DC This Week – A Tale of Two Atoms

Ryan Choi and Ray Palmer return to DC Comics. image via DC Comics
Ryan Choi and Ray Palmer return to DC Comics. image via DC Comics

The Justice League and the Suicide Squad continue their clash in the third issue of their crossover, while Justice League #12 provides more background on this version of Maxwell Lord, the villain behind the crossover event. Meanwhile, DC also gives us glimpses of what’s to come for the Justice League, with the re-introduction of Ryan Choi as hThe Atom, and the beginning of the Fall and Rise of Captain Atom. (For those unfamiliar, he’s the Charlton character upon which Dr. Manhattan was based.)

But our picks for the week? Midnighter and Apollo fighting off demons in hell, Superman running into the cast of Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, and Batman and Catwoman enjoying a night of battling crime and sexy times on a roof.

And if it’s political commentary you want? Try The Flintstones. Yes, The Flintstones.

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

DC Premieres of the Week:

Justice League of America: The Atom #1 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Andy McDonald, Artist; John Rauch, Colorist

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Welcome Back, Ryan!

Ray: The first of Orlando’s one-shots leading up to his relaunch of Justice League of America gets the story off to a fantastic start, revitalizing not one but two Atoms. It’s a story without too much action, serving as a prequel to Ryan Choi’s segment in DCU Rebirth where he was given the Atom belt and told to search for Palmer in the Microverse. Where it starts, though, is with Ryan Choi on his first day of college at Ivy University. What I love about this version of Ryan is that he’s an awkward geek in every form of the word. This isn’t your standard Hollywood Nerd in that he’s a conventionally good-looking, physically fit guy who wears glasses. Ryan is asthmatic, awkward, and suffers from anxiety that makes him virtually unable to speak in public. He knows the answer to every question in Ray Palmer’s class but spends the first class mouthing them to himself. I can relate.

Ray, though, knows genius when he sees it, and he sets out to pull Ryan into his circle – not just mentoring him in academics, but eventually revealing his secret work as The Atom (I like that Ray refuses to call himself a superhero out of pride). The friendship between the two Atoms feels genuine, and it reminds me a bit of what it would be like if a non-arrogant Tony Stark really took Peter Parker under his wind. By the end of the issue, as we see the scene from Rebirth play out again, we’re much more invested in Ryan Choi and his quest, and Orlando has successfully reclaimed one of DC’s recent stabs at diversity from limbo and fridging and made him a character I can’t wait to see more of. I actually think I prefer this Ryan Choi to Gail Simone’s original, and I was a huge fan of that series. If this issue is any indication, the DCU will soon have a great JL title again.

Corrina: To me, this Ryan Choi is the original created by Gail Simone, only younger. That version of Ryan hero-worshipped Ray Palmer from afar and readers first met him not as a student but as a Professor at Ray’s old university. This Ryan has a chance to be taught by his hero, which is a delight to read. (And not possible with Simone’s version as Ray was out of the picture at that point.)

Younger Ryan is a true nerd, more like Steve Ditko’s version of Spider-Man than possibly any version since then–plus Ryan doesn’t undergo a physical transformation like Peter, he has to rely only on his intelligence and integrity. One element I adored: not giving Ryan a love interest to pine after from afar. We don’t need that and Ryan certainly doesn’t at this point. What I liked is seeing him grow up without ever losing his essential self. As Ray noted, there isn’t much action in this one-shot. No, it’s meant to introduce unfamiliar readers to Ryan and Ray and their student/mentor relationship. On that, it works magnificently.

The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom #1 – Cary Bates, Greg Weisman, Writers; Will Conrad, Artist; Ivan Nunes, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Good For New Readers

Ray: The Captain Atom series that launched with the New 52 and ran for twelve issues was one of the more interesting experiments to come out of that era. A complex musing on the nature of a truly Godlike superhero, it turned Captain Atom into this universe’s version of Doctor Manhattan. Obviously, though, the presence of Doctor Manhattan is something very different than it used to be, with the real Watchmen wandering around. That makes this revival of the character a bit of an odd fit. It picks up pretty neatly from the old series, with Captain Atom trying to rein his powers in with the help of his ally Dr. Megala and his rival General Eiling, but the problem is it boils down Captain Atom’s powers to something much less interesting than they used to be.

The story begins with Captain Atom imprisoned in a top-secret military base in the aftermath of a massive explosion of his powers that seems to have caused massive damage. As the military tries to figure out how to contain him, Captain Atom is convinced that his unusual existence is about to come to an end. Worth noting that most of this series seems to take place in 2012, including the flashback segment, which shows that Captain Atom’s been experiencing fluctuations of his powers for a few weeks now, and they’re becoming worse and worse as he attempts to save a cruise ship from capsizing. As they come out of control, he flees for the base, encountering the Justice League (who doesn’t trust him much) in the process. He doesn’t make it back in time and the consequences are massive. Back at the base, he detonates and is seemingly killed – only to wake up, seemingly human, in the middle of a city. I feel like I’ve read a lot of stories like this before, and while this one didn’t have much wrong with it, it didn’t add any new insights to Captain Atom either.

page from Fall and Rise of Captain Atom, image via DC Comics
page from Fall and Rise of Captain Atom, image via DC Comics

Corrina: My first introduction to Captain Atom was an old Charlton reprint I found at a toy store as a kid. (There was also a Ted Kord Blue Beetle fighting the Mad Men comic.) That story was also an origin recap, with the tale showing how Nathaniel Adam had been caught in a nuclear blast and sent into the future where he was radioactive. (Very like Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen.) In that comic, Atom received a new costume of sprayed-on leaded stuff that contained his radiation. To me, it was sort of like Captain America (time lost) plus radiation.

Jump forward to this new comic–and it’s remarkably similar except because it’s a modern day comic, and that means a bigger body count and Atom’s radiation being much more dangerous. For new readers, this will be a decent introduction to the character, though it may remind them too much of Dr. Manhattan, though I’m not sure how to avoid that given Dr. Manhattan was based on Captain Atom. Older readers like me will be pleased to see a new story by Cary Bates, the co-creator (with Pat Broderick) of this version of Captain Atom.

DC Rebirth Reviews:

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #3 – Joshua Williamson, Writer; Jesus Merino, Penciller; Andy Owens, Inker; Alex Sinclair, Jeremiah Skipper, Colorists

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: If You Like Crossovers, It’s a Good One

Ray: After two fight-heavy issues, this issue is sort of the calm before the second storm. The Justice League was captured by Amanda Waller and the Squad courtesy of Killer Frost at the end of the last issue, and after a brief interlude where Katana and Rick Flag investigate the bloody aftermath of Max Lord’s slaughter at the secret prison, we see exactly what Waller is planning. She’s singled out Batman and her attempts to intimidate him don’t really work. He quickly gets free of his Hannibal Lecter getup and faces off with Waller, who reveals that she hasn’t placed bombs in the brains of the League – she needed to get them in the base so she could brief them on their mutual threat. The rest of the Squad isn’t so magnanimous, taunting the League in their cells – Boomerang is particularly obnoxious, which leads to him getting electrocuted. Superman, on the other hand, seems to be getting through to Killer Frost, who he shares a past connection with. Her redemption arc is pretty telegraphed, albeit well written.

Meanwhile, Max Lord and his team are continuing to carve a brutal path through the world, as they now arrive on a deserted island where they proceed to torture the secrets to a mysterious person or thing out of an old shaman. Their dialogue is deliberately vague this issue, because whatever big secret they’re after is clearly the big twist of this event and has yet to come. But their connection to this story is becoming a big clearer, as Waller gives the League and Squad the dossiers on the five members of this mysterious band. Doctor Polaris seems to be the biggest surprise here, especially since Josh Williamson writes both Flash and this event, so I’m guessing he’ll wind up being the new big bad. Rustam seems to be the weak link here, being neither a very significant DC villain or a particularly interesting character here. As for their connection? Waller made the mistake of making them the first Suicide Squad years ago. It’s Squad vs. Squad, and this event definitely has my attention.

Cover to Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #3

Corrina: Oh, Amanda Waller. Or, oh, DC. This version of the Suicide Squad keeps falling into the same problem that the movie version had (and Torchwood, for much of its life.) Namely, if the Suicide Squad didn’t exist at all, this crisis would never have happened. In other words, they’re basically causing more chaos than they solve. This is Waller creating teams that then escape and cause havoc, to say nothing of the moral issues surrounding using these unstable people. The original Suicide Squad had its issues but it was clearly doing some good in the work and watching how those actions affected the various team members was part of what made the book so interesting. (And it also hinted that Waller hoped being forced to be heroic would cause the villains to rethink a bit. Nothing obvious, just hinted at.)

But this Waller is all “I use villains, so what, no matter how dangerous it could be for everyone.” Having her be so one-note makes it hard for this battle to have any complexity beyond that, yes, the Justice League and the current Suicide Squad will have to fight the original Suicide Squad. I liked that Waller expected Batman to escape but the whole “I’ll capture to talk to you thing,” seems kind of childish, especially given Waller knows Batman will listen to her because he owes her a favor. Anyway, so, big battle coming. Ray and others will like that.

Justice League #12 – Tim Seeley, Writer; Christian Duce, Artist; Mat Lopes, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: The Secret Origin of Maxwell Lord

Ray: The regular JL creative team takes a break this issue as Tim Seeley and Christian Duce write a stand-alone series covering the long-brewing showdown between Max Lord and Amanda Waller. The issue kicks off with a botched mission between Checkmate and ARGUS that leaves ARGUS agents dead and Waller grabbing Lord to interrogate him. She proceeds to put the screws to him, knocking Lord off balance for a minute. She even manages to genuinely shake him by mentioning his parents, as a flashback reveals that Lord’s father was a disgraced billionaire who lost everything and killed himself, and Lord’s mother was hardened and trained Max to be crueler than his father. It’s almost enough to make you sympathize with him, if it wasn’t for everything else he does.

The issue works as both a character piece, and as a retrospective of Max Lord’s time behind the scenes in the New 52. Seems he’s been working his way up through Checkmate for years, and everyone above him and lateral to him seems to get into some sort of incident that removes them from power. Another flashback shows that he’s been scheming against superheroes and seeking to use their “threat” to increase his own power since the very beginning of the New 52. His escape from Waller’s custody is as brutal as you’d expect from him, and Seeley does a great job of setting up just how dangerous this man is, even without any physical powers. Fans of wacky jerk Max Lord from JLI may not be a fan of this, but it’s a great villain showpiece.

Corrina: It’s not that I’m a fan of wacky jerk Max Lord from twenty years ago so much as not a fan of this particular incarnation of Maxwell Lord as uber-villain, though I realize it’s been the portrayal of him for at least a decade now. I dislike it because it’s boring. He’s yet another guy who wants worldwide power because he knows best, like Lex Luthor, though his power now seems more based on his work as a spy rather than his personal fortune. But how many manipulative spymasters have we seen in stories? A lot. Unlike Amanda Waller, Lord isn’t unique. He’s a dime a dozen.

However, this story does its best to invest me in the character and his confrontation with Waller is especially interesting, given how she can throw off his telepathic control. I suspect that will become important in the big battle between the two versions of the Suicide Squad and the Justice League.

Batman #14 – Tom King, Writer; Mitch Gerads, Artist

Ray – 9/10

Ray: We get a break from the big, explosive action of the last arc as King takes a two-part story with his longtime collaborator Mitch Gerads to focus on the fraught relationship between Batman and Catwoman. In the aftermath of the last arc, Batman has talked to the government and gotten them to take the death penalty off the table, transferring Selina to Blackgate for a life sentence. However, before she agrees to go, Selina asks Batman to spend the night with her, to give her that. The dialogue between them starts to tip us off that there’s more to Selina’s supposed murder spree than meets the eye, which is what I was betting on – although I’m still skeptical that any jury would convict someone who killed the people who blew up an orphanage.

What follows is a fast-paced yet quiet night in Gotham, as Selina and Bruce each shadow the other through their nightly routine. Batman takes on an array of cut-rate villains, starting with Clock King and ending with Kite-Man as Selina picks at his neuroses and tries to get him to admit he enjoys it. Of course, as we know from Bruce’s letter to Selina, this is anything but fun for Bruce. Also, I like that Bruce has a villain called Werewolf, who’s a werewolf. Next, Selina takes Bruce on one of her heists, keeping the suspense up for why exactly she wants this cat statue and what she plans for Bruce to do with it once she’s locked away. The ending…another Bat/Cat sex scene? I know it’ll bring back flashbacks to the New 52 Catwoman series, but I felt this one was done far more tastefully. For people (myself included) who were worried about King’s take on Selina, this should assuage a lot of those doubts.

Panel from Batman #14, image copyright DC Comics

Corrina: I can’t tell from the story whether King views Bruce and Selina as destined to be a couple–as they’ve been in alternate realities and sometimes in this one–but he definitely understands what makes them work so well on the page together: they’re both different versions of the same personality: tough, reserved, emotionally distant. Selina’s coping method is to pretend she doesn’t care about the world, while Bruce goes in the opposite direction in caring too much.

That dichotomy makes this story interesting but, unlike so much of King’s work, it feels like a story I’ve read before. Ed Brubaker wrote a fine “date” night for Bruce and Selina during his Catwoman run, and Grant Morrison handled Bat-Cat well in his whole “Batman ’round the world” tales. So it’s a nice story but not ground-breaking, though taking on so many villains in one night seems a bit over-the-top. I don’t mind the sex, though it is an unfortunate echo of a horrible sex scene from the new 52 run, it just doesn’t feel as intimate as it should. The artwork and the playfulness between these characters are much better than in that new 52 story and yet, it feels too obvious. I prefer Brubaker’s more subtle take. So, good issue, not ground-breaking, and I suppose expecting everything King writes to be something I’ve never seen before is holding him to an impossible standard. 🙂

Superman #14 – Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Writers; Ivan Reis, Layouts; Joe Prado, Finishes; Marcelo Maiolo, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Not a Follow-Up I Was Expecting!

Ray: For anyone who was a fan of Grant Morrison’s Multiversity last year, this issue will make you very happy. For anyone else…it may be a bit too bizarre and overwhelming at times. It’s a very fast-paced comic, with more Supermen than you can shake a stick at. The issue opens with Red Son Superman crashing into the woods near Hamilton, Kansas, weak and bloodied, and being met by our Superman. After Superman figures out that this strange Superman isn’t an enemy, Red Son Superman briefs him on a mysterious threat known as the Gatherers, who are hunting Supermen – and their next target is Kenan Kong. They’re soon attacked by a creepy group of aliens that bear some resemblance in style to Brainiac drones crossed with Predators.

After a battle, they’re bailed out by the arrival of the Justice League Incarnate, including President Superman and a number of other heroes from Multiversity. After introductions, the team is deputized to defend Kenan against the Gatherers. It’s great to see Kenan get more attention and cross over into other books, although I’m a bit surprised he’s entering the orbit of Superman this fast before he even interacts with his alt-dimensional cousin Supergirl. The heroes get there too late to save Kenan, who is enveloped in some sort of inky black goo and taken to the base of the Gatherers for their master Prophecy. There, we see what happens to them – they’re drained of their powers, as happens to an unfortunate Captain Carrot. A chaotic start to a new arc, but I’m definitely intrigued here.

Corrina: I wonder: what does this all have to do with the previous Superman and the coming whole Rebirth story, which has been playing out in subplots all over the DCU in quiet ways the last few months? The answer is unclear and that’s a bummer because the kind of crossovers I do like usually involve multiple teams banding together across time and space, so I’m pre-disposed to like this. A lot.

Another plus is the inclusion of Kenan. Nice to see him in another Superman book and interacting with the prime Superman, for lack of a better word about him. The story does move at a faster pace than previous Superman stories. I hope that doesn’t mean it’ll be over too fast, either, because this is fun!

Nightwing #12 – Tim Seeley, Writer; Marcus To, Artist; Chris Sotomayor, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Love the Characterization.

Ray: The ideas at play in this arc are pretty interesting. I always like stories where the writer picks up on something that really would be a thing if they were real – certain superheroes would go straight, and they would remain incredibly easy marks if someone wanted to do a frame-up. The idea of this former supervillain support group is a great concept and I hope most of these characters stick around, especially Stallion and Defacer. However, the murder mystery surrounding them – while well-written – is sort of boilerplate, with jerkass victims and a police force that’s unwilling to look at any option beyond the obvious one. Nightwing battling to gain the trust of the former villains is the best part of this series, and I like the layers Seeley is putting into all the characters, including their group leader.

The weakest part of this arc is probably the actual villain, Orca. A former member of the group who went back to her bad old ways, I remember her first introduction and she’s always been a mix of a few different characters. A disabled genius scientist who experimented on themselves? Man-Bat. A semi-aquatic bruiser who gets a lot of mileage out of pretending to be a man-eater? Killer Croc. Once she enters the picture, it becomes a standard fight comic, although we do get a little bit of a clue as to the mastermind’s MO at the end of the issue. Where this title is strongest is in showing Dick’s new life in Bludhaven, and the way he makes a difference both in and out of costume. I’m not sure he’s sticking around Bludhaven, but if he does, there’s a lot of potential here.

Corrina: The Orca character is ridiculous, yes. However, she’s one of those transformed villains that isn’t meant to be sexy and I have a soft spot for female villains who are monstrous and not the least bit physically attractive. Can you think of another “woman transformed into a monster” who isn’t sexy? I was just complaining about this concerning the Bride of Frankenstein in last week’s Superman story.

But, the story. Ray’s right, the strength is Dick’s determination to help the reformed villains, even when they don’t trust him, and even when the system is working against all of them. It would help if the villains behind this plot were as well-drawn as our reformed villains, but so long as the story focuses on Dick and those he wants to help, it works well.

Green Arrow #14 – Ben Percy, Writer; Eleonora Carlini, Carlos Rodriguez, Guz Vasquez, Artists; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: That Was Rather Abrupt

Ray: I’m not really sure what happened with this issue. For the first thirteen issues, Green Arrow was distinguished by a trio of phenomenal artists that covered every issue – Otto Schmidt, Juan Ferreyra, and Stephen Byrne. Then this issue out of nowhere, we have not one fill-in artist but three on the same issue, making the issue feel sort of slapped together. None of the artists are bad, but they’re very noticeably not on the level of the three regulars. It doesn’t help that this is one of the weaker issues story-wise as well. A mysterious killer is using Green Arrow’s MO to target people who GA has been in common with, and now GA is trapped in a stadium surrounded by thousands of angry fans after being blamed for killing a popular football quarterback.

Black Canary randomly impersonates a police officer to get close to the scene, despite being really, really bad at undercover work. The police chief seems like he’s designed to be a surrogate for Quentin Lance in looks and manner. Meanwhile, the real killer is spotted and Ollie gives chase while trying to avoid being torn apart by the angry fans. He eventually corners the villain atop a blimp, and the villain unmasks himself to reveal…Malcolm Merlyn, hastily retconned in as the Dark Archer. After a monologue about why he’s doing this, he tries to kill the police chief and Ollie nearly dies protecting him. Merlyn gets away, and the story continues. It feels like another bite at making this series more like Arrow, which…did not work well the last time. Just bring back Emiko and tell exciting GA stories. Arrow isn’t nearly hot enough to revamp anything right now.

Corrina: Huh. Every time I like a story in this run, Ray tends to think poorly of it. Yes, Merlyn is completely out of nowhere as the main villain, even though the dialogue tries to slip in an origin for him. Yes, while I liked Dinah doing actual detective work (it reminded me how she used to sneak into place in Birds of Prey missions), I know that having her encounter the commissioner who asks no questions about who she is and why she is in the records department is a serious plot hole.

What I did like is that the arc didn’t go down the “oh, everyone thinks Ollie is a murderer now,” for very long. Merlyn oh-so-conveniently revealed himself as the bad guy here, which makes little story sense but, hey, it spares a plot device I hate, so I’ll take it. Again, Percy’s writing also shows a tendency to the gruesome, with Merlyn’s attack on the football players. (Damn, after the assassination of the quarterback and the death/injury of these players, this team is going to have serious problems contending for a playoff spot….) So, basically, this story showcases what I’ve come to think of as the best and worst in Percy’s writing.

Green Lanterns #14 – Sam Humphries, Writer; Eduardo Pansica, Ronan Cliquet, Pencillers; Julio Ferreira, Ronan Cliquet, Inkers; Blond, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: They Have the Will

Ray: A satisfying conclusion to the Phantom Lantern storyline, as some interesting things are set up for the future. Albeit, I’m not sure I entirely like the way Frank Laminski’s storyarc wraps up, but overall this title continues to be consistently strong when it comes to its two lead characters. The issue opens with Simon and Jessica recovering from Laminski’s power ring detonation at the end of the last issue, only to see that he’s now under the control of the Indigo ring. It makes him rethink his actions, and he’s persuaded to pull the ring off his finger – just long enough to realize what he’s done and the Lanterns tackle him, imprisoning him. While he rants incoherently about them taking his power, Jessica puts the ring on to keep it out of his hands.

She’s initially worried that it’ll come out to fear being in control, but instead will takes control, breaking through the psychological barrier she’s had in place and allowing her to fully take control of her constructs. Simon is briefly tempted by the ring himself, but is able to resist it in time for a visit by Vath Sarn and Isamot Kol, who take custody of the phantom ring while yelling about being summoned by rookies. Rami, meanwhile, has seemingly triumphed over Volthoom and is ready to take charge of the Lanterns’ training again – except that Volthoom is actually puppeting Rami and has the real Rami trapped in a globe. I’m a little disappointed that despite him getting some seeming character growth, Laminski ended the arc without any self-awareness or redemption, but overall, this series continues to improve with every arc.

Corrina: Eh, Laminski’s story never interested me much, so having him not be redeemed works for me. I did love the idea that even Laminski would be affected by Indigo and strive to be a better person. Still, temporary revelations tend not to change people’s lives and once he’s back to normal, there come the rationalizations.

What I loved was Jessica’s sheer joy at realizing that, yes, her will is stronger than she ever thought possible. Of course, it is, she’s been dealing with a debilitating illness for years and yet somehow managed to push completely past it for long periods of time in order to help others, even when she feels utterly inadequate! I love the idea of Jessica as a warrior with will of iron even before she ever found the ring. It echoes the late Carrie Fisher’s words about the people dealing with mental illness as being warriors.

Aquaman #14 – Dan Abnett, Writer; Philippe Briones, Artist; Gabe Eltaeb, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: A Hot Mess

Ray: As The Deluge moves on, this story arc continues to be somewhat of a disappointment. Most of the interesting elements dealing with Atlantis that were set up early on in Abnett’s run have been mostly forced aside for a comic that’s pretty much a non-stop fight scene and seems to repeat scenes frequently. This issue the main threat is the Aquamarines, a team of mutated soldiers created by the military and NEMO to invade Atlantis and assassinate Aquaman. I’ll give the creative team credit for picking an interesting variety of beasts to hybridize them with, but, unfortunately, they mainly seem to just shoot and bite people. After an extended battle sequence – and I’m amused that this story has the second Orca mutant of the week – Aquaman addresses his people.

Atlantis, not surprisingly, is beating the drums for total war against the United States. Can’t really blame them, as since the start of this series the US has barely been containing their lust to see Atlantis wiped off the map. However, Aquaman isn’t ready to retaliate just yet, believing he can track down NEMO and stop the war. So he speaks to Atlantis and vows that if he can’t stop the war by finding the real culprit, he’ll step down as king. That certainly raises the stakes, and the best part of this issue is probably Mera’s part, as she continues to come to grips with her role in Aquaman’s rule of Atlantis. However, the end of the issue comes sort of abruptly, as Aquaman just bursts onto a NEMO sub looking for a fight. How did he find it? Who knows, but it’s time for another fight sequence.

Corrina: There’s so much going on in this story and it all seems utterly focused in the wrong place. Is it the pacing? Maybe. First, we have the U.S. secret government team, we also have the Atlantean terrorist group that we saw briefly, and Atlantis’ regular troops, plus NEMO, and Aquaman and the other members of the Atlantean government, not to mention Aquaman’s friend who knows NEMO’s secrets, and the prophecy surrounding Mera. It should form a fully coherent whole but so far, it hasn’t, with some things given too much attention—such Aquaman being hurt badly during a battle that’s quickly forgotten–and some things don’t get enough, like the Atlantean officers who seem so interesting but only get a few lines.

It all makes for a cluttered plot where the pacing jerks the reader one way and then another. It’s frustrating, to say the least, because some of these ideas are terrific.

Harley Quinn #11 – Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Writers; John Timms, Artist; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 4/10

Corrina: Joker Has Never Been a Favorite

Ray: Harley has been very hot and cold this entire run, and following last issue’s bizarre and hilarious Harley-saves-Christmas adventure, we’re back to maybe my least favorite parts of the entire Harley Quinn mythos – her bad taste in men. Harley’s in a perfectly functional, happy relationship with the girl of her dreams – why do I care about her interactions with either Joker or Red Tool? The issue picks up from two issues ago, with Joker showing up in Harley’s apartment. He attempts to intimidate her, pushing her into agreeing to meet with him the next day. He then meets Red Tool outside her apartment, and Harley’s two unstable suitors proceed to try to out-big-man the other.

From there, Harley and Red Tool have a bizarre adventure involving them exploring the tunnels discovered a few issues ago and fighting a gigantic carnivorous monster squid because that’s a thing that just randomly happens. Harley then goes to sleep, preparing for her meet-up with Joker – only for Red Tool to sabotage the alarm and meet Joker in her place, attempting to get the creepy clown to flee down. This isn’t going to end well for our Deadpool pastiche, I think. I’m most confused by who this Joker is – the character’s status quo is in a weird place, and it feels like his reappearance after his last Batman story should be a bigger plot.

Corrina: Yes, I have a thing about disliking the Joker. I feel he’s been overused and nothing about this story changed my mind. I liked Joker best when Harley was beating on him in her return to Arkham earlier in this series. Adding to this problem is that Red Tool has never been funny—Deadpool was already a tongue-in-cheek parody of superheroes, so we don’t need a DC version that’s a parody of a parody. However, I suspect Red Tool will quickly bite the dust in some manner at the Joker’s hands, so there’s that.

I also wonder if this Joker is the actual Joker or a pretender. If he’s a pretender, that makes sense. If he’s the actual Joker, I can’t get a handle on this version.

Cyborg #8 – John Semper Jr., Paul Pelletier, Will Conrad, Pencillers; Tony Kordos, Will Conrad, Inkers; Guy Major, Ivan Nunes, Colorists

Ray – 5/10

Corrina: Liked the New Guy

Ray: As Cyborg shifts to a monthly schedule in the new year, the strangely fast-paced, almost fast-forward writing style of this book starts to really catch up to it. Last issue ended with Cyborg finding out that his father wasn’t actually his father, and being ambushed and taken out of commission. This issue opens with a new character, a tech thief named “Exxy” who is introduced by being threatened by the corrupt police officers we met early on in the series. Cyborg shows up to scare them off, and proceeds to blackmail Exxy into helping him break into STAR Labs.

What’s Cyborg doing here? That becomes clear later in the issue, after they sneak in, escape random robot piranhas in the vent, and find their way to Cyborg’s unconscious body. Turns out the Cyborg this issue was actually a hologram all along, hence needing someone with a physical body to give him an assist in breaking in. A slightly clever twist, but Exxy spends most of the time this issue complaining and panicking, and Cyborg’s ill-fated escape attempt leads to a reveal that reveals…nothing, unmasking the fake Silas Stone as a villain who has never appeared before, as far as I can tell. This comic sets up a lot, but the follow through just isn’t there.

Corrina: Oddly, I found it a relief to be in the head of a new character, providing a new perspective on how Cyborg is seen from the outside. That the first thing Cyborg does, save Exxy from police officers who are going to beat him up, has serious topical resonance, especially with Cyborg able to confront the cops about their already poor records.

I thought Exxy’s responses to being ordered to break into Star Labs by a stranger, even if he is a member of the Justice League, appropriate, and the clever twist revealed as he “found” Cyborg worked as well. It’s the revelation of the overall villain that falls flat.

Midnighter and Apollo #4 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Fernando Blanco, Artist; Romulo Farjado Jr., Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: The Walk Into Hell

Ray: As this fantastic miniseries continues to its conclusion, Steve Orlando unfolds a compelling and disturbing vision of DC’s afterlife and reinvents one of its classic 90s villains – the trickster demon Neron – into a truly compelling adversary for DC’s most violent husbands. While Apollo is trapped in hell, with Neron trying to break him and admit that he belongs there so Neron can claim his soul, Midnighter has armed himself and fought his way into the underworld, ready to kill every demon in sight. First up, Mawzir, the multi-armed gunslinger demon that killed Apollo. After some trash-talking, the two get into a particularly brutal fight. Mawzir has multiple guns. Midnighter has none, but one magic demon-killing bullet. Mawzir doesn’t stand a chance.

After a brief interlude where Midnighter is tempted by a group of undead guardians who Mawzir worked for, now attempting to recruit Midnighter to take his place. Meanwhile, Apollo has tried a desperate gambit to free himself from Neron’s clutches, luring Neron into a game of riddles. It doesn’t go well for him, as engaging in a game of trickery with a professional liar, but that just sets things in place for Midnighter to show up and find Neron waiting for him. Next issue is billed as the only fight that matters, and I’m not exactly sure how an unarmed Midnighter is going to beat a lord of Hell, but I can’t wait to read it.

cover copyright DC Comics

Corrina: Sometimes I read a comic and have no idea what to say about it except “this is good, you should read it.” That’s the case with this issue because, well, it’s so full of ideas and concepts and emotion that it’s hard to describe. There is Apollo’s desperation to keep his optimism and prove himself a hero, there’s Midnighter’s heedless and reckless quest to save Apollo, there are the demons in this hell, who think they’ve seen everything but obviously haven’t, and there is the metaphorical chess game with Neron.

But what this series has done so far is make Apollo distinct and so much more than the Superman-inspired character that he’s often dismissed as.

Death of Hawkman #4 – Mark Andreyko, Writer; Aaron Lopresti, Rodney Buchemi, Pencillers; John Livesay, Norm Rapmund, Sean Parsons, Inkers; Blond, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Ray: Now that we know the actual source of all the chaos in this series, things are picking up. Despero has been a long-time major JLA villain, and it’s good to see him get a spotlight here. In the present day, Hawkman and Adam Strange have snuck on to Despero’s hiding place in Rann and found him leading an army of mind-controlled slaves to build a giant Zeta beam gate. They get an assist from Isamot Kol and Katar’s patrol partner as they attempt to take the fight to Despero We then flash back to Adam and Hawkman on the run, as Rann and Thanagar continue to ramp up to war. While Alanna goes on TV to try to rile up the population, the Thanagarian police force is told to bring in Katar dead or alive.

The march to war escalates as Despero’s minions arrive on the Thanagarian mining company where they’ve found a new stash of Nth metal. Meanwhile, Adam and Katar are on Despero’s home planet and find a trail of bodies leading to one dying alien who insists that all Despero wants is to see the universe burn. One interesting reveal is that Sardath – seemingly killed in the explosion – is actually one of Despero’s mind-controlled slaves, making Alanna’s mad quest even more pointless. The ending, revealing that Despero is tapping the Nth metal to transform himself into some sort of alpha form, doesn’t hold all that much interest for me, but I’m sure we’re heading to a big, explosive finish where the title comes into play.

Corrina: I wonder how many people will recognize Despero, however? The story seems to depend on the reader knowing who the villain is and provides little background in the story for his presence. I know who Despero is, of course, and Ray does, but do newer readers? Of course, perhaps no new readers are picking up a miniseries that stars the somewhat obscure Adam Strange. For the most part, I like the story but the time/space jumping still confuses me and makes me stop to check which planet I’m on and when. Distracting, especially since there’s no reason not to tell this story in a linear fashion.

Alanna’s mad quest is also a sour note, though I’m going with maybe Despero somehow influencing her? I do like Isamot Kol and Katar’s patrol partner. This story has a lot of potential but, so far, it’s a bit muddled.

Shade the Changing Girl #4 – Cecil Castelucci, Writer; Marley Zarcone, Artist; Ande Parks; Kelly Fitzpatrick, Colorist; Backup by Magdalene Visaggio and Paulina Ganucheau

Ray – 7.5/10

Ray: The most bizarre and surreal of the Young Animal line continues to go down the rabbit hole as Megan/Loma Shade attempts to figure out life on Earth. Naturally, an alien girl in the body of a human queen bee isn’t going to go smoothly, and her explosion last issue results in her being on the outs with most of her former friends and grounded by her parents. Of course, Loma is not anything resembling normal and uses her time in solitude to muse on the nature of the universe and go into one of her trademark psychic trances. Flashbacks lead to a few more pieces of the puzzle regarding the accident that left Megan brain dead in the first place, and her fascination with past technology and earth culture leads her to the power of apologies.

Of course, being an alien, her version of apologies doesn’t really match up with anything, as it includes telling Megan’s parents that she might have been better off if they were her real parents. The segments in Megan’s world, especially with her weird-chasing new friend River, are compelling, but everything involving the other world Loma comes from is sort of just random for the sake of it. There’s a disturbing but beautifully drawn backup featuring the obscure DC character Element Girl that should help to make the artist a star.

Corrina: The core story, about a mean (almost sociopathic girl) who nearly destroyed lives, coming back from the dead and attempting to make sense of her life is a good one. But it’s also wrapped up with the fact that this girl, Megan, is really dead and it’s Loma attempting to make sense of her life, rather than Megan attempting to change her life. That basically lets Loma off the hook about who Megan used to be, which dilutes the redemption angle, making the apologies just kind of odd rather than poignant.

Maybe that’s true of the whole story–it’s odd rather than poignant. That’s not necessarily bad, as it seems to be a commentary on madness and reality and how much of it relies on our perceptions, but it makes this a story that leaves me cold. I don’t feel that the segments on Loma’s world are random–they seem to focus on bringing Loma’s past into it, as she seems to have been as unhappy as Megan–hence the worship of Rac Shade, the original Changing Man. The artwork adds to the surreal effect–I’ve never sure if I’m seeing Megan’s bedroom or Loma’s delusions–but its utter weirdness can be distracting. I will say that I’ve never read anything quite like this.

The Flintstones #7 – Mark Russell, Writer; Rick Leonardi, Penciller; Scott Hanna, Inker; Chris Chuckry, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Money Can’t Buy Off Guilt

Ray: This take on The Flintstones is seemingly determined to work in every element of Flintstones lore while also preserving the series’ MO as a home for biting social commentary. I’m not entirely sure it works quite as well in this issue as it does in others, but there’s still a lot to like here. This issue brings in noted shark-jumper The Great Gazoo, here an intergalactic bureaucrat determined to keep the evolution of planet Earth on track, which usually involves scaring off shady aliens, but also requires him to keep tabs on the evolution of humans.

There are two main plots this series. One, and by far the better of the two, involves Fred dealing with a disaster at his workplace when a cocky young recruit at the quarry causes a cave-in that leaves the young man trapped – and Mr. Slate wanting Fred to call off the rescue efforts so they can get back to work. Meanwhile, at Bedrock’s religious center, the cleric accidentally begins the practice of indulgences, leading everyone in Bedrock to want to get rid of their sins with money. This feels a bit too much like an overt call-out to really work as satire, but the two plots converge in a strong way near the end. While Gazoo’s cynicism about humanity may be fairly well-justified, it’s also called into question with Fred’s selflessness at the end. Irregular, but still a very intriguing comic.

Corrina: I’ve seen commentary on other sites that this comic is a must read for that biting social commentary. Sometimes that commentary is too obvious for me, sometimes it’s insightful, but it’s what makes this comic interesting. This issue, it ties the obvious one, with how money corrupts religion, with a poignant story about how little humanity sometimes values life. In both cases, money is the corrupting influence, though with religion it becomes more wrapped up in sin, and then it ties them together with Mr. Slate wanting to pay off his guilt by donating to the religion. He’s more willing to do that than lose the money with time spent rescuing the unfortunate accident victim. That one hit close to the bone about how businesses operate in the modern world. Fred, at least, is our one hope for caring about each other.

DC Comics Bombshells #21 – Marguerite Bennett, Writer; Mirka Andolfo, Richard Ortiz, Laura Braga, Artists; J. Nanjan, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Things are getting pretty crazy over in Bombshells, as the rebel team of Batwoman, Question, Hawkgirl, and Selina are off in Vixen’s homeland, battling Barbara Minerva over who gains control of an army of…giant robot safari animals? It’s as absurd as it sounds, and yet provides for some pretty great action scenes as the heroines battle their way through the machines to try to stop the woman who would be Cheetah, only to have her get away and deliver her mechanical quarry to the big bad of this arc, Baroness Paula Von Gunther. Cheetah until now has been the worst villain this series had to offer, given her murder of Jason Todd in the past, but the second story this issue tries to humanize her.

It does this by giving her a backstory as a rich orphan whose foster parents schemed to get their hands on her money and whose foster brother tormented her. However, the fact that she murdered Jason because he vaguely reminded her of her foster brother throws all that out the window and makes her essentially an unrepentant monster. The third story this issue is probably the weakest of the three, a fast-paced adventure as the heroines try to traverse a shrine filled with Indiana Jones-esque deathtraps, but it features some amusing dialogue and an intriguing reveal about who Selina is working for. This series continues to deliver strong issues every month.

Injustice: Ground Zero #3 – Brian Buccellato, Christopher Sebela, Writers; Pop Mhan, Marco Santucci, Artists; J. Nanjan, Colorist

Ray – 5/10

Ray: Much like in the main Harley book, my interest in Harley Quinn seems to drop about fifty degrees the second Joker shows up. The first two issues of this book set up an intriguing new status quo where Harley was putting together a resistance, turning a group of cut-rate Joker acolytes into an actual heroic army sabotaging Superman’s regime. Then an alternate Joker shows up alone with the heroes from the non-horrible universe, and it’s like she drops fifty IQ points and regresses ten years in development. Despite repeatedly saying that she knows this is a bad idea, she turns over control of her army to Joker – who, naturally, wants to make it less about resistance and more about killing – and allows Joker to take one of the pills that makes him super-strong. While Superman tortures the new Batman like he does, a big fight breaks out in the Joker Gang’s headquarters, and Damian shows up while Harley wonders how it all went so wrong. Same way it always does – Joker.

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

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