DC This Week – The Finale of a Wonder Woman Masterpiece

Greg Rucka, Wonder Woman
Image from Wonder Woman #16, via DC Comics

DC has a surplus of fantastic issues this week but the overall prize must go to Greg Rucka and Liam Sharp for their truly fantastic finale to “The Truth,” in Wonder Woman #23.

Elsewhere, “The Lazarus Contract” continues the terrific Teen Titans/Titans/Deathstroke crossover in Deathstroke #19; Batman: Detective Comics #957 is a solo Stephanie Brown/Spoiler story. (Aside: ‘Tec has brought back both Steph and Cassandra Cain in spectacular fashion.) Batman/The Shadow #2 continues its creepy pulp vibe; Killer Frost and Ryan Choi have a danger date (sorta) in Justice League of America #7; and all of Superman’s enemies are allied against him in Superman: Action Comics #980.

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

Wonder Woman #23 – Greg Rucka, Writer; Liam Sharp, Artist; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 10/10

Corrina: Unpredictable and Brilliant Finale

Ray: It’s the final chapter of The Truth, the present day storyline before both timelines converge in the extra-sized Wonder Woman #25 next month – and Greg Rucka bids adieu to Wonder Woman for the second time. He’s leaving big boots to fill, but it seems like he’s going out with a bang. This is my favorite issue of the run, and maybe one of my favorite Wonder Woman issues period. It resolves multiple plotlines in satisfying fashion, delivers both epic action and fantastic character-driven scenes, and provides some major new depth to one of Wonder Woman’s most iconic villains. That would be Ares, whose presence on Themysrica is explained this issue – as well as its link to the bizarre spell that’s kept Diana from finding the true Themysrica all these years. The villainization of Ares in the comics all these years hasn’t really rung true with Greek mythology, and this issue puts that right.

However, there’s still villains at the gate, in the form of the sadistic Phobos and Deimos, easily the most despicable villains of this arc – Veronica Cale, Doctor Cyber, all have redeeming characteristics. Not these two. As the Amazons prepare for a hopeless battle against their minions, Diana faces the twisted Demigods in a unique, two-on-one battle – and while some people will find the resolution hokey, I thought it was a brilliant take on Wonder Woman’s greatest strength – her compassion. The resolution of Veronica Cale’s search for her daughter is almost brilliantly poetic – Izzy finds her happy ending and a new purpose, but Veronica is denied the reunion she so desperately wants. Veronica’s arc in this title has been a thing of beauty, as Rucka finally gives his creation the story she deserves. With brilliant fantasy-influenced visuals and a powerful emotional core, I can only imagine what’s to come in the finale. There’s a strong case to be made that between his two runs and The Hiketeia, Greg Rucka is the definitive Wonder Woman writer.

Wonder Woman #23, story by Greg Rucka, art by Liam Sharp
The Amazons take a stand in Wonder Woman #23, image via DC Comics

Corrina: Rucka is certainly up there with the best Wonder Woman writers but I’m not ready to say definitive, especially not with the stories published in the past two years, including the fantastic Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon; to say nothing of the work of Phil Jimenez, Gail Simone and George Perez on the Amazon Princess. But after multiple miscues with the main Wonder Woman title, its countless reboots and reimaginings, Rucka had done something near-impossible, though, and that gives regular Wonder Woman comic readers back a definitive Wonder Woman.

That ain’t a small task.

I said a few weeks ago that if Izzy doesn’t become whole at the end of this, I would be seriously bummed. She is whole but it’s done in such a way as to break her mother’s heart. As a mother, I will say this is better–knowing your child is alive and well and loved–than having a child exist in limbo. But it would hurt to never be able to see that child again. Rucka has paved the way for any future interpretations for Veronica Cale. She can finally be at peace; she can reconcile with Wonder Woman yet still try to find a way to make war on the Greek Pantheon for what they did and might do again, or she can blame Wonder Woman for it all and go full villain. Given what Veronica did to Cheetah, the latter two are more likely. And what’s to become of poor Dr. Minerva? I hope the next creative team treats Cheetah well.

Deathstroke #19 – Priest, Benjamin Percy, Dan Abnett, Writers; Larry Hama, Breakdowns, Carlo Pagulayan, Roberto J. Viacava, Pencillers; Jason Paz, Inker; Jeromy Cox, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Not Such an Evil Deal, Nightwing

Ray: It’s Priest’s turn at the wheel for this issue of The Lazarus Contract, and it’s not a surprise that this is the best issue of the excellent crossover so far. Priest gets to show off his grasp of both Deathstroke and Titans continuity, and the way they intersect, going back to the usually-forgotten subplot that Rose was trained by Nightwing. He even references Speed Force technology from the very start of the Manapul/Buccellato run! That wasn’t just Nightwing being a good guy, but rather Slade cutting a deal with him – Deathstroke will drop the contract he’s placed on the Titans after the death of Grant, in exchange for Dick keeping Rose far away from him and training her. It’s an intriguing case that further emphasizes that Priest’s Slade can both be utterly despicable and totally human. Slade is a long-gamer, and that’s shown in the fight between Wally Sr. and a Speed Force-powered Slade, where Slade shuts him down with one sentence.

The Titans teams are mostly on the sidelines for this issue, arguing as they wait for Dick and Wally to be found, but Deathstroke’s tampering starts having consequences when Wally Jr. loses his speed force in the middle of a run. Jericho is present, as his history with both Slade and the Titans comes to light. This issue casts Jericho as a slightly more decent figure that he usually comes off as in Slade’s book. I kind of wish Rose was, um, awake for some of this story, but that’s a minor quibble in one of the best inter-book crossovers in years. Flashbacks to Grant and Joey’s childhood continue to make us care about everyone involved and the last page packs more emotional punch than I expected any story involving a villain. Even in crossover mode, this is DC’s most consistently excellent book, and hopefully, Priest is here for the long haul.

Wally West, Deathstroke, Lazarus Contract
Wally is losing the race with Deathstroke in Deathstroke #19, image via DC Comics

Corrina: For all the other Titans yelling at Dick for making a deal with Deathstroke last issue, this seems like one that they could have supported: no contract on their lives plus a chance to redeem someone who so obviously needs a good influence in her life?  Seems like a win/win. Perhaps Dick didn’t tell them because he felt that would make Rose feel like she was an obligation.

I feel as if Jericho is a decent person trapped in horrible circumstances who never learned the right way to cope with anything. Hence, his “killing” of his ex-lover. Here, there’s no reason for him not to help, especially given that, well, Slade just proved willing to sleep with and possible kill Jericho’s fiancee.

And, man, when Priest said he saw Slade as the World’s Worst Dad, he wasn’t kidding. Slade is never boring under Priest’s storytelling, that is for certain. I might even feel a smidgen of heartbreak for him. But given he killed the dog, well, only a smidgen. Which is where I believe Priest wants me to be.

Batman: Detective Comics #957 – James Tynion IV, Christopher Sebela, Writers; Carmen Carnero, Artist; Karl Story, Richard Friend, Inkers; Javier Mena, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: The Spoiler Lives Up to Her Name

Ray: Christopher Sebela comes on as co-writer for this single-issue story focusing on Stephanie Brown since she cut ties with Batman and became an anti-vigilante activist. And let me tell you, Stephanie Brown playing villain is as hilarious as you’d expect. Her main MO as a saboteur when the story opens is wrecking Bat-signals repeatedly and annoying Harvey Bullock. But while this issue could have glossed over Stephanie’s case against Batman, it actually grounds the issue very neatly in her voice, letting her speak directly to the reader about the hell that she believes Gotham is descending into because of Batman. On one hand, her argument is flawed and overdramatic, but it’s also rooted in genuine pain over the close friend she saw die. She’s such a fantastic lead character here that it’s almost a shame when the fighting and shooting begin.

The main villain this issue is The Wrath, a heavily armored, deranged Batman wannabe who lays siege to a Gotham broadcasting station. If I recall correctly, this version of The Wrath is from the John Layman run of Detective Comics, and was much more vicious than any version before him – even going so far as to kill his young partners when they disappoint him. The problem is, here he’s not much more than a monologuing stock villain waiting for a punch in the face from our anti-hero. Stephanie’s a classic guile hero, in that her guts and determination make up for her lack of training. I still feel like her hacker skills come out of nowhere – that’s Harper’s thing! – but her takedown of Wratch is extremely satisfying. And the return of Anarky – the real one, not the various false starts – turns Stephanie’s one-woman rebellion into a movement. Sebela does a strong job as co-writer, and this title continues to build momentum as cast members move in and out.

Corrina: This comic does a terrific job of being totally sympathetic to Steph’s point of view as a traumatized and grieving teen, one who is absolutely convinced she’s correct and everyone else is wrong, and proving why she should be considered formidable.

But it also does a terrific job of showing the latent contradiction in Steph’s new role: she’s wearing a costume and beating up bad guys. You’re still being a superhero, Steph, even if you don’t see it. I’m not sure why it was so mixed up in her mind that superheroes need to be visible to be called superheroes. Batman, for example, went through an entire period of being considered an urban legend, then there’s the Shadow, Ragman, etc., who all work in anonymity. Steph doesn’t see this contradiction, which is note perfect for who she is.

Let’s see how Anarky is handled by this creative team. No one seems to have understood him since his original creators, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle. But given how well this run on ‘Tec has been, I’m betting they break that streak.

Batman/The Shadow #2 – Scott Snyder, Steve Orlando, Writers; Riley Rossmo, Artist; Ivan Plascencia, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Only the Shadow Knows (Couldn’t Resist)

Ray: Of all the DCU crossovers in the last year, this seems to be the one that’s most firmly a DCU creation, using the public domain character of The Shadow to simply tell a compelling, supernatural-accented Batman story. It’s clear now that DC was actually planning this for a while, as the main antagonist – serial killer The Stag – was actually first unveiled in a teaser in the Batman holiday annual back in January. The issue begins with a tense swashbuckling showdown between Batman and The Shadow, as the masked pulp hero plays innocent about the murders attributed to him, but leaves far more questions than he answers. It seems the Shadow is something supernatural, body-hopping from one host to another – and an ancient enemy is back to haunt him. While The Shadow hunts the guilty, The Stag hunts the innocent – the best humanitarians the city has.

Despite his inherent status as a hero, The Shadow casts an ominous shade over the issue, especially in the scenes where he interacts with his former allies. Bruce, meanwhile, is investigating the Stag’s past murders and trying to figure out who might be next, when he discovers that the Stag’s placed their target on his old friend Leslie Thompkins. As Batman shows up for a brutal fight with the supernaturally strong Stag, there are twists aplenty as Shadow reveals that once again he’s long-gamed this. This issue makes things a lot clearer as to Shadow’s characterization in this story arc, and it’s off to a very strong start as a crossover. DC’s been putting some great a-list talent on their crossovers recently, and it’s paying off.

Batman/The Shadow #2, 2017
Batman & the Shadow face-off, image via DC Comics

Corrina: Like the brilliant Swamp Thing/Batman team-up in Batman last week, this miniseries seems to be straight out of a classic Brave & the Bold tale, which often mixed Batman and the supernatural, especially with Phantom Stranger. The Shadow makes for a perfect contrast to Batman, something beyond his ken, but something still driven by human concerns. (Sort Of.) The Shadow has to earn Batman’s trust and it’s not quite there. If you’re a reader, you’re still flinching a bit when he shows up, wondering if he’s villain or hero or something beyond both.

The sequences with Shadow’s former allies when he was Lamont Cranston reminded me of the classic Jack Knight Starman/Wesley Dodds Sandman crossover in James Robinson’s iconic run on Starman. I cannot give this comic higher praise than that.

Batman ’66 Meets Wonder Woman ’77 #5 – Mark Andreyko, Jeff Parker; Writers; Jeremy Hahn, Penciller; Karl Kesel, Inker; Madpencil, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Ray: One of the best surprises to ever come out of the DC Digital-first line enters its final arc with this issue that takes the series into uncharted territory – showing us the future of the Batman ’66 world for the first time. It’s now 1977, the era of Wonder Woman’s second season, and she’s returned to man’s world and is fighting crime. The issue opens with her beating up Killer Croc and meeting up with Barbara Gordon – now Commissioner Gordon, after Jim retired. Maybe it stretches belief a bit that Barbara could be Commissioner at, what 35-37, after being a librarian ten years ago, but I like any AU where Barbara follows in her dad’s footsteps. The news is less good for Batman, though, who has not been seen in years. Nightwing is still keeping Gotham safe ever since graduating from Robin, and Catwoman’s face turn stuck, but Bruce Wayne is retired and has shown no inclination to go back on his decision.

A flashback shows the cause of this decision. Batman kept going, even as he got older, with Alfred by his side in his twilight years. Until one day, Joker broke into Wayne Manor to attack Batman, and Alfred suffered a fatal heart attack in the invasion. This enraged Batman so much that he beat Joker severely – and the clown didn’t survive. Even accidentally killing someone, even his arch-nemesis, disgusted Batman so much that he isolated himself in his manor where he mainly talks to visions of Alfred and Joker. Wonder Woman tries to coax him out of retirement by reminding him of all the good he did, but it’s Nightwing who has more success, tempting him with a mystery to solve. There are shades of Batman Beyond here with Bruce’s seclusion, but it’s also very much in the spirit of the original show with only a slightly darker twist. Ra’s and Talia are on the fringes this issue, but next issue promises a great final showdown. It’s rare to see a licensed property expand its world this much. Diana is fun, but this series really belongs to Batman ’66 in the last act.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #21 – Robert Venditti, Writer; V. Ken Marion, Penciller; Dexter Vines, Inker; Dinei Riberio, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Even When Hal Saves the Day…He Doesn’t

Ray: This issue wraps up the current time-hopping Lantern adventure with a bang, as the true identity of genocidal maniac Sarko is revealed – with massive impact for one of the core Green Lanterns. When it kicks off, Hal and Rip Hunter are speeding into space in pursuit of Sarko and his living weapon, Krona’s gauntlet. The trip gives Hal a good excuse to sum up the other Lanterns and how their fighting styles all differ. On Mogo, the Mantis-like mystery constructs have cornered the Lanterns, who have taken off their rings for the final battle due to the fact that it seems like the creatures feed off their energy. Meanwhile, Soranik and Kyle join the battle, but oddly the constructs refuse to attack them like they do every other Lantern. This leads Kyle to try to analyze Sarko’s DNA using Rip’s ring – and he proceeds to fly off in a panic.

Meanwhile, on the planet Sarko’s taken over, he arrives and engages in a one-on-one battle with the gauntlet he formerly used as a ring replacement. I’m not sure exactly how the gauntlet became a giant evil robot, but it’s the kind of ridiculous thing that really works for this story. In the end, Hal manages to sever the gauntlet-bot’s power source, and this creates a burst of energy that hits the intervening Sarko, fatally injuring him. Everyone in the Corps celebrates their victory – except Kyle, who is mourning the son he would have had in the future. With a clever twist and a great look at the Lanterns in a war setting, this arc continues the GL line’s excellent rebound. While Green Lanterns delivers excellent character-driven stories, this book is essentially a summer blockbuster in comic book form.

Corrina: This book has been enjoyable for me ever since Hal was reunited with the Corps. (A hard trick since, well, Hal is likely my least favorite DC superhero.) And so I was surprised once again to enjoy an issue spotlighting him as the one who saves the corps.

Except….it seems that Sarko’s story was terribly truncated, as was the explanation for how the gauntlet gave rise to the robot or how Sarko even became evil. He tells us that he’s driven to recreate the Sinestro Corps but not why and not why he picked this moment to strike. And the final revelation that he’s Kyle and probably Soranik’s son comes completely out of left field, much as their flirting did during the battle. Obviously, the flirting was there to re-establish the relationship that probably will eventually lead to Sarko but, still, it has to be based on something more than I’ve seen on the page.

So, I’m left in the position of being totally pleased with the Hal parts of the story and skeptical of the others. That’s a change!

Superman: Action Comics #980 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Patrick Zircher, Artist; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Hate That Superman Is Sucked Into a Suicide Squad Story

Ray: The Superman Revenge Squad is almost full, but the 20 years worth of Superman villains has one more target. The return of the original Cyborg Superman, one of Superman’s most brutal and evil foes, adds a new level of tension to this arc. Each of the villains involved is genuinely creepy – Blanque is a sadist, Metallo is driven by genuine pain and a lust for revenge, Eradicator brings a machine-like ruthlessness, and Mongul is a brutal warrior looking for his next fight. Only the Cyborg brings a genuine level of ambition and lust for large-scale chaos, though – and that leads to his newest recruitment drive. General Zod, who is currently locked up in Belle Reve under Amanda Waller’s eye. Everyone knows I’m not a fan of the current Suicide Squad title, but all those elements are written far better here.

Superman, besides dealing with trying to acclimate his son to their new life in the city, doesn’t have all that much to do before he joins the search for Zod. This issue really belongs to the villains, and both sides meet up in a great set piece near the end. Belle Reve is covered from the outside by a dome of shadow, and apparently, it includes a portal to another dimension of infinite shadow that forces anyone inside to confront their worst nightmare. For Cyborg Superman, that’s a revisiting of his original painful origin. He was a villain with a sympathetic backstory, for sure – but that really never explained his lust for genocide. Superman, meanwhile, makes the mistake of going in alone and winds up confronted by his endless fear of failing people, including his parents, in a series of creepy segments. Jurgens does a lot of recapping of Superman’s history in this run, but it’s his talent as one of the character’s most iconic writers to make those segments engaging as their own story.

Corrina: I’ve noticed where Ray and I consistently disagree tends to focus on battle sequences. Ray digs them. I rarely love them, as they all tend to fall into a pattern and seem all alike. There are some exceptions, including the Future Quest finale, and everything in DC: The New Frontier, but I’m hard-pressed finding a super-battle lately that I love. Yes, there are action sequences in the Wonder Woman comic but the final confrontation with Ares and his twins had a twist.

This is a long-winded way of saying I’m not that big on seeing a issue-long fight between Superman and the Superman Revenge Squad and that I enjoyed Clark, Jon, and Lois adjusting to city life more than the fighting. (Though Lois still needs to be doing more outside of playing mom, even if it’s appropriate here.) However, I did love Superman’s dark knight of the soul in the dome of shadow, especially since I know he’ll get out of it. I haven’t given this characterization of Superman enough praise and I should: this is the Superman I know and love.

Justice League of America #7 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Jamal Campbell, Artist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Excellent Characterization

Ray: A solid done-in-one issue focusing on the team’s newest “it couple”, Killer Frost and The Atom. If I have one complaint about the book’s narrative so far it feels like these two have gotten the lion’s share of the focus while others – Ray, Vixen – have gotten comparatively little focus. Hopefully that will change, but the writing is strong across the board. One thing I really love about Orlando’s writing – and that of several other newer DC writers – is the deep cuts they pull from DC continuity. Remember Z-list villain Terrorsmith, from the 1993 Bloodlines event that spawned Hitman? Me neither, but he’s back in Rebirth form! He’s actually not a bad villain – an alien-influenced sadist who can transform people into their worst nightmares. And he turns Atom and Killer Frost’s day at the museum into a monster-filled disaster.

Atom and Frost aren’t there on a date, of course – they’re there investigating a mysterious frozen corpse that may possess the key to reversing Caitlin’s transformation. The other characters get only a few scenes – including Lobo beating up people in a casino for justice – but the focus is on Atom and Frost taking on their fears and defeating the monstrosities Terrorsmith throws at them. He makes for a genuinely creepy villain here, but this story wouldn’t work nearly as well without Orlando’s dialogue. Also, must give a shout-out to Jamal Campbell as the guest artist. He has a really strong style that reminds me a bit of Ariel Olivetti. The end of the issue seems to set up more for Terrorsmith in the future too, as this title continues to let its motley crew of heroes gel into a team.

Killer Frost, Ryan Choi (Atom), in Justice League of America
Killer Frost and Ryan Choi team-up in JLA #7

Corrina: Ryan certainly has been making friends on the team lately, hasn’t he? First, and weirdly, Lobo who views Ryan as a “dolphin,” and now Caitlin/Killer Frost. Also, Ray has a better memory that I do for bad DC villains. I thought Terrorsmith might be a new creation.

I’ve called for personal moments in this title from the beginning and I’m so glad to finally see an issue where we get to know the characters better. There are certainly many readers who haven’t read Gail Simone’s Atom (Ryan) (though you should, go, pick it up!), and Killer Frost is essentially a blank slate in this new DC world. I hope, as over in Batman: Detective Comics, that each of our characters will have a spotlight, so I expect a focus on Vixen, soon.

Except for Lobo. I could do without a story starring Lobo. 😉

Solid B Grades

Batman Beyond #8 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Bernard Chang, Artist; Marcelo Maiolo, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Damian Wayne as the Villain? Meh

Ray: This arc has felt the most like a genuine Batman Beyond comic ever since the characters were reintroduced into the DCU. The focus on Brother Eye’s dystopia is finally mostly gone, replaced with adventures featuring classic Bat-foes and original Beyond villains. This issue also features an excellent twist – and not the one that’s telegraphed throughout about the identity of Ra’s Al Ghul. Let’s be honest – everyone knew it was Damian the first time Bruce started talking darkly last issue about losing Damian without ever specifying what happened to him. And his youthful appearance at the end of the issue indicates pretty clearly that he’s been sampling the Lazarus Pit wares. No, what defines this issue is the legacy of Bruce Wayne’s mistakes – mistakes that threaten to cost Terry McGinnis his life this issue.

Having bested Ra’s assassins and saved Curare and Barbara from certain death, Terry seems to be getting on well in Bruce’s prototype suit, but Bruce is horrified when he finds out that Terry’s using it. The reason becomes clear when Terry engages in pursuit of Ra’s with it. The suit pushes him beyond normal endurance and even overrides decisions he makes for his safety. It turns out that the suit was designed by Bruce to supplement his normal endurance when he was aging. When he was in pain, it would provide him with painkillers. When he was unable to fight anymore, it would take over – no matter if it killed the person inside the suit. And now it drops Terry on the doorstep of Ra’s Al Ghul – aka Damian Wayne – not caring if he survives the battle. The suit is essentially the manifestation of Bruce’s insane will to triumph regardless of his own survival, and it’s a very intriguing plot point to introduce to an otherwise predictable story.

Corrina: Hey, a fight scene that I enjoyed, perhaps because the stakes were so high: not only did we have Terry fighting for his life but Bruce yelling in the background that he had to stop fighting and take that damn suit off. Which is pure Bruce, except this time there seemed to be true terror in his words. Having come back to life and found his last “son,” Bruce is afraid of losing it all again.

That makes this comic a good read except for the ending, at least for me. I would love to see one story where Damian has overcome his early upbringing and is instead the hero that Dick always thought the little squirt could be. Alas, not in this timeline. (Hey, maybe this will turn out to be yet another clone and the real Damian will take him out. That would be neat.)

Batgirl #11 – Hope Larson, Writer; Chris Wildgoose, Penciller; Jon Lam, Inker; Mat Lopes, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Good Ending But Ethan Isn’t Memorable

Ray: The conclusion to the Son of Penguin arc doesn’t quite live up to the main story, unfortunately, as Ethan Cobblepot’s transformation into a full-on Supervillain robs the character of his smug, sinister ambiguity. He’s an intriguing, tech-savvy villain who can program ordinary people into flash mobs – and then into mindless rioters – via apps, but his motivation for going this far is still sort of vague beyond daddy issues. I did enjoy the interaction between Batgirl and Penguin when she’s forced to rescue him from his wayward son, and Larson manages to capture why Penguin is potentially the funniest Batman villain – he just really doesn’t care all that much about the ongoing battle and wants to get rich with the minimal possible hassle.

The rest of the issue is essentially an extended chase segment that allows Batgirl to use her tech skills to their maximum potential. That’s probably been Larson’s strongest point in her writing of Batgirl, showing her not just as a vigilante but as a genius who thinks outside the box. I think she actually sells it better than the Burnside team ever did. However, then wouldn’t she know that damaging Ethan’s suit’s power core might cause a massive electrical feedback? The mishap that leads to Ethan being horribly burned seems sort of out of nowhere, and while he certainly wasn’t a nice guy by any stretch, it sort of ends the arc on a surprisingly dark note – although Ethan losing his good looks seems to trigger some odd paternal feelings in Oswald, which was amusing. This arc started off with an intriguing mystery and ended in a fairly predictable way. However, the strength of this book’s characterization keeps it solidly entertaining.

Corrina: I’m not more enthused about this arc because I kept looking for Babs to outthink Ethan and that seemed to come so slowly and in small parts. It frustrated me, which is more of a problem for me as a reader than with the script. Though one would think someone like Babs would be better able to block Ethan’s apps in the first place. See? I wanted a battle of wits, and Ethan seemed to have won that, save for the final twist. Again, could be me.

I also have the same problem Ray did, which is that Babs seems awful cavalier about injuring Ethan. Yes, we know he needs to be stopped but she should have anticipated the issue with the burns. Penguin showing up at the end was okay but I have no investment in their father-son bond. Yeah, I know, all this sounds cranky. Maybe it’s just not the book I want it to be and I need to accept the book as it is.

Kamandi Challenge #5 – Bill Willingham, Writer; Ivan Reis, Penciller; Oclair Albert, Inker; Marcelo Maiolo, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Serious Horror Vibe

Ray: The interesting thing about Kamandi Challenge is that the tone of the story can shift radically from issue to issue, or even sometimes within an issue. Sometimes that works to fantastic effect – and other times it can make for a jarring read. That’s the case with this issue, scripted by Bill Willingham – a comics legend for Fables, but a rather divisive creator outside of it. The issue opens with Kamandi and his plant-friend Vila making a daring escape from a band of evil kangaroos on war-trucks. Yes, really. They jump off a cliff and crash into the ocean, with Vila shifting into a raft to keep them safe but going dormant in the process. Kamandi is rescued – but what the merchant sailors think is simply his old raft is left behind in the ocean. So that’s one of the best characters in the series unceremoniously gone, but she could make a return.

Willingham has a promising setup for the second act of the series, as Kamandi teams up with Roaring Raja, a charismatic Tiger wrestler/detective. The duo wind up on a trip through the jungle in search of a mysterious doctor who can cure any disease, something the Tiger needs to help a nearby village. Along the way, they encounter a horde of barbarians atop giant eagles, in the issue’s most exciting battle segment. This title is often at its best when Kamandi is battling absurd things. But then, the issue takes a massive, gruesome mood whiplash when Kamandi winds up captured by this mysterious lemur doctor – and is promptly vivisected in gruesome fashion, with his organs being harvested. Willingham could have a brilliantly sick mind at times in his creator-owned properties, but it feels really out of place here.

Corrina: Willingham went for more adult material in his chapter, rather than the pulp action vibe that characterized the first four issues. It’s not completely bad. Roaring Raja is a find and I like the sense of time passing, so it allows later creators the chance to give Kamandi some new skills and also pushed Kamandi over the hump from naive boy to one more learned in his new world.

But I miss Vila already. Such a unique character and skill set. But given time has passed, perhaps she’ll show up soon again in the story.

As for that final image…ICK. I could have done without it but it does certainly make for quite a cliffhanger.

Mother Panic #7 – Jody Houser, Writer; John Paul Leon, Artist; Dave Stewart, Colorist; Backup by Jim Krueger, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, and Trish Mulvihill

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Improving With Each Issue

Ray: This is easily the most irregular series in the Young Animal line. When it leans too hard on making Violet Page a 90s anti-hero caricature in armor, it can easily be a cringeworthy relic. However, when it dials it back a little and lets us see the wounded person underneath, it can tread close to something great. This issue shares a little bit of both. The scenes early in the issue with her beating up petty crime and monologuing are weak – and she really needs to cut it out with the monologuing as a whole. But the central plot is strong. One of the little girls who Violet rescued early in the book’s run is back with her parents, getting ready to return to school – until a masked madman dressed in a body bag steps out of the shadows and murders her parents in front of her without a word.

That seemingly random act of violence, seeing a little girl already touched by violence, shattered again by it, galvanizes Violet into action. Her visit to the little girl in the hospital is probably the most emotional scene in the book, and this launches some strong flashbacks to her time at Gather House. Something that has been hinted at on the fringes of this comic from the start – why does she hurt, but not kill? – is explained in a dark twist, and we see the cybernetics she chose to maintain start taking their toll on her. The character still goes hot and cold with me, spending too much time as an edgy caricature, but this issue made me think there’s some real promise here. The short backup still isn’t clicking with me, though, deepening an odd Gotham-based mystery involving a blind meta, but it moves too slowly in three-page chunks to really be memorable.

Mother Panic #7, Young Animal imprint
Mother Panic is facing her mortality. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: For much of this series, Violet has been an angry cipher, with her actions sometimes trending nigh on indecipherable. I could see the possibilities in the comic, with her advocacy for victims, with her taking care of her mother, and with a seriously messed-up past but much of that was lost because I couldn’t see the person inside.

We saw a little last issue and even more this issue and it’s the kind of personal insight such as pictured in the pages above that make me interested in the series. Unfortunately,  I had a visceral negative reaction to the murder of the little girl’s parents. I can see where it was emotionally powerful but it seemed too much, given the tragedy the girl has been through already. Also, I would give this series even higher marks except for the reuse of the “assassination classroom” that’s been played out at least 3 times in recent DC Comics. Not the creative team’s fault but it makes that angle seem less fresh.

Injustice: Ground Zero #12 – Christopher Sebela, Writer; Tom Derenick, Artist; Daniel Sampere, Penciller; Juan Albarran, Inker; J. Nanjan, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Ray: This miniseries is in kind of an awkward place, because the ending – Superman is defeated and captured – is spoiled by the first two issues of Injustice 2, already out. That being said, this is still a fairly satisfying conclusion to the first act of Injustice, as the two Supermen finally face off. There’s an overly elaborate battle with Doomsday to start it off – and since when can he talk like the Hulk? But once it gets down to showing how the main universe’s Superman is such a presence that he can turn the tide of battle on his own, it works really well. With one word, he convinces Hal to give up his Sinestro Corps ring and become a Green Lantern again. And then, he finally goes to face off against his evil doppelgänger in the Fortress.

The final showdown between the two Supermen is brutal, and nicely shows the difference between a Superman driven by love and one driven by hate. This comic is ultimately Harley’s story, though, and she gets a great final act as she meets up with her other-dimensional doppelgänger to help put her on the right track, and it ends as any Harley comic should – with an implied date with Poison Ivy. For a grimdark comic like this, it actually has a pretty optimistic ending that will likely be blown up soon enough in Injustice 2, but that comic has overall had a less dark tone than the original as well.

Blue Beetle #9 – Keith Giffen, Writer; Scott Kolins, Artist; Romulo Fajardo Jr., Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Hot Mess

Ray: One thing I do appreciate about this book is just how deep Keith Giffen digs into his past DC work and DC continuity to tell his stories. His characters are engaging when things slow down enough for them to be able to breathe, but unfortunately, that’s not all that often, as there’s like six different crises going on at the same time. The evil sorcerer Arion has claimed the scarab and has now unleashed a curse that has turned most of El Paso into demonic monsters – including Jaime’s mother, and Paco. Without the Scarab, Jaime is relying on Ted’s old Blue Beetle armor and Ted is up top in the Bug giving him advice. They have an enjoyable mentor-partner dynamic and probably make up the best part of the issue. I was also surprised to see Ted’s second-in-command Teri is actually Teri Magnus, formerly of JL3K.

Of course, the deepest cut in this title is undoubtedly Kevin Kho’s Omac, although the biggest problem with his portrayal here is that it doesn’t really match up with how he was portrayed at all in Omac back in 2011. Here he’s essentially the Hulk – a scared, cowardly kid who has an all-powerful and violent alter-ego within him. But his presence allows Jaime to come face to face with Ted’s old enemy Brother Eye, who he forms an uneasy alliance with. Unfortunately, we still get a segment of Arion standing in place and ranting about his plans to end the world to his ally Mordecai, which slows the story down to a crawl, but I did enjoy seeing Teri make a trip to the Tower of Fate to deliver the helmet to Kent Nelson. It’s still a bit too busy, but this was one of the more enjoyable issues.

Corrina: A bit busy? Yeah, for me, this issue is darn near unreadable, especially combined with panels that are so full of action, it’s hard to know what is important in each sequence. There are simply too many plots happening for my reader brain to follow it all, especially since they don’t seem to connect. OMAC seemed to appear from nowhere, as did Arion as the villain, as did Dr. Fate, as did Teri from Justice League 3000.  So instead of it being a complicated plot that all connects, like in Deathstroke, it’s become a mess.

The original Reyes Blue Beetle comic was one of the things DC did right years back: reimagining a property with a new twist, a strong supporting cast, and terrific villains. Since the end of that first series, it all seems to have gone wrong for the character. That makes me sad.

Hellblazer #10 – Simon Oliver, Writer; Davide Fabbri, Penciller; Jose Marzan Jr., Carrie Strachan, Tony Avina, Colorists

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: One Story Is Compelling; Another Is Dragging

Ray: Simon Oliver will be the third writer to step off their Rebirth title when Tim Seeley takes over in August, so it seems his year-long Djinn storyline will be all he wrote on this title. It’s a compelling concept with a lot of ties to intriguing ancient mythology. The problem is, like many of the later old-school Constantine stories, it’s very leisurely in its pace and as such doesn’t really deliver the punch it needs to in every issue. The story opens with young Mercury in training with the ancient Djinn Adnan. He provokes her, she manages to get to the next stage of her training and traps him, thus getting vital information from him. From there, Constantine and Mercury head off to their next lead, taking place in a seedy underground club. This gives Constantine the chance to talk about mortality and the history of punk – but things then pick up in a hurry.

Seems that Constantine has enemies inside the club. Enemies in werewolf form. Tipped off to the location of their enemy by Marid, they hunt and herd Constantine and Mercury to their killing grounds in the issue’s only real action segment – at least until Papa Midnite, John’s old frenemy, shows up and decapitates their leader, thus getting control of the pack. Midnite’s role in this issue is sort of vague, but he’s an entertaining character who it’s always good to see show up. After a narrow escape, Constantine muses some more on his mortality and then casts a spell to take them where they need to go. One thing’s for sure – Simon Oliver gets Constantine, and this definitely feels like vintage Vertigo Constantine. I’m just not sure the story, issue by issue, really works as its own narrative.

Hellblazer #10, Djinn
Is Mercury more compelling than the lead character? Possibly.
image via DC Comics

Corrina: I admit to having lost track of what Constantine should be doing in his investigation of the Djinn. I know, he’s visiting all kinds of old friends who insult him and that’s entertaining but the plot is moving soo slow that I’m not sure we’re near a resolution or in the middle or maybe at the beginning?

However, what I am interested in is Mercury. She’s managed to wrest control of this title from Constantine by having a better story. I assume the final confrontation will be Mercury vs. Constantine because that’s the way of Constantine’s life but, at this point, I’m rooting for her.

Suicide Squad #18 – Rob Williams, Writer; Tony Daniel, Penciller; Sandu Florea, Inker; Tomeu Morey, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Ugh

Ray: One of the better issues of Suicide Squad in a while, this issue is just a full-on blockbuster action scene and impromptu tie-in to the current arc in Action Comics, showing how we got from the end of that issue to the completion of the Superman Revenge Squad. When it comes to Zod’s breakout and recruitment, the comic delivers in big, graphic action and a lot of violence. The problem is, it doesn’t deliver when it comes to making us care about anyone involved. The clearest example of that comes in the opening two pages, with Harley and Rick Flag’s romance continuing to fall flat. This comes across as some sort of sweet forbidden romance – which is wrong about 72 different ways for Harley. Again, Harley has a perfectly good love interest in Poison Ivy, writers. Just go with that and stop trying to pair her with random hero types.

Then Zod literally cuts the Kryptonite bomb out of his head with heat vision, and it all goes to hell from there. With his screams echoing through the prison, he emerges from his cell with his brains still half-exposed and begins tearing his way through Waller’s defenses. Zod’s initial rampaging Hulk-mode is gone, replaced by the cunning but still insane Kryptonian villain. Although the Squad tries to contain him – including Boomerang sticking a blade in his brain – Zod quickly turns his attention to the Phantom Zone projector and unleashes an army of Kryptonian ghosts to attack the Squad. There’s an attack by Russian Hammer guy, and then Cyborg Superman and Eradicator show up to recruit him. It’s all sort of ridiculous, but entertaining when the action is going. Problem is, every time the story slows down even for a second, we’re reminded just how few characters there are to care about here.

Corrina: Well, there aren’t any teenage deaths, so I guess that makes it better. I suppose. But I find everything about this comic unpleasant lately, and having Zod zap his own brain and blow off part of his skull to get rid of the bomb made me throw up my hands and go “c’mon, man.” Oh, yes, Waller, what could go wrong with trying to control Zod?

I should be thrilled Waller is back, as she used to be one of the most compelling characters in the DCU, but she’s devolved to out-and-out villain and, well, stupid. And we still have the fact that Boomerang murdered Hack in the background, and no one seems to care.

And, yeah, there’s that Rick/Harley love scene. WHY? The characters had no chemistry before this. Now, I could see if Harley just felt like sex and Rick was handy, but…a sweet romance? Nah. This is just a dumb idea and I have no clue where it came from.

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

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