DC This Week–The Shadow Knows Batman

Batman/The Shadow #1, Cliff Chiang variant cover
Cliff Chiang variant cover, image via DC Comics

There’s a crossover of another sort with a classic property this week, as Batman and the Shadow match wits in the first issue of a new miniseries. Over in the DC multiverse, “The Button” continues in The Flash when Batman and Flash use the Cosmic Treadmill for one crazy trip.

Meanwhile, the stand-alone Supergirl: Being Super continues to be excellent, the new Justice League of America tackles the problem of income equality (don’t worry, plenty of fighting), Wonder Women faces her greatest foe at what seems to be the Tree of Life/Portal to Hell, Cassandra Cain takes a stand against evil on Batman: Detective Comics,

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

Batman/The Shadow #1 – Scott Snyder, Steve Orlando, Writers; Riley Rossmo, Artist; Ivan Plascencia, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Awesome

Ray: DC delivers the latest in their long list of inter-company crossovers, teaming up their most iconic vengeance-seeking vigilante with Dynamite’s most iconic vengeance-seeking vigilante. Of course, there are some key differences. Bruce Wayne is inherently a hero, while Lamont Cranston has supernatural elements and can be a bit more…unhinged. However, this story takes some immediate, major liberties with the Shadow mythology that make for a compelling story, but I could see angering some long-time fans of the character. The story opens with Bruce Wayne in France seeking the help of Henri Ducard to unravel a mystery. The story then flashes back to Arkham, where a kindly orderly delivers custom meals to the inmates, then heads home to cuddle with his disabled dog – only to be brutally killed by an unseen assailant. The victim is revealed as none other than…Lamont Cranston?

Bruce’s investigations lead him to a confrontation with the shadowy hitman, who appears to have some odd ties to Bruce’s grandfather. The Shadow here is NOT an overall, benevolent if ruthless vigilante, but an insane murderer who apparently killed his own descendant, and Bruce’s mission leads him to track down some of the Shadow’s old allies, including an elderly Margo Lane. It seems that while Shadow used to be a hero, at a certain point he sort of lost it, began calling himself The Master and cut out all the people closest to him. Realizing he may be facing an immortal, insane killer, Bruce decides to seek help from Ducard – only to find out that Ducard is the Shadow? Like I said, some seriously weird twists in the first issue, but overall a highly entertaining story. And bonus points for the use of Matches Malone! I’m not all that well-versed in The Shadow, so I’m definitely in for Snyder and Orlando’s ride here.

Batman/The Shadow Crossover
The Shadow gets the better of Batman, page 8, image via DC Comics

Corrina: Show of hands of everyone who’s read a Shadow comic recently? (Well, I have but only a few issues.) I doubt DC or Dynamite will have fans storming the castle over changes to Lamont Cranston’s character. Especially since the Shadow in this issue is appropriately mysterious and threatening–and it’s hard to seem both of these to Batman. Yet, the Shadow definitely comes out ahead of the Dark Knight in this first issue.

What happened so many years ago to Cranston? Is this Shadow truly the murderer? Maybe, maybe not, though the idea of inserting the Shadow’s backstory onto Henri Ducard seems genius, as it gives the Shadow another edge over Batman, that of a teacher to student. I enjoyed the talk with Margo Lane and hope, at some point, we see flashbacks that include her and Lamont.

I love when Batman has to be a detective and that’s the angle chosen for this crossover and, so far, it’s my favorite crossover of the month. Yes, even over those Watchmen guys.

THE BUTTON CONTINUES!

The Flash #21 – Joshua Williamson, Writer; Howard Porter, Artist; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: Love the Human Moments

Ray: This is definitely going to be the most low-key, character-driven issue of The Button, as Bruce and Barry deal with the fallout of Eobard Thawne’s attack on the Batcave. When the issue opens, Johnny Thunder has escaped from his nursing home and is trying to call his genie to no avail, as he’s wrestled back by orderlies. This scene parallels Saturn Girl’s last week, and makes me wonder who we’re going to see next week. Meanwhile, Barry is inspecting the Batcave, and Thawne’s skeletal corpse as he views the aftermath. Although he’s trying to keep his mind on the case, the fact that it’s his mother’s killer’s body does not escape him. As Barry inspects the mysterious energy surrounding Thawne, it becomes clear that the only witness was Batman.

Bruce, beaten within an inch of his life but undeterred, demands to be involved in the investigation. One thing I really liked about this issue is how it focuses on the friendship between the two heroes. While Batman and Superman usually get the focus, I actually think Batman and Flash have much more in common – both detectives, both lost a parent to murder, both endlessly investigating. Barry’s investigations soon lead him to the cosmic treadmill, where he plans to travel in time. Bruce follows him, and despite Barry’s doubts, the two travel through time as a unit. That segment is the issue’s best, as the Treadmill takes them through the history of the DCU – including multiple things that never happened to any of them, due to Doctor Manhattan’s manipulation. They eventually arrive in a Batcave, a different one that Barry instantly recognizes – and come face-to-face with Thomas Wayne, Batman. This issue may have been mainly setup for next issue’s meeting between the Bats, it’s still a thoroughly satisfying chapter in the crossover.

Guess what Flash is looking for in the JLA watchtower? If you guess “Cosmic Treadmill,” then you should read this. 🙂 image via DC Comics

Corrina: I definitely prefer this issue over the first installment of ‘The Button’ and that’s due to what Ray calls the “low-key character driven” stuff. All these battles and alternate realities mean nothing to me if the people in them aren’t human on the page. And that moment when Barry realizes his mother’s murderer is dead and he finally has whatever closure can come from that is beautiful and sad. Also unexpected, but it shouldn’t have been since Williamson has written the best Barry Allen in forever.

I began to worry that the issue would become too plot-based when Barry refused to confide in Bruce but that was sorted nicely. And, again, a sucker for heroes doing actual detective work, so I loved the captions about blood splatter and crime scene evidence. Yes, Barry is a CSI. It’s nice to see it used as often as possible.

I preferred those two character moments over the big cosmic treadmill through time-spaace sequence though I bow down to Porter’s wonderful, kinetic art, not to mention all the characters passing by Barry and Bruce on their journey. And while I’m indifferent to Thomas Wayne’s Flashpoint Batman (I’m annoyed because Martha Wayne never has any moments), I can see much dramatic potential in the meeting of the Batmen. I only hope the next chapter of ‘The Button’ remembers the people as well as the spectacle.

GRADE A ISSUES

Batman: Detective Comics #955 – James Tynion IV, Writer; Marcio Takara, Artist; Marcello Maiolo, Colorist

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Cassandra Cain Triumphs

Ray: Detective Comics has maybe been the most consistent and excellent Bat-book in DC’s stables since it launched this current run, and this issue is no exception. Picking up in the aftermath of Cassandra Cain’s epic Wolverine moment last issue, this issue gives strong moments to almost every character. Batwoman wakes up deep underground in the catacombs with Batwing and Azrael – as well as a massive thermonuclear bomb, as the full plot of the League of Shadows is reveals. They mean to detonate the bomb under Gotham, sinking it into the sea on live TV. Shiva has also captured Batman, while Jacob Kane has gotten free and meets up with Ulysses Armstrong – who is quickly being revealed as the real villain behind the Colony, a mad sadist with a taste for chemical warfare and an obsession with Red Robin’s costume.

However, this issue is ultimately Cassandra Cain’s story, throughout. Having been thoroughly beaten by Shiva when we last saw her, she wakes up in the apartment of Christine Montclaire, the young ballet dancer we saw in #950. Montclaire bandaged Cass up and has been reading to her while she sleeps, a story about a girl who thought she was a shadow. The scenes are non-linear, showing Cass’ time in the apartment interspliced with once she leaves, as she takes the fight to the League. Marcio Takara knows how to draw ninja fights like no one’s business, and the fight scenes are amazing, with some pages being done with fairly unconventional formatting. Eventually, it all leads up to a reunion fight between mother and daughter – as Cass is joined by her new family for one epic rematch. This is the best Cassandra Cain story we’ve gotten in years, and it better end with Bruce (or Kate) adopting this poor girl.

Page 1, Batman: Detective Comics 955, featuring Cassandra Cain
Cassandra Cain takes control in Detective #955, image via DC Comics

Corrina: This issue is firmly a Cassandra Cain story and, as Ray said, one of the best Cassandra stories in years, possibly since about ten issues prior to the end of her Batgirl series. I say “one of the best” because the recent story of Cassandra watching a ballet troupe was wonderful in its own way. But, still, that’s a long time for a character to be so underused and I’ve been waiting for her to take center in this arc, especially since her mother, Shiva, is our main villain. (We think.)

The narration and the inter-splicing of Cassandra fight scenes with her talk with Montclaire is a brilliant meld of story and art and Takara should take a bow. I cringed somewhat at all the mayhem she causes and all the people she kills, considering that this is a character who once vowed “Nobody Dies Tonight,” but it does fit in with this story. Next up, The Bat-Family fights together!

Aside: I hope when Tim returns, the first thing he does is to kick Ulysses’s ass all across the Batcave. If Ulysses turns out to be in league with Ra’s or Shiva, I won’t be surprised.)

Wonder Woman #21 – Greg Rucka, Writer; Liam Sharp, Artist; Laura Martin, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Stellar

Ray: As Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman run streaks towards its sure-to-be-epic conclusion, this issue has some serious developments in the present day for both hero and villain. The issue opens with a tense, taut action segment as Diana goes up against the reinvented Dr. Poison, here a ruthless assassin with a sniper rifle. I’m not sure how bulletproof Diana is actually supposed to be, but here she takes some pretty nasty hits before shrugging them off and taking the fight to Poison. The bigger threat, though, is Veronica Cale and her plans to open the portal to Ares’ realm. Cale is a ruthless foe, but also clearly sympathetic due to her daughter’s plight – she’s essentially a human pawn in the sick game of Gods, but her hatred of Diana is misplaced. Meanwhile, on Themysrica, Hippolyta gears her soldiers up for war.

Things hit a peak at the halfway point, as Diana arrives just in time to keep Cale from performing the ritual. Cheetah, now driven insane and left as Cale’s lapdog, attacks Diana instantly, although you can sort of tell Diana’s heart isn’t in this fight. This is the first run to actually feel like Diana and Minerva’s relationship was something real before she became Cheetah. Naturally, nothing in comics should be boring, so it’s not a surprise that the portal does get opened due to Izzy’s accidental intervention, and that leads Veronica to do what she should have done years ago – as Diana for help. We were just talking about this two weeks ago, I think! But it may be unnecessary, as they descend into the underworld and soon find Izzy fully restored – in the company of a very different, far more charming Ares. Rucka’s got the best of classic WW runs and the more modern Azzarello run, and I can’t wait to see how he wraps it up.

Wonder Woman fights the new Poison in Wonder Woman #21, page 3
Do not make Diana angry, from Wonder Woman #21, image via DC Comics

Corrina: It’s a measure of the fine writing this week from DC that this issue, which is as excellent as the rest of the Rucka/Sharp run, is fourth down on our review list. The action sequence as Diana takes out Poison is one of my favorites in recent issues because I love it when people underestimate her and then are surprised when they’re wrong.

Here’s an example of why the book is so good: I hate Cale for trying to kill our heroes but, at the same time, I’m rooting for her daughter to get her soul back. I love, love the sequence where Diana agrees to help the girl. Of course, she does! That’s what Diana does. That’s who Wonder Woman is. (And, yeah, I’ll pat myself on the back for talking about what Cale should have done in the last WW recap and how her turn to a villain is largely due to failure to trust Diana.) Oddly, Cheetah and WW’s fight is anticlimactic to the question of what’s past the gate.

Still to be answered: who/what are Hippolyta and her Amazons fighting, how does Ares fit in, and will Cale turn her heel yet again?

Kamandi Challenge #4 – James Tynion IV, Writer; Carlos D’Anda, Artist; Gabe Eltaeb, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: LOVE

Ray: Giant Jaguar monster-god! This issue wastes no time throwing you right back into the action, with Kamandi about to be sacrificed by a Jaguar cult right after escaping from the plant-people-eating zealots last issue. James Tynion and Carlos D’Anda are probably the least high-watt creative team this title has had yet, but Tynion’s quickly proving himself to be one of DC’s best rising stars, so he’s a good fit. After an epic escape from the Kaiju Cat, he cuts into it – and finds out that it’s actually a robot created by the jaguar cult. After Vila survives being eaten and proves to be next-to-immortal, the Jaguars in the machine are revealed to be manipulating the jaguar cult in order to gain power after being exiled for their belief in science. Although Kamandi tries to broker a deal with them, they want to dissect them and quickly try to kill them.

After a daring escape in a rocket-ship – and exposing the frauds in the process – Kamandi and Vila wind up crashing in a desert, where Vila nearly dies from the lack of water. Kamandi heads towards a massive wall, where he comes across a giant robot that quickly knocks him out and sends him into some sort of strange, brief dream sequence. He wakes up in a castle, and finds Vila restored and them being treated as honored guests. They are greeted by an intelligent Kangaroo with an Australian accent who greets them – and then lets them know that they’ve been drafted into a Mad Max-inspired Outback race. Because why not? This book is basically “The Perils of Kamandi”, and while no real story has emerged so far, I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the most entertaining books on the stands.

Jaguar God, Kamandi #4, 2017
The Jaguar God in all his glory. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: That’s two fantastic issue written by Tynion this week. I wonder if he and Orlando are in a competition for that? There’s an afterward in this issue written by Jimmy Palmiotti about the cliffhangers each creative team is leaving for the next one and how much fun he had setting up the Jaguar God attack and his curiosity as to how Tynion and D’Anda would resolve it.

They resolved it perfectly, though, surprising me with the mechanical Jaguar God, and the reasons behind its existence. Vila being eaten is gross but I’m not sure if her growing back herself is more or less gross. It’s a great pulpy touch perfect for the story but…ewww!! And now, Australia and onto the next team. Can’t wait.

Justice League of America #5 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Andy MacDonald, Artist; John Rauch, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Topical

Ray: Two arcs in, it’s becoming clear what Orlando’s gameplan for this book is. This is a series that takes plotlines with a distinctly comic-book bent – for instance, dimension-hopping supervillains taking over a country – and makes the story surrounding them about the social climate, fusing the logistically true with the surreal. This new arc takes that bent and turns the focus on the struggles of blue-collar America in a changing economy. The issue begins with a particularly strong segment as Vixen – serving as the public face of Bruce’s team – introduces the team to the public. Some of the members are less popular than others, and while Vixen sells Killer Frost well, she’s less effective with Lobo – who doesn’t seem to care much. After the conference, Ray is pulled aside by a reporter who tells him about a crisis taking place not far from his hometown.

It seems a Western Pennsylvania town which has been suffering ever since their factory closed down has essentially sublet themselves to a supervillain. This bizarre arms dealer, Aegeus, has set up camp and is dealing Greek mythology-themed weaponry to gangs around the country. Really, the set-up is very strong, but once it gets going, most of the issue is just a set-up for some great visuals. When the team touches down in the city, Batman sets Lobo up as his secret weapon, but that soon translates into Lobo tearing through Aegeus’ secret base in a great two-page segment, and the team soon faces off with his army. I’m not really sure how Ray’s power can create mystical Greek suits of armor for the other heroes, but rule of cool! It’s a comic that delivers the old-school action, but also has a lot more on its mind. Looking forward to seeing this arc play out.

Justice League of America #5, 2017, Killer Frost
Vixen holds a press conference in JLA #5, image via DC Comics

Corrina: Orlando is treading into dangerous waters for superhero stories, in that sometimes making them too topical can strain a reader’s sense of disbelief. But, instead, he’s swimming along nicely, first tackling why dictators arise and why they fall, and now this arc about the economic misery in towns where industry once flourished but has now died, along with any sense of values. Think this can’t happen? Perhaps look at Flint, where it took years for authorities to restore clean water. As Springsteen sung “them jobs are going boys, and they ain’t coming back.”

So what’s a town to do? In the DCU, they make deals with those who offer money and look away when danger happens. In this case, they let a domestic arms dealer take over. It’s a tough situation for superheroes, who would normally stride in and punch things. I believe that’s why Lobo suffered a defeat because this isn’t a problem where punching resolves the issue. (Which leads me to wonder exactly what Bruce Wayne is doing with his fortune and what Superman might do with a fortune in created diamonds that could be used to seed economic revival. Maybe that will be covered in this arc, if I read Orlando’s intentions correctly.

My one niggle: I could use more team interaction when not fighting.

Teen Titans #7 – Benjamin Percy, Writer; Koi Pham, Penciller; Phil Hester, Breakdowns, Wade Von Grawbadger, Inker; Jim Charalampidis, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Damian Is Wrong. Again.

Ray: Serving as both an introduction to the team’s newest member and a classically silly comic book romp that isn’t much different than the kind the TT probably had in the 1960s, this book continues the title’s resurgence. It opens with Jackson Hyde, who has run away from his small desert hometown and the bigots there and found himself on the doorstep of the Teen Titans. Those same Titans, by the way, are currently facing off against King Shark. King Shark here has been reinvented into a ridiculous supervillain mastermind, breaking into prisons and experimenting on inmates to turn them into shark mutants. A bit in-depth for the “I’m a SHAAAAAAAAAAARK!” guy, but I’ll take it. The team’s fight is not going all that well, given that no one has memorized Damian’s ridiculously complex battle plans and his reinforcement techniques include screaming at people. A lot.

After King Shark retreats with his hostage to his underground base, the TT’s planning session is interrupted by the arrival of Aqualad. Damian greets him with his characteristic style, berating Goliath for letting him in and giving Jackson a derogatory nickname. The team leaves Jackson behind for a rescue mission, which gives all the members of the team some good opportunities to show off their powers. I particularly like how Percy is incorporating Raven, whose powers aren’t fast or flashy, into the battle. Her friendship (or more?) with Kid Flash is a nice touch that’s developing. However, it’s Aqualad – who ignored Damian, as people generally should – who winds up saving the day and getting a grudging invitation to the team. It’s great for team-building and Aqualad’s debut, but I’m not sure about this new take on King Shark. The tag indicates it’s another Aquaman villain we should be worried about, though.

Jackson Hyde/Aqualad, Teen Titans #7, 2017
Jackson Hyde joins the Titans in #7, image via DC Comics

Corrina: King Shark is a SHARK! No, that Gail Simone-originated joke will never die but, despite that, King Shark manages to make a menacing villain for our new heroes. I’m not sure how or why he managed to turn escaped prisoners into sharks, however. We they drowning victims caught in the tides years ago? Where else will he find other ex-prisoners to build an army then? (This reminds me of the first time I read King Shark, he was masquerading as an Atlantean and had taken over Aquaman’s throne. Then in the big battle with Aquaman, he bit him, and revealed the shark teeth and…anyway…it has terrific Jim Aparo art, if you can find the issues.)

In any case, the underwater action sequences are terrific, adding texture and color to the water, and providing a showcase for Jackson’s powers. I’m beginning to tire of Damian’s habit of simply yelling and denigrating people and expecting good results (surely, the kid is capable of learning?) but, overall, this was a fine issue. I will also note that in the original Marv Wolfman/George Perez run, Kid Flash and Raven had feelings for each other. But that was another Wally West and, presumably, a different version of Raven.

Superman: Action Comics #978 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Ian Churchill, Artist; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: A Walk Through the Past

Ray: This issue is part set-up, part clearinghouse as Jurgens continues to unveil the new history of Superman. Sure, it’s essentially an origin recap, but a lot of it is actually stuff we haven’t seen before – and some of what we see and don’t see actually provides some interesting hints. And man, it’s hard to remember just how long Jurgens has been writing Superman. He wrote the very first superhero comic book I ever picked up, 25 years ago. Seeing characters like Conduit and Imperiex again really drives that home. Some bits of the classic origin are intact, such as the way Superman and Lois met, and the way the proposal and identity reveal went down (and I agree that Lois totally knew already). However, there’s a new history about Jon’s birth that doesn’t include the convoluted Convergence.

Some bits and pieces of the New 52 are still present, too – Jonathan and Martha still died when Clark was relatively young. We see some of Superman’s most iconic stories, including Jurgens’ own Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen – although I notice one Superman’s conspicuous absence from that. Has Doctor Manhattan got Superboy buttoned up somewhere for a specific reason, just like Tim? During all of this, though, we’ve got a bigger and more present story being set up, as the Superman Revenge Squad is assembled. The mysterious mastermind digs up Eradicator from the Moon, uniting him with Metallo and Blanque – and is then revealed as none other than Hank Henshaw, maybe Clark’s deadliest enemy on his world. It’s classic, old-school Superman fun that shows Jurgens never lost a step returning to the character two decades after he killed him.

Superman: Action Comics #978, Lois Lane, Daily Planet
Superman takes a trip through memory lane, image via DC Comics

Corrina: The one absence in comic right now from Reign of the Supermen is obvious: Superboy. Given Henshaw, Eradicator, and Steel are all back in continuity, I suspect we’ll see Kon before long and hopefully the regular, clone version of Superman and not whatever insane clone/son that was in the new 52  Teen Titans/Superman comics. (Because that stuff was weird. And bad. And weird, ya’ll.)

I liked the walk back through time, noting the moment when reality has folded back–for instance, the memory of Clark and Lois having their son during Convergence is absolutely gone, and I’ll note that there were no flashbacks to the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship. Yay on that one. I also liked Clark think of Lois as “his hero,” and the nods to their relationship though she’s still missing from the actual present-day story far more than I would like. She’s an investigator on par with Bruce Wayne. She should be working on this too.

But I suspect any investigation is about to be derailed by the Superman Revenge Squad.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #19 – Robert Venditti, Writer; V. Ken Marion, Penciller; Dexter Vinex, Inker; Dinei Ribeiro

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Rip Hunter Guest Stars

Ray: While Green Lanterns delivers character-driven stories, this title is more focused on full-on Green Lantern Corps action and it delivers every time. Last issue threw the series for a loop with the return of a major DC hero – Rip Hunter, last of the Time Masters, who stepped through a portal wielding a Green Lantern ring and warning of a coming crisis. That crisis is Sarko, a militant time-traveler loyal to the Sinestro Corps, who has come to this time to sabotage the merger of the two Corps, because in his time the Sinestro Corps ceased to exist and Soranik and her forces took up green rings. Was glad to see Space Ape and his partner were still alive after coming across an army of crystal monsters, and we learn some interesting details about my new favorite Lantern this issue.

Where the series is strongest is in a real, genuine team dynamic. All the Lanterns get distinct roles to play, and Kyle is settling back into his role as a Green Lantern, even reconnecting with his old flame Soranik – albeit his attempt to rekindle the romance comes at an awkward time. Rip Hunter as an addition to the cast is intriguing, as he comes from a time where he saw the downfall of the Green Lanterns. John Stewart is skeptical of him, but he quickly proves himself and helps the Green Lanterns get ready for a massive invasion by Sarko’s crystal beasts. This book sports a huge cast, but it wields it much more deftly than most series manage. After a rough first arc, this has risen to the level of quality of its sister book and kicked this franchise back into the stratosphere.

Corrina: As soon as Venditti folded Hal back into the Corps, this book has improved by leaps and bounds, allowing the other Lanterns (Green and Yellow) to have spotlights of their own, and relegating Hal to the place where he should be: the hothead who’s great at taking chances. As a main character, that trait quickly becomes annoying. As part of a team, it definitely has its place.

And I love how the different Lanterns have been humanized, such as Space Ape, who has quickly become a favorite in only two issues. I’m a little confused as to why Kyle needed a heart-to-heart with Soranik with an invasion imminent but, hey, that’s a small niggle.

Batgirl #10 – Hope Larson, Writer; Chris Wildgoose, Penciller; Jon Lam, Inker; Mat Lopes, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Batgirl Out-Oracles Someone

Ray: So, in case you were wondering, the question of whether Ethan Cobblepot is good or evil is answered conclusively in this issue in a story that takes a slightly predictable turn but is saved by just how good Hope Larson is with the Burnside crew. The issue opens with Babs meeting playing ping-pong with Penguin (it makes sense in context!) investigating a series of seemingly unconnected incidents leading to violent assaults at the Iceberg Lounge. While Commissioner Gordon is convinced they’re isolated and isn’t willing to stick his neck out for Penguin, Barbara is convinced there’s more to the story. She’s soon dumped by Ethan for ducking out on him at the party to investigate – dumped by intern-gram, no less, in the issue’s funniest scene. She commiserates and discusses the case with Dick, only to have Ethan spy on them and vow revenge.

This is when Ethan turns into every rejected jerkass out for “revenge” against the girl who doesn’t worship the ground he walks on, as he targets Barbara and her friends with a speeding self-driving car. While this turn for Ethan is a bit cliched – and his new supervillain outfit looks a bit ridiculous – the issue’s best scenes are the ones taking place between Barbara, Alysia, and Frankie. The Burnside run had a great, genuine vibe of early-adult angst, and this run continues that. I’m particularly liking how Alysia is getting some real exposure and an honest look at what a relationship is like after the happily-ever-after wedding. While the villain is probably its weakest point, I’d honestly be happy reading this book with no villains, as long as it stays in Burnside and keeps this supporting cast.

Batgirl, Jim Gordon, Penguin, in Batgirl #10, 2017
The Gordons have a chat in Batgirl #10, image via DC Comics

Corrina: Yep, Ethan is definitely evil, and he’s figured out a way to work the internet and its’ location-based services and tracking cookies to his advantage. The scary part of all this? Probably it can be done in real life and there is no sign of a Barbara Gordon to save us from it.

I enjoyed the father/daughter talk and pondered the eternal question of “Does Jim know?” I like to think he does, especially since he treats Batgirl much like he would treat his daughter, but it’s unclear. Still, it’s a terrific scene and Larson also does well with Frankie, Alysia and Barbara’s relationship. As I said above, those moments are what I live for in superhero comics.

One niggle: I miss Oracle being 10 steps ahead of everyone. I get bummed when it takes this version of Babs so long to catch up.

Doom Patrol #6 – Gerard Way, Writer; Nick Derington, Penciller; Tom Fowler, Inker; Tamra Bonvillain, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Ray: This is one of those books that seems to waver between just the right level of bizarre, and so abstract it barely qualifies as a coherent story. Books like that tend to lose people quickly, but somehow it manages to stay just on the right side for me – and I think it’s utterly fascinating. I’ve never been a Doom Patrol fan, but this band of misfits, as seen through the eyes of the very human Casey Brinke, has become one of the most fascinating teams in the DCU at the moment. The issue starts with an epic escape from a collapsing space station. This segment is really more to spotlight Derington’s brilliant art than anything else, but the story really picks up when they find themselves in the desert, outside the cult seemingly run by Jane Doe. The cult is about to be killed by a bomb being dropped on them, it seems, but the true danger is elsewhere.

In an attempt to figure out what’s gone wrong with his teammate, Robotman has Negative Man create a link between his mind and Jane’s mind, and that’s where this issue gets really fascinating. Jane, who has dozens of different personalities, has created a whole world inside her mind, with a train station where all of her personalities can exchange control – and keep each other appraised of the actions of the dominant personality, a psychotic doctor who is the one actually in charge of the cult and has an insane plan to fuse all personalities into her and then begin spreading outward like a virus. This segment reminds me of a better version of things like Split and Identity, and it leads to a brilliantly tense conclusion. By the end, the team is finally formed, and a new threat emerges. There may be delays before the next arc, but this is yet another Young Animal book that has me fascinated to find out what comes next.

Batman ’66/Wonder Woman ’77 #4 – Jeff Parker, Mark Andreyko, Writers; Jeremy Hahn, Penciller; Karl Kesel, Inker; Madpencil, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Ray: Two-thirds of the way through this series, it’s revealed itself to have a very interesting format. Each two-issue chapter – or four ten-page chapters, if you’re reading it in digital – takes place within a different timeframe of the two shows. The first two chapters took place within Wonder Woman’s World War 2 season, while the current one takes place in the timeline of Batman ’66. This means the third will take place during Wonder Woman’s 1977 timeline, with an older Batman and Robin. I’m very intrigued by that glimpse into the future, but before we get there we have to finish this issue’s Themysrican adventure. Ra’s Al Ghul has infiltrated the island to steal the power of the Lazarus Pit and renew his youth, which he accomplishes, just before being caught by the heroes.

What I found interesting about this issue is that virtually all the trouble is actually caused by Wonder Woman having a slightly harsh sense of justice for anyone who disrespects her home. Ra’s seems to just want to mock the heroes and leave with his renewed youth, but Diana decrees that he and Talia need to be punished for stealing the power of the pit. That, naturally, leads Ra’s to unleash an army of shadow ninjas, possessed monsters, and various other threats before nearly killing everyone in mystical quicksand. It’s all highly entertaining, with amusing dialogue especially on Catwoman’s part. The issue ends with Ra’s escaping, but Talia being left behind in a Themysrican prison – despite saving Batman’s life, and Catwoman seeking amnesty on the island. That’s two dangling plots to be finished up in the final arc. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this series since the beginning.

SOLID “B”:

Batman Beyond #7 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Bernard Chang, Artist; Marcelo Maiolo, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Can Bruce Change?

Ray: One of the biggest questions hanging in the air of the DCU version of Batman Beyond was exactly which world this took place in. It now seems pretty clearly that this is the future of the main DCU, as this issue refers to both Damian and Duke in a segment where Bruce Wayne reflects on his life – and it’s implied there was some massive falling-out between Bruce and Damian at some point. Bruce is back, and no less broody. The opening of this issue feels more like a Batman Beyond comic than any Jurgens has written, with Bruce working with Max and Matt as a new crisis emerges in Gotham. With Commissioner Gordon under attack by Curare and the League of Assassins, though, I had no real interest in Terry and Dana angsting over whether Terry should continue to be Batman.

Terry has always been a Spider-man-like figure – the young everyman who takes on a mantle that makes him something greater. However, this is a Terry who has been Batman for several years already. Him hanging up on a crisis call to make clear to his girlfriend that he cares about her feels like something Spider-man would do before Uncle Ben was shot. He does eventually enter the fray, in his new suit – something Bruce is not happy to see. It seems that the suit was a prototype, and there’s something about the suit that worries Bruce deeply. However, before he can get back, Curare reveals that the mastermind behind all of this is apparently a resurrected Ra’s Al Ghul. However, given the hints at the beginning of the issue, I’m pretty sure I know who this Ra’s is. Overall, a solid, enjoyable read, although Terry’s characterization needs some work.

Corrina: Talk about fake tension! Yes, we all knew Terry would finally show up but, jeez, that’s a long time to draw out the whole “I won’t answer my phone because reasons” pout on behalf of Mr. McGuinness. If he’s going to be Batman, he has to set some boundaries, yes, but he could easily set up threat levels with his ringtone, instead of simply refusing to respond when there’s a crisis. Like, a regular ring for Gordon needing to speak about an investigation, a police siren for a crime in progress, and a fire alarm for, say, people attacking police headquarters.

But, hey, at least he gets back in action, and at least we are left on an excellent cliffhanger. And my heart went out to older Bruce, feeling frustrated as he looked back at his life. Will he turn into a more cuddly version of himself? We’ll see.

SPLIT DECISION

Supergirl: Being Super #3 – Mariko Tamaki, Writer; Joelle Jones, Artist; Kelly Fitzpatrick, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Great Stand-Alone Kara Story

Ray: Three issues in, I sort of get what this book is going for. It’s a story of teen alienation, told through the perspective of an actual teen alien. It’s a theme that’s always been bubbling under the surface of all stories involving Kryptonians but never put front and center (besides the cringe-worthy early issues of Smallville). Its’ take on Kara is strong, but it seems to be an odd fusion of several different mythologies, with the most significant change being that it puts her in Superman’s place, as seemingly the only Kryptonian on Earth, raised since early childhood by a farm couple. The series does well with themes of grief and regret, as well as the toll that keeping a secret identity like this would take on friendships. However, I don’t feel it does nearly as well with plot and story arc.

This issue introduces two major villains, after two issues that were lacking in punchable threats. One is Kara’s high school track coach, who randomly turns out to be a mastermind evil scientist and the person behind the earthquake that killed Kara’s friend. Who she actually is or why she’s doing this isn’t addressed. The other major new player is a fellow young Kryptonian, who has been held captive and experimented on by the evil scientists for what may have been years. At first, I thought this might be Clark, Mon-El, or even Zod, but it’s actually an original Kryptonian named Tan-On, who at first seems like he could be a kindred spirit for Kara – but soon turns out to be a sadistic maniac looking to burn Earth to ashes for the torture he endured. With only one issue left, it feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface of this AU, and I’m not sure it’ll be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

Supergirl: Being Super #3, 2017
Kara heads back to school after a tragedy, image via DC Comics

Corrina: The question I ask as I read this story: would someone outside comics who loves the idea of Supergirl enjoy this series? And the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ New readers won’t care about Kara being supposedly the first Kryptonian to land on Earth or having elements of Superman’s origin used. They’ll be too busy being charmed by the Kara on the page, as well as by her friends, as you can see how Kara’s powers are making high school harder than it should be–and in a way that I never found whiny but poignant. She knows she has powers, so why couldn’t they save her friend? Because someone messed with her. That’s a double whammy for any kid, never mind one wondering if she’s human or not.

True, having found the track coach behind it may not have been set up perfectly but there were plenty of hints someone was watching Kara and messing with her powers and I was thrilled that, for a change, it wasn’t some evil government agency. The only element I found predictable was the Kryptonian who needs help but then immediately turns on humanity. That’s been done a few times too many for my taste but, hey, it makes good thematic sense as Kara has to eventually choose to be human, and Tan-On is going to represent what she lives behind.

The art on this series, especially the realistic depiction of teenage girls, has been note-perfect for the target audience, and it still shines even in the action sequences. I can easily see this being an entry level into comics for readers new to comics.

Mother Panic #6 – Jody Houser, Writer; Shawn Crystal, Artist; Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Colorist

Ray – 6.5/10

Ray: This Young Animal book, the oddball of the line, wraps up its first major storyline with a surprisingly quiet issue until the last five or so pages. Violet and her fellow refugee from Gather House parted on bad terms when Violet wasn’t willing to fully commit to his terrorist path. Now, they tail each other over the streets of Gotham as this mysterious “beautiful” man stalks his targets and brutally attacks them with car bombs, knives, or anything else – although he has more long-term plans for some of them. Meanwhile, Violet’s personal life continues to unravel as she loses another friend due to her propensity for violence. Shawn Crystal’s art does really well, especially in the more surreal segments, but it still lacks a compelling lead.

The issue picks up a lot in the last few pages, as the villain takes a hostage at the conclusion of his Jack the Ripper-lite routine, and takes her to Violet’s mansion. That brings Violet’s mother into the picture for the first time this issue – as well as her new houseguest, Otis, aka the Ratcatcher. Ratcatcher winds up dealing with the villain in a twisted but oddly karmic way, and somehow manages to win Violet’s approval to stay in the basement. The addition of this odd D-list Bat-villain to the cast is intriguing, but it’s still almost entirely centered around Violet. And one arc in, she’s pretty close to a blank slate of a character. It’s the one member of the Young Animal line that doesn’t really seem to have a strong hook to it so far.

Corrina: Every single one of the Young Animal books has art perfectly suited to the story that’s being told and this book is proof. Mother Panic is a complicated creation, a woman at odds with herself over reality, and that’s reflected in the surreal chase sequence, where sometimes it’s also hard for the reader to tell reality from fiction. What’s clear is that all these characters are in pain. This book would work better set in its own universe but the tone is at least singular, even if Violet herself isn’t that unique among Gotham denizens.

And the Ratcatcher? That I did not see coming but it’s a creative use of one of Gotham’s lesser-known characters. I’m still not sure what victory looks like for Violet, however.

The Hellblazer #9 – Simon Oliver, Writer; Davide Fabbri, Penciller; Jose Marzan Jr., Inker; Karl Kesel, Finisher; Carrie Strachan, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Art Carries the Story

Ray: As Constantine begins its second major arc, this issue is one of the weakest of the series, mostly serving as a setup for a mystery that hasn’t really been built up to be very compelling. Last issue saw a mysterious journal tied to djinns and other dark magical powers go missing from the house of an old man who met an unpleasant end. This issue finds Constantine and Mercury on the run for the book, but their adventures aren’t much more interesting than you’d find on an antiquing show. At first they encounter Constantine’s ex and rival Misabel, but their interaction mainly consists of her taunting him from inside her car. They then head to a used bookseller, and an expensive antiques dealer, where they impersonate a rich American couple.

More exciting is the doings of a shady British fixer, who apparently works as the power behind the scenes of Parliament and the PM, but gets in over his head when it comes to the ruthless djinn who serves as the big bad of this arc. The issue had odd shades of Lucifer at times, almost feeling like a crossover at times. It’s also the most nakedly political issue Oliver has written yet, with characters openly opining on things like Brexit, Trump, etc – and given that this is Hellblazer, that often consists of Constantine cursing people out over their country’s voting decisions. It feels much more like a Vertigo comic than any of the previous issues, but in this case that’s not necessarily a good thing. That run could be very slow at times, and this issue drags.

Corrina: I find the elements of Oliver’s run interesting but not as fully tied together as they could be, which makes the book move slower than I’d like. For instance, now that we know the Djinn are the villains, I’d have expected more focus on their blocking Constantine but, instead, it’s more about the search for an object that may or may not help. Meanwhile, I had to fip through back issues to sort whether we’d seen this British power broker before and…maybe? But it feels like we should be past the part of the story where the Djinn take over and to the part where people start fighting back.

Still, it’s entertaining, for the most part, mostly because of the interaction between Constantine and Mercury.

Blue Beetle #8 – Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis, Writers; Scott Kolins, Artist; Romulo Fajardo Jr., Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Ray: The addition of JM DeMatteis to this series on script duty improves the dialogue, I think, but ultimately this is a tale of two comics – there’s two major plots going on in this book, and only one of them is interesting. Last issue saw the scarab ripped out of Jaime by the evil Arion, who is currently locked in battle with Doctor Fate, while his minion Mordecai quivers in his boss’s presence. The problem is, Arion is completely non-compelling as a villain. He rambles like a stock villain from a 1980s cartoon and every time the character appears on screen the story grinds to a halt. Fortunately, the other stuff going on is much more compelling. Ironically, Jaime became a much more interesting character once he lost his powers.

Once he’s given a clean bill of health, Bianca wastes no time getting Jaime out of Ted Kord’s office to get him home. They never get there, though, as they’re interrupted when Jaime sees his friend Kevin Kho – the star of OMAC from way back in 2011! – beat up and on the run. Kevin looks and acts a lot different than I remember him, but this is a character I never thought I’d see again. Soon enough, a villain appears, Jaime’s mother is transformed into a monster by some odd gas that’s released, and Kevin is transformed by Brother Eye into OMAC. Determined to rescue both of them, Jaime returns to Ted’s lab and borrows his old Blue Beetle armor to go get the scarab back from Arion. This Arion plotline can’t end quickly enough, but there’s some promising elements in this issue.

Corrina: It seems like so many elements are being tossed into this comic to see what might stick. There’s the whole “the scarab is alien tech,” angle, the ancient Egyptian angle, the part of the story that focuses on the Reyes family and Jaime’s friendships…..and then there’s the Doctor Fate/Orion plot and, for good measure, OMAC!

It’s enough to give me reader overload. I have no idea what element is the most important or why, when the emphasis should be on Jaime, that it so frequently is pushed to the side for random elements like OMAC.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #25 – Sholly Fisch, Writer; Dario Brizuela, Artist; Franco Riesco, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Ray: Scooby-Doo Team-Up is one of DC’s oddest books, serving as both a kids’ book and an all-ages exploration of some of the oddest corners of DCU continuity – with some detours into Hanna-Barbera properties. As such, it’s pretty hit-and-miss, and this issue calling back to the 70’s-era Hard Traveling Heroes – Green Lantern and Green Arrow, not the recent horrific Six-Pack miniseries – is definitely one of their hits. The hippie era is far behind us, obviously, so this issue focuses on a town of aging hippies who have chosen to live apart from the world in a commune of sorts, and are now being haunted by the ghosts of their square parents. The ghost mystery only lasts the first half of the issue, and has one of the more clever resolutions I’ve seen in this book.

Of course, this is a team-up, and the book gets a lot of laughs out of the partnership of Green Arrow and Green Lantern, two of the most vitriolic best buds in superhero comics. The book spoofs Green Arrow’s lack of a rogues gallery, his angry ranting, and even gets in some digs at Arrow. When Psycho Pirate shows up to make everyone start fighting, the book flags a tiny bit in my opinion, but it still gets some good laughs in – and ends the book with a strong Black Canary cameo. This book obviously doesn’t take itself too seriously – the last issue featured a crime-fighting horse in the wild west – but it’s one of DC’s best all-ages efforts.

THE VERGE OF AN “F”

Suicide Squad #16 – Rob Williams, Writer; Tony S. Daniel, Penciller; Sandu Florea, Inker; Tomeu Morey, Colorist

Ray – 5/10

Corrina: The Talk Better Than the Action

Ray: The standard format of two stories in one issue is gone for now, as Tony Daniel takes over on full art duties for this issue (but not for long, as he’s slated to draw Damage for the Dark Matter line in a few months). That gives this issue a much smoother read than any previous issue, but it doesn’t resolve the many problems this series has. There’s a somewhat compelling story at the center of this issue, as Lex Luthor and Amanda Waller face off in a showdown over glasses of wine that is far more compelling than any of the battles the Suicide Squad faces. They both know how to manipulate each other and cut to the core of their insecurities, and when the two of them are on screen, this issue is at its strongest. But Luthor attempting to kiss Waller at one point? That’s happened before, and it was weird then, and it’s weird now.

The rest of the story is much more flawed. The Squad has been deputized on a mission into the top-secret vaults below Lexcorp. The issue is just a never-ending array of bizarre battle segments. First, Boomerang’s arm goes missing during the teleportation and Enchantress keeps bringing back the wrong arm from the dark dimension. Then the team faces a robot that detects life signs, and Enchantress turns the team into zombies to get them through. Then they fight Bizarros. Finally, they get to the goal of the mission – Kryptonite – and Waller blackmails Luthor into letting them take it so she can implant it in Zod’s brain. This comic occasionally has a few interesting ideas, but the problem is that besides Waller, it really doesn’t have any characters that can sell them effectively.

Corrina: Yes, Luthor and Waller are weird together. At least physically. Mentally, they’re interesting, at least more interesting than the Squad taking on an army of Bizarros.

There were some moments when I smiled, especially the running joke at Boomerang’s missing arm, and Enchantress’s dialogue, which I think was mean to be over-the-top funny. It was nice to see why that character is on the Squad for a change.

But, overall, the comic is nothing special and making General Zod a member of the Squad with a Krytonite bomb inside is…a very bad idea.

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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.