DC This Week – Brilliance or Too Far?

Wonder Woman, Looney Tunes
Wonder Woman and Taz face-off. Image via DC Comics

This week, more Looney Tunes fun with Wonder Woman/Tasmanian Devil and Lobo/Road Runner (really, Wil. E. Coyote), and Ray and Corrina have more than their usual number of disagreements over Batman #25, Green Arrow #25, and Aquaman #25.

And a note before we start reviews: this week, DC announced a new Wonder Woman creative team starting in September, after the DC SuperHeroGirls team of Shea Fontana andNAME end a short run. It’s not so much that I object to the creative team, though James Robinson seems an odd choice and it appears the focus will be not on Diana at all but her secret “brother” who was created during the forgettable Darkseid War crossover. Ugh. One, can we leave that crossover behind? And, two, I do not want a Wonder Woman story centered around her brother. Where’s Nubia, Diana’s sister? Because Nubia in this series would be amazing.

Ahem. Back to this week. Batwoman #4 completes its first arc; Dick Grayson is having romantic troubles in Nightwing #23; Alfred provides the point of view in All-Star Batman #11; an ancient enemy troubles Jess and Simon in Green Lanterns #25; DC Bombshells #29  introduces two familiar characters to this rewriting of the DC Universe; Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #9 gets weirder; and reviews of all this week’s DC Comics.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW 

Wonder Woman/Tasmanian Devil Special #1 – Tony Bedard, Writer, Barry Kitson, Penciller; Ben Caldwell, Artist; John Floyd, Inker; Lovern Kinozierski, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: Mythic!!

Ray: One of the things that’s worked nicely so far about these Looney Tunes specials is the way they thoroughly embrace the feel of the DC property they’re tying into, like Martian Manhunter’s story being a full-on sci-fi adventure. That works to great effect here, tying Tasmanian Devil into Greek mythology. The story opens with Diana on a mission that takes her face to face with the monstrous Devil – who is none too pleased to see her again. A flashback to Diana’s teenage years shows her coming-of-age quest to conquer all the monsters in the land. After escaping some living skeletons in the labyrinth, she finds herself in Tasmania, where she comes across the super-fast Tasmanian Devil – rendered here as a giant, fearsome, but still a rather goofy east – she keeps him from eating her and lulls him into a sense of security by promising him a great feast and singing to him – before ditching him and stealing a lock of his fur. Years later, she returns to apologize for deceiving him, because she needs his help.

Another flashback shows that Circe has attacked the Amazons and turned all of them save Diana into stone. Diana needs a talisman from the Minotaur to cure them, but she needs someone fast enough to get it. Using the lasso of truth to promise the Devil a feast, she recruits him, and on their adventure, they wind up becoming friends. This devil is menacing, sure, but he’s also essentially an overgrown, hungry child who turns out to be very endearing. I like how Diana’s compassion for monsters is nicely shown here, and the tour through the Labyrinth and the battle with the Minotaur is drawn very well by Kitson. The final battle with Circe is a bit brief, but entertaining, and the conclusion is a classic Taz-esque bit of comedy. I also really liked Ben Caldwell’s cartoony backup, which is a “musical” story set in the aftermath of the big feast, as Diana sings to Taz a Looney Tunes take on the Trojan war, complete with commentary on the role of women in mythology. Another great outing for this oddball event.

Wonder Woman/Tasmanian Devil
Diana in search of a Looney devil. image via DC Comics

Corrina: This is, first and foremost, a fine Wonder Woman story, continuing a streak of excellent WW stories in the past year for DC. (This may change, see above comments on the announced new WW creative team.) But, for now, it’s great to sit back and enjoy fine storytelling. I had no idea how they’d mix Diana and Taz so I consider it a stroke of brilliance to make him part of Greek mythology. Plus, flashbacks to young Diana!

Kitson was also an excellent art choice, as he draws Taz as slightly different from his cartoon self but it fits in nicely, especially the spinning destruction. And I appreciate that Kitson’s artwork refuses to indulge in cheesecake, as can happen with the Amazons. I love his battle sequences and the different expressions he draws on Diana’s face.

The backup tale is also fun. Note: my teenage son loved the LSH/Bugs crossover so much last week that he snagged this one out of my hands before I could read it. I had to sneak it back when he wasn’t looking.

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Lobo/Road Runner Special #1 – Bill Morrison, Writer/Artist; Kelley Jones, Artist; Michelle Madsen, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Aw, Poor Coyote Still Never Wins

Ray: Of all the DC/Looney Tunes one-shots, this was the one I was most skeptical about coming in. Neither of the battlers have much in the way of characterization, the writer doesn’t have much DC experience, and Kelley Jones’ art can be an acquired taste. But everything comes together pretty well with a story that makes you feel for…Wil. E. Coyote? He’s actually the star here, originally a harmless coyote that’s captured by mad scientists and taken to a secret lab where he’s experimented on and turned into an intelligent coyote-man hybrid. He eventually escapes, sabotaging the lab – and promptly winds up chasing a fellow captive, the now super-fast road runner. These segments are pretty close in tone to the original cartoons, but Wil. E. Coyote’s constant failures eventually depress him and he winds up captured again. There’s a pretty clever cameo by obscure Looney Tune Sam Sheepdog, who mistakes him for a wolf in the issue’s best gag.

Lobo barely even appears in the first half of the story, being hired by a shady contractor to bump off an unnamed target. He’s extremely violent, ripping off a random informer’s eyes because he’s in a bad mood. This version of Lobo is an acquired taste for sure, but when Wil. E. escapes Earth, he winds up bumping into Lobo, and they wind up trading targets. Lobo goes after the Road Runner – and fails miserably – while Coyote winds up on the tail of Lobo’s target – Kilowog. The fact that there’s a meta explanation for the insane amount of punishment Wil. E. can take is a great touch, but really the main meeting on the cover is almost a minor subplot. The Coyote’s the star here, not Lobo and certainly not the Road Runner. Got to say, though, I think my favorite part of this comic was the brilliantly meta backup, written and drawn by Morrison, where Lobo finds out he’s contracted to appear in the backup and has to play by G-rated cartoon rules. More than anything else so far in this series of one-shots, it embraces the bizarre potential of this concept.

Lobo, Wil. E. Coyote, Road Runner
Yes, that black and white kitty does look familiar….image via DC Comics

Corrina: Road Runner is very much a cipher and always has been. It’s the Coyote that the audience tends to love, the poor sad sack who tries and fails and yet keeps on trying, no matter what. To fit him into the DC Univers, Wil. E. is given a backstory in the Dr. Moreau mode, and so now his elaborate planning makes perfect sense. Poor guy, even with all that extra intelligence, he can’t catch the genetically-engineered Road Runner. Which is where Sam the Sheepdog (nice cameo!) and Lobo come in. But, naturally, Wil. E. is in over his head in trying to fight the entire Green Lantern Corps. What’s funnier is Lobo’s attempt to catch Road Runner. Hah! I will gladly read pages of Lobo smushed and blown up and otherwise killed over and over.

The backup makes fun of the original Looney Tunes, in keeping with some of the original cartoons, breaking the fourth wall, and it also makes fun of the team-ups too, making it an excellent little tale to end the book.

MULTIPLE SPLIT DECISIONS!

Batman #25 – Tom King, Writer; Mikel Janin, Artist; June Chung, Colorist

Ray – 10/10

Corrina: For Me, It Enters The Uncanny Valley 

Ray: It’s hard to even describe at this point how Tom King keeps raising the bar in his year-old run on Batman, but it’s really something amazing to behold. This kickoff issue to a four-month flashback story featuring the untold war between Riddler and Joker barely feels like a superhero comic at all. Instead, it feels like a David Fincher thriller crossed with the closest any comic has ever gotten to the pitch-black take on Joker that Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger created. Mikel Janin’s art, usually bright and kinetic, shifts here to be some of the most gorgeous and realist work he’s ever done. The issue begins at a comedy club, where Joker “auditions” comics, and finds them wanting in a chilling segment. King’s take on Joker is a disturbed serial killer, yes, but his take on Riddler may be even darker. This is a man who genuinely thinks ten steps ahead of everyone else, but it still lost in his own twisted mind full of compulsions.

Riddler may be terrifying, but he’s also a very sick man, and it shows. In many ways, King’s run has been all about mental illness and addiction, and that goes for both heroes and villains. Riddler’s escape, using a combination of cunning, violence, and a rather creepy form of blackmail built over months of feigned cooperation with the GCPD, allows him to essentially walk right out of prison. Meanwhile, Joker’s escape from a GCPD standoff at the comedy club makes him feel like nothing less than a force of nature. By the time Joker and Riddler meet, in a gorgeously drawn four-page spread, the tension in this issue has rocketed through the roof. Joker is chaotic evil. Riddler is order taken to its obsessive, horrific extreme. They make perfect adversaries, and Batman’s narration really drives home the horror of just how bad this got. The final scene, where Batman shares this hidden chapter of his life with Catwoman (who is lying in his bed like she definitely didn’t say no on that rooftop) is another great moment in King’s work with Bruce Wayne. This story is off to a sensational start.

Batman #25, Riddler
This is the only safe for younger children panel I could pull out of DC’s preview pages. Things do not end well for the detective. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: I have no quarrel with the quality of this comic. I never do with King or Janin’s work. But sometimes their work takes a path that I cannot, as a reader, follow because it blows my suspension of disbelief away and turns Gotham into an even bleaker landscape than it has to be.

First, I love that the scene ends with Bruce and Selina in bed and that he calls her Cat because that’s her true name, really. I like that he opens up to her. I like the intelligence King writes for the Riddler, though the man being in prison reminded me that I also felt the whole arc written by Snyder where Riddler took over the city for a year absurd and poorly handled. That means I’m not inclined to like e a follow up story. I’m not a fan of Fincher’s work either, as it seems to be without hope in many instances, but Ray is right that this issue definitely is in that vein. If you like Fincher, you’ll probably like this.

I got worn down by the body count in this book and wonder why people never, well, sh0ot the bad guys. Just shoot them. Don’t let them talk about their secret plan or their blackmail material or tell lousy jokes. Just shoot ’em. Gotham is lousy with guns. Why don’t one of these comedians just shoot the Joker since he’s made it clear it’s a life or death situation? It makes for a great setpiece for Joker but one I find wholly unbelievable. Then there’s Riddler’s escape. He threatens them with information about their loved ones. Hello, IF YOU KILL HIM NOW, he can’t be a threat. If he’s dead, he can’t use their secrets against him anymore. And, I admit, seeing the first black GCPD detective with a signficant role in King’s run be graphically murdered left a sour taste in my mouth. Again, if the Joker and Riddler are this murderous, law enforcement officers would simply shoot them on site. Hell, cops in real life sh0ot people for less reasons than this.

Ahem. Sorry. Off-topic there. This is an excellent book but obviously, not one on my wavelength. I have a feeling I won’t like the War of Jokes and Riddles.

Aquaman #25 – Dan Abnett, Writer; Stepan Sejic, Artist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: What Is Mera’s Purpose Anyway?

Ray: Although this run is continuing with the same writer, in a lot of ways it doesn’t feel like it. The addition of Image artist Stepan Sejic (Rat Queens) to this title, as the book goes monthly, rips the world of Atlantis wide open and lets him show us exactly how wide and mysterious Aquaman’s society is. Sejic’s art is colorful and vivid, creating an Atlantis that doesn’t look like anything we’ve seen before. When the story opens, Aquaman is presumed dead after being stabbed by his former Captain of the Guard Murk, on the order of evil usurper Coram Rath. Rath remains this series’ biggest weak point, coming off as a cackling stock villain as he puts his plans into effect. Consolidating all magic under his control, he’s now hunting down “impurities” in Atlantis – essentially, any Atlantean with mutations. A lot of the action takes place in a location called the Ninth Tride, an Atlantean slum.

Rath, ignoring all doubters, deploys a band of mercenaries – including shark monsters, of course – to hunt down and eliminate mutants in the Ninth Tride, but the Tride is protected by a swarm of fish that seem to have a mind of their own – but are actually controlled by an incognito Aquaman, living as a simple laborer. We’ve seen other heroes down on their luck as fugitives, but never Aquaman, and it works. I’m not all that enthusiastic about Mera essentially being catatonic until she finds out from Tula that Arthur is actually alive, but we’ll see more about her side of the story when she gets a spotlight in Justice League early next month. I was really enthusiastic to see the return of Dolphin, a major post-Crisis Aquaman character who is restored to being mute like her original version here. It seems like Sejic’s presence has unleashed Abnett to focus on bigger ideas and a bold new status quo. Let’s hope this title keeps its new momentum.

Aquaman #25
Arthur broods. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: I haven’t written that much about Mera during this run but given how she goes catatonic this issue, I decided to look back and see what personality she’s been given. And the answer is: not much. All of Mera’s emotions and reactions are filtered through what she thinks of Arthur. She’s shown as angry when she thinks Arthur is wrong about the surface world; she hangs out with Atlantean nuns to no effect so they’ll give their blessing to her marriage to Arthur, a plot that went nowhwere; and just when she shows signs of personality like last issue, rightly pointing out that you cannot force people to change, and they can do good on the surface world, she’s sidelined for a whole issue because Arthur is thought dead.

Yes, I know, grieving people can do many (all valid) things when grieving but the need to silence Mera in the same issue that a hot new girlfriend is introduced is unfortunate and aggravating, to say the least. It’s obvious that Mera’s role in the next arc is going to be one-third of a triangle and if her entire existence is reduced to that, I may finally give up on this title. Vulko gets to be a well-rounded character but Mera is reduced to a love interest? No. Just no.

As for Arthur in this issue, his decision to value secrecy certainly doesn’t last long. Is everyone really fooled by the beard? Apparently. I would have liked to have more time spent in the underworld but it looks like that won’t happen.

I can’t argue with the quality of the art, however. What Ray said.

Green Arrow #25 – Benjamin Percy, Writer; Otto Schmidt, Artist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Not On Board

Ray: Bridging the gap between “The Rise of Star City” and the upcoming issue that will send Green Arrow on the road, this issue is jam-packed with major twists and strong character moments, but its biggest asset is the return of original series artist Otto Schmidt. Schmidt is one of a team of artists on this series that have elevated it beyond its script at times. When the issue starts, Ollie has surrendered himself to the corrupt Star City police after being charged with the murder of his secretary. The police make no secret that they attempt to set him up and make an example of him. Meanwhile, Mayor Domini has essentially turned Star City into a corporate-owned city, and we get the return of the creepy mole people of the first arc as they start “disappearing” the poor and homeless from the city. It’s great to see Black Canary getting to play the action hero as she fights off the Morlock gentrifiers.

Emiko pays Ollie a visit in prison, breaking him out. Although Ollie is a bit skeptical, wanting to beat the charges on his own, he is eventually bailed out by his new lawyer – Kate Spencer, formerly of Manhunter, whose return makes me very happy. Ollie’s banter with her is one of the best parts of this issue. Free on bail, he goes to visit Henry’s family (I didn’t know Fyff was Chinese) and finds that his friend is still alive. With Henry working for Broderick now, Ollie has a man on the inside. That’s more than can be said for Diggle, who has absconded with Malcolm Merlyn for his own purposes. Ollie and Dinah’s eventual reunion is strong, although I’m still not sure what actually caused their breakup a few issues ago. As Ollie heads on the road, we finally find out the real mastermind of the Ninth Circle – Moira Queen – and this title is off to its next arc with a bang. Maybe a bit too busy, but it looks great and I’m excited to see where it goes next.

Corrina: You say “not sure what caused their break-up,” Ray, and I say “I have NO IDEA why Dinah and Ollie were together in the first place.” She was introduced as someone drawn to Ollie because of some weird connection she couldn’t remember. (Multiple Earths/Erased history?)  And then they were a couple. Then she played the damsel in distress once or twice, and then there were sexytimes, and she’s been cranky since murderers were set free in the city. Their relationship is paper thin, lacks base, and their break-up doesn’t make sense because there is nothing to the connection in the first place.

So, I guess this is another city in the DCU that is being destroyed because…destruction is good for the economy, so it can be a luxury city? How does THAT work? They know they have to pay people to put up new buildings, set up an infrastructure, have places nearby for all those customer service people to live, etc? How do you promise rich people a great city just for them and yet not be able to pay restaurant workers? (San Francisco is struggling with this very problem right now.) So the motive of the villains makes no sense to me.

But then, aside from the art, I’ve not been invested in this book for at least a year.

GRADE A: MUST READS

Green Lanterns #25 – Sam Humphries, Writer; Robson Rocha, Penciller; Daniel Henriques, Inker; Alex Sollazzo, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: Volthoom Takes Control

Ray: Since the start of this title, Sam Humphries has done a great job with the characterization of both Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz. However, for a lot of the run the villains and ongoing mythology haven’t been quite as compelling. That changes over this arc, as we start learning about the earliest days of the Green Lantern Corps – starting with the first seven Lanterns, all of whom are fascinating new characters from familiar DC planets. This issue introduces us to a new pair – Tyran’r, a wild man from Tamanran, who is still alive and gained his ring in the process of defying his mad king. There’s also a young woman from Colu, who is both in a same-sex relationship AND is struggling to find her place in society post-university. I didn’t know there were millennials at the beginning of time, but this character made me smile. These lost Lanterns are fascinating, but the present-day segment is strong as well, and is narrated by Simon in the form of a letter to his brother-in-law, who is losing faith in him and becoming estranged.

Rami – secretly possessed by Volthoom – leads the Lanterns to the Vault of Shadows, where they encounter the half-mad Tyran’r, who somehow knows Baz and Jessica, despite them never meeting him before. However, he recognizes Volthoom, and “Rami” freezes him before he can identify him. Volthoom heads into the vault, where he finds his old ring and is restored in his own body – sending him on a quest to get Jessica’s ring, and restore the path to his own dimension. While Volthoom was a little flat even under Geoff Johns, here his desperation comes through nicely and makes him a fairly compelling villain. The final showdown gets across just how powerful he is now, and strands Simon and Jessica across the universe without their rings, as Simon’s relationship with his brother slips away a universe away. Great blend of the spectacular and the mundane, and another excellent issue.

Simon Baz, Jessica Cruz, Green Lanterns #25
No, not that Catman. But this one is cool too. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: The strength of this book is that it was Earth-based and that setting allowed Humphries to tell stories about Green Lanterns that were related to grounded, human elements, like dealing with Jessica’s anxiety and Simon’s estrangement from his family, and how having superpowers can affect people who have been essentially living the kind of life you are I could live, and, of course, dealing with situations that resonate into real life, like Jessica’s struggles with fear and Simon’s struggles with a law that automatically sees him as an enemy.

Which is the long way around of saying that I’m not a big fan of the space-based stuff and, thus, not thrilled that the comic has veered into this direction. However, I have been intrigued by the first seven Lanterns–their characters add a fresh angle and I’m eager to find out more about them. So…cautiously optimistic and still trusting in Humphries.

All-Star Batman #11 – Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, Rafael Scavone, Writers; Rafael Albuquerque, Sebastian Fiumara, Artists; Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Colorists

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Alfred For The Win

Ray: In what we now know is the final arc of All-Star Batman before Snyder’s collaboration shift to a different format, Snyder pulls back the veil on Batman’s most trusted ally Alfred and his complex past – while also delivering a taut, tense spy thriller that reminds me a lot of the best of James Bond. The issue opens with Alfred musing on Bruce’s determination to escape mortality while centering the main plot around the Genesis Engine, Bruce’s attempt to attain immortality. Naturally, that’s an appealing prospect, so many villains want to get their hands on it. The concept of Bruce being on the run while everyone thinks he’s Hush impersonating Bruce Wayne is hilarious, and it leads to Bruce fighting an army of crocodiles with his bare hands before getting bailed out by a trio of criminals – Penguin, Great White Shark, and Black Mask – with their eyes on the Genesis engine.

The battle takes Bruce to a secret underground submarine casino run by Tiger Shark (who is making a comeback around the Bat-line lately and will show up elsewhere this week) before an explosive showdown with a deadly mystery villain. And that villain ties into the main point of the issue – Alfred’s past. We’ve never gotten a clear look at his youth until now, and what emerges is an angry young man who feels his father has chosen another family – the Waynes – over his own. It makes a lot of sense and adds some great new layers to the old butler. It also leads him to many different paths – petty crime, acting, the military – before he’s eventually met by a mysterious black ops agent who offers him a new path and then shoots him in the head. And naturally, this issue wastes no time in showing us that he’s the man plaguing Bruce right now. Great main issue, but the backup involving Bruce undercover with the assassin daughter of a Russian oligarch looks pretty great but doesn’t really click compared to the previous Duke backup. The writers are competent, but it’s just forgettable.

Corrina: It’s always interesting to see Batman from the outside and I believe this arc is the first time that Alfred himself has been the narrator of his adventures and the best part is that he retains his snarky, dry voice. No, maybe the best part is that his love and concern for Bruce Wayne, as well as parental frustration, comes through in Alfred’s narration.

However, I could swear I read a story once where Alfred admitted he was jealous of his father’s service with the Waynes and resented the attention the family received from his father. I could happily read about Alfred Pennyworth, undercover specialist, but it’s also fun to see Bruce realize he’s in over his head with the crocodiles. The only downside? I’m far more invested in the Alfred/Bruce interplay than in the main plot.

The backup story is interesting but I’ve read this sort of story before and it’s yet to truly stand out.

Batwoman #4 – Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV, Writers; Steve Epting, Artist; Jeromy Cox, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Great Characterization and Atmosphere

Ray: It’s the conclusion to the first arc, as Kate faces off against the deranged ex-protege of her former lover Safiyah. This arc has been very focused on one specific chapter of Kate’s complex past, and that’s both a blessing and a curse. While the introduction of Coryana to Kate’s mythology is an interesting lost chapter, it also requires the writers to leave Kate’s life in Gotham far behind. That’s a shame because I would have loved to see more of past characters like her cousin Bette, a hero in her own right. Maybe next arc? But in its place, there is a taut, tense, and gorgeously drawn spy thriller. Steve Epting is likely leaving after this arc if solicits are any indication, but he delivered visuals to remember while he’s here. Tahani, while obviously the villain of this arc, gets some nice development this issue, as we learn the secrets of her past.

But past trauma or not, she’s a threat to be reckoned with in this issue, as she and Kate battle for control over the weapons stash under Coryana. The secrets Safiyah kept on the island start to come to light, and Kate is forced to make a potentially deadly decision to prevent a launch, even if it costs her and her allies their lives. Then, it’s a fantastic one-on-one battle in darkness between the two people closest to Safiyah. The issue is primarily action, and there’s a great vibe of a James Bond thriller to this arc as a whole. But the ending has some nice, quieter scenes between Kate and Julia Pennyworth about Kate’s secrets and her willingness to keep things from her allies. The weakest link? The creepy step-siblings (I hink?) behind Kali Corp, who came right out of central casting. Overall, a promising first arc, with a lot of room to build.

Batwoman, Kate Kane
A final confrontation for Kate Kane. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: I have enjoyed the here and now of the story and some of the setpieces, like Kate’s meeting with the weird twins, and Kate’s recruiting of the assassins to help save Coryana and this last fight in the dark. I also love her pricky relationship with Julia Pennyworth. Overall, this is a fine comic, especially when Epting’s art is added in.

But I remain a bit confused about several plot points. One, just what did Kate do to Safiyah? I know, maybe that will be revealed later but that seems to be a big element in how this plays out. Also not truly explained is what blowing up the island does for the evil twins and their boss. Wait, there is an explanation, that it will make people think twice, but I’m not sure that flies for me. And as terrific as it is to have a lesbian lead, what we essentially have right now as the main conflict is a love triangle with a jilted lover who feels left out and that isn’t one of my favorite plots. However, the ending, with Julia wondering how far to trust Kate, is terrific. Four issues in, and I’m sold on their dynamic.

Nightwing #23 – Tim Seeley, Writer; Minkyu Jung, Artist; Chris Sotomayor, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Ouch. Honesty Hurts!

Ray: Crosses and double-crosses abound as Dick continues to find his way in Bludhaven – and encounters a deadly old enemy of sorts who may be a more complex character than expected. Where this issue really works is that this is essentially about Dick’s mid-twenties Crisis. He’s no longer Robin, but he’s not a full-fledged a-list superhero yet, and he’s trying to find where he belongs. Last issue had him try to find a standard job with the help of his girlfriend Shawn, but he wasn’t enthusiastic, and that night he encountered Blockbuster – with a job offer of his own. This issue, Roland Desmond – the second Blockbuster – reveals his role in his brother’s crimes, and seems to have turned over a new leaf. With Tiger Shark funneling deadly weapons into Bludhaven, he needs the help of someone with connections to law enforcement to track them down.

Unfortunately for Dick, his allies don’t always make the best choices, and neither does he. His first stop is to take on a rogue Ladytron (Wildstorm callback) who some dumb guys obtained thinking was a complex sexbot. Afterwards, he’s on to talk to Detective Svoboda, hoping to let her know about some potential corrupt cops in her division. Unfortunately, she’s not in the mood to listen, letting him know that she doesn’t actually trust him. Already in a bad mood, he heads home, where Shawn wants to know about his job interview. When he tells her he didn’t go, it becomes a huge argument, where he admits that he’s not entirely sure about her reformation. What seems like a breakup occurs – and she promptly takes a phone call from her old boss Pigeon. A bit disappointed if things go this way. However, Dick’s mistake in trusting Blockbuster is much bigger, as it doesn’t take long for him to be backstabbed and left in a near-impossible position. Strong issue with a lot of dangling threads.

Corrina: That didn’t go well, did it? I see Dick’s point about not wanting to be a dockworker since he’s suited to that particular job. Which made me wonder why Shawn was so insistent on the job interview but that’s implied: she has learned to do other things with her life and Dick, for all his attempts at normalcy, will continue to be a superhero, with all that entails, and that’s not much of a future for the two of them. Or so I guess. Dick’s telling her that he’s afraid she wouldn’t be a good mother had to be a second blow: she’s trying to provide the normal environment and he tells her this???

This is an excellent argument, in that their disagreement comes from who they are, rather than some outside force, and it hurts because of that reason. Too often, arguments are written over-the-top or depend on one of the pair being unreasonable. In this case, you can see both their sides. However, I hope Shawn calling Pigeon doesn’t mean her reformation is over. That would be a shame. Perhaps she’s going to end up as Dick’s backup in his present perilous situation?

DC Comics Bombshells #29 – Marguerite Bennett, Writer; Laura Braga, Aneke, Artists; J. Nanjan, Inker; Wendy Broome, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: Lois and…Kara?

Ray: As this ambitious alternate universe heads for its ending and relaunch in the next few months, this final act seems like it’s going to deliver some epic twists. As usual, the action is split between different settings and characters, but this month it feels more focused on one character than usual – and that’s Kara Starikov. Kara’s been sort of in the background for a while, due to her intense grief over the loss of her sister Kortni in the first arc, and in many ways this issue is her return to the powerful, courageous hero she deserves to be. It’s actually one of the best depictions of grief I’ve seen in a while, and it’s the first time I’ve actually seen something good come out of this series’ decision to kill off Stargirl so early. However, Kara’s battles this issue aren’t just internal – she has to fight herself in a much more literal way.

Her big adversary this issue – although not the villain, per se – is Power Girl, the powerful clone created by Hugo Strange as a stronger, older, more loyal version of Supergirl to serve Russia. Kara soon finds herself outmatched, but it’s not through strength that she wins the day – it’s compassion, and soon Power Girl becomes a powerful new ally for the resistance. More interesting, even – the introduction of a new Superman, another clone who is very powerful, but appears to be either deaf or mute from the little we see of him. An intriguing twist that I didn’t see coming. In the issue’s B-plot, Lois and Reaper are trying to get to Strange’s base and stop his plans – but I was more intrigued by the strong hints towards the end of the issue of a Lois/Kara relationship. If that plays out in the coming issues, I heartily approve. This series trounces everyone in representation, while also being great storytelling.

Lois Lane, Bombshells
Lois does her job, a sight not often seen lately in the regular DC Universe. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: I saw a note on Twitter which said “Just when you thougth Bombshells couldn’t get any gayer….” Hah. I mean that in a good way, as Bennett has taken this series as a chance to provide as much representation as possible in an alternate DC Universe. But all that would go by the wayside if the story wasn’t good, and these stories have been excellent.

As frustrated as I am at Stargirl’s death, this issue almost makes up for it by introducing Power Girl, with a twist on her origin from the DC Animated Universe, and then says “hey, I got more!” and tosses in Superman as well. And, oh, look, Lois Lane doing her job and being proactive. Perfect. I am a total fan of Lois and Clark, so I admit that the idea of Lois and Kara that’s hinted in the end of this issue disconcerted me but, hey, they’re also a good match as well.

GRADE B: FUN READS

Super=Sons #5 – Peter J. Tomasi, Writer; Alisson Borges, Artist; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Where’s the Joy?

Ray: A done-in-one issue focusing on the aftermath of the first arc, this issue seems to mainly be concerned with establishing one thing – these kids really do not like each other. At least at first. It’s been a week since Damian and Jon were caught sneaking back in after their adventure, and they’re both grounded. Damian is sulking around the Batcave, whining to Alfred that Bruce won’t take him out on patrol. Alfred is vaguely sympathetic, but not giving an inch – likely because he’s dealt with this with ten previous Bat-kids or so. Jon, meanwhile, is barred from using his powers, and his mom is making him do chores at normal speed. And naturally, they both blame the other one. Jon is especially angry because of the coming move to Metropolis, and he runs off – or leaps off – after a fight.

Heading into Gotham, Jon decides to blow off some steam and confront Damian directly – which leads to an amusing encounter in the Batcave. It’s not long before they wind up tussling and nearly knocking over the giant penny. Damian suspects Jon of being an impostor – because why not? – and their argument soon evolves into an all-out brawl. However, before they can cause too much damage, Alfred spots them – and his line to them when he does is the funniest thing in the issue. He sits them down and gives them a little history lesson on how Batman and Superman went from mutual distrust to friendship before their dads get to the cave. It’s all rather slight, yeah, and there isn’t much plot here, but that actually works. Damian and Jon act like kids (although Damian doesn’t really act like he’s 13 here) and it’s a fun issue with some great dialogue and one-liners. I hope the series keeps this light vibe in future issues.

Corrina: Sometimes Jon is written as a snot and that happens in this issue, where he’s all angry moody teenager, rather than the generally sunny and reasonable child he usually is. Yes, he’s been through a lot–and if we could connect this to his brainwashing over in the other title, his anger would make more sense. But that’s not explicit in this scenes. And, naturally, Lois has nothing to do but be basically useless. Why isn’t Lois researching the history of children with powers? Why isn’t she contacting experts on how to deal with children who might have unusual needs? Why is she just issuing orders? :sigh:

Damian’s boorishness is getting old as well, especially when in contact with Jon. By this issue, I’d hoped we’d see more bonding than in the first. Nothing really wrong with this issue. Nothing that great with it, either.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #9 – Gerard Way, Jon Rivera, Writers; Michael Avon Oeming, Artist; Nick Filardi, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Um, What? Awesome!

Ray: After the conclusion of the phenomenal first arc, this title has gotten…really strange, and yet no less epic. While the first arc shined primarily due to Way and Rivera’s brilliant writing and character development when it comes to this oddball group of silver age explorers, this arc lets Oeming do the heavy lifting as Cave, his daughter, and allies wind up trapped in the multiverse as their old enemy tears through the fabric of time and space as a fast-growing cosmic devourer. But that’s not where the story begins. It begins with a sweet scene between two aliens in love that feels kind of random – but will be anything but as the issue proceeds, and we find out exactly where Cave and co. are at the moment.

Then it’s back off to the multiverse, as Cave and his allies jury-rig their car to escape the coming disaster, while his arch-nemesis proceeds from one world to another consuming the life there. Oeming’s creepy art does an amazing job with the eldritch abomination that has emerged, and the incredibly strange relationship he has with his son just becomes more pronounced as the issue goes on. The problem is…it feels like something’s missing from the first arc. So much is going on, and it’s so strange and surreal, that it doesn’t feel like the series has the emotional power it did in the first arc anymore. A subplot about Chloe wanting to save her mother…in a sense, is just introduced and dropped as another cataclysm emerges. It’s still a wildly entertaining series with some weird scenes, but Shade’s surpassed it as a satisfying read for me.

Cave Carson, Oeming
What’s going on? Not entirely sure….image via DC Comics

Corrina: This comic has definitely taken a further turn into the surreal, losing some of the humanity that grounded it in the first arc. That arc was focused on Cave’s grief and his seeming inability to move on, at least until it was clear something or someone was messing with things they shouldn’t down deep into the Earth. Since that omnipotent being was released, things have gotten weird. Super weird.

Instead of diving into the Earth, Cave and company have driven into an organism that is threatening to devour multiverses. How this works?…I’m not sure. Oeming’s art is easy to follow and a tour-de-force but I cannot tell if Cave is having any affect on his foe or how this might all turn out in the end. But it’s awesome to look at. There are depths to this art that I could stare at all day.

Injustice 2 #4 – Tom Taylor, Writer; Daniel Sampere, Penciller; Juan Albarran, Inker; Rex Lokus, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Ray: Tom Taylor’s return to this dystopian universe has added one critical element to a comic that felt like the video game spinoff it was for far too long – and that’s humanity. Good or evil, every character in this comic once again feels like they actually have real human desires pushing them forward. That’s never clearer than in this comic, which splits its stories this month between the good guys and the bad guys. The opening ten-page story focuses on Harley Quinn, who has been taken along with the rest of her Suicide Squad allies by a mysterious, masked Batman who guns down all opposition. The mastermind behind the kidnapping, though? Ra’s Al Ghul, who’s making a play to take over the world in the vacuum and restore it to its natural state. He makes a clumsy attempt to blackmail Harley with her daughter, but it’s Ivy’s genuine plea for nature that wins Harley over to working with Ra’s – for now. Even Ra’s is a complex character here.

Even better was the second story, which is primarily a flashback focusing on Batman, Damian, and the departed Alfred Pennyworth. With Damian taken by Ra’s forces, Batman is reminiscing about the first time he and Alfred let Damian head out on his own for patrol. While Damian took Bruce’s “You can patrol the whole city in three hours” comment as a challenge, in fact, he wound up continuously getting delayed by small, human disasters that he tried to help with – exactly as Bruce would want to see a hero do. It’s the little moments in this issue – Alfred making Damian do chores, and Bruce’s amusing reaction; or Damian’s frustration at his inability to turn off his own compassion – that make this segment sing. However, the ending, featuring Ollie’s son, has a twist that kind of shows as decent as Bruce is…the man has no boundaries at all. The issue works really well as a whole, better than it has any right to.

Harley Quinn #22 – Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Paul Dini, Writers; John Timms, Artist; Bret Blevins, Penciller; J. Bone, Inker; Alex Sinclair, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Quinn Family Reunion!

Ray: It’s the start of a new arc, as Harley faces potentially her biggest challenge yet – a visit from the parents. The issue kicks off with a hilarious bit as her parents arrive early, only to be greeted by her in full costume and the whole cavalcade of weirdos she’s let into her life. That turns out to be a dream sequence, thankfully, and her parents arrived on time and are being given a studiously normal tour of that part of her life. One part of this issue that I really liked is just how much we learn about Harley and where she comes from. We’ve never seen her three brothers outside of a few brief flashbacks, but they sound like rather amusing characters. And overall, this issue does a strong job of making Harley’s parents relatable, but a bit trying. There’s a good mix of gags and genuine character work.

Less effective are the other subplots in the issue, which mainly distract from the main plot. The Chief of Police’s ongoing war with the shady mayor has been going on for the longest time, but it’s coming to a head soon, it seems. Likewise, Harley Sinn ambushing Harley in her house with Mason and his mother on leashes…not a great visual. However, it seems Sinn’s been sort of woken up about the way her father and the Mayor have manipulated her. I’m hopeful this story will be brought to a satisfying end. I also really enjoyed the backup this issue, which brought in some of Dini’s original characters, including the Carpenter, the Lewis-Carroll themed henchwoman. Harley having a reunion with some of her old criminal friends is a lot of fun, and Carpenter as a con-woman contractor is a clever twist.

Corrina: I had no idea Harley had in-canon alive parents, nevermind a slew of brothers. So I was unsure how this would go but it turned out great. There’s a nice banter going on between Harley and her parents, where they sound alike, as they should, and it’s clear that Harley does love them. I worry that, in the future, some grimdark tale will kill them all, but I’ll enjoy them in the meantime.

Now that Harley Sinn is slightly less obsessed and slightly more intelligent, she’s become slightly less annoying, though I have to remind myself that she is a murderer, many times over. (Then again, so is Harley, so….) We should see her plot end and the confrontation with the Mayor soon.

In the meantime, Dini’s back-up is great, especially with the Joker out of the way.

GRADE C: AVERAGE

Superman #25 – Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Writers; Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, Pencillers;’ Jime Mendoza, Mick Gray, Joe Prado, Ray McCarthy, Scott Hanna, Matt Santorelli, Inkers; Wil Quintana, John Kalisz, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Awful

Ray: The conclusion to “Black Dawn” is a rather puzzling story with a lot of unanswered questions. Chief among them – six inkers? With only two artists on this issue, that’s a bit puzzling, but it doesn’t really affect the art all that much. The bigger problem here is the story. The sadistic psychic villain Manchester Black has been long-gaming an evil plan against Superman and his family, building a secret town full of alien psychics to manipulate them, before eventually kidnapping Jon and subjecting him to psychic torture, which has turned him into a possessed, ruthless maniac turning on his family and friends. The best part of this issue is the supporting cast, as Damian, Batman, and Frankenstein and Bride get some great scenes as they battle against Black and the possessed Superboy. I also really liked Kathy’s role, as she grieves her grandfather but makes the hard decision to stand up for her friend.

The bigger problem, though, is that Jon’s possession and Superman’s attempt to free him don’t really have any stakes. Lois eventually shows up, with two legs, and manages to talk Jon down long enough for Kathy to create a psychic backlash that essentially blows Manchester Black’s consciousness out of his body and places it…well, in an amusing place that provides the issue’s best scene. Lois’ leg is explained away as being a psychic illusion, which makes sense on some level, but makes that entire subplot weirdly pointless. Jon loses his powers, essentially burning them out to stop black, but they return in the end of the issue as he plays with Kathy. There’s a satisfying end for the Hamilton residents who made the right choice, and the quieter moments are the strongest ones. I’m hoping we see a little more of that gentle charm of a small-town Superman book, and less of the bombastic, confusing action that dominated this arc.

Jon Kent, Superman #25
Jon goes dark. Image via DC Comics

Corrina:  While Ray isn’t full of praise, I found this book almost unreadable. The messy art is there, true, but that’s a side issue. The storytelling simply jumps all over the place, doesn’t flow, and there were a few times when I honestly couldn’t tell what was going on.

Add that to the awful delving into mind control and evil for Jon and Manchester Black’s torture, and this arc becomes actively loathsome. As Ray said, what was the point of Lois’s injury if it’s just pushed aside? Who is Manchester Black and why should I even care? Only Kathy comes across here as mildly interesting. I’ve lost all faith in this creative team.

Trinity #10 – Francis Manapul, Writer/Artist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Watchtower Is Crashing. Again.

Ray: After the mind-bending time travel epic of Manapul’s first arc, he’s dialed it back to tell a simple, fast-paced story of alien threats and the desperate battle to save the Watchtower. And the good news is – it’s absolutely gorgeous. Manapul’s big, widescreen action is in full display here, with characters going in all sorts of directions in zero gravity as the world falls apart around them and allies become monsters. The less good news? The story feels like it’s cobbled together from a lot of other stories. The monsters – who parasitize and latch on to the heads of humans – remind me a lot of the Brood, although their hold doesn’t seem to be as strong, as Aquaman is able to briefly fight back against their control. And how many times have we seen Cyborg get damaged, or the Watchtower fall apart?

What works well are some of the small character moments mixed in to the big, bombastic story. Batman and Flash’s team-up in the collapsing Watchtower has some great dialogue, and Flash’s willingness to make a sacrifice so Batman can get back home to his son is a great depiction of what makes him work as a character. Superman doesn’t have much at all to do this issue, spending the majority of time outside trying to slow down the Watchtower’s collapse. Wonder Woman, meanwhile, is trying to negotiate with the other alien present, a logical, powerful being whose planet already fell prey to these parasites – and believes the only way to advance is to eradicate all infected, including the JL members. There’s a dark twist at the end that was sort of predictable, but overall, it’s an entertaining read with some great visuals.

Corrina: Every now and then, Ray and I have the exact same reaction to a book. I could have written that review above. Yes, I’ve seen this plot before–heck, the Watchtower was just invaded by alien parasites last week–so it’s the character moments that stand out and show Manapul has a good handle on all of them, from Wonder Woman’s refusal to accept a solution where people die and her need to dig deeper into what everyone assumes are “monsters.” Similarly, Flash’s insistence on saving Batman’s life is terrific and puts the Dark Knight into an unfamiliar place: being rescued.

I wish Cyborg had not been taken down so easily and that the twist of the monsters maybe not being bad guys after all hadn’t been telegraphed so clearly but Manapul gives us a taste of what his Justice League could be like.

GRADE D: FAILING

The Wild Storm #5 – Warren Ellis, Writer; Jon Davis-Hunt, Artist; Steve Buccellato, Colorist

Ray – 6.5/10

Ray: Jon Davis-Hunt’s art is the clear highlight here, giving this title a super-realistic vibe that feels right out of a great spy drama. The problem is, we’re five issues in, and it still feels barely like a series so much as a random, vaguely connected series of vignettes. Characters are introduced, then fade away. Characters meet, and then don’t interact again for the rest of the arc. There’s some key players, but overall very few characters have emerged as standouts. When the issue starts, Michael Cray – who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor – is contracted to kill Angela Spica by Miles Craven. He pursues her, but soon becomes convinced that she might not be the enemy she’s being portrayed at. Meanwhile, Zealot heads to a secret rendezvous with an alien enemy – known as a Daemon – and they have a polite conversation and part ways.

Then there’s a random interlude with some shots of Voodoo that don’t seem to factor into the main plot at all, and it’s finally time to catch up with Angela, as she tries to stay ahead of her pursuers. She’s met by Void, and they get a cup of coffee while Void explains her origin to her. Then it’s time for Cray to report back to Craven, and he declines to kill Spica. Craven responds by essentially firing him and implying he’ll cut off his medical treatment as blackmail. The issue ends with Cray being approached by a secret second organization that’s a rival of IO, and recruited into an ongoing war. If it all sounds a bit vague, that’s because it is. The story has some interesting elements floating around, but it hasn’t gelled into anything more than a hint of a story.

Corrina: Not reading because I can’t even follow this. It seems random, as Ray points out, especially if you don’t know the characters.

Justice League #23 – Tom DeFalco, Writer; Tom Derenick, Penciller; Tony Kordos, Andy Owens, Trevor Scott, Batt, Inkers; Adriano Lucas, Colorist

Ray – 5/10

Corrina: Dull Villain

Ray: It’s another fill-in issue on Justice League (should we be looking for a new-writer announcement soon, or is Hitch just getting ahead?), and surprisingly, it’s another character-driven issue focusing on Jessica Cruz dealing with her fear and anxiety as she comes into her own as a member of the Justice League. Tom DeFalco takes the writing reins this issue, and while he does write Jessica pretty well, the problem is…well, everything that surrounds her. This is an attempt at a politically-driven issue, but it falls completely flat with a threat who comes off as more of a cartoon than an actual commentary on foreign policy. The story takes place in a fictional country called “Nomalia”, which seems to be based on a combination of Somalia and other hotspots. And the villain is an armored-up thug by the name of Black Shield, whose solution to global terror is massacres.

The idea of a crazed vigilante who wants to take the war on terror to extremes isn’t a bad one, per se, but Black Shield lacks any sort of decent characterization, instead of coming off as a collection of talk-radio rants filtered through someone’s caricatured vision of red-staters. It’s not the fact that he’s a political villain that’s the problem, it’s that he’s a bad one. Jessica’s central conflict – while fighting him, she crashes into a family’s house and startles a little girl – just isn’t strong enough compared to what she’s been through in Green Lanterns. Some anxiety over the incident is one thing, but it feels taken over the top. The issue doesn’t have an ending so much as a conclusion that leaves the main plot somewhat open, but Jessica does get to use her powers in some pretty creative ways. There are decent ideas here, but I think a more experienced writer with Jessica would have explored them more effectively.

Corrina: While I have loved that Jessica stands as an inspiration for people who suffer from anxiety, I’m starting to see signs that writers other than Humphries are making that all she is. Jess is not just her anxiety disorder, writers, and having every story not just reference it but make her overcome it could get old fast.

That said, Jess’s reaction to the little girl’s fear is perfectly in character but why wouldn’t she come back and talk to the girl, especially since Jess’s knows that anxiety attacks may plague the child after what she experienced?

As for the villain, he’s quite one-note and very close to ridiculous because of it.

Odyssey of the Amazons #6 – Kevin Grevioux, Writer; Ryan Benjamin, Penciller; Richard Friend, Don Ho, Inkers; Tony Washington, Colorist

Ray – 3/10

Ray: It’s the conclusion of this poorly thought-out miniseries, and as we reach the conclusion, I realize that we essentially don’t have…anything. We don’t have a compelling protagonist. We don’t have a compelling villain. We don’t have a central story, or a conclusion things are building towards. The Amazon leader, Hessia, is ostensibly the protagonist, but she barely has any characterization beyond “Strong leader”. The villain, Groa, felt like she came out of nowhere and her motivation is “Evil”. There’s a lot of battling, a few character deaths with no impact, and something that resembles a conclusion.

The most puzzling thing, though, is how this series actually seems like it was trying to be very ambitious with its use of Norse mythology. The heroes have a fairly dramatic battle against Surtur, then Thor and other Norse Gods show up. The title seems to be treading on some ideas that the Norse and Greek Gods are all linked somehow, but it doesn’t have the execution to follow up on that. It sort of feels like it just…runs out of time, as it’s about to start exploring the bigger ideas. The big question for me, though is – how did DC greenlight this instead of Legend of Wonder Woman Vol. 2?

Corrina: Reading this book actually angered me because of it’s squandered potential. So. Much. Potential. And none of it comes to fruition.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received 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.