is pulling in every plot element at his disposal. Brainiac has captured both the GLC and the Sinestro Corps, leading the two polar opposite corps to unite to try to find their way out. This segment is probably the weakest of the issue, as it feels like we’ve seen it before, but it’s still well-written. Things get much more interesting when we head away from the main cast and to the far reaches of the universe, where Ganthet and Sayd have found the ring containing the essence of Hal Jordan. The key to getting his essence out of the ring? None other than Kyle Rayner, the master of the whole emotional spectrum.

While Kyle tries to sync up with the ring and get in touch with Hal’s essence, the segment inside the ring is just as fascinating. Hal finds himself in the company of not only Abin Sur, but some of the most famous fallen in the history of the GLC. This includes John’s late wife, Katma-Tui, and Tomar-Re, father of Tomar-Tu. This segment feels like it’s Venditti reassuring us that the long, proud legacy of the GLC is intact post-Rebirth, and everything that has ever happened to the characters still matters. Hal winds up back in the land of the living by the end of the issue, with Sinestro still up in the air, but there’s one more twist to go. We assumed it was Brainiac controlling the Collectors, but not so much. It’s another classic GL villain with a passion for collecting things. The font will give it away, and I, for one, can’t wait for the next issue.

Corrina: The problem with writing the Lantern corps is coming up with universe-spanning threats that require, well, everybody. The miniseries did that by focusing on the Corps quest to escape that collapsing universe, though that focus meandered too much. Then we had the entire Sinestro Corps as enemies. That required too much of a one-note Sinestro and didn’t do it for me.

But the Corps shrunk into a bottle? Oh, that has all kinds of potential, especially since everyone is needed to find a way out, giving each Corps member a chance to shine.

In the other plot, dead Corps members appear to Hal as he’s stuck in what seems to be Lantern Spritual Limbo. I liked seeing Katma-Tui but that reminded me of how badly the Lantern stories have tended to treat its women. But, still, Hal’s coming back to life is an effective use of the long history of the Lanterns and of Kyle, who never seems to get the spotlight anymore.

Wonder Woman #12 – Greg Rucka, Writer; Nicola Scott, Artist; Romulo Fajardo Jr., Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: 

Ray: After Wonder Woman: Year One took a huge level up with last issue and Diana’s introduction to Man’s World, this issue continues to slowly reveal the master plan of the series. Of course, the main attraction here is Scott, who draws some of the best Wonder Woman art I’ve ever seen. After an early introduction that covers what is known about the Sear terrorist group and their attack on the mall last issue, we turn to a brilliant double-paged spread that shows Steve Trevor’s “training session” with Diana, as he tries to research the full extent of her powers. This includes her ability to talk to a lizard in one tiny corner of the spread, which is my new favorite thing anywhere. There’s a charm to these scenes, and Rucka manages to pack some real emotion into the discussions of Diana’s past.

The issue gets much more serious once it turns its focus back to the Sear group. They function more like programmed drones than actual terrorists, only repeating the same mantra over and over again – until Diana puts the lasso to them. Then it becomes clear that they don’t just seem like drones – they essentially are, possessed by a techno-organic virus that turns them into killing machines. The segment where they unravel under the control of the lasso is extremely tense, and once it becomes clear who the actual villain of the arc is – a spoiler sadly given away by the cover of the issue – the issue heads to a breakneck conclusion. The return of this character as the big bad calls back to the George Perez run, and I’m looking forward to the plots of both arcs coming to a head and crossing into one another.

Diana and Kasia from issue #2 of the series.
Diana and Kasia from issue #2 of the series.

Corrina: 

“I mean, did you say goodbye to someone special?”

“I do not…special?”

“Someone…important.”

“Kasia. Her name is Kasia. She said she understood but…it was not… easy to say good-bye.”

And with those four panels in this issue, this creative team has established Wonder Woman as canonically queer. Rucka has said he viewed the Amazon as “queer” in an interview earlier this year but the comics have always hedged on whether Diana had relationships on Paradise Island before coming to Man’s World and beginning a relationship with Steve Trevor. Combined with Kasie and Diana’s interaction in the second issue of this series, it’s nearly impossible to read that conversation any other way than confirmation that Diana had an intimate affair with Kasia.

That seemed kinda important to mention.

Deathstroke #8 – Priest, Writer; Larry Hama, Breakdowns; Carlo Pagulayan, Penciller; Jason Paz, Sean Parsons, Inkers; Jeromy Cox, Hi-Fi, Colorists

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Twisty and Brilliant

Ray: This continues to be one of the most original comics DC has put out in the last few years. A twisty, endlessly intense story of crime, family, betrayal, and everything in between, Priest’s story is equally good at intimate moments as it is at earth-shattering action. And it doesn’t get more earth-shattering than this issue, where Priest somehow manages to take the concept of Deathstroke vs. Superman – an absurd situation on the face – and make it my favorite fight scene of the year. Deathstroke obviously can’t beat Superman, and to pretend he could be ridiculous – and Deathstroke knows this. That’s the key to this issue. He doesn’t have to beat Superman, he just needs to outsmart him, delay him, and confuse him long enough to accomplish his goal of killing a particularly vile crime lord on board the ship.

From the IKON suit, which allows him to take an insane amount of punishment, to fake Kryptonite bullets, to even something as subtle as messing with Superman’s super-hearing by broadcasting his voice around the ship, Deathstroke is consistently thinking several chess moves ahead of Superman as the two chase each other across the massive oil tanker. In the end, by the time Superman gets the upper hand by playing the one card Slade would never be able to bring himself to kill, it feels like Slade’s already won. The other characters in Slade’s cast are sort of on the back burner this issue as the A-plot is so dominant, but every one of their scenes is great as well. This series has been fantastic from the start, but this issue may be a level up for the series.

Corrina: This is sort of like the superhero version of The Sopranos, isn’t it? Every single person has an agenda and it would be hard to find someone who had a truly altruistic one, though Rose comes close (and she’s an assassin for hire too!). The joy of this series is keeping track of all the characters, their agendas, and how each of their plans cross and morph. How do you write a story where Deathstroke and Superman fight to a stalemate? Like this. Just like this, with Slade engaged in delaying tactics against a far more powerful opponent and using that opponents’ compassion against him. Slade will kill. Supermn won’t. But it’s still a hollow victory for Slade, as he has some inkling of what a manipulating bastard he’s become. As for Superman, this issue is good at pointing out why strength and idealism sometimes aren’t strong enough to win the day–and that there are problems even a Superman can’t solve.

Priest is doing such a terrific job with this complex and sometimes evil cast of characters that I have a longing to see him write Suicide Squad. Or have him write the main Batman comic because I want to see his take on those villains and Batman’s other supporting cast. Or, well, hey, I’d pretty much read anything Priest writes at this point.

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #5 – Julie Benson, Shawna Benson, Writers; Roge Antonio, Artist; Allen Passalaqua, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Lackluster Revival

Ray: This is a particularly strange issue, with a number of weird reveals that take the series in a very different direction. First up, this is the issue where the identity of the new Oracle is revealed, and it’s definitely not what I was expecting. The previous five issues set it up that this new Oracle is a criminal mastermind, who was in league with several of the most ruthless crimelords in Gotham City. This issue, though, pulls back the curtain and reveals that it’s actually an African-American teenager named Gus Yale. He’s a genius hacker himself, and he’s Oracle’s biggest fan – although we’re not quite sure whether he means this in a Misery way yet. He’s a former darknet hacker who helped Oracle out on a key case when he was a kid, and since then has been obsessed with the Birds. It’s not clear why he’s working as a villain yet, although the issue does reveal that he’s been funneling his criminal profits to charity.

Gus Yale could be a good character, I’m not sure, but the problem is, the reveal turns out to be a massive anti-climax. It reminds me of the JL cartoon scene where Luthor is in Flash’s body and decides to find out his secret identity, only to say “I have no idea who this is”. An original character being behind the mask after a big mystery is always a risk because there’s a necessary lack of impact. What does work in this issue is the examination of Oracle’s legacy. Although by necessity, Barbara Gordon was only Oracle for a year or two now, it seems she still had a massive impact on the DCU and the heroes around her. The end of the issue has another big reveal, tied to Huntress, that makes the main villain of the series so far more intriguing, but it has the potential to enter soap opera territory if not handled well.

Cover by DC Comics
Cover by DC Comics

Corrina: I’m underwhelmed, as I have been by most of the plot turns in this revival and that makes me sad because I’ve wanted to love this book. I, too, wanted to like Gus Yale but…he’s just….weird and annoying and stalkery, yet I think I’m supposed to like him. Contrast Gus to the new hacker/computer genius introduced in Tynion’s current run on Batman: Detective Comics and you can see how that character works and Gus doesn’t. Perhaps it’s because Gus’ intro has all the flaws evident in this book since the beginning: the plot elements that don’t always form a cohesive whole, odd banter between the main characters that somehow is supposed to show off their personalities but instead hits with a thud, and the overall shallowness of the  characters.

Perhaps Gus is meant to be a callout to one of Gail Simone’s creations, Misfit/Charlie, the lost teenager who could teleport in and out of the tower at will and was a serious Batgirl/Oracle fangirl. But Charlie had a superpower and the uber-enthusiasm of a teenager that could be charming. (Dark Vengeance!) Gus is just weird and threatening. “I’m an Oracle fanboy so I had to send villains after you to try and kill you to show you how good I was but I totes knew you’d be fine, and aren’t I awesome?” doesn’t work. At all. Nor does the entire series. ::sadface::

Red Hood and the Outlaws #5 – Scott Lobdell, Writer; Dexter Soy, Artist; Veronica Gandini, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Nope. Still Not Interested

Ray: Now that Jason’s Donnie Brasco ruse with Black Mask is over, this title has basically resumed the role of a full-on action book, with Jason being caught in the middle of a massive brawl including his teammate Artemis, the possessed Bizarro, and the always-creepy Black Mask. Black Mask is puppeting Bizarro, and as such has a Superman-strong soldier at his disposal against a non-powered vigilante and an Amazon. The issue is basically a never-ending series of power-ups as Artemis’ magic axe proceeds to add supernatural powers to Bizarro’s disposal and Black Mask and Bizarro share the bizarre techno-virus that started the whole series.

The odd thing about Lobdell’s lengthy run on Red Hood and his allies – he’s been writing them since the start of the New 52 – is that he actually has a pretty good grasp on his own continuity. Obscure characters like mutant villain-turned-heroic scientist Crux show up in flashbacks to help Jason turn the tide. Overall, though, the issue is sort of lacking compared to the rest of the first arc. Artemis is a rather one-note character, and the reveal of Black Mask’s face at the end of the issue doesn’t really make much sense. Where the issue is still strong is in Jason’s characterization, it’s starting to lose momentum.

Corrina: I guess if you like Jason, you might stick with this series. But there’s little else to offer. I’d hoped Artemis might be interesting here but she’s not, and her magic axe is simply a plot device. All this is to shift Black Mask into a bigger foe than he was before and this onto some sort of super-fight and…I guess I kinda feel sorry for Bizarro? But not enough to keep buying the book. (I’m reading it because…review copies.)

From New Super-Man #5--our new hero realizes in #6 that Starro is the least of his problems
From New Super-Man #5–our new hero realizes in #6 that Starro is the least of his problems

New Super-Man #6 – Gene Luen Yang, Writer; Viktor Bogdanovic, Penciller; Richard Friend, Inker; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Nice Wrap-Up To the First Arc

Ray: The end of the first arc brings some of the best action of the series. Human Firecracker, the villain – and Kenan’s evil uncle – has used his genetically engineered Starro drones to take over the people on board a plane carrying some of China’s best and brightest. And he’s also got control of the other two members of the Justice League of China. China, never a sentimental government, has deputized the Great Ten to shoot down the plane if they don’t get control back in time. Only Kenan and his father are standing in their way, and Kenan’s powers have been on the fritz since the last issue.

This leads to a tense, claustrophobic action segment as the confines of the plane become the site of a high-intensity battle to beat the clock and free the people before they’re shot out of the sky. The kid Kenan used to bully – whose father is a powerful businessman – is on board the plane as well, and seems to be developing into an intriguing supporting character. Kenan’s power issues are not a hundred percent resolved by the end of the issue, and he suffers a major loss by the end of the issue that is likely to define his character for the rest of the series – although the end of the issue seems to indicate that not everything is what it seems. Overall, by the end of this first arc, I am pretty sold on the lead character and his world.

Corrina: It’s a lot for a young Superman to deal with. His father was a vigilante, as was his mother, his new allies may be his enemies, and the supposed heroes of China are coming to blow him and all the people on the hijacked plane to smithereens. It’s time for Kenan to toss off all his attitude and accept his new role as hero, with all the earnestness of someone who wants to do the right thing and save lives. There are several moments that hit hard emotionally in this climax, several others that made me laugh, and the end of the story made me sigh, in the way that one does after a well-told tale. I wondered what kind of story Yang could produce for DC if he wasn’t handicapped by an editorially-dictated direction for his characters (as he was when writing the original Superman) and all my questions have been answers. I just hope by the time Yang moves onto his next project, Kenan will be an established member of the DC universe. Perhaps even a member of the Teen Titans?

Superwoman #5 – Phil Jiminez, Writer/Penciller; Matt Santorelli, Inker; Jeromy Cox, Tony Avina, Inkers

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Great Cast Stuck Inside a Stalled Plot

Ray: I still have some misgivings with this series as a whole, finding the lead character not very compelling being chief among them, but this tense and exciting issue is one of the best since the debut. Lana is still haunted by Lois’ ghost, not to mention her own depression and anxiety about her powers slowly killing her, but there’s no time to focus on it this issue, as Ultrawoman has taken control of every piece LexCorp technology and is using it to turn all of Metropolis into her prison. There’s some very cool cyberpunk designs in this issue, both in Lena Luthor’s increasingly inhuman physical form and the traps she sets up around Metropolis to capture people. With Lana hanging back at first due to her powers, it’s up to some unusual heroes to take charge.

Bibbo Bibbowski getting a bigger role here wasn’t something I expected, but I always liked him and his willingness to pick impossible fights because it’s what Superman would do. I didn’t know he had a daughter, though, which is an interesting wrinkle. Really, though, the issue belongs to Natasha Irons and Traci 13, as the young superhero couple risks life and limb to take on Ultrawoman’s army of power-draining Superwoman clones. Once Lana gets into the action at the end of the issue, it feels like the story drags a bit and we’re back to the mystery of these clones that was set up at the beginning of the arc, but a strong supporting cast and an intriguing master villain makes this issue a definite improvement.

Lena Luthor has lost her head, in more ways than one. image copyright DC Comics
Lena Luthor has lost her head, in more ways than one. image copyright DC Comics

Corrina: First off, ghost Lois is a lot of fun, bringing the snark when it’s needed. That’s a positive and a nice contrast to Lana’s angst. The cast of this series is terrific too, especially Natasha and Traci, as John Henry hasn’t been allowed to do that much except be stalwart and supportive.

But, as Ray points out, the mystery of these clones was set up at the beginning of this arc, we’re on issue #5, and we’re just getting around to sorting out what they are and how they came to be–and if one of them is, indeed, Lois, who’s appearing to Lana through the connection of the powers that they inherited when the previous Superman died. Sure, there has been some great fight scenes and Ultrawoman was revealed but I feel in as much in the dark about why as I ever did. I wonder if that’s intentional so this arc can sync with some of the other Superman titles. If so, that explains the lack of forward momentum. I do enjoy spending time with the characters, however. Perhaps once this is over and the status quo inevitably is reset (Lana and Lois with no powers?), then there can be a Superman Family book with the same creative team and the same cast of characters.

Additional Reviews:

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #4 – Brenden Fletcher, Writer; Jon Lam, Artist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Excellent!

Ray: Under different circumstances, this would be one of my favorite issues of the series, as it has fantastic guest art by Jon Lam and an intriguing, creepy story that sheds light on the backstory of the enigmatic Headmaster Hammer. The problem is, this issue is essentially an unannounced fill-in. Although the regular series writer (at least part of the team) is on the issue, last issue set up the major cliffhanger of Colton’s expulsion, and this issue takes place before the start of the current series. That’s not to say it’s not a good issue on its own, it’s just a frustrating switch for someone who was enjoying the current plotline a lot.

This story is set around the arrival of a mysterious carnival at the Academy. The students, especially Maps, are intrigued, but Headmaster Hammer is enraged and forbids the students to attend. Naturally, no one listens, even as the warning signs are large and loud. Olive becomes entangled with a mysterious boy who works at the carnival – and also appears in school pictures with Headmaster Hammer from decades ago. Once they set foot inside the carnival, the scares come fast and hard, and the story is a bit more in-your-face than GA stories usually are. The kids do battle with several giant monsters that are very much real, but it’s the character work, especially with Hammer in the final scenes that really sell the story.

Corrina: This series occupies a strange place in my reading. Usually, I’m hooked on continuing stories but with Gotham Academy, I like the one-and-done stories better. Such was the case with this issue. (Plus, I kinda forgot about Colton’s fate. Sorry Colton!) I loved the creepy circus, and the time-trapped boy, and the backstory of the enigmatic headmaster. We’ve seen the kids of Gotham Academy and the teachers and we’ve touched on some of the backstory of the Academy itself but I want more! The place is the Hogwarts of Gotham. S’more please.

This issue helped ease that hunger and that it was also an excellent story. So, yay for fill-in issues!

Earth 2: Society #19 – Dan Abnett, Writer; Vincent Ciufuentes, Artist; Bruno Redondo, Penciller; Juan Albarran, Inker; Rex Lokus, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Not Over. Okay, Then.

Ray: This series seems like it’s setting up a lot of very ambitious plotlines for a book that’s ending only two issues after this one. When we last left off, the strange limbo world the remaining heroes found themselves in had been transformed into an old-school pulp version of Metropolis. While Power Girl, Val-Zod, Fury, Hawkgirl, and Red Tornado try to get the lay of the land, Batman, Huntress, and Tommy Grayson are underground meeting with Commander Steel, the only native hero of the world.

It seems like a mysterious leader (who is wearing Luthor’s armor but is actually last arc’s villain, the Ultra-Humanite) rules the world with an iron fist and hunts down all Wonders with the help of Sandman. The issue has some good scenes, but the characters have been running around from one apocalypse to another for so long that it’s really hard to connect with anyone anymore. Commander Steel seems to vacillate between good guy and paranoid lunatic, and while the issue’s new setting has a nice aesthetic, the story still doesn’t do all that much for me.

The original Steel series, from 1978. copyright DC Comics
The original Steel series, from 1978. copyright DC Comics

Corrina: Every time I get this book to review, I think “wait, I thought this was the last one!” It’s not exactly a complaint, it’s just that this series keeps painting itself into a corner and resetting, so I can never quite get an emotional handle on the characters because it so often focuses on plot. It’s such a missed opportunity that we hardly ever see Huntress and Power Girl interacting since they moved back to Earth-2. Dammit. Yes, yes, it’s an intriguing set up with a “too clean” world and a resistance but does that mean yet another world reset? Argh. However, I did get the urge, between this issue and the use of Steel on DC: Legends of Tomorrow, to read the original issues of the original Steel series set just before World War II. So there’s that.

Scooby Apocalypse #8 – JM DeMatteis, Keith Giffen; Writers; Dale Eaglesham, Ron Wagner, Pencillers; Marc Deering, Jose Marzan Jr., Inkers; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 3/10

Corrina: Living Hospital Is Scary

Ray: Now that Wacky Raceland is blissfully concluded, this title has the “Bizarre ultraviolent reboot of a children’s cartoon” market all to itself. While it’s less gruesome and senseless than that title, it still has a lot of the same problems, which include a complete lack of humor and charm. This issue has the team taking the injured Fred to what they think is an abandoned hospital to set his leg, only to find that the place isn’t all that abandoned. There’s some demented doctor-monster experimented on unmutated humans, which leaves piles of viscera lying around the hospital. When they encounter this evil doctor, the book turns into a strange acid sequence as the hospital walls themselves start trying to eat the heroes. This is all strange and not fitting the property, of course, but I think my biggest issue remains just how repetitive this all feels. How many times are Daphne and Velma going to have the same argument?

Corrina: I had the same problem with The Walking Dead! They go somewhere, encounter people who are not nice or hiding something, fight, supernatural creatures or zombies show up, they fight some more, and off they go again. As supernatural apocalypse books go, this isn’t bad. As a Scooby book, um, well, the characters are drawn the same and they have the same names as the originals but that’s about it. Still, the hospital that consumes people is kinda cool and creepily drawn.

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #2 – Matthew K. Manning, Writer; Jon Sommariva, Penciller; Sean Parsons, Serge Lapointe, Inkers; Leonardo Ito, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Ray: The second issue of this animated tie-in crossover continues to deliver some fun action for fans of both series, but it’s sort of lacking the stakes and epic feel of the previous miniseries published by DC. The story begins with Harley Quinn waging a daring escape from Arkham Asylum with Joker (who is unimpressed by her lack of flair). They leave a clever message Joker-style before absconding through a portal into the TMNT universe. They quickly encounter Shredder and his minions, who have little tolerance for their irreverent crime style.

Meanwhile, Batman is investigating the strange disappearances and brings Robin and Batgirl into the hunt. Batgirl is oddly rookie-ish here – she was older than Dick and just as confident in her abilities in the original cartoon. The issue picks up a lot once Batman and the Turtles first encounter each other via hilarious portal misunderstanding, and while the issue spends a little too much time on “everyone fights”, it sort of makes sense given the various villains both sides have fought over the years. Michaelangelo’s interactions with Robin and insistence that he’s a pirate are by far the highlight. The reveal of next issue’s big villains – one from Batman, one from TMNT – is really a natural fit. This is setting up to be a fun ride the whole way through.

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

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