DC This Week – What Makes a Hero?

Comic Books Entertainment
Who's the real hero? Green Lanterns #12, image via DC Comics
Who’s the real hero? Green Lanterns #12, image via DC Comics

The nature of heroism is a running theme in this week’s comics, most notably in the new Green Lanterns series starring Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz. Both have reasons to doubt their fitness as Lanterns, and they battle someone who has no doubts whatsoever about whether he’s a hero. But our villain is doing it for the wrong reasons..

Then there’s Batman, engaging in a letter exchange with Catwoman over the last two issues of his series, where she talks about not being a hero, and Bruce responds with thoughts on his choice to don the cape and cowl. The man on the street gets into the action in Green Arrow, passing judgment on whether the archer is a menace or a hero.

In Midnighter and Apollo #3, Apollo plays a game with Neron, DC’s master of hell, in which the demon tries to convince Apollo that he’s not a hero at all.

On the lighter side, Nightwing explores a little bit of life as Dick Grayson as he moves to Bludhaven to start a new chapter of his life. That reminded Corrina and Ray of Nightwing’s first series and the original introduction of Bludhaven by creator Chuck Dixon. Cyborg takes the hero question even further, wondering whether he or his new cyborg love, Variant, are even human.

This, plus reviews of Justice League #10, Superman #12, Aquaman #12, Death of Hawkman #3, Shade: The Changing Girl #3, Flintstones #6, and Harley Quinn #9.  Let’s also not forget the fantastic ghost story happening in the prestige format Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #2 and Ray’s reviews of DC’s digital first titles, including DC Bombshells and Wonder Woman ’77 Meets the Bionic Woman #1 .

Warning: Spoilers for all of this week’s DC Comics below. 

DC Rebirth Reviews:

Batman #12 – Tom King, Writer; Mikel Janin, Artist; Hugo Petrus, Inker; June Chung, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Ambitious and Involving.

Ray: Tom King’s strange, winding second arc continues its unusual narrative style, intersplicing an action-packed issue with some strong emotional content. Last issue it was Selina writing to Bruce, trying to explain why she committed the crimes she did. This issue, though, it’s Bruce’s response – and it’s ten times as raw and packed with emotion. It almost feels a bit too ambitious at points, King essentially trying to psychoanalyze Bruce and bring his entire superhero career into the context of a broken child lashing out at the world. King’s handle on dialogue manages to sell it, though, and the issue goes to some dark places that I never thought it would. I never thought I would see Batman talk about suicidal ideation in a mainstream comic, but it all makes sense – someone doesn’t get to where Bruce Wayne is in his life right now without going to some horribly dark places.

So, what about the visuals? The action? As Bruce’s inner monologue carries the dialogue, Janin’s art has to carry the rest. And does it ever. The visuals in this issue are genuinely spectacular, as Bruce tears silently across Santa Prisca in double-page spreads. Batman kicking a thug across the room. Batman racing across a hallway littered with Bane’s goons. Batman ascending a giant tower to Bane’s inner sanctum. Batman diving into the surf and barely escaping a giant Great White Shark. Batman fighting his way through a massive army of goons in a claustrophobic room. By the time Batman faces Bane, the tension is palpable. The structure of the arc is odd, but it delivers a punch.

Batman #12 cover, image copyright DC Comics
Batman #12 cover, image copyright DC Comics

Corrina: It’s almost as if you have to read this comic twice, once as a prose epistolary narrative and once to absorb the visuals. Putting them together means reading the comic a third time and pondering the connections. That’s a lot of thought and structure to place in a comic and it requires a near-perfect synthesis of writer and creator. Which, of course, this is. To praise King’s structure is also to praise Janin’s art because if the story cannot be read without words at all, it won’t work.

Basically, I’m saying this is the work of two creative geniuses at the top of their game.

It answered my concern about the characterization of Selina, once again throwing doubt on the narrative that Selina painted of herself as a murderer, with Bruce having good reason to doubt her.  I’m still unsure of this premise–why endanger others to save one person–but perhaps we’re leading to Batman, in his own way, trying to save all the villains that he pulled from prison. (Of course, I think one is dead already, so there’s that against this reading.)

Superman #12 – Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Writers; Doug Mahnke, Penciller; Jaime Mendoza, Christian Alamy, Inkers; Wil Quintana, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: First, Swamp Thing. Now, Frankenstein’s Monster. Okay.

Ray: After the spectacular Super-Sons arc, this issue is a bit of a let-down, as it mainly seems to be an opportunity for Doug Mahnke to draw one of his favorite characters, the undead warrior Frankenstein – last seen in the Batman and Robin arc following Damian’s death. Mahnke originally drew Frankenstein in the Seven Soldiers miniseries that introduced the cult hero, and his skills haven’t dulled a bit here – there are some great action scenes. The problem is, the story is rather thin and lacking the character moments that made the previous arc so great. The issue actually starts off as a Lois Lane showpiece, as she shows up to discuss business with the editor of the local paper, the Hamilton Horn. No sooner do they start talking than Frankenstein breaks into the office, here to kill the editor for some reason. Frankenstein seems rather unhinged in his pursuit, being willing to kill Lois for interfering in his pursuit as well.

The issue is mainly a chase segment, with Lois using every trick at her disposal – including the Hellbat glove and a hoverbike stolen from Frankenstein – to elude the rampaging monster. Superman doesn’t appear until almost halfway through the issue (Jon is missing in action this issue entirely), and once he shows up to help Lois in her escape, the issue becomes a full-on punchfest. Superman and Frankenstein battling is always fun, but I liked the old farmer who is completely nonplussed by the monster – Tomasi and Gleason do great work with rural characters in this book, but the plot sort of drags until Frankenstein rips the face off the editor to reveal a monster underneath. I appreciate the continued use of these oddball characters, but coming off a number of exceptional issues, this lagged a bit.

Corrina: I like the focus on Lois but I’m confused as to how Lois can work at the local paper and at the Daily Planet without people connecting the two. In the modern world, it’s hard to pull off a dual identity, though Lois also having a secret identity, just like her husband, is an interesting concept.

I’m not familiar with Frankenstein, though I know he’s been part of the mystic group of DC heroes for a while. It seemed odd to me that he would just barge in, wreck mass destruction, and insist on killing someone. That rather seems the work of a villain rather than a hero. It would be different if the editor had been menacing Lois at that point but all seemed fine until Frankenstein’s entrance endangered everyone.

Nightwing #10. The most famous backside in comics. Image via DC Comics
Nightwing #10. The most famous backside in comics. Image via DC Comics

Nightwing #10 – Tim Seeley, Writer; Marcus To, Artist; Chris Sotomayor, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Nightwing Butt. Heh.

Ray: Everything old is new again, as Dick Grayson’s encounter with Superman in the last issue has set him off on a new chapter of his life – heading to the crime-riddled sister city of Gotham, Bludhaven. While the original Bludhaven was a dark, dank city straight out of a noir thriller, Marcus To has taken a new tack here. This Bludhaven is a garish, glitzy city trying to make a name for itself as a tourist destination while covering up no shortage of horrors underneath. On that note, To’s style is a bit surprising – this is a very bright, well-lighted issue, almost distractingly so at points. It’s not the kind of art style you expect in any sort of Bat-related book, although I have a feeling here it’s intentional.

When it comes to the plot, there are some things in this issue I really like. Dick’s new job as a volunteer at a local community center makes a lot of sense for his character, and the title wastes no time in setting up a new supporting cast for Dick. He’s haunted by guilt over Raptor’s actions and is seeking a fresh start here, but it soon becomes clear it’s going to be anything but smooth. Bludhaven’s police have a strict anti-costume policy (something we’ve seen a few too many times for my tastes) and make clear Nightwing is persona non grata in the city. Several different criminal conspiracies are teased, and we’re introduced to a new costumed figure, Defacer, who appears to have some ties to Dick’s past. I’m guessing all that’s going to be revealed next issue. There are a few rough spots, and it lacks the tension of the fantastic first arc so far, but I’m intrigued by the new Bludhaven.

Corrina: Chuck Dixon is a curious case. He’s the co-creator of several iconic DC characters, including Bane and Stephanie Brown, and was the definitive writer on Tim Drake’s Robin series. It was Dixon who first sent Dick Grayson off to Bludhaven to fight crime. So Dixon’s fingerprints are all over this current runs of Nightwing and Detective Comics. (And even Batman, since Bane is involved.) But Dixon’s politics have been controversial, to say the least (I once heard him say on his message board that changes to the military for gays to serve openly were disruptive in the same way that having to accommodate vegetarians would be), and he’s not worked for DC Comics in some time. He also said recently that he didn’t understand why George Perez wouldn’t feel welcome or safe in attending conventions that went red for Donald Trump.

So, we’re left with Dixon having created numerous concepts in DC’s Gothamverse that I unquestionably love, like Stephanie Brown, which are now being handled to a large degree by the LGBTQ writer, James Tynion IV.

But let’s focus on Bludhaven. Dixon’s original Nightwing series pulled Dick Grayson away from the brightness and more fantastical elements of comics in the Teen Titans universe. Seeley’s Bludhaven isn’t quite the same, especially with the casinos and the focus on tourism. That reminds me more of Atlantic City, New Jersey. But it’s an intriguing setup with Dick already finding a mystery in his volunteer work. It’s also a terrific idea that the tourism board sees Bludhaven having its own superhero as a marketing plus.

And let’s not forget the hilarious sequence where Dick tries to be mindful and in the moment and instead. To shines in that.

Green Arrow #12 – Benjamin Percy, Writer; Otto Schmidt, Artist

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: Dark Archer?

Ray: It’s the start of a new arc as Ollie returns to Seattle to reclaim his good name, and this continues to be one of the most improved titles in the DC stable. A big part of that is the spectacular stable of artists this book has on hand, and this issue brings back original series artist Otto Schmidt, who shifts nicely into a brighter, more energetic daytime style for this story. Ollie’s gone back to his roots as an urban crusader for the disenfranchised, and how much you like this issue will likely depend a bit on your politics (or at least your tolerance for vocal politics in comics). As we see in news flashbacks, Ollie’s now taken to doing things like terrorizing EpiPen gougers, beating up corrupt cops, and intimidating Trump-esque politicians. I do think the issue becomes a bit clumsy in the last two segments, using caricatures to show the enemy.

However, Green Arrow works best as a Robin Hood-esque figure, and this issue gives him his own Sherwood Forest, as he and his team of Dinah and Diggle set up a treehouse fortress in the woods outside of Seattle. The visuals of this setup are spectacular, and I’m glad the dialogue didn’t forget Emiko, even if she’s not physically present this issue. Things take a dark turn towards the end of the issue, as all the people – both the ones he’s rescued and the ones he targeted – that Green Arrow’s touched recently find themselves shot to death by arrows, one by one. A mysterious villain is targeting them, with the collaboration of Cyrus Broderick – and naturally, Green Arrow is going to be blamed for it. This has been the fastest-paced comic in the Rebirth line, and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down yet.

Corrina: Percy has been shown to be particularly brutal with his plot elements and that’s never more clear than in his sequence at the end when he kills the innocents that happen to have been touched by Green Arrow. Ouch. That’s almost too brutal and too obvious. Too brutal because it makes me think Ollie isn’t making a difference at all if everyone dies anyway. Too obvious because it provides little depth to the villains.

But I can forgive a great deal for the treehouse sequence and Schmidt’s art. I would like a little bit more from Dinah than being bad-ass and Ollie’s sounding board. Why is she doing this over settling back in Gotham? What’s her motivation for sticking with Ollie other than the obvious?

I also have reservations about the villain. But, then, I’ve been generally unhappy with the villains of this series.

Green Lanterns #12 – Sam Humphries, Writer; Eduardo Pansica, Penciller; Julio Ferreira, Inker; Blond, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Terrific

Ray: The battle for the Phantom Ring continues, as Frank Laminski continues to unravel under the power and Volthoom’s schemes develop. Meanwhile, Simon and Jessica are haunted by their own demons as they try to stop the ring’s power from raging out of control. Frank’s greed has turned him into an orange lantern, and his obsession with the rings is threatening everyone around him. Simon and Jessica try to disarm him, but he’s too powerful. Frank flees and heads to Coast City, the world’s hub of Green Lantern activity. A flashback shows the time Frank almost found love there, but his obsession with Green Lantern and power caused him to turn his back on the chance and recommit to his fixation. His powers raging out of control, wavering between fear, rage, and greed, he seeks out the help of Volthoom.

The first Lantern has his own plans, though, torturing their captured Guardian. He has no time for Frank’s insecurities and berates the false Lantern into going and confronting Simon and Jessica. Simon and Jessica are not getting along particularly well right now, as Jessica shows some compassion for Frank, but Simon sees him as a threat who needs to be taken down. What works really well here is the way both of these opinions are fully grounded in their personal anxieties related to their rings. Jessica fears how easily she could lose control, while Simon fears being tempted by the ring. They don’t have time to explore this, though, as Frank baits them into a battle and then targets them with their deepest fears courtesy of the yellow ring. Overall, another good, tense issue with an intriguing villain at its core.

Corrina: I continue to be impressed at the emotional continuity of this series. It’s far more than a “fight book” and instead it’s a book about the nature of heroism, which is basically to overcome one’s emotional obstacles in order to do the right thing. For the first time since his appearance, Frank worked for me because he’s so desperate to become a hero yet only because he sees the glory in it. He wants to be acclaimed, he wants to matter. (All this makes me believe he’d fit in well with the Secret Six who try to do the right thing but don’t always comprehend what that is.) Whereas Simon and Jessica both do the Lantern thing because they want to help. What holds them back is their own insecurity about whether they can be effective, not a need to show off or a craving for the spotlight.

At first, I thought I could happily read the series with just Jessica as lead but I’ve learned to appreciate the ying/yang of Simon and Jessica’s partnership and how hard it is for them to mesh as teammates. But, conversely, when they do work together, they complement each other well. Overall, a solid issue in an outstanding series.

Aquaman #12 – Dan Abnett, Writer; Philippe Briones, Artist; Gabe Eltaeb, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Invasion Plot Rolls Forward

Ray: It’s the first arc of “The Deluge”, and the war between Atlantis and the surface world that has been building since the first issue finally comes to a head. There isn’t two sides here, there’s three. There’s the enraged surface world, which was just attacked by Atlantean war machines and is looking for revenge. There’s NEMO, led by Black Manta and orchestrating the whole thing. And then there’s Atlantis, where Aquaman is desperately trying to keep things from escalating despite those in his inner circle that say Atlantis needs to hit back at the US’ retaliation. As Aquaman tries to keep the peace, the US cuts off all communications and sends war fleets to take the fight to Atlantis, although Atlantis’ defenses keep them at bay.

Although the issue is sort of reliant on a lot of tropes that I’m tired of – the US-Atlantis conflict, the JL not trusting Aquaman, Black Manta being behind everything – there’s one thing this story has going for it, and that’s the genuinely spectacular action that the creative team packs into this issue. While the art isn’t quite on the level of the art in the Throne of Atlantis crossover, the scale may be even bigger, and it’s near-impossible to dislike a comic where a giant mind-controlled Mosasaur leaps out of the sea and bites an airplane in half. The strength of this comic is that it totally embraces being a full-on, over-the-top comic book, and that covers up a lot of sins.

Corrina: I’m not sure it covers up the sins for me. I like big battle sequences as much as the next person but it seems odd that things could escalate to full-scale war so fast. I suppose in the DCU, a nation might have a larger standing army than in real life, where it would take some time to move troops to attack Atlantis. And even the Atlantean troops would take time to move into place. The ocean is a big place.

What I like is the desperation shown by the combatants as Aquaman tries to find a third way out of this mess but the choices are being increasingly taken out of his hands. What I want to know is what NEMO gets out of orchestrating the whole thing. The destruction of Atlantis? I guess that’s enough for Black Manta because he hates Aquaman but why is NEMO (a supposedly super-secret organization) agreeing to show its hand so openly? In other words, I’m looking for more motivation from our villains than being chaotic evil and reveling in watching things they hate get blown to shreds.

Seeing an airplane bitten in half is cool but it didn’t make those cheesy movies on Syfy good movies and it doesn’t make this a great comic, either.

Justice League #10 – Bryan Hitch, Writer; Neil Edwards, Penciller; Daniel Henriques, Inker; Adriano Lucas, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Good Concept, Awkward Setup

Ray: The Outbreak storyarc, which was essentially a trite series of disaster scenes and heroes being forced to fight other heroes, takes a very interesting turn for the first half of the issue and delivers some of the most interesting material of the series so far, before falling back into its usual patterns by the end. Mixed in with all the chaos from the previous issues, we kept cutting back to the suburban family that lost its mother in the Kindred storyline, and the mysterious project the father was working on. The JL tracks the source of the hack there, and confronts him, but the actual story is much more interesting. He did create the hack – but to skim money from corporations to help other people who lost their houses in the disaster. His genius daughter then expanded it and took it onto the internet – and his young son played with it, thinking it was a video game. The entire “attack” was a mostly innocent mistake.

However, it doesn’t stay that way, as the son’s interaction with the now-sentient software has called down all sorts of hell on the League. The “game”‘s next stage pits the JLA against all their deadliest enemies, and sure enough they start coming to the suburban neighborhood one by one. First it’s Double Down and Giganta, followed by an army of low-rent villains including old TT villains Mammoth and Shimmer. The JL has the horde of villains under control – until powerhouse Amazo shows up to join the fight. The action is dramatic enough, but the interesting character work goes by the wayside as soon as the villains appear.

Corrina: Great that the plot development that appeared to be a cliche–a husband seeking revenge on the JL for the death of his wife–is flipped on its head. Instead, it’s the coding in the hands of his young son that has gone rogue. Or, rather, much like Joshua in WarGames, the Genie program believes it’s playing a game. But unlike Joshua, who claimed fake attacks were real, Genie’s attacks are real.

The dynamics of the family in mourning feel real but, like much of this issue, seems rushed. For instance, the JL shows up and the dad immediately spills everything he knows about the hack and the code he created. Then his daughter confesses to creating Genie, then his son has apparently been playing “Genie.” Okay, then. This all comes out in a stilted conversation between the JL and the dad. Why didn’t Flash do a quick search of the home? Or why wasn’t Superman looking around for possible threats? Why did they all congregate in the kitchen when they believe they’re in the lair of a supervillain, albeit one with kids?

The answer is so the plot could be explained and we could get to the splash pages. I should be excited about the villain appearances but they seemed so out of left field and random that I shrugged. Save for Giganta. I though she was something of an anti-hero rather than a mercenary who takes death contracts. Also: still not buying a human code written by a teen girl can hack a GL ring. But maybe that’s just me.

Harley Quinn #9 – Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Writers; Brandon Peterson, Michael Kaluta, Artists; Alex Sinclair, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Trippy

Ray: This series seems like it’s really going to double down on the bizarre, in the strangest issue yet. There’s almost nothing resembling a serious plot this issue, just a bunch of bizarre anecdotes and dream sequences. The good news is that bizarre is what Harley does best, and her attempts at longer plots (zombies in Coney Island) can be hit and miss anyway. The issue opens with Harley getting caught up in a tornado and waking up in a Wizard of Oz pastiche. Her house lands and crushes Batman, Poison Ivy is Glinda, and for some reason Catwoman is wearing a Power Girl outfit. And Joker is the Wizard, natch. Harley wakes up and gets this dream analyzed by her shady carnival psychiatrist.

Then it’s back to Roller Derby, where Harley rejoins her team and finds out that she’s set up for a rematch against her scarred, deranged nemesis Bertha. Despite new rules that discourage murdering your opponent, Bertha wastes no time brutalizing Harley, going so far as to attempt to crush her skull before a mystery watcher shoots Bertha in the head, saving Harley’s life. The brain trauma Harley suffered leads to another dream sequence, this one a pure acid sequence as Harley goes from fighting in a war scene, to eating tentacles with Poison Ivy, to…turning into tentacles with Poison Ivy? Good luck figuring out what it all means, but damn if Michael Kaluta can’t draw some strange stuff. She wakes up, foils a robbery at a pizzeria, scams free pizza in the process, and comes home to find Joker at her place. Could do without the last part, but if you like your Harley as strange as possible, you’ll be a fan of this issue.

Corrina: I could definitely do without the Joker, especially since we had that terrific confrontation in the series before Rebirth in which Harley asserted her independence. I suppose it’s inevitable that the Joker show up from time to time but I don’t have to like it.

I did like this issue because, as full of fantasy elements as it was, it contained the dark humor that I’ve come to expect and love from this series and it allows the artists to show off. What I’d love more in this series is a focus on some of the secondary characters. They usually form a Greek chorus around Harley but it might be fun to see an issue narrated by one of them, like Tony or Egghead, and see how Harley is viewed by the community she’s kinda created. But first, Joker, I suppose.

Cyborg #6 – John Semper Jr., Writer; Will Conrad, Artist; Ivan Nunes, Colorist

Ray – 5/10

Corrina: Wow, That Was Compressed Storytelling

Ray: Last issue shook up the Cyborg book by introducing a second person with the same cybernetics that Victor Stone has – a female soldier who was critically injured while investigating shady business in Iraq. The government desperately needs the information stuck inside her head, so they convinced STAR Labs – and the fake Silas Stone in particular – to repair her body with the same Apokaliptan technology that created Cyborg. Once she wakes up, it’s up to Cyborg to orient her into her new life. I was a little put off by how quickly he tells her “you’re not really you anymore, you might not even be human”. The dialing up of Cyborg’s angst to 11 over his body isn’t a very appealing book.

Once they start training together, however, Scarlett Taylor quickly acclimates to her new body, and she and Vic start bonding. Like, really bonding. In less than one issue they’re friends, then they’re on a date, and then they’re having sex with no discussion of how sex works for cyborg people. Sarah Charles seems a bit suspicious of Scarlett, but nothing comes of it, and the real Silas Stone is still sealed up in a dingy warehouse being tormented by her doppelganger. After Scarlett gets her memory back and remembers what she saw in Iraq, she and Cyborg head there – only for things to turn very predictable as she turns out to be in league with the villain and betrays Cyborg. The issue as a whole feels very rushed, and as such none of the events have any real impact.

Corrina: I know people in comics complain about decompression, where stories are so drawn out that each issue only contains a small piece. But this issue was the opposite, compressing what should be two or three issues of story into one, so much so that Vic should have emotional whiplash. Vic is bitter this issue and apparently still stuck on not being human but that’s forgivable, I suppose, because for the first time,  he’s seeing the transformation from the outside. (He’s not a very good therapist for her, though.) The bonding happens too fast and so does Scarlett’s recovery. Vic just went crazy himself at the facility. Why would they let a whole new Cyborg wander on the outside without objecting? Why would Vic have sex with her after one night? That seems a missed opportunity there, as they seemed to go for a basic “we’ve slept together,” but since we have cyborgs, why not see their version of intimacy, which has to contain some sort of bonding that’s not human? It’s shown in one panel but that’s not enough.

And for a government that’s so paranoid about everyone or everything, sending Scarlett back to where she was without any back-up or knowing anything about her new powers seems short-sighted. Is she really a double-agent? I have no idea. She could be pretending right now. I find I’m not particularly invested in whether she is or isn’t just because this whole issue skimmed over any emotional fallout she might have from her transformation.

Additional Reviews:

Midnighter and Apollo #3 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Fernando Blanco, Artist; Romulo Fajardo Jr., Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Superb

Ray: To no one’s surprise, Steve Orlando’s bigger, bolder, and crazier revival of his cult favorite Midnighter series hasn’t stopped being excellent. Despite Apollo dying in the first issue, he’s very much still a presence in the series. While Apollo attempts to play Neron’s game in Hell, Midnighter is determined to break into hell and get him back. To do this, he’s recruited the help of Extrano, who points him towards several mystical artifacts that could help him survive. In some ways, this issue feels like an episode of Supernatural, only with better characters and more ultraviolence. Midnighter shaking down a particularly gruesome demon who is hiding in plain sight is one of the highlights of the issue.

I found Apollo’s twisted board game with Neron just as entertaining as the more action-packed segments, though, as Neron attempts to confront Apollo with the violent acts he’s committed and convince him that he truly belongs in Hell – which is the only way Neron can truly win over him. Given Apollo’s checkered history, this is an interesting and ambiguous segment, and I’m really glad Neron is back to being a manipulative sadist trickster demon instead of a Donald Trump parody. By the time Midnighter arrives in Hell, the story takes on the tone of a wild west showdown, only with some of the most creative demons I’ve seen in a comic in a while. Can’t wait to see just how intense this series gets as it enters act two, and I’m hoping against the odds that Orlando gets to continue it in future volumes.

Midnighter and Apollo #3 cover by DC Comics
Midnighter and Apollo #3 cover by DC Comics

Corrina: I hope this is selling because, like the Green Lanterns book, this is quality storytelling and yet no one seems to be talking about it. The visuals in hell by Blanco would be worthwhile all their own but they’re welded to a story that has a great deal to say about Apollo and the nature of corruption, and how long hope can last in what seems to be a hopeless situation. There’s a great parallel between Apollo’s failure to lose hope, even in his interactions with Neron, and Midnighter’s refusal to give up the hope of saving Apollo’s soul (and life.)

Because hell is a place of illusions, I believe that Midnighter will eventually get the weapons he needs to defeat Neron and rescue Apollo but this storyline has also set up Midnighter’s own partial destruction because his life is nothing to him if he can’t save Apollo. If I’m correct, then the focus of the series will shift to Apollo for a few issues, and I’m looking forward to that because we’ve not nearly seen enough of him in the past few years.

Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #2 – Sarah Vaughn, Writer; Lan Medina, Artist; Phil Hester, Breakdowns; Jose Villarrubia, Colorist

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Haunting Story

Ray: This oddball project slipped under the radar, partially because of its $5.99 price tag and its bimonthly schedule. That’s a shame because this is one of the most unique and compelling books DC has put out in a while. An old-school Gothic haunted house romance focusing on supernatural hero Deadman and a fascinating cast of original non-costumed characters, the mystery keeps getting deeper as this issue Deadman discovers that he’s not the only ghost in the old mansion. This issue does a great job of capturing Deadman’s loneliness and odd stasis between life and death, and his interaction with the other phantom inhabiting the mansion is great, although this new ghost’s backstory does feel a little bit stock at times.

Berenice, the female lead of this series, gets very little panel time in the first half of the issue, as it’s a spotlight for Deadman, but she takes the focus in the second half as her search for answers takes her out of the mansion and into the company of her friend Sam. Her complex relationship with her fiance and her friend makes up the dramatic heart of the second part of the book, and while the story doesn’t have much in the way of action, it does have tension and mood in spades. By the time the actual threat emerges in the end of the issue, you are more than ready and it packs a punch. Two months for the conclusion is way too long, but the series reads really, really well in these big chunks. I think it’ll read even better in trade.

Cover to Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #2
Cover to Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #2

Corrina: I almost wish this had been published in prestige trade format, rather than these three issues. Not a complaint but a compliment because I want to read the conclusion to this story right now. I’m not a horror fan–not big on serial killers, zombies, or beasties–but I love a great ghost story and this contains all the ingredients of one, including a mysterious murder in the past, a ghost who doesn’t quite remember her own existence, a haunted mansion, a person with supernatural abilities, and a complicated romantic relationship in the present. Add in Boston Brand’s own existential crisis about why he’s “alive” and this becomes something of an instant classic.

I cannot say enough about the artwork, from Boston’s facial expressions of sadness and despair to the ghost practically flowing over the pages, to the scene in the antique shop between Sam and Berenice, where they’re surrounded by the past and unsure of the present. This is definitely worth the price tag.

Death of Hawkman #3 – Mark Andreyko, Writer; Aaron Lopresti, Penciller; Livesay, Inker; Blond, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Entertaining Enough

Ray: For a comic about interstellar war, propaganda, and a man torn between two worlds, this is actually a fairly light comic. It’s at its best when it embraces that and commits to being a sci-fi version of Lethal Weapon, and at its worst when it becomes dark and political. The story continues to flash back and forth between timelines – first starting in the present, with Adam Strange and a wounded Hawkman on the run in the half-destroyed Rannian capital, and flashing back to how they got there as a series of terror attacks hit Rann and Hawkman and Adam wound up as fugitives. The latter segment is the funnier one, for sure, as Adam Strange walks in on a half-naked Hawkman and has to recruit him while interrupting his one-night stand. Their escape is great, classic action-comedy as well.

Unfortunately, the central plot is kind of lacking, and a big part of my problem is Alanna Strange. Her role as the ruthless defender of Rann who is willing to hunt down her husband if need be is kind of a cliche already, but the bigger problem is – it’s kind of out of character for this version of Alanna. Remember, this Alanna Strange wasn’t raised on Rann. She knew Adam and loved him before she ever knew Sardath was her father, and only found out she was Rannian a year ago. For her to be willing to turn on Adam that quickly for “Justice for Rann” doesn’t ring true. Still, at its core, the story has a great asset in the dynamic Adam and Katar have on the run. Given the title, though, I doubt that dynamic will be holding to the end…

Corrina: The difference in how the relationships between Adam and Hawkman and Adam and Alanna are handled points to the whiplash tone of the book. When it’s focused on the former, it’s entertaining and off-beat, and giving Hawkman’s one-night stand personality certainly helped. While Ray pointed to problems with Alanna as an issue, I’ll say it’s more that she’s stuck in the overall ridiculous plot of Rann out for revenge and the entire ruling council unable to listen to any reason at all. At the drop of a hat, she loses all trust in Adam and puts all her trust in the council? As Ray said, it doesn’t ring true, and it’s emblematic of the overall sloppy plotting of the tension between the two planets. Too bad, because I do like Adam’s sense of humor in this series.

Shade the Changing Girl #3 – Cecil Castellucci, Tini Howard, Writers; Marley Zarcone, Sanya Anwar, Artists; Kelly Fitzpatrick, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Still Weird But Not Moving Beyond That

Ray: All the Young Animal books are varying shades of odd, but I personally find them all pretty engaging. This is the one of the four where the oddness does feel like it’s starting to overwhelm the story a bit, though. The title has a great hook – an alien being hijacking the body of a formerly brain-dead teenage girl who was…well, not really liked by anyone due to being horrible. It also has some fantastic visuals courtesy of Marley Zarcone, a new artist whose style reminds me of a more surreal Mike Allred. The problem is, three issues in, the story is starting to slow down and it’s hard to see where it’s going beyond its admittedly interesting status quo.

The bulk of the issue follows Megan/Loma through her daily interactions with people, including her trying to fit in on the swim team, arguing with her parents, and attempting to connect with Megan’s old boyfriend. There’s a constant strain of Loma trying to find some sort of human connection, but there’s a sameness to most of the interactions, except the ones with a new friend who is the only one who doesn’t really hold any baggage about her. The connection to the strange visions Loma experiences isn’t always clear, but they are spectacular. The glimpses of the chaos her absence is causing on homeworld are sort of vague as well, but Zarcone draws some amazing creatures. There’s an odd, unconnected backup focusing on the Dial H for Hero dial, but I don’t think it has enough pages to really get its story across. Quality art from a new talent, though – I salute Young Animal for giving these indie creators a spotlight.

Corrina: I believe the overall story is to show the break-up (perhaps merge?) of the two personalities of Megan/Loma. We see in this issue that she already has trouble distinguishing who she is from who she was. I find that part compelling but other than the visual (and wonderfully well-drawn) weirdness, it’s not been more than that. As Ray said, there’s a sameness to the interactions that makes the story feel static rather than in motion.

Perhaps my problem is that neither girl draws me in. Loma seems to have been a bored one-note thrill seeker, whereas Megan was a mean girl and now she’s more of a blank slate. For all the worldbuilding, she’s oddly flat so far. I was more interested in the problems on her homeworld and her friend’s dilemma on whether to call for help or not.

The Flintstones #6 – Mark Russell, Writer; Steve Pugh, Artist; Chris Chuckry, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Flintones as Contemporary Political Commentary Continues

Ray: The Hanna-Barbera line continues to be the oddest thing at DC, because of how totally disconnected each book is from the others. You’ve got Supernatural-inspired action in Scooby Apocalypse, post-apocalyptic porn in Wacky Raceland, classic pulp adventure in Future Quest…and a dark, meta take on the nature of modern life in The Flintstones. Mark Russell of Prez definitely likes dark, pointed satire, but the odd thing is, it works for The Flintstones. Even if Fred is grappling with being a war criminal in this version. This issue seems to be taking on the topical issue of fake news, as Bedrock seems to be a happy, stable society – until a scientist that Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm are interning for discovers the world is about to end.

This goes public, and literally, everything goes to hell. All the elements of society that Bedrock has built up degrade overnight. Some people drop their morals and decency, others (Like Mr. Slate) are forced to take a hard look at who they are. Naturally, the world doesn’t end, and there’s some ongoing plots (the struggle for freedom of the animals used as everything from vacuums to bowling balls), but it’s overall a surprisingly deep look at propaganda, panic, and the tendency of people to react to mortality in vastly varying ways. In a Flintstones book.

Corrina: This is a comic more people should be reading because it will make them think. Yes, I’m talking about Flinstones. The political commentary works for the Flintstones because it was already a parody/satire/homage based on the Honeymooners television show, which was great comedy but also sometimes had things to say about the world and people’s places in that world. Ralph Kramden was a bus driver, after all, who aspired to more.

The political commentary makes Flintstone the most unpredictable of the new Hanna Barbara comics, from the focus on post-traumatic stress and war to the political upsides and downsides of marriage to the running religious joke about what God to worship. Here, our cast trusts in science, which lets them down, but the people also blame the gods for not helping them. We humans can be fickle creatures.

I’d still prefer new Prez issues to this book but there’s no question that Russell is taking some risks here on sensitive topics. This is a comic more people should be reading because it’ll make them think.

Injustice: Ground Zero #1 – Brian Buccellato, Christopher Sebela, Writers; Pop Mhan, Tom Derenick, Artists; Rex Lokus, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Ray: This bridge miniseries before the relaunch of Injustice under original writer Tom Taylor is notable for being the first series co-written by a graduate of the DC Writers’ Workshop, Chris Sebela. Sebela is an old indie hand, so it’s not a surprise that the series is written cleanly and he seems to have a good grasp on the main characters, especially the main spotlight character, Harley Quinn. That being said, the series still suffers from a good number of the problems that the book has suffered from for a while. For one thing, it’s essentially an elaborate prequel/tie-in that gives the writers little creative freedom. Second, the first half of the issue is essentially a recap of the series as a whole that boils down to “And then Superman beat up this increasingly powerful foe”.

The good news is, once Harley’s soliloquy is over and the plot starts moving forward, it gets pretty fun. Tasked with taking out the factory manufacturing the Regime’s super-pills and raiding its stash, Harley employs her new team of “Jokers”, and there’s a few funny gags about how she can’t get their names straight. More significantly, though, this issue seems to be a statement about how in a world where evil has won, Harley is taking a stand for something resembling good. I’m not sure how the rest of the mini will play out, but as a Harley story, it’s pretty solid.

Image via DC Comics
Image via DC Comics

Wonder Woman ’77 Meets the Bionic Woman #1 – Andy Mangels, Writer; Judit Tondora, Artist; Michael Bartolo, Stuart Chaifetz, Colorists

Ray – 7.5/10

DC is really into their inter-company crossovers lately, aren’t they? This tie-in with one of Dynamite’s nostalgia properties is one of the oddest yet, as I didn’t even know a Bionic Woman comic was still coming out. Still, I have to say, this issue comes together pretty well as an entertaining read for fans of both old TV shows. It plays it smart right at the start, as after a one-page recap of the two characters’ origins, they meet immediately in the middle of a chaotic building collapse. Many company events could learn from this sort of pace. Diana and Jaime have an instant rapport as two smart, butt-kicking women who aren’t looking for fights but are more than willing to finish them.

Once the disaster is resolved, it’s time for secret identity hijinx, as they meet again at a meeting of the Inter-Agency Defense Command, where Jaime (whose identity as the Bionic Woman is public) is there as a hero, while Diana is undercover as Diana Prince. Doesn’t fool Jaime for a second, though. From there, after an awkward meeting things quickly spiral out of control as the building is hit by terrorists and Diana darts off to become WW again. The issue ends in a flurry of action that pulls Steve Trevor into the fray, and I’m not sure how compelling the main plot will be based on what we know about the villains. Still, a solid start.

DC Comics Bombshells #20 – Marguerite Bennett, Writer; Marguerite Sauvage, Mirka Andolfo, Laura Braga, Artists; Wendy Broome, J. Nanjan, Colorists

Ray – 8.5/10

Ray: The reveal of Vixen last issue kicks Bombshells into a new, global gear as the search for ancient superweapons that Hitler has his eye on takes several of the heroes to her kingdom of Zambezi. With three different artists this time, the story begins with a flashback segment to the 1936 Olympics as Mari plays the role of Jesse Owens, defeating a famed (and crooked) German sprinter in front of Hitler before heading off on a secret mission with Hawkgirl that includes stealing Hitler’s dog. Sauvage is a master of action sequences, and this segment is the best of the issue.

The latter two segments are pretty compelling as well, as the resistance meets in Zambezi in 1941 amid tension between Batwoman and Renee Montoya. The second segment has a bit of an art problem, as Vixen is drawn unusually light-skinned. She looks more like a latina woman, and it actually confused me as to who this new character was briefly. It was probably a coloring mistake, as she looks much more like herself in the front and back segments. Then things kick into high gear in the final chapter as robot animals are found and a tense battle with Barbara Minerva – who holds a dark role in Kate and Renee’s past – emerges as the next big bad of the series. This series continues to surprise as its cast and scope grows.

Batman ’66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel #6 – Ian Edginton, Writer; Matthew Dow Smith, Artist; Wendy Broome, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Ray: The conclusion to the latest Batman ’66 crossover doesn’t bring all that much in the way of thrills, unless you’re a huge Avengers (not those Avengers!) fan. The idea of Batman and Robin against an army of killer robots sounds exciting, but the problem is that the Cybernauts come across as creaky and old-fashioned as they did in the TV series, so the fight scenes come off more like slo-mo ballets. There are some interesting reveals about the villain, Michaela Gough, and why she’s obsessed with Steed and Peel, but it feels like this series probably could have been wrapped up in four issues instead of six and it would have been better for it. I would have been more interested in seeing the meeting hinted at in the final scene because some amusing things could have happened there. It’s a decently-written comic, but a crossover with Batman ’66 requires a property as fast-paced and chaotic as the original series.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received these comics for review purposes. 

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