DC This Week – Jessica Cruz: Strongest Hero in the DCU

page from Green Lanterns #15, which has an optimistic and hopeful ending for Jessica Cruz

We’re trying something new this week and separating the comics by our grades, so our top picks are up front. Our Grade A comics this weeks are a varied lot, but at the top of the list is tremendous Green Lanterns #15 which focuses on how Jessica deals with her anxiety disorder. This is a story that should resonate with anyone who’s ever suffered from anxiety and also provide a window into what it feels like for those who don’t.

There’s also a romantic and bittersweet Batman/Catwoman tale in Batman #15, a great reintroduction of the Ray in Justice League: The Ray Rebirth, Batman 66 Meets Wonder Woman 77, and Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye once again leads us on a fantastic voyage. Plus, the latest issues of Nightwing, Superman guest-starring the Multiversity heroes, Raven, Green Arrow, and Aquaman, among others.

See who made the grade below.

Grade A:
Green Lanterns #15 – Sam Humphries, Writer; Tom Derenick, Thumbnails, Miguel Mendonca, Penciller; Scott Hanna, Inker; Blond, Colorist

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Beautiful

Ray: Maybe the biggest surprise in DC Rebirth has been how Sam Humphries has managed to take the two fairly flat characters of Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz and turn them into two of the most compelling protagonists in all of DC. The majority of the heavy lifting in this series goes to Jessica, whose unique storyarc as a superhero with an anxiety disorder stands on its own in comics. However, while her character has developed a lot, we’ve never quite seen the world through her eyes – until this fantastic issue. This issue takes us through a day in the life of Jessica Cruz, starting with the battle she faces every morning to push her inner demons aside and get out of bed. The issue does a great job of showing how Simon tries to support her through it, but like all neurotypical people trying to interact with someone with a disorder, he slips up on occasion.

The issue has threats, to be sure – a giant rampaging sea monster made out of gold, for one, and a gambling-themed crook for another. The visuals are great, but they’re just there to support the narrative. Jessica’s inner struggle is the main drive here, and the issue does a phenomenal job of showing how anxiety disorders essentially don’t make much sense. Someone can sail through a major challenge, only for the pressure to overwhelm them in something that seems like a piece of cake. There’s some great visual representations of the way Jessica’s anxiety torments her, and an optimistic ending that emphasizes that the only way to really win a battle like this is to keep on fighting – with friends by your side. This is a great comic on its own, to be sure, but it’s more important than that. I think this is going to be a timeless comic for everyone suffering from anxiety, and it’s probably the best thing Sam Humphries has written in his career.

Corrina: I was just in a discussion on Facebook about Jessica Cruz. There is some disappointment among comic book readers of color that the most prominent Latina superhero at DC isn’t more formidable at the start. As someone who knows representation is important, I can understand that. It’s frustrating when you have to wait to see yourself on the page and, when you do, it’s not as you hoped.

But I can only plead to those who feel that way that Jessica Cruz’s anxiety disorder does not make her weak. To me, Jessica is the strongest hero in the DC universe. She suffers from a real condition, one that handicaps her as much as not having a limb (perhaps more because a GL could creat a limb), and yet she gets up every day and does her job, and does it well, despite the self-doubt that gnaws at her every day, sometimes every minute. That’s nowhere more clear than in this issue where she points out to Simon that doing superhero stuff is easy compared to getting out of bed in the morning.

“We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic—not ‘I survived living in Mosul during an attack’ heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder.”–Carrie Fisher.

Jessica Cruz is heroic in ways other than being a superhero.

Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth #1 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Stephen Byrne, Artist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Excellent 

Ray: Three for three in Steve Orlando’s relaunches of some of the DCU’s more diverse heroes, in preparation for their big spotlight in Justice League of America next month. Unlike Atom and Vixen, there isn’t all that much of a previous footing for The Ray – he hasn’t had a solo series in decades, save a short miniseries near the launch of the New 52. Plus, there’s been a couple of different versions of the character over the years, so Orlando sort of gets a free hand to create his own version. That works really well, as he goes back to the original Ray Terrill version, but gives him a number of new twists. This Ray Terrill suffers from a mysterious ailment that keeps him inside at all times, with his only companion being a traumatized, emotionally abusive mother. His one friend was maimed by his powers at a birthday party – it seems any exposure to light causes him to shoot off beams of energy.

He’s also gay, which adds a very interesting layer to a character who’s whole story is about feeling shut in, unable to be seen as they are by the world. When Ray Terrill decides to head out into the world for the first time, it very much feels like a metaphor for coming out. And in doing so, he discovers for the first time that his condition isn’t an ailment – it’s a power that he can control. He can turn invisible, direct his energy with practice – eventually becoming a hero. The element that works the best in this issue is the fact that the story is narrated by Ray in the form of letters to his former friend (and first crush), who later reenters the story in a big way. Much like the recent Atom issue, this issue is lower on action and higher on character development, and that works really well. I can now safely say I’m extremely excited to see how these characters work together in a team.

Page from The Ray, copyright DC Comics

Corrina: Thirty, even twenty, perhaps even ten years ago, the subtext of this story would be that Ray was gay–since he’s literally a shut-in (in the closet.) Today, Orlando builds on Christopher Priest excellent re-imagining of Ray Terrill by having Ray be gay in text, not subtext. So, Orlando’s new Justice League so far consists of two people of color, one of them a woman, and a gay man. I’m pleased but kinda surprised that DC gave this the green light. But for all the issues I have with DC editorial decisions, including keeping on a known serial harasser in editorial, the people in charge deserve credit for raising the profile of LGBTQ characters over the last two years.

But none of that would matter much if the product itself was subpar. Not a problem. Like the stories starring Vixen and Ryan Choi, this is excellent–and it turned it my favorite. This book is genuinely spooky and sad and yet hopeful at the same time. There’s a way Orlando writes Ray’s mother’s dialogue that we can tell she views him as a burden, rather than as a beloved son. Ray’s so lonely and in the literal dark that sadness drips from the pages. Special shout out to artistic rendering of Ray’s thought captions, which adds so much to the atmosphere.

Given the current political climate, Ray’s being gay, his defense of his friend Caden, and his unique skill set, well, this is a character that should have resonance.

Batman ’66 Meets Wonder Woman ’77 #1 – Mark Andreyko, Jeff Parker; David Hahn, Penciller; Karl Kesel, Inker; Madpencil, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Quite a Team-Up

Ray: Ever since the main Batman ’66 series ended, we’ve gotten a series of crossovers, some more successful than others. The Man from UNCLE crossover had the series’ classic fun vibe, but a lot of the others felt like Batman and co. were dropped in another, less interesting show. This is the first crossover between two DC properties, and it’s probably the best so far – and maybe my favorite story from the Batman ’66 verse as a whole. Despite the title, the story doesn’t actually take place in either ’66 or ’77 for the most part. Rather, after a prologue (featuring the Eartha Kitt Catwoman and the introduction of Talia ’66), it takes place during World War 2, before the WW series’ time jump, and when Bruce Wayne was just a boy. A mystery involving a rare book that Ra’s Al Ghul is obsessed with sets off the flashback.

A prominent auction is going on at Wayne Manor to benefit the war effort, and it attracts the attention of the government team of Diana Prince, Steve Trevor, and Etta Candy – as well as Ra’s Al Ghul and a rather nasty group of Nazis, all looking to get their hands on those mysterious books. When an antiquities dealer outbids them all, the Nazis do what Nazis do and attempt to get the book by violent means, setting off a game of cat and mouse through Wayne Manor. As Bruce and a preteen Talia lead the villains on a chase through the catacombs of the manor and Ra’s lurks in the background, the immortal Diana transforms into Wonder Woman and enters the battle. It’s a surprising start to a Batman and Wonder Woman tie-in, with Batman as a child for most of the first issue, before his parents died, but it’s a great set-up and I’m looking forward to the rest of this series.

Batman 66 and Wonder Woman 77 team-up! image copyright DC Comics

Corrina: A few things of note in this team-up, which I enjoyed, though perhaps not as much as Ray did. First, there’s a terrific splash panel of Diana spinning into Wonder Woman while a hidden young Bruce watches. It’s a page that should quickly become iconic.

Second, It amuses me that in this world, Ra’s Al Ghul simply wears his green cape and cowl to the auction and nobody bats an eye. Sure, yeah, that’s just Ra’s doing what he does. Third, how do the Nazis have all those guns and firepower under their suits, which are lighter than the darker Nazi uniforms? I know, comics, but my mind wandered and I wondered. Fourth, what the heck is Thomas Wayne thinking with that maze in his backyard? I’m guessing it’s to allow party guests to wander off in pairs (or whatever combinations they favor) for some privacy. Don’t shine any blacklights in there, Bruce.

Last but not least, a tip of the hat for using the Eartha Kitt Catwoman rather than Julie Newmar. It’s a nice change from usual.

Batman #15 – Tom King, Writer; Mitch Gerads, Artist

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Stellar

Ray: Tom King and Mitch Gerads are one of those creative teams, a perfect combination of writer and artist. They gave us the brilliant Sheriff of Babylon last year, and they’ve apparently got a major DC project coming later this year. Until then, though, they’ve got this brilliant two-part Batman arc focusing on the…complex relationship between Batman and Catwoman. After the two of them have a tryst on the rooftops, we get a rather brilliant segment intersplicing shots from classic Batman comics with the current day, showing how Batman and Catwoman met. However, then Catwoman departs, heading off on a secret mission rather than letting herself be taken to Blackgate. One thing that’s worth pointing out here – I never realized just how good Mitch Gerads’ art could get until I saw two pages in the middle of the issue.

There’s a great segment between Bruce and Jim – probably my favorite friendship in comics, actually – as Batman makes one of his trademark surprise visits to get information on Catwoman’s friend Holly Robinson, who appears to have ties to Catwoman’s mysterious murder spree. For fans of Holly’s tenure as Batman and her longstanding role as one of Catwoman’s allies, I can see some problems with this issue. There’s a very dark turn that I saw coming, but still took me by surprise. The end of the issue is a tense, gripping escape thriller with one great reveal after another, and an overarching melancholy tone that perfectly sums up the screwed up nature of Batman and Catwoman’s relationship – and the reason they keep coming back to each other. Next issue, we return to the big plotline involving Bane and Batman’s war, but this breather arc may be the best writing King’s done on Batman yet.

page from Batman #15, image copyright DC Comics

Corrina: Last week, I liked the Bat/Cat story but felt it lacked that special something that would make it unique. Well, there goes that particular objection, as King and Gerards have created a Bruce/Selina story for the ages, one that will be cited whenever the “Greatest Batman/Catwoman” stories are told.

First, the narrative technique of splicing together different memories? Not only does it call back to classic Batman comics, it’s also the superhero equivalent of “Oh, Yes, I Remember It Well,” sung by Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold in the classic An American in Paris. Not every day I can link a classic musical to a Batman comic.

Second, yes, a satisfactory reason was provided as to why Selina took the credit/blame for the murders hanging over her head. Bruce knows she’s innocent but the law does not, and her saving of Batman while letting Holly escape? Fits Selina perfectly.

But, you know, my favorite scene might be Gordon talking to his reflection in the bathroom mirror, in an attempt to stop himself from smoking. Spoiler: it doesn’t work.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #4 – Gerard Way, Jon Rivera, Writers; Michael Avon Oeming, Artist; Nick Filardi, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Whoa.

Ray: This continues to be one of the most bizarre and compelling comics DC is putting out at the moment, fusing sci-fi horror with genuinely great family dynamics and some of the most kinetic action sequences in any book. When we last left off, Cave, Wild Dog, and Chloe had escaped from their pursuers and used Cave’s hi-tech car to escape deep into the bowels of the earth – where the gate to the realm of Chloe’s mother is. However, as soon as they arrive there, peril awaits. Phantoms lurk, taunting the heroes with visions of their past. Wild Dog quickly becomes unstable, a danger to his teammates, and Cave is haunted by horrific visions of his dead wife.

There’s far more physical dangers as well, in the form of rogue agents sent by Cave’s former boss to drag them back to the surface, as well as underground beasts that are looking to eat everything in sight. This is where the horror elements of the book really shine, in some of the best monster action scenes I’ve seen in a comic in some time. However, probably the best scene of the book is when Cave gets to the land of his late wife and comes face to face with her parents – and is forced to reveal their daughter’s fate to them in a mostly wordless scene. That’s the sign of a truly great book, one that’s able to shift tone so dramatically and yet stick the landing. And that art! As always, Way, Rivera, and Oeming deliver a fantastic, surreal read.

Cave Carson #4 cover, image copyright DC Comics

Corrina: Bizarre? Yes. Gory, yes. And yet somehow, also utterly sentimental as well. While the Doom Patrol seems to traffic in oddness and allusion, this series has not only a cybernetic eye but a beating heart. It hurts when we see one of those come to take Cave back abruptly decapitated. It hurts worse when we see Cave break the news to his in-laws of their daughter’s death.

And what the heck is going on with that last, creepy, icky, but compelling panel? I don’t know! But I’m up for another ride next issue.

Solid B:

Superman #15 – Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Writers; Ryan Sook, Ed Benes, Clay Mann, Jorge Jiminez, Artists; Dinei Ribeiro, Ulises Arreola, Alejandro Sanchez, Colorists

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Ambitious!

Ray: One of the things I’ve noticed is that the art situation occasionally goes completely off the rails on a title, resulting in three or four artists on a single issue. Sometimes it feels really shoddy, like in the recent Green Arrow issue – but despite four different artists on one issue, it sort of works here. That’s because this is a Multiverse story, and as such a change in style and an offbeat vibe is sort of to be expected. Superman’s been recruited by the Multiverse’s Justice League to defeat an army of aliens that has been targeting the Supermen of countless worlds – including Kenan – and the issue begins with this mysterious adversary destroying the Justice League of Assassins – a ruthless group of 90’s antihero cyborgs – and claiming their Kryptonian. From there, we head back to the Orrery, where Superman is inducted into the battle for the multiverse.

There’s a bit of a slow start to this issue – we’re halfway into the issue by the time the initial battle and the introduction are over – but once we are, the issue becomes a race through various worlds of the Multiverse as the heroes recruit new agents to their cause. Some – like Superdemon – do not come easily. By the time the crew is together, it’s time to assemble a plan, and our Superman comes up with what essentially amounts to a sacrifice play. They set up the villain to trap them – and then port away in their giant awesome gold ship and leave our Superman to be captured, exactly as he wanted. There’s a bit of a “playing with toys” vibe to the whole affair, and Jon and Lois are missed, but it’s a fun, old-school Superman story in the best way.

Yes, this gets a little graphic. Image from Superman #15, via DC Comics

Corrina: DC has been nothing if not ambitious in handling Superman since Rebirth. And this is quite a large chunk of the DC Universe to chew on: the cast of Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, with a story that could be the beginning of a Crisis on Infinite Earths story. This Superman has had quite a life. Married, child on the way, world destroyed, hiding out for years, encountering Wally West, who no one else remembers, off to another planet to defend Luthor from punishment for future crimes, and now he’s basically skipping around universes with reality’s greatest heroes.

If you love alternate reality stories, this is your book, though I was surprised at the level of violence in this particular issue, with a particularly gruesome death early on. I loved the call-out to Morrison’s singing the world back into being in Final Crisis with the explanation of how the ship works, a part I somehow missed when I read Multiversity. This could easily be a 12-part crossover, though Tomasi and Gleason have stuffed enough in here to cover 3 issues. As for playing with toys, I suspect some of these alternate reality heroes will end up being actual toys. Obama-Man, perhaps?

Nightwing #13 – Tim Seeley, Writer; Marcus To, Artist; Chris Sotomayor, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: The Return of Nite-Wing?

Ray: The penultimate issue of the Bludhaven arc is an improvement from the last, as a lot of reveals are finally here and there’s several intriguing betrayals that make it seem like Dick’s stay in Bludhaven is going to be a short one. The villain, a mysterious masked criminal who takes on the masks of other villains to frame them for his crimes, has claimed another victim in the form of Carter Forsyth, who is able to warn Nightwing that the next target is the Mayor before he dies. Dick’s new team of ex-supervillains breaks up before he can go after the Mayor, none of them willing to take the risk of being framed again. Meanwhile, Defacer has been arrested, and while she’s been framed for murder, the detective in charge of her case has noticed odd things about the murders, and is offering her a deal.

It’s not long before the Mayor’s office comes under attack, this time with the criminal dressed as Nightwing himself. Armed with all sorts of tech that makes him more than a match for Nightwing, this mysterious masked villain is eventually unmasked – as the supervillain group’s sponsor, Mr. Nice. I suppose the irony was too much to resist here – a guy named Mr. Nice is almost as likely to be up to no good as a guy named Dr. Villain! However, before the story is over, Shawn/Defacer re-enters the picture – and there’s one more twist to come. This is a solid, old-school superhero story with a lot of intriguing twists, and a good handle on Dick. Still, there’s nothing here half as compelling as the dynamic Raptor from the first six months.

No, this guy isn’t in the comic. But Mr. Nice/Fake Nightwing reminded me of him. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: See, Seeley can do amazing work! No gutted animals here. (If you’re wondering what I mean, scroll down to read the review of Seeley’s Justice League issue.) In any case, this issue is the high quality I’ve come to expect from Seeley and artist Marcos To. I get the feeling reading this run that someone has dived deep into Chuck Dixon’s work on Nightwing. There’s the setting, of course, and Dick’s involvement in the community, though he’s not a police officer this time. But this issue, with Mr. Nice as a fake Nightwing made me immediate thing of Nite-Wing, Dick’s mirror nemesis from Dixon’s run who hasn’t appeared since Bludhaven was destroyed.

Which is not to say this story arc is an imitation. Instead, like the Ray, this takes that building block and adds another layer to it. At first, I couldn’t place all the new characters but now I’m starting to beocme attached to some of them, particularly Shawn/Defacer, and I could get to like this Bludhaven cop quite a bit as well.

Trinity #5 – Francis Manapul, Writer/Artist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Twistier and Twistier

Ray: Francis Manapul is back on full art duties for the first time in a bit, and it definitely shows in this issue taking place almost entirely in the dreamscape. Now that it’s been revealed that most of the first arc takes place in the world of the Black Mercy, the Trinity is aware for the first time that they’ve been played. However, it’s not just the Trinity’s story this time – Lois has finally revealed Poison Ivy as one of the masterminds behind this, and Ivy gets the chance to speak her piece. Unfortunately, the story she tells is…strange, to say the least. Ivy, still dealing with the fallout from the loss of her “children” in her recent miniseries, found a mysterious child in the Green – apparently a child of Mongul’s.

Ivy’s obsession with this child, who she began to see as one of her own, led to her determination to bring the child out into the real world. That leads to some fairly compelling scenes with Lois, as the two mothers – one conventional, one very much not – attempt to protect their kids. However, too much of the issue is devoted to a big, elaborate battle sequence between the Trinity and Mongul in the alien tyrant’s dreamspace. Manapul’s art is by far the biggest selling point here – he does an amazing job with both big battle sequences and smaller, quiet moments such as Ivy’s introduction. However, the story this issue doesn’t grab me quite as much as the previous ones did. Here’s hoping for a strong finish.

Is Poison Ivy the villain here? Hard to tell. Trinity #5, copyright DC Comics

Corrina: I did not see this twist coming at all. I speculated that perhaps Batman, paranoid as he sometimes is, asked Ivy to put him under with Wonder Woman and Superman to see their true selves in the Dreamscape. But, nope, we’re not going there. It’s far more complicated, to the point where even the reader isn’t sure who’s right and who’s wrong. That’s what makes the scenes between Lois and Ivy work–they’re both right, and they’re both desperate to protect their children. The difference is that Jon isn’t the possibly evil spawn of a supervillain who has our Trinity under his power.

I’m not sure where the child of Mongul’s loyalty lies, either, in the end, which only makes me eager to snap up the next issue when that child eventually walks into the real world from the dreamscape.

Raven #5 – Marv Wolfman, Writer; Diogenes Neves, Penciller; Ruy Jose, Inker; Blond, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: The Choice Most Heroes Face

Ray: This comic has been a bit more of a slow burn than I expected, unfolding the story of one specific mysterious menace over its entire run. Despite the fact that this comic is about a gigantic dome of energy that seemingly eats everyone it comes into contact with, it’s actually a very character-driven story, and that’s its greatest strength. As Raven pits herself against this mysterious growing dome – trapped outside, unable to figure out what’s inside, but feeling the terror of everyone who is compelled to enter it – we get a better grasp of how her empathic powers work than in any comic I can remember. Diogenes Neves, who has always been a strong artist, does a great job with conveying menace in brightness as opposed to darkness.

There’s a great human touch to this comic, focusing equally on Raven’s foster family and the complex dynamic they seem to have. It’s rare to see it acknowledged just how scary these day-to-day crises must be for the average citizen of the DCU. I rolled my eyes a little at the teenage girl who makes every possible wrong choice to put herself into the middle of the action, but it leads to an exciting finish as Raven is forced to potentially turn herself over to her darker, demonic nature to turn the tide of battle. Despite whatever this mysterious dome may be, the real adversary Raven has been facing the whole time is her inner fears. And that’s a pretty compelling story.

Corrina: This story is somewhat of a recap of what’s gone before and would be a great place to start for new readers. For those reading already, the issue was a slow build of Raven’s growing frustration at being unable to help those grabbed by the dome of energy/being behind it. She can’t get in, she can’t stop others from going in. Her frustration rises as her cousin arrives on scene and that’s where the tension building in the issue pays off, as Raven lets the demon part of herself loose in order to fight for her cousin.

It’s fascinating to watch Raven fight her demon and watch her aunt’s family react to her demonic appearance. They’re Christians and the concept of evil is tangible to them but they’re also excellent people who want the best for their children and for Raven. The issue ends on the open question of whether Raven must use evil in order to do good. Stay tuned!

Super Powers #3 – Art Baltazar, Franco, Writers; Art Baltazar, Artist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Curse Your Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal!

Ray: This all-ages pastiche of the DCU continues to be one of the most entertaining alternate universes they’ve put out in some time. The main plot this issue focuses on Brimstone, an agent of Apokalips, rampaging through Metropolis, with Supergirl and the Martian Manhunter taking point on fending him off. Brimstone is probably the biggest-scale threat in this series so far, but even then he’s played for laughs a good deal. It’s guest appearances by Wonder Woman and Aquaman that eventually turn the tide of battle. Not to mention Lois Lane with a fire hose, which I very much enjoyed.

However, there’s a bigger ongoing plot here as well, as Superman’s new baby brother comes out with green skin and mysterious powers. As Zod and Brainiac plot against Jor-El – I’m not really sure how Jor-El was supposed to have fathered a child if he’s actually still just a spirit powered by a Kryptonian crystal, but eh – the young Kryptonian Prym-El starts aging at an exponential rate and winds up naming himself Superboy Pryme. That’s an ominous name. Once again, Baltazar and Franco’s love for the strange history of the DCU shines through.

Corrina: When this comic sticks with the fun stuff that showcases the best of the DCU characters, like Lois Lane with a fire hose, it’s one of the best all-ages comics I’ve read. I don’t know why Brimstone rampaging through Metropolis should be somewhat funny but it is. I blame the dialogue!

However, the comic stumbles a bit for me with the complicated plot involving Jor-El, whether he’s real or not, Brainiac, Superboy Pryme has potential but, hey, give Lara something to do, okay?

Split Decision!

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #5 – Joshua Williamson, Writer; Jay Leisten, Daniel Henriques, Sandu Florea, Oclair Albert, Inkers; Alex Sinclair, Jeremiah Skipper, Colorists

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Okay For a Crossover

Ray: This continues to be one of the most comic book-y events I can remember, pulling out all the stops in a no-holds-barred battle between multiple different super-teams. The central conflict of JL vs. SS wasn’t enough to drive an event on its own, so Williamson smartly shifted the focus to Waller’s secret “shadow Squad”. However, what’s really interesting is the way the heroes of the story seem to be evolving from all three teams. When the story opens, the Eclipso-possessed Justice League has quickly destroyed the defenses of the USA and Superman has brought Max Lord to the White House, where he deploys the possessed Kryptonian to bring Waller back to him. Batman and Deadshot have no luck protecting Waller from Superman, and she’s dragged off – just in time for Lobo to grow his head back and wake up in a bad mood.

What follows is an exciting segment as a possessed Cyborg shows up – but while his human body is tainted, his robotic half has a fail-safe that allows him to brief the team. Though it doesn’t go smoothly, Batman is able to put together a team out of the remnants of the Squad plus Lobo – who really, just wants an excuse to hit things. Meanwhile, Waller has been taken by the clearly insane Max Lord, as she tries to convince him that his use of the Eclipso diamond is destroying him. He doesn’t see it – and what follows is one of the best depictions of supernatural insanity I’ve seen a comic in a while. Lord is genuinely creepy, which makes it a bit disappointing that he seems to be fully taken over by Eclipso in a grotesque segment by the end of the issue. It’s very action-heavy, to be sure, but what works for me about this event is that there isn’t an ounce of fat on it. With a weekly release schedule and a chaotic pace, it never lets me get bored. Here’s looking forward to a thrilling conclusion!

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #5 cover

Corrina: If by comic book-y, Ray means a story that is basically an excuse for fight scenes, then yes, it is. And, yes, it’s also slightly ridiculous, like Batman calling the remaining Suicide Squad the Justice League, and, YET AGAIN, evil has overtaken the citizens of the DC Universe. Man, there must be psychologists in this universe who specialize in “post-traumatic bystander syndrome in crisis-level events.”

However, I was more entertained by this issue than any of the others. The highlights for me were Cyborg’s artificial side being able to control his human side from doing damage, an excellent switch from what usually happens with Cyborg’s tech, Also, yes, Lobo did regenerate. I don’t like the character but when he’s like this, he’s tolerable.

But, mostly, it was seeing Max’s arrogance that he could control the Eclipso diamond to do good in the world. Aw, he’s the big bad who think he’s the hero of his own story. And, yes, the saving grace of this crossover is the pacing. It moves along at a nice clip, which many other crossovers cough:DarkseidWar::cough recently have not.

Green Arrow #15 – Benjamin Percy, Writer; Juan Ferreyra, Artist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: It’s Not Thrilling Me

Ray: Juan Ferreyra is back on art duties, and with him the series takes a massive jump in quality once again from last month’s awkward jam issue. Malcolm Merlyn has been unmasked as the main villain, but he’s absent from this issue and Ollie is still wanted by the police for the crimes committed in his name. It’s clearly getting to him, as he visits the comatose victim of one of the strikes, trains while looking at the various elements targeting him, punches a wall, and then has steamy, angsty sex with Black Canary. It seems like an oddly sex-filled week for our major heroes, but Percy does a pretty great job with capturing the genuine passion between these two heroes.

Where the issue is a bit weaker, though, is in the story’s main villain. Sergeant Notting and his insane paramilitary death squad calling themselves “Vice Squad” put their plan into action, breaking into the largest prison in the city and rounding up the prisoners, gunning them down like animals. They’re confronted by the police, including the decent Chief Westberg, and Notting quickly goes from Punisher-like vigilante to full-on psychopath. He’s a very one-note villain, so overtly despicable to almost be a parody. That being said, he does set into motion a fantastic high-speed car chase that is joined by Green Arrow and Black Canary in some of the best action segments in the series so far. And that ends with the return of Emiko! Now calling herself Red Arrow (although I wish it had been Artemis. Synergy, DC, synergy!), her presence is regularly the best thing about this book.

Corrina: So, I knew Ray would like this issue, with Emiko’s return at the end. But I have a question: does Black Canary exist in this book only for steamy sex and to back up Ollie in action? Because the other characters tend to get more motivation and backstory than she does. I like the pairing, I always have, but after a promising start, she’s definitely turning into a sidekick that Ollie has sex with, not a character in her own right. After reading over 30 years of ups and down with the character, it bums me out that we’re back to “Black Canary, Green Arrow’s hot girlfriend.”

I don’t understand the plot dynamics psychopathic police running around, though I note the discussion over police brutality is timely, and Ferreyra’s artwork is stellar, as always. Anyway, this issue does decently by Green Arrow, so there’s that.

Bordeline C:

Injustice: Ground Zero #4 – Christopher Sebela, Brian Buccellato, Writers; Daniel Sampere, Pop Mhan, Artists; Juan Albarran, Inker; J. Nanjan, Mark Roberts, Colorists

Ray – 7/10

Ray: The addition of the Joker from another dimension last issue took Harley’s characterization back a few dozen steps. Fortunately, this issue rectifies that by having Joker in custody all issue, and Harley dealing with the fallout from her infatuation. This issue does something good in that it actually portrays Harley’s relationship with Joker not as a relationship but as a compulsion. The way she comes down from her “high” and starts realizing just how much she’s screwed up is actually pretty compelling, and some of the best character work we’ve seen for the character in some time.

The rest of the issue, unfortunately, is not nearly as compelling as Harley decides to try to recruit fellow villains to join her rebellion. This leads her into an underground prison staffed by Killer Croc and Bane. Despite not having any powers left from her pills, Harley somehow manages to hold her own against Croc and Bane, which strikes me as more than a little unrealistic. I also wasn’t a big fan of Croc repeatedly talking about eating people – I’m not a fan of monster cannibal Croc so much as disfigured ganglord Croc. Overall, this universe isn’t that compelling, but there’s a strong Harley characterization at the center.

Aquaman #15 – Dan Abnett, Writer; Philippe Briones, Penciller; Wayne Faucher, Inker; Gabe Eltaeb, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: If Only All Wars Ended So Fast

Ray: It’s the conclusion to the Atlantis/America war storyline, as Aquaman finally confronts the forces of NEMO and his arch-nemesis Black Manta. The first half of the issue is basically a no-holds-barred bloody fight between Aquaman and Black Manta, as he invades the submarine and proceeds to immediately have what seems like his tenth fight with Black Manta in the last few years. The two go back and forth, bloodying each other, until Black Manta eventually blows up the submarine to avoid capture and is seemingly killed in the process. All the while, Arthur is narrating the events of the issue and the details of NEMO’s plot, and the reason for this only becomes clear in the second half.

It seems Aquaman has been explaining the events of the story to the White House (will this be Obama’s final comic book appearance as President?), and drops Manta’s destroyed helmet on the Oval Office desk to prove his point. He’s able to negotiate a settlement between the US and Atlantis, saying he won’t retaliate for America’s attempt to assassinate him and will formally surrender. The US agrees, Aquaman and Superman finally talk things out and Arthur is welcomed back to the JL, and armageddon is avoided for now. Mera is still worried about the prophecy, though. All in all, it’s a decent conclusion, but it’s just sort of boring and this entire story has offered nothing new that hasn’t been classic Aquaman tropes for years.

Corrina: The beginning was surprising, the build-up was uneven, and the conclusion is unsatisfying. After issues of Mera wondering about the prophecy, that subplot goes nowhere. And that’s basically where the main plot has gone: nowhere. We’re back to status quo with Aquaman as King, with an uneasy truce with the surface world. Left hanging are huge numbers of plot threads, especially the special underwater hit squad that was introduced and tossed aside in basically two issues, the terrorists who temporarily joined with Aquaman, the armed forces personnel who needed a bigger spotlight and several other minor issues.

Yes, I know, the idea is to follow up on these hanging plot threads later in the series. But if they’re treated as haphazardly as this story arc was, I can’t imagine them being any more compelling.

Harley Quinn #12 – Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Writers; Chad Hardin, John Timms, Artists; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 4/10

Corrina: Not Off-Kilter Enough

Ray: This issue does something that I never expected to see a comic do – it attempts to make me feel bad for Joker. Needless to say, this does not go off successfully. When we last left off, Joker had showed up in Harley’s apartment and coerced her into meeting him for a face-to-face to settle their relationship issues. However, Red Tool sabotaged her alarm clock and went to the meeting to scare Joker off. One would expect this to spell a quick, bloody end for the unfunny Red Tool, but instead Joker does nothing to defend himself as Red Tool beats him within an inch of his life. Harley eventually shows up and tells Red Tool off for manipulating her – and then proceeds to kidnap Joker.

What ensues is a sort of revenge fantasy for those who hate Joker – which is a lot of people, deservedly – but it doesn’t make for a particularly compelling comic. Harley beats Joker, threatens various sensitive parts of his body, and eventually ties him up in traffic with a sign insulting Brooklyn. It’s vaguely funny, and wavers between violent and Looney Tunes-esque slapstick. Something is up with this version of Joker, though, as he seems to be mostly unhurt by the brutal beatings he gets, and Harley refers to ending the masquerade at one point. But whatever’s up with Joker, it just doesn’t make for a good read. Harley’s moved past Joker at this point, and the title should as well. When he’s around, it seems to descend into pointless sadism.

Corrina: Getting the tone of a Harley Quinn comic has to be hard. Yes, she does bad things, though she doesn’t usually see them as bad. Yes, her moral compass is broken. But she’s also funny as hell and this creative team has used Harley to make glorious fun of everything from Pop-Eye to Hollywood Moguls to sidekicks to corruption, and even Deadpool.

Unfortunately, when that tone is a little off, as with this issue, the violence isn’t bleaky funny, it’s just bleak and sadistic. I’m happy to see people pound on the Joker for no reason all day but there should be something more about it than “well, let’s punish him.” Putting him out in traffic seems so…ordinary. Where’s the crazy death-trap? I did love how Harley banished Red Tool, though. And I bet this Joker isn’t the real one, either.

Flunking Out:

Justice League #13 – Tim Seeley, Writer; Scot Eaton, Penciller; Wayne Faucher, Inker; Gabe Eltaeb, Colorist

Ray – 4/10

Corrina: Ugh.

Ray: Tie-ins are often a tricky business, and some issues – like last month’s Max Lord spotlight – can be great. And then you get issues like this. The idea of a street-level take on Eclipso’s invasion has promise, and Steve Trevor is a compelling character on occasion, as we saw in the recent Wonder Woman run. However, there’s pretty much nothing to like about this issue (besides Scot Eaton’s capable art). The big problem here is that this issue’s take on the Eclipso attack is much darker, much more twisted than what we’ve seen elsewhere. What it appears to do in JLvsSS is that it turns people into coldblooded, ruthless servants of a mysterious cause. Here, though, it seems to draw from Crossed more than anything, turning everyone into psychotic, primal cannibals.

That’s not a particularly appealing concept. Steve Trevor is trying to get home to his sister and niece/nephew, but first he has to battle his way through an army of his coworkers as they talk about ripping people apart. Then he battles possessed civilians as they try to eat bums. Then the bums turn into cannibals. Steve makes his way home and finds his niece and nephew with their mother tied up, tormenting her. He somehow manages to free them via an ill-defined technique – then gets possessed himself a minute later, turning the entire issue into a shoot the shaggy dog story for all practical purposes. It’s boring, ugly, and pointless, and doesn’t really even fit with the actual tone of the parent series.

Corrina: First, this is the first story by Seeley that I’ve actively disliked. Second, this is an ugly comic, in every sense of the word–that’s intentional, it’s meant to be a horror tale, but its view of human nature is ugly, the tone is ugly, and the panel with the dead dog showing its insides? I did not need that.

I suppose if this is your thing, you might want to try it. It’s coherent, for certain, so I can’t say it’s badly written. It just left me with wanting to toss it into a fire.

Suicide Squad Most Wanted: El Diablo/Amanda Waller #6 – Jai Nitz, Vita Ayala, Writers; Cliff Richards, Matt Merhoff, Artists; Hi-Fi, Beth Sotelo, Colorists

Ray – 5/10

Ray: The final issue of this latest Suicide Squad anthology continues to be a mixed bag. The opening story, featuring El Diablo, focuses on a character that had some interesting details when he first debuted. Unfortunately, this miniseries seems to have sanded most of those details off and is turning him into a generic Ghost Rider rip-off, complete with the cliched red demon offering him a devil’s bargain in order to save the woman he loves yet has no real charisma with. There’s an explosive battle with a giant white martian monster, yet the villain – or the various heroes El Diablo fights with – are little more than generic action figure types. The ending seems to hint at a possible Freedom Fighters revival, which seems like a non-starter. There’s interesting El Diablo stories to be told, but this isn’t the one.

The Amanda Waller backup has much more promise, as Vita Ayala gets deep into the mind of one of DC’s most compelling antiheroes. The problem is, it also gives her a backstory that is such a cliche for the hard-boiled ruthless female politico that it almost seems like a fake origin. If that’s what it was, it would be clever, but did Waller really need a dead husband and kids? It feels opposite to her nature. Aside from that, the tour of Waller’s mind is fairly compelling, and it gives us a more nuanced take on Waller than a lot of the recent comics which make her a full-on villain. It culminates in a showdown between Waller and…herself, as a twisted reflection forces her to confront her own failings. On its own as a plot, I’m not 100% sure it works, and the Squad segments are generic, but as a Waller character piece, it’s strong.

Corrina: It’s interesting to see the source of El Diablo’s power as the literal devil or whatever passes for the devil in the DC Universe. This story had promise but so much was jammed into it that it’s hard to feel anything about its conclusion, not the rejection of El Diablo at the end by the woman he loves, and certainly not the menace from the white monster, since it’s so obvious he’ll be defeated.

The Waller back-up, however…it’s easy to see what it wants to do, which is to provide us with the backstory to understand who Waller is and why she does what she does. But it doesn’t, not really. What drove her to work so many hours and perhaps not come home to her family often? We never find out. We know she corrects one mistake because she’s come to care about her agents, even the villains, but that’s hardly enough of a revelation. Why does Waller need this power and why does she choose to use it this way? I’m still in the dark on that.

He-Man/Thundercats #4 – David, Lloyd Goldfine, Writers; Freddie E. Williams III, Artist; Jeremy Colwell, Colorist

Ray – 4/10

Ray: As this story goes on, it becomes more coherent with some decent segments between primary characters. However, at the end of the day it’s still essentially a glorified toy tie-in with the key conflict being between characters who were never particularly compelling on their own. As Eternia is overrun by the forces of Skeletor and Mumm-Ra, Lion-O takes He-Man’s sarcophagus – accompanied by He-Man’s pet tiger Cringer – and they travel to the mystical tomb where Mumm-Ra was resurrected. As Lion-O transforms Cringer into Battle Cat and lets him violently tear apart villains, he resurrects He-Man but gets him back driven mad with rage and has to beat it out of him. A few decent scenes, but way too many fight scenes and random powering up to really hold my attention.

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