DC This Week – More Midnighter and Apollo, Please

The epic conclusion of Midnighter’s march into hell, image via DC Comics

Ray here, flying (mostly) solo this week. This week sees the release of the first part of the latest Superman crossover, as we start to get answers about the mysterious new Clark Kent. Green Lanterns, meanwhile, gives the heroes a one-issue break for an origin spotlight for the First Lantern; Bane and Bruce Wayne are contrasted in a character driven issue of Batman; and Green Arrow launches the most promising Roy Harper story in a long time.

The undisputed star of the week, though? The conclusion of Midnighter and Apollo, an absolute triumph in both epic comic book action and diversity in storytelling. A close second would be Nightwing, which reunites the classic Morrison-era team of Dick and Damian to both dramatic and hilarious effect.

Plus, scroll to the end of the article for a bonus review of new Vertigo miniseries Savage Things

Midnighter and Apollo #6 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Fernando Blanco, Artist; Romulo Fajardo Jr., John Rauch, Colorists

Ray – 9.5/10

Ray: The conclusion to Steve Orlando follow-up miniseries to his epic Midnighter run goes bigger and wilder than the previous run ever did – but at the same time manages to still be as emotionally intimate and engaging as any of his comics. Picking up after the last issue, where Midnighter delivered a magically-enhanced butt-kicking to the demon Neron, only to have the lord of Hell turn the tables on him, this issue finds Midnighter at the demon’s mercy – only for Apollo to storm in and save the day in suitably epic fashion. Apollo was usually the least interesting member of this duo, but Orlando’s managed to give him some new character flair and a fantastic new look that really reflects his power.

The second half of this issue is essentially a wild, epic action segment as Midnighter and Apollo are faced with every single enemy they’ve ever killed, in an insane gauntlet as they try to flee hell. This would have been a brainless but gorgeous action segment if it was in the hands of a lesser writer, but here the banter between the couple sells it as so much more. This comic reminds me a lot of the legendary story of Orpheus, in terms of the flawed man literally marching into hell to save his lover, but this one ends happily and that happy ending is hard-earned. The last few pages, showing them getting back to the life they fought for, is the perfect capper on Orlando’s run, but I very much hope this isn’t the last we see of Orlando on these characters.

A happy ending for one of DC’s best power couples. Midnighter and Apollo #6, image via DC Comics

Superman #18 – Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Writers; Patrick Gleason, Penciller; Mick Gray, Inker; John Kalisz, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Ray: The start of the next big DC crossover, this one between Superman and Action Comics, promises to shed some light on the big mysteries surrounding this new Superman and the mysterious new Clark Kent. While this issue sets up quite a few interesting details, it’s also rather confusing and leaves the reader with more questions than they started with. The issue opens with Mister Oz presiding over his prison, only to find out that one of his inmates has broken free. We get glimpses of Doomsday and Red Robin, but the mysterious escapee is not seen – only their cell, which is covered with strange, childlike drawings of Superman. Meanwhile, in Hamilton, Kansas, Clark and Lois are celebrating their anniversary with Jon. This is a sweet segment with some great moments for the family, but naturally, the quiet and happiness won’t last.

A mysterious package arrives, from none other than the other Clark Kent, who seems to have gone full stalker now. When he encounters Krypto, the Superdog wastes no time seeing him as an enemy. The gift turns out to be a book containing photos of Superman and Clark through his life – but none of Jon. Suddenly, the house is mysteriously on fire with some white energy that starts erasing everything it touches – including Jon. Although Clark and Lois try desperately to put him out and stop the fire from spreading, nothing they do works and Jon soon vanishes just like everything else. Although they’re in shock and grieving, Clark vows to get his son back, and the mystery is set up for this crossover. Who is this Clark Kent, and which version of Superman did those photos belong to? I’m confused but intrigued.

Batman #18 – Tom King, Writer; David Finch, Penciller; Danny Miki, Inker; Jordie Bellaire, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Ray: The third chapter of “I Am Bane” is the least distinctive so far, taking place in a narrow slip of time as Batman and Bane face off in a battle of wills, but it’s also got some top-notch characterization and shows off King’s talent for using unusual framing and storytelling devices to make points about characters. Much like with the issues of “I Am Suicide” that were framed by Bruce and Selina’s letters to each other, this segment’s showdown between Batman and Bane is framed by flashbacks to their brutal, painful childhoods and how their memories of their mothers defined them. We see Bruce in the immediate aftermath of his mother’s death, and we see Bane’s brutal induction into prison life after losing his parents. Even though this is probably the most evil Bane’s been since Knightfall, we still feel for him as a person.

The actual showdown between Bane and Batman is more a battle of determination than actual skill, as Bane leverages the fate of Batman’s allies in an attempt to get him to surrender. However, Batman’s steely determination in the face of Bane’s intimidation unhinges the giant a good deal, and we see his cool evil facade devolve into that of a screaming monster. Despite his increasing irrationality and dependence on Venom, he is more than a match for Batman and quickly dismantles him, leaving him bleeding in the streets. He goes to order his henchmen to kill Batman’s allies – only to find out that Batman has gamed him once again, leaving Selina as a mole who took out his goons and freed Duke, Jim, and Tiger. And with that, Bane heads into another rematch with Selina. The weakest chapter of this event, but still an exciting read that makes me anticipate the next issue.

Nightwing #16 – Tim Seeley, Writer; Javier Fernandez, Artist; Chris Sotomayor, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Ray: Okay, first things first – we don’t get any answers on whether Shawn’s been killed/fridged yet. However, that in itself feels like an answer, as it doesn’t feel like a strong writer like Seeley would drag out the mystery only to give us a downer ending of a body at the end. So I feel a bit better about it. Despite Shawn’s fate hanging over the issue, this is actually a fairly lighthearted issue as Damian’s personal insecurities send him to Bludhaven for a confrontation with his former mentor – just as Dick is least prepared to deal with kid issues. See, while Dick is dealing with a group of Horse-themed villains (great Bojack reference, BTW), he gets a message from Shawn that she’s late – and not for work. The pregnancy element – especially combined with the kidnapping – is a bit hackneyed, but Dick grappling with the concept of fatherhood is really interesting.

Damian, meanwhile, has his own concerns – he’s just read online that most people think Dick will take over as Batman whenever the current Batman leaves the role. Being an insecure, emotionally volatile teenager with no perspective, he immediately decides he needs to go confront Dick about this. Dick has no clue what’s going on and is really not in the mood for it, and the way these two just spend half the issue talking past each other is my favorite thing about it. However, once Damian finds out that Shawn is missing, he decides that Dick could use his expertise and inserts himself into the case. This promises to be a great call-back to their fantastic team-ups during the Batman and Robin era, and the lighthearted tone of most of the issue makes me think Shawn will be found safe sooner or later – and Deathwing looks ridiculous, BTW. But I don’t entirely object to that.

Corrina: Injecting here perhaps for the only time this week (my son is in the hospital with a nasty GI infection), but I had a Twitter conversation with Seeley over the issue of Shawn’s possible fridging. He talked about subverting the trope and that he’s well aware of what he’s playing with, so the cliffhanger last issue was deliberate to the extent Seeley knew what tropes he was pulling on but wanted to flip. (Which likely means Shawn is alive, I believe.)

That was good of Seeley to engage with me, and I’m hopeful that I will love this story at the end, because it is so well-writte, but I’m not sure that the cliffhanger last issue had the intent he wanted, which was to flip the trope in the story, and I suspect it made at least as many readers frustrated as intrigued. If this turns out to be what Seeley said (and I have no reason to doubt him), it will likely read better in trade, where that cliffhanger will be part of a larger whole.

Green Arrow #18 – Benjamin Percy, Writer; Eleonora Carlini, Artist; Arif Prianto, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Ray: Taking a break from the current Seattle outlaw plotline, this issue pulls back to show us exactly what went down between Oliver Queen and Roy Harper years ago, and in the process puts a lot of Roy’s classic origin back into continuity – including his Native American roots (not heritage, but he was raised on a reservation). I enjoyed the initial meeting between Roy and Ollie, which is exactly as dysfunctional as you’d expect. Roy only got pulled into Green Arrow’s world because he was stealing Ollie’s booze and accidentally stumbled on a secret cave. That’s the most Roy Harper thing ever. Meanwhile, in the present day, this is probably the most unapologetically political Green Arrow comic in a while, as it takes on a story very reminiscent of Standing Rock.

Several Marvel titles have tried similar stories, but they’re often too heavy-handed and speechifying. This issue sticks to the facts on the ground and the point is made better for it – we see the protests from the perspective of the people facing the threat, not from superheroes making speeches. There’s a lot of unanswered questions in this issue, relating to the death of Roy’s former foster father years ago, which led to him being exiled from the tribe by his foster brother (who is less than happy to see him). Then there’s the other reunion of the issue, of course – which goes about as well as would be expected, thanks to a last-page twist about the pipeline. Guest artist Eleonora Carlini isn’t quite as eye-catching as the core three artists, but the art is consistent and tells the story well. This continues to be one of the best Green Arrow runs in a while since the fresh start for Rebirth.

Shade the Changing Girl #6 – Cecil Castellucci, Writer; Marley Zarcone, Artist; Ande Parks, Inker; Kelly Fitzpatrick, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Ray: This title was losing its footing for a few issues with too much reliance on surreal visuals and confusing cosmic plotlines, and not enough on the central conflict of an alien girl trying to step into someone else’s life. This issue brings that focus back in a big way, as the vengeful spirit of Megan comes back to try to reclaim her life. This is a very interesting reversal of most possession stories because while Loma Shade may be odd and a bit morally ambiguous, this issue makes clear Megan is EVIL. Not just a cruel mean girl, but a sadist who took great pleasure in torturing her so-called friends and intends to make up for lost time when she gets back into her body.

As Megan torments those who knew her as a ghost and Loma does battle with her on the psychic plane, her friends River and Teacup step into a surreal mindscape to help. These segments are both brilliantly drawn and surprisingly heartfelt in places, although it seems the threat of Megan isn’t quite gone by the end of the issue. The weakest parts of the issue remain the segments back on Loma’s homeworld, which look good but feature mostly uninteresting characters. Still, I’m more engaged in this series now than I have been since the first issue, and I hope this new focus continues.

Shade the Changing Girl #6, image via DC Comics

DC Comics Bombshells #23 – Marguerite Bennett, Writer; Matias Bergara, Laura Braga, Mirka Andolfo, Artists; J. Nanjan, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Ray: There’s often a bit of a disconnect with digital-first comics, as they’re essentially ten-page serials that are then reprinted as 20/30-page comics. That’s the case with this issue, which packages two very different stories together. Fortunately, both of them are quite good. The first story picks up a plot point that’s been dangling for a while – Supergirl’s grief after losing her sister Stargirl in the Battle of London. The first segment of the issue is a ten-page tale focusing on Wonder Woman and Supergirl as Diana helps Kara work through her pain and start flying again. Some interesting looks at different perspectives on the afterlife, and some genuine emotion in this segment.

Then the tone shifts completely, back to the main story as Wonder Woman rejoins the heroines in Zambezi to battle the mysterious metal war machines that Cheetah and the Baroness have unleashed. While there’s some interesting reveals about Batwoman’s potential ties to the war effort and the return of Lex Luthor, the character who is the star of this segment is undeniably Hawkgirl. This Lara Croft-esque winged explorer has been a bit of an enigma so far, but this issue explores her past – and reveals the source of her wings, and exactly how they tie into the war machines. Let’s just say that whatever the villains faced before were, they dwarf before what’s coming next. This book nicely keeps its momentum as it heads into its next act.

Green Lanterns #18 – Sam Humphries, Writer; Robson Rocha, Penciller; Daniel Henriques, Inker; Alex Sollazzo, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Ray: A done-in-one spotlight issue focused on the main villain of the series, Volthoom, and the series winds up suffering for the lack of its dynamic lead characters. Volthoom’s always been sort of a flat character based on his initial appearances, and this issue does go a long way towards making him a more fleshed-out adversary. The story starts with him in Nekron’s realm, pleading for the Death entity to end his existence after over ten billion years. Volthoom seems uninterested, and Volthoom reveals who he was long before he was the first Lantern. The last survivor of an Earth that was destroyed by a mysterious machine, he was a scientist alongside his mother, and barely escaped the Earth using a transport lantern she had designed.

Catapulted across the universe – in segments that contain some pretty intriguing easter eggs for the DCU multiverse, including the return of an iconic DC villain – eventually, he finds his way to Earth-0 and encounters the beings who will become the Guardians. We know most of this story already, but this segment gives a little more development for why Volthoom went rogue. There’s also a very intriguing teaser about the seven original Lanterns.The issue ends with Nekron revealing exactly why Volthoom cannot die and sets him off on a new course of revenge. There’s a bit more to Volthoom than there was to Atrocitus, but the villains remain the least interesting part of this book, with Simon and Jessica being the main reason for the title’s appeal.

Justice League #16 – Bryan Hitch, Writer; Fernando Pasarin, Penciller; Matt Ryan, Inker; Brad Anderson, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Ray: The second chapter of Timeless continues to plunge the Justice League into a series of bizarre situations across time and space. I’m really reminded of the original Justice League of America run by Hitch, in that most of the Justice League is split apart and not really interacting this issue. Only Batman and Superman are in the present day, dealing with the oncoming time wave and the fact that most of their teammates – and Superman’s family – have already been consumed. Infinity Corp., the mysterious corporation introduced in Hitch’s original run, continues to be one of the weaker links in the story, as they’ve been around for a while without us really knowing anything about them.

The stronger parts of the issue are the individual segments. Aquaman finds himself back at the dawn of Atlantis, before it sank, as a pregnant queen presides over a ceremony of magical significance and Aquaman must prove his Atlantean heritage or be treated as a dangerous trespasser. Simon and Jessica, meanwhile, find themselves in a world where Earth has been cut off from the universe and the Earth Lanterns have become an insular, xenophobic group. I was a little disappointed to not see any more of Wonder Woman’s segment, involving the Gods and Titans. The visuals here are great, as Pasarin does a capable take on Hitch, but the story here is still rather vague and doesn’t really grab me yet.

Aquaman #18 – Dan Abnett, Writer; Scot Eaton, Penciller; Wayne Faucher, Inker; Gabe Eltaeb, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Ray: After a few issues of generic stories, this title picks up a good deal as we finally find out the origin of new villain Warhead. He doesn’t feel much like an Aquaman villain at all – more like a Cyborg villain than most of Cyborg’s actual rogues gallery – but he’s a compelling enemy that turns out to be anything but evil. When the issue starts, Aquaman is trapped in a room with Warhead, experiencing violent flashes of a past war that turns out to be Warhead’s history as a living weapon. It turns out that he’s a Chinese-created human-machine hybrid that was created and deployed in the Bialya-Khandaq war. When he was ordered to kill civilians even after the war was won, he went rogue, but was damaged in the process.

Warhead’s programming has been altered to the point where he’s compelled to try to create peace on Earth by any means necessary – including seizing control of Atlantis’ military resources. Abnett does a good job of creating an adversary who is both very dangerous and surprisingly sympathetic, and Aquaman strikes a good balance in resolving the situation without bloodshed. The ending of the issue promises the reintroduction of Dead Water, my personal favorite of Abnett’s original villains. The title spent way too much time on Black Manta in the early going, but if it keeps focusing on new villains with original twists, it could have some promise as an overall Aquaman run.

Cyborg #10 – John Semper Jr., Writer; Will Conrad, Penciller; Szymon Kudranski, Finishes; Ivan Nunes, Guy Major, Colorists

Ray – 7/10

Ray: One of the more interesting issues of Cyborg since the beginning of this run, we finally get out of STAR Labs and explore this comic’s version of Detroit. Cyborg’s apparently been corrupted by the evil Anomaly’s technology, and he and hacker Exxy are on the run. This leads them to a confrontation with the Detroit superheroine Black Narcissus. This pink-armored, cosplaying self-made superhero is a rather clever character addition, and the banter between the three heroes/anti-heroes is the most entertaining part of the series. It’s rare to see superheroes functioning in a city that’s as struggling as Detroit, so I applaud Semper for setting it here.

The weakest part of the issue is anything to do with STAR Labs, as Anomaly continues to impersonate Silas Stone and privately torture him, making the other members of the supporting cast who don’t recognize this kind of look like fools. However, the issue picks up when Anomaly seeks a new ally in the form of the Rat Lord, a wheelchair-using drug lord who trains rats to carry out his transactions. A bit reminiscent of a combo between TMNT’s Rat King and the Penguin, but still the first villain in the series who isn’t an evil robot of some kind, so I like that. Overall, this feels like a very different book than it did last arc, and it’s one I may be excited to read again if it stays in this vein.

Harley Quinn #15 – Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Writers; Khari Evans, John Timms, Joseph Michael Linsner, Artists; Alex Sinclair, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Ray: This continues to be one of the oddest, most erratic comics in the Rebirth line, but overall this issue sticks the landing more often than not. Even if it’s not entirely clear what some segments mean at all. Case in point, the opening segment. Set 150 years in the future in a cyberpunk Gotham with a giant statue of Batman looming over it, it focuses on a team of extreme roller-derby athletes themed after Batman and Harley Quinn. This has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the issue, which focuses on Harley and Atlee trying to contain the mysterious underground villain who Harley accidentally unleashed last issue.

This could have been your typical ultra-violent Harley comic, but, instead the issue takes a different path, as Harley essentially talks the guy down and decides to show him that his plan to conquer Earth has holes in it. After all, if he enslaves all of humanity, who would make his hot dogs? Atlee recruits Power Girl to help, but by then the situation is under control – at least, until someone ticks him off at a Jewish deli and he’s back to trying to destroy the city again. It’s got a lighter touch that typifies this book at its best. That can’t be said for the Harley Sinn subplot, though, which continues to be a major weak link for the title. She should stay gone in the miniseries from when she came.

Super Powers #5 – Art Baltazar, Franco, Writers; Art Baltazar, Artist

Ray – 7.5/10

Ray: This bizarro cartoon take through DC’s strange silver age history continues as Prym-El, Superman’s younger brother, proves to potentially be a bigger danger than any of the villains. Brainiac and Darkseid have taken over the Phantom Zone and plan to trap Superman and Lara, but seeing his mother threatened sends Prym into a rage. He accidentally redirects the projector towards New Krypton, trapping the planet back in the Zone. He then destroys the Kryptonite fortress in a rage, sending the Legion fleeing.

Brainiac’s influence turns him against the Justice League, setting up a big battle. This is interrupted when the Unknown Superman from the future shows up to stop Prym from going too far – and reveals himself to be none other than an adult Prym-El from the future. Meanwhile, in Gotham, Darkseid begins his full invasion of Earth (with a group of rather adorable Parademons) only to be met by Joker, setting up the oddest and funniest supervillain team-up I’ve seen in a while. This comic is definitely sort of random, but it’s also a breath of fresh air in a universe that’s often far too grim.

Corrina: This comic reminds me of how key art is to a story, because for someone just reading the summary, this sounds like a pretty grim tale, one that could be full of angst and gore. There is plenty of emotion in this story but with Baltazar’s art, instead of being a dark and grim take on the Superman mythos, the story manages to maintain its level of fun and child-like adventure.

The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom #3 – Cary Bates, Greg Weisman, Writers; Will Conrad, Artist; Ivan Nunes, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Ray: This is an odd comic because it feels like every issue is almost a series in itself – complete with massive status quo changes every issue. Last issue, Captain Atom lived an entire life in the 1990s as he was lost in time, finding new friends and falling in love – only to then be pulled back in time and return to the present day with new powers and a new, all-red look. Upon his return, he’s contacted by Dr. Megala and General Eiling and brought to a top-secret military base. He finds out that his wife Takara died in a car accident a few years after he disappears, which sends him into a grief spiral. Once he’s recovered by the military, the issue spends a lot of time exploring his new powers.

The government wants to set him up with a new identity to take care of the problem of Captain Atom’s disastrous last day on Earth. General Eiling even seems to have turned over a new leaf – but this predictably turns out to be a feint to get Atom back under his control. When Atom refuses to be part of a government weapon program, Eiling threatens to have him arrested for the deaths that were caused in his final loss of control before the time jump. Atom leaves and prepares to pay the price for the people who died – only for a last-minute twist regarding his marriage in the 90s to come to light. I’m interested in anything involving Adam as a character, but overall there was just too much focus on the new powers and look compared to last issue. Who knows what the next issue will be like?

Death of Hawkman #6 – Mark Andreyko, Writer; Aaron Lopresti, Penciller; John Livesay, Inker; Blond, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Ray: This action-packed final issue delivers what was promised on the title, but overall the story winds up being sort of unsatisfactory and vague. There’s definitely a good setup for a big event-style story here, with Despero powered up with Nth Metal and controlling the majority of two planets with his psychic powers. As Hawkman is pushed to his limits, there’s a lot of blood – both red and green – as the two combatants beat each other to within an inch of their lives. Meanwhile, on the ground, Adam Strange and the rookie Thanagarian GL attempt to keep the peace and stop the possessed victims of Despero from overrunning the city. The narration changing between the four main characters regularly is a bit hard to keep track of.

Towards the end of the issue, the action amps up and the heroes figure out that the only way to stop Despero is to destroy the Zeta Beam so he can’t escape and transport his army around the galaxy. Adam Strange attempts to get the Zeta Beam offline, but is attacked by a possessed Sardath. Meanwhile, Hawkman takes the fight directly to Despero, knowing he likely won’t survive. In the end, Hawkman is killed in space, his bones left floating in the atmosphere. Adam Strange destroys the zeta beam but is trapped in some sort of limbo – again. Rann and Thanagar make peace, but Despero escapes. This feels more like a prequel to a bigger plot involving Despero, and as such isn’t as memorable or engaging as I’d hoped.

The Flintstones #9 – Mark Russell, Writer; Steve Pugh, Artist; Chris Chuckry, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Ray: This strange new take on The Flinstones has been known for fusing the wacky cartoon elements of the original series with a darker, more topical tone. However, that’s a tricky balance to find and this issue loses it, becoming easily the bleakest issue of the series. There’s two main plots, the first focusing on the rise of the new religion in Bedrock – the snake-deity Vorp. Spreading a gospel of power through strength, the snake quickly gets a fanbase among the rich and powerful. Mr. Slate becomes its top fan, taking the opportunity to fire all his employees including Fred and replace them with neanderthal and ape labor. This sends Fred into a deep depression, but Slate soon finds out that a faith based solely around strength is a double-edged sword.

Stranger and far darker is the Pixar-by-way-of-Edward-Gorey tale of the animal helpers in the Flintstone household. The elephant appliance is trying to foment a revolution, but bowling ball isn’t receptive – until Wilma tries to cheer up her unemployed husband by buying him a new ball and throwing out the old one. This leads the other animal tools to go on a mission to rescue their friend, only to find a house of horrors where discarded appliances are taken. This slaughterhouse provides some of the darkest scenes of the series and is so out of step tonally with the rest of the issue that it’s uncomfortable to read. I like some of the ideas here, but while it has more to do with the original property than Scooby Apocalypse does, it seems determined to push the envelope in a way that doesn’t always work.

Injustice: Ground Zero #7 – Christopher Sebela, Writer; Tom Derenick, Pop Mhan, Artist; Rex Lokus, Mark Roberts, Colorists

Ray – 5/10

Ray: This title has been hot and cold, generally based on which character it focuses on. While last issue’s Shazam/Black Adam focus had some meat to it, this issue puts the main members of the Regime and the Resistance in the background to focus on Harley Quinn and her odd relationship with the new parallel Earth Joker. This is, unfortunately, the most uninteresting part of the series, as it takes Harley back to a characterization she seemed to have outgrown.

It doesn’t help that this Joker is without any sort of charm. He’s a snarling, dim sadist who makes clear his intention to abuse and potentially kill Harley. He’s neither funny nor an interesting villain. There are some action scenes involving Deathstroke that are fairly effective, and a ticking clock as Superman plans to execute Batman publicly, but overall, this series feels like a decent six-issue miniseries stretched out to 12.

Vertigo Bonus Review:

Savage Things #1 – Justin Jordan, Writer; Ibrahim Moustafa, Artist; Jordan Boyd, Colorist

Ray – 5/10

Ray: New Vertigo launches are few and far between lately, and this conspiracy thriller – by Image mainstay Justin Jordan – is only a miniseries, but any new content from Vertigo is a good sign that the imprint is still up and running. I just wish this first issue had more to it than a very routine, violent story. Taking place in two different timelines, it starts with a young boy coming home to find his mother and father shot dead by a mysterious agent who proceeds to recruit him into a shadowy program designed to train sociopaths into perfect killers. The boy, renamed Abel by the program, is inducted into a sadistic, Battle Royale inspired program that turns him into an assassin – starting with killing half his fellow students on the first day.

The present-day segment finds the program, known as Black Forest, seemingly defunct, but when a series of gruesome and theatrical murders takes place at a NYC hotel, it becomes clear that not all the people who know about the program are dead, and the shadowy ringleaders decide it’s time to bring Abel in from the cold. The issue’s got strong art – Ibrahim Moustafa feels a lot like Steve Dillon in the flashback scenes, and overall the art is clean and gruesome when it needs to be. The problem is, this seems like a story where no one is a remotely redeemable person. Every character is either a cruel manipulator, or a coldblooded killer. As such, there’s a singular tone to this comic and it’s ugly. I have a hard time seeing myself wanting to spend six issues in this world. There’s many comics that deal with dark themes, but they all have an entry point for the reader that this one seems to lack.

Disclaimer: Geekdad received these books 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.