DC This Week – ‘Detective Comics’ : 1990s Bat-Fans Rejoice!

Detective #961, Luke Fox vs. Azrael
cover to Batman: Detective Comics #961

In our spotlight book this week, Batman: Detective Comics #961, one of the iconic Batmen of the 1980s makes a return and it’s kinda glorious, possibly more so than his first appearance in a Bat costume.

That’s the best of three terrific issues spotlight Batman this week. The other two are Batman/The Shadow #4, which has raised the bar on team-ups, and All-Star Batman #12, which focuses on Alfred and Bruce’s relationship. Other recommended issues this month are Flash #27, Justice League of America #11, Kamandi Challenge #7, Doom Patrol #7,  Batgirl #13, and Mother Panic #9

Plus, reviews of all of this week’s DC comics.

Warning: Spoilers Below For All of This Week’s DC Comics

Grade A Issues–Ratings 9-10

Batman: Detective Comics #961 – James Tynion IV, Writer; Alvaro Martinez, Penciller; Raul Fernandez, Inker; Brad Anderson, Colorist

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: The Best of the 90s Are Back

Ray: The best thing about this book – besides the spot-on characterization and constant twists and turns – is that James Tynion is unapologetically a 90’s kid. He got into comics in the same era I did, and it shows. Every issue is full of deep cuts, obscure references, and amazing callbacks. And maybe never more than this issue, the penultimate issue of “Intelligence”. It opens with an excellent, creepy segment as a teenage Zatanna reveals the secrets of magic to a young Bruce. This is interestingly paralleled with last issue’s segment where she did the same for him as an adult – because it’s revealed that Zatara once wiped Bruce’s mind of this knowledge. Plus, a possible alliance between Zatara and Ra’s Al Ghul, and a reference to Tim’s arch-nemesis the Obeah Man? Amazing way to start the issue.

Of course, there’s also a main plot to get to, and that kicks off with an excellent segment that finds Jean-Paul trapped in his mindscape with what looks like a younger version of himself – but is actually Ascalon, the AI created by the Church of St. Dumas to serve as a fail-safe for their soldiers. It’s taken control of Azrael’s mind and turned him into an unstoppable killing machine – bad news for Batwoman and Batwing, who were with him at the time. While Batwoman’s brutal fight against Azrael is great, it’s Batwing’s friendship with Jean-Paul that dominates the issue. Also, yay more Cass! However, I think what everyone will be talking about is that last page – where Luke shows off a new suit he’s designed for Jean-Paul that will replace Dumas’ programming with someone else’s – Batman’s morals. Given that this suit used to represent Azrael’s corruption, this is an excellent twist.

Corrina: I did not see that coming. I should have, given the presence of Jean-Paul plus the Bat-robot suit but Tynion got me. Az-Bats is back (at least for next issue) and it’s awesome. Though, I’m not sure Ray is right. Are we getting a robot Batman uploaded with Batman’s morals or “Rookie” whose computer memory and learning was compiled via use by the conscience of the Batman universe, Jim Gordon?  We’ll see, though I favor the Gordon idea. And it’s a measure of the quality of this book that Cass quoting Shakespeare is like the fourth most interesting thing to happen.

The Martinez/Fernandez art team has some incredible panels this week, from the changes in reality in the segment with Zatanna and Bruce to Luke’s many Bat-suits floating in the sky, to Batwoman’s brutal fight with Azrael.

Squee
From Detective Comics #961, image via DC Comics

And one moment that caused me to laugh: Zatanna ordering Azrael to go to sleep and Batwoman’s snarky reaction to it.

Batman/The Shadow #4 – Steve Orlando, Scott Snyder, Writers; Riley Rossmo, Artist; Ivan Plascencia, Colorist

Ray – 9.5/10

Ray: Easily the best issue of this series and maybe the best single issue of a DC crossover in the modern era, this issue fully embraces the gothic horror elements of the series and lets Riley Rossmo cut loose and show just how great an artist he can be. The issue kicks off with Batman at the mercy of Joker, Stag, and the rest of the Gotham villains. This leads to a brilliant bit as Joker’s cackle gives way to a darker one – and the villain slowly realizes he’s not the one laughing anymore. Shadow’s entrance in this scene is one of the best scenes of the series, and the battle sequence of Batman, Shadow, and twenty-odd villains is fantastic. Shadow, while he started out a very vague character in the first issue, has turned into a fascinating pulp hero whose ambiguity adds to the character’s mystique. Snyder and Orlando pull out some great obscure Bat-villains here, and allow Shadow to dominate the fight through pure intimidation.

There’s a lot of great moments in this issue, like the addition of a top-secret phone line that’s only been called once before – when Bane had Batman at his mercy. It’s definitely a dark, bloody comic, as is made clear when both Batman and Joker get fatally stabbed/shot by their respective immortal enemy. Naturally, we know they’re both going to survive, but Batman being nearly killed is handled with a lot more gravity than it usually is. The interaction between Batman and Shadow as Shadow tries to save Batman’s life is particularly compelling. Stag remains basically pure creepy presence, as we know nothing about the villain beyond the fact that they’re an opposite number to the Shadow. But that works. They’re a great horror villain in a book that reminds me of the Kelley Jones era of Batman a lot, in the way it explores the weird and horrific underbelly of Gotham City. Plus, this is easily my favorite Joker besides Snyder’s.

Batman Teams Up With The Shadow
Batman: The Shadow #4 cover, image via DC Comics

Corrina: I could care zero about Joker but I care a ton about this story, especially Shadow. With most team-ups, it’s basically about how the two sets of heroes and villains handle each other. But this one is a deep dive into Batman’s pulp roots and has brought in not only the original Shadow’s supporting cast, but also much of Batman’s history and cast. The Stag comes across as a terrifying force of nature (I’m kinda hoping we don’t get more of him/it that that), while the addition of Gordon, the MCU, and the reference to Bane is much appreciated.

And there are the images, as the art team manages to make the Shadow’s cape as deadly and versatile as Medusa’s hair. It oozes through panels, overwhelming them, giving lie to the “no capes!” edict. Bonus: try to spot all the Batman villains gathered around the confrontation. I’d thought one character might be Cat-Man but, nope, he turned out to be the more obscure HellHoud, who I haven’t seen since the original run of Birds of Prey. In other words, the rich history of Gotham has been welded to a terrific and terrifying story. A must read.

All-Star Batman #12 – Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, Rafael Scavone, Writers; Rafael Albuquerque, Sebastian Fiumara, Artists; Jordie Bellaire, Lee Loughridged, Trish Mulvhill, Colorists

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: More Added To Bat-History?

Ray: Equal parts high-seas adventure, spy thriller, and brilliantly emotional father-son drama, Scott Snyder’s final arc on this incarnation of All-Star Batman delivers another excellent issue. It continues to take place in two timelines, as the flashbacks show Alfred, now a young man still dealing with his anger over his father is recruited by the mysterious Briar. There are shades of Kingsman in this story arc, right down to the surprisingly violent training methods. Unlike Harry, though, Briar seems distinctly more menacing, hinting at his reach and coming off much more like a cult leader. Now that we know he’s likely come back with his own agenda, Alfred’s terror is explained very well and it shows in how he seems more out of control than he ever has in any Batman comic.

However, the issue isn’t all talking by a long shot. It’s actually one of the most action-packed issues of the series, as this book still continues to play out like a huge-scale spy thriller. The segment where Batman and Tiger Shark (who has been getting a workout these past few weeks) escape a sinking submarine using Alfred’s screams is excellent and surprisingly emotional. It’s rare that we actually get into Alfred’s head like this, so having him narrate this issue was a great touch. Much like the first arc, there are a lot of villains running around – Penguin, Shark, Hush – but unlike the first arc, there’s a much stronger emotional core that makes this easily Snyder’s best arc in the run. After all that, the backup is a bit of a comedown. Bruce’s infiltration of this Russian crime ring comes apart a little too easily, and the new femme fatale is a bit too predictable. Still, great issue all around.

Corrina: So much happening in this single issue, from the escape from the submarine, which includes Batman talking with Tiger Shark, on the Comms with Alfred, and the rising menace of drowing, and then there’s also the flashbacks with Alfred, and the final cliffhanger which isn’t so much a cliffhanger as an explosion. Oh, yeah, Hush is here too, and it’s one of the few times I find him interesting.

As you can see, this book is nothing if not ambitious. Sometimes, I believe it’s over the top, like in the very first story arc, but this time it hits the sweet spot, perhaps because it’s primarily focused on Alfred and Bruce’s relationship. I found myself trying to fit in the flashbacks with Briar something along the lines of continuing the “Knights” of the Round Table rather than the Kingsmen but I wasn’t that thrilled with the idea. Perhaps because I’m becoming increasingly leery of government agents who act with no oversight for the greater good, especially with the world around us. I’m coming to want governments to have more accountability, which tends to affect my fiction preferences. Still, it’s emotionally compelling and a terrific read.

The back-up indeed pales by comparison.

The Flash #27 – Joshua Williamson, Writer; Howard Porter, Artist; Paul Pelletier, Penciller; Andrew Hennessy, Inker; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Ray: The final chapter of “Running Scared” delivers both an excellent fight with Reverse Flash, and a series of emotional gut punches that promise to massively shake up the title’s status quo in the future. The issue opens just after Barry has returned from the Speed Force, drastically changed and now carrying Thawne’s corrupted negative speed force instead. As Iris races by, carrying high-tech weaponry (something that will come into play later), Barry and Thawne bounce across the world, with Barry clearly having a massive power edge now. Thawne continues to be totally insane, provoking Barry at every opportunity and dragging him back and forth through his worst moments. Eventually, Barry and Thawne wind up at the beginning of time, and it’s very clear that Barry is done putting up with Thawne’s cruelty.

After one final battle with Thawne, Barry winds up back in the present day, where he strips Thawne of his powers without Thawne even realizing it. However, Thawne isn’t quite done, and continues tormenting Barry, promising him that he’ll find a way back and keep on destroying everything he loves – until Iris snaps and blasts him, ending his threat (for now. He’ll be back. He survived Doctor Manhattan. Come on.). The negative speed force dissipates from Barry, but in many ways the damage is done. Iris is terrified of him, she seems him as a liar, and she blames him for the fact that Wally is barely alive in a hospital bed. This is probably about as badly as an identity reveal could go, and it leaves Barry emotionally broken – and vulnerable to the negative Speed Force. Great job balancing superhero action with strong character-driven storytelling.

Flash, Reverse Flash, Iris West
Flash #27 cover, image via DC Comics

Corrina: YES! I was thinking as I flipped the pages virtually that Eobard was leaving himself wide open to Iris. Would the creative team take that plunge and give the big moment to her? Yes, yes, they did. Given how insanely Eobard was ranting and how clearly unhinged his obsession with Barry Allen is, it was a moment I loved and one that Iris definitely deserved, especially as Eobard terrorized her throughout this arc. Iris is given further agency in calling Barry on his failure to take her into his confidence, especially when she deserves the truth about the other Wally. Of course, this also leads to Barry doing one of those things I hate with superheroes, especially men: keeping secrets for no valid reason other than “protect someone” when it’s not really protecting them. It’s a small frustration I have with Williamson’s Flash, which otherwise has been stellar.

And the visuals here were terrific, as Eobard and Barry fight through time, with the dawn of men and various aspects of history in the background of the panels. Porter and Pelletier must have spent so much time on those backgrounds and it’s much appreciated, as was the more subtle elements, such as the close-ups of Barry and Iris’s faces as Iris calls him out.

Doom Patrol #7 – Gerard War, Writer; Michael Allred, Artist; Laura Allred, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Still Seriously Loopy

Ray: The DCU’s trippiest book returns, as its second arc brings the title a little more in vein with the original Doom Patrol in anticipation of a November crossover. And the key element in that transition is the addition of Miles Caulder, finally exiting the background and reuniting with his former team. This issue has guest art by Mike Allred, who is all over the place these days. His oddball, cartoony style perfectly complements this team’s bizarre nature and the even more strange antagonists. However, the ultimate antagonist of this book feels like Niles Caulder, and that’s what makes this issue work – it’s essentially a story about toxic relationships and how to avoid slipping back into them. When the issue opens and the team is reunited with Niles, they all hate him because of his role in their transformation.

However, soon enough, he’s winning them over with promises and gifts. Casey, who lost her leg in the previous arc, trades in her heavy robotic prosthetic for a techno-organic one that works like the real thing. Robotman gets a shiny new robot body, but Negative Man’s “gift” feels more like a setback. However, before long the team is off on a mission to protect Earth from an invasion by “scants”, sentient gremlins who live off people’s bad ideas. Controlled by an old Doom Patrol arch-nemesis, they run a desolate collective filled with some great, disturbing visuals. This segment of the issue is basically just Way letting Allred go nuts with creating the strange visuals he’s best at. However, the confrontation at the end of the issue where the team finally makes a break from their past is the series’ best issue. Those who thought this series was overly bizarre before might enjoy this effective, grounded new take.

Corrina: I’m not going to disagree with Ray, as this comic has never been on my wavelength but I will say calling this issue a more “grounded” take makes me laugh because it’s as loopy as ever, though the narrative itself is easier to follow. So, if your issue previously was that you couldn’t follow the story, this is better. But if your issue was bizareness in characters that sometimes made no sense, I’m not sure this is an improvement. Allred sure goes to town though.

Kamandi Challenge #7 – Marguerite Bennett, Writer; Dan Jurgens, Penciller; Klaus Janson, Inker; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: Weird & Fun (Bumping It Up to Grade A)

Ray: After a few darker issues, Kamandi’s adventure takes a turn for the lighter and odder with this issue by Bombshells creator Marguerite Bennett and veteran DC creator Dan Jurgens. As the issue opens, Kamandi is falling into a reactor on psychic bear island, which is exactly as crazy as it sounds. He manages to avoid death at the hands of psychic communist bears, but when he attempts to reunite with his robot ally Renzi, he finds him in the custody of…an all-female squadron of dog air pilots! This book’s world just keeps getting crazier and crazier, and I love it. Kamandi winds up being taken as a hostage as the pirates, named the Bulldog Britanneks, escape on hang gliders as the bear island escapes. Although they’re bandits, the pirates turn out to be fairly honorable, and by the time Kamandi breaks free, Renzi’s already befriended them.

They fly to a giant dog-shaped zeppelin, and in conversing with the pirate dogs over a poker game, it turns out that the dogs knew Kamandi’s mother. She was an engineer who helped them design their zeppelin. However, before Kamandi can get any more information from them, the ship is hit by a giant ice ship, and they find themselves crash-landing in hostile territory. Kamandi’s saved by one of the dogs, who seems to be developing a crush on him, and the group soon finds themselves in a battle against an evil polar bear ice wizard and his army of polar parasites – giant metal centipedes that have the ability to possess anyone they latch on to. It’s a nice, creepy threat, but not overtly horrific like it could have been in the hands of a darker writer. The ending finds Kamandi striking out on his own to find his mother – only to find himself in mortal peril again. A nice return to form for this series.

Kamandi
Awesome Cover to Kamandi Challenge #7 by Bill Sienkiewicz , image via DC Comics

Corrina: This was always going to be a book that celebrated the oddness that often infused the classic pulp magazines, especially since this was a Jack Kirby-created universe. And it’s been a terrific ride, with each creative team adding their spin to it but after the goriness of the last two issues, I’m glad to get back to adventure. Confession: I have no idea how Kamandi controls machines with that helmet but, hey, it’s enough to know that he does.

Also, this issue would be worth it just for the homage to the classic Dogs Playing Poker painting. But it goes further than that, making the dogs lesbian adventurers, and then there’s mind control, and a Frost Wizard and…well. At least Kamandi gets his first kiss. Hah.

Solid Issues: Grades 7-8

Wonder Woman #27 – Shea Fontana, Writer; Mirka Andolfo, Artist; Romulo Fajardo Jr., Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Ambitious

Ray: Shea Fontana’s only on this title for four issues, but she seems to have ambitious plans, introducing multiple new villains and having more than one plot weaving through her arc. This issue picks up right after the bombing at the wedding of Etta’s brother and reveals that she was successfully able to protect the little girl from the blast. However, Etta was hit by shrapnel and was critically wounded. (Didn’t she also spend a good chunk of Rucka’s run wounded?) Diana flies her back to base, where she leaves her in the care of Doctor Crawford, and that’s when things get weird. Crawford is oddly insistent on checking Diana out too – and proceeds to inject her with something that knocks her unconscious. I knew she seemed a bit suspicious next issue.

When Diana wakes up, Crawford reveals that she’s dying of a mysterious syndrome that sounds a good deal like ALS – essentially a wasting disease. So to counter this, she’s decided to kidnap Diana and inject her DNA into herself – essentially, steal her gifts from the God like a modern-day Prometheus. It’s not a bad idea, but it essentially turns her into an Amazon Hulk. She loses her mind, and she and Diana get into a generic superhero slugfest. While Crawford’s origin story is interesting, as a villain she’s thoroughly generic. Eventually, Diana manages to strip the powers out of her, and Crawford takes her own life. The ending, interestingly, promises yet another new villain next issue, this one an oddly colorful assassin. At the very least, Fontana is ambitious with this run, looking to add new elements rather than fall back on standbys.

Corrina: Yes, Etta was wounded in Rucka’s arc, which sidelined her a bit. At least she’s healed quickly in this story. And, yes, Fontana is ambitious. Perhaps knowing this is just a four-issue arc, she’s determined to do as much as she can. She certainly zeroes in on the personal this issue, with the one-on-one battle between Crawford and Diana. In a short amount of time, Crawford becomes a tragic villain, doing the wrong things for the right reasons, reasons any of us could understand. Once again, I applaud the use of the lasso as a “weapon” against a foe, rather than have Diana resort to physical violence. I only wish Crawford didn’t die, as her story was interesting if a little too close to other mad scientists hoping to find cures that go wrong.

The flashbacks to young Diana seem to be a way to juxtapose how Diana learned to be a warrior but compassionate, so violence isn’t her first resort. In any case, the glimpses of Themysciara are always welcome. This doesn’t yet have the depth and layers of Rucka’s run but it’s a solid Wonder Woman story.

Justice League of America #11 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Neil Edwards, Penciller; Sandu Florea, Inker; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Relationships Are the Highlight

Ray: The Kingbutcher arc wraps up, delivering a tight, action-packed two-issue story that also holds a strong emotional core for its lead character, Ray Terrill. However, the issue opens with an intriguing subplot involving Ryan Choi and Killer Frost, as they travel to the African country of Lumumba to meet with Mndawe – the Orlando update of the old cringey character B’wana Beast, now a Black Panther-esque African industrialist with a link to the Red. Killer Frost’s attempt to see if her condition can be cured via a link to the Red falls through, and the story shifts back to Vanity, where the rest of the League is battling Kingbutcher. This powerful servant of the Lords of Order makes for an imposing foe but is actually defeated fairly easily when Ray discovers his weak point and uses his powers to destroy it.

Kingbutcher is sent back to his realm, and the wish-makers are safe, but the conflict is far from over. On a bigger scale, there’s the question of The Might Beyond the Mirror, the mysterious being that grants the wishes. However, on a much more personal level, there’s Ray’s confrontation with his mother, who wished herself another family after he ran away years ago. This is a pretty compelling story about letting go of anger and forgiving – although Ray’s not there yet. There’s also an interesting link between this story and the first major arc, involving Lord Havok, as it turns out that Havok had previously encountered the forces in this arc. Next arc picks up with the second mega-arc in this title, as Ryan Choi finally finds Ray Palmer and heads to the multiverse.

Corrina: To be fair, while Ray was the instrument of defeat, it was Canary’s idea to have Vixen use her abilities to spot Kingbutcher’s weakness. It is, however, quite a demonstration of Ray’s power. And, even better, this issue hints that this whole idea of the summoning spell is going to be a big problem, and soon.

But, I agree, the personal aftermath, the confrontation between Ray and his mother, and his reaction to the fallout is the more interesting part of the issue, especially so because it presents both sides of the chasm between mother and son. His mother was toxic to him while growing up but, on the other hand, she did try her best to protect him from what she saw as a serious illness. I’m not sure I want Ray to make up with her or not, but I’m on the side that this anger isn’t good for him.

And Killer Frost and Ryan continue to be interesting as a pairing, even if it doesn’t turn romantic, you can see how these two care about each other. As for their possible source of help, I thought this new character was a revamped B’wana Beat (most people will remember him from the Batman: Brave & the Bold television show) and Ray’s agreement that he is sealed the deal. These changes are all for the good. I suspect we’ll see Mndawe again, and soon.

Batgirl #13 – Hope Larson, Writer; Inaki Miranda, Artist; Eva De La Cruz, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Excellent Single Issue Story

Ray: It’s another done-in-one issue before the next big arc, but this one is by regular writer Hope Larson. It’s a fun, entertaining issue that teams Babs with both a spunky little girl who feels like a future vigilante in the making, and Catwoman in a caper involving kidnapped pets. The issue opens with a seven-year-old girl named Esme facing off against a Gotham gang, looking for a dog named Rookie. (And was I the only one who thought she was looking for Gordon’s Bat-suit because she had struck up an Iron Giant-like friendship with it at first?) Batgirl scares off the gang and finds out what Esme is looking for, and finds out that she follows celebrity dogs on Instagram, and firehouse dog Rookie’s disappeared. Barbara agrees to accompany Esme on her mission and keep her safe – but not before they get a new partner in the search.

Catwoman’s appearance at first leads Barbara to assume that she’s casing the building for a heist, but she’s actually got a missing cat herself. The idea that Selina runs Instagrams for her cats is kind of hilarious, and I very much want to see Bruce introduced to all her cats. The initial fight scene between Barbara and Selina is surprisingly funny, but before long Esme’s able to get them to team up to mount a rescue of their respective pets. They’re able to track the pets by scent to a penthouse where they’ve been taken, and it turns out that the mastermind is Velvet Tiger, one of Barbara’s enemies from the Burnside run. She was a fairly forgettable villain there and is the weakest component here, but she’s fairly easy to dispatch. Overall, it’s a fun, lighthearted team-up issue that shows Larson’s strength with dialogue.

Batgirl, Catwoman
From Batgirl #13, image via DC Comics

Corrina: This is my favorite issue of Larson’s run, with just the right touch of heroism and fun. It’s been clear since the revamp that DC is hoping to find a tween/teen audience for this book–which is totally appropriate–and this issue is one I would hand to a younger reader that would likely make her a Barbara Gordon fan for life.

It’s not just Babs’s characterization that is good here–smart, friendly,fun–but that Esme herself is three-dimensional, with a life sketched out nicely in the story. And it’s impossible to not be worried about the fate of Rookie and the other missing pets. Catwoman’s appearance worked well, too, though this version reminded me more of the animated series than in King’s current on Batman. I was surprised to see the forgettable Velvet Tiger back but given her short appearance, it was fine.

Mother Panic #9 – Jody Houser, Jim Krueger, Writers; John Paul Leon, Artist; Phil Hester, Penciller; Ande Parks, Inker; Dave Stewart, Trish Mulvihill, Colorists

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Guest Appearance by You-Know-Who

Ray: The second arc of Mother Panic concludes with some more looks at Violet’s past, as well as a resolution to the current serial killer plotline. It takes an interesting look at how a vigilante can use vulnerability to their benefit. When the story picks up, Violet is benched from crimefighting due to a damaged implant in her spine that causes her agonizing pain. The opening segments, with her awkwardly trying to pass time at a club, are a bit slow and boring, but I think they’re supposed to be – they’re showing us just how out of place she feels in the “normal” world. Flashbacks show us the origin of the “Mother Panic” nickname – it was the name the students gave to the cruel nun leader at the school for assassins. When Violet calls her by that name to her face, you know she’s done playing along.

Eventually, the showdown everyone’s been waiting for since last issue happens. After a night at the club and some tension between Violet and her doctor over the upcoming surgery, Violet steps outside in the alley behind the club – and finds the serial killer in a body bag waiting for her. She planned to ambush him, but the implant fires up at the wrong time, and she finds herself at his mercy. It’s only the passing intervention of Batman that keeps her plan from blowing up in her face, and the two vigilantes face each other for the first time. There’s a lot of interesting questions left unanswered by this scene, but it’s a good setup. Violet is an intriguing character, and her interaction with her mother, in particular, is strong, although her origin still feels a bit too boilerplate. The slow-paced noir backup has some interesting ideas but unfolds in segments too brief to really make an impact.

Mother Panic meets Batman
Mother Panic #9 cover, image via DC Comics

Corrina: I agree that the more we’ve seen of Violet, the more interesting Mother Panic becomes, and some of the dialogue is perfect, such as between Batman and Violet, especially her delayed reaction which, we know from the quiet panel in between, is simply frustration talking. I also loved “this wouldn’t have happened if you’d eaten your vegetables” line from Violet’s mother. I enjoyed the slower segments, as I believe this series could use more of human interactions between Violet and the people around her.

But, back to the origin, as we finally see how Violet left the assassination house, so to speak. I’m not sure what to think of it because while the attack on the old Mother Panic can be justified, especially because of the abuse, Violet left all the others like her behind to die by being burned to death. That’s more than a bit disturbing and tells me that Violet still has a price to pay, coming up. This title has been hard to like at times but there’s no denying it has powerful moments.

Teen Titans #10 – Benjamin Percy, Writer; Phil Hester, Breakdowns; Pop Mhan, Artist; Khoi Pham, Penciller; Trevor Scott, Inker; Jim Charalampidis, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Ray: This is essentially an issue where one major thing works, and the rest really don’t. The good news is, the thing that works is the main plot of the issue. That would be the story of Aqualad and his first meeting with his father – Black Manta. The issue opens with Manta and Aqualad’s mother Lucia doing battle, with him easily overwhelming and wounding her. Jackson shows up just in time, and after a brief fight surrenders himself to Black Manta to protect her. It turns out that what Manta wants is actually the shell necklace around his neck – it contains a map to an ancient Xebelian treasure. We get a look at the backstory of this odd couple from both sides, which is an interesting plot tool.

While Kaldur accompanies his evil father into the depths of the ocean (and makes some incredibly awkward attempts to try to bond), the rest of the team starts to unravel further. Damian has an awkward conversation with Batman, trying to get his help on something as Batman hints he has big news to tell Damian (probably cat-related). Damian continues to cruelly dismiss anyone who questions his leadership – which is something other team members, namely Beast Boy, start to notice. I liked seeing Gar point out to Starfire that she should be the leader, and to see Starfire actually take charge when needed, but I’m skeptical that it’ll stick. The Aqualad is a lot of fun, though – plus, giant squid monster! There are elements in this title that work, but the problem is that Damian still seems to be stuck in 2006.

Corrina: The Good: that Jackson’s mother is an interesting character in her own right, with her own powers and abilities. Also good: Gar telling Starfire to take control and Starfire doing just that. Also good: Jackson’s confusion over the revelations and his instant defense of his mother.

The Bad: After making her interesting, Mom is almost immediately sidelined. Boo! Damian’s characterization is of someone who never heard of having teammates, despite this series’s first arc and the growth in his own series. Also bad: this is about a mysterious Pearl to rule the world? That is an uninteresting MacGuffin.

In all, the issue is definitely enjoyable and I’m glad to see this Aqualad back and in great form, but I continue to have issues with characterization.

Batman Beyond #10 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Bernard Chang, Artist; Marcelo Maiolo, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Interesting But Slow

Ray: It’s a thrilling, action-packed issue as we finally learn how Damian became the new Ra’s Al Ghul, and Terry’s battle with the powerful new Batman Beyond suit threatens to turn him into a monster. Fair warning, though – animal lovers may want to take a pass on this issue. The story opens with Bruce flashing back to Damian’s origin, and his eventual fall from grace. In the present day, he’s desperately trying to stop Damian from killing Terry. While Damian is definitely all in on the League of Assassins’ plans, you can tell he’s still a hurt child underneath it all, angry at his father’s rejection and embrace of Terry in his place. Terry is getting curb-stomped until the suit’s programming kicks in, and then it becomes an even match. Damian’s not fighting alone, though – the return of Goliath had me cheering.

Flashbacks show how Damian came to the League in the first place, arriving as the Lazarus pit began to wear off. Ra’s knew he was dying, this time for good, and was seeking a successor. Although Bruce had always been his first choice, he was more than willing to take his grandson in his place. Ra’s eventually passed on, just as Brother Eye took over the world, and Damian set up an enclave for the League, to wait for Brother Eye to be defeated, and take advantage of the chaos. I’m not a big fan of the fact that he’s planning to nuke the world, following on Ra’s plan to cleanse the world of humanity. However, he’s still recognizable as Damian even as he goes off the deep end. Terry going rogue under the suit’s control and choking out Goliath, though…that Bat-dragon had better not be dead or we riot.

Corrina: I’m interested in Damian’s backstory here and his confrontation with Bruce but, whew, it is a long, long monologue, even with the action sequences. It might be part of the problem with this series, which has its moments but sometimes feels like it’s going nowhere. Will Jurgens pull a Batman Beyond plot bunny and have this Damian end up being Ra’s in Damian’s body? I hope not. But, then again, I am not satisfied with this take on Damian either. Something doesn’t feel right. I hope we’re leading to Damian being restored. I just hate to see Bruce lose another son.

And poor Goliath!!! No!

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #28 – Sholly Fisch, Writer; Dario Brizuela, Artist; Franco Riesco, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Ray: It’s an unusual issue this time, as the Mystery Machine crew only appears in a framing segment – in a sense. While looking through some old family heirlooms, Fred finds some photos belonging to an adventurer ancestor of his, who solved crimes in the wild west. And sure enough, he had a posse of friends who just happened to look like Velma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby! They come across a western town with a slightly suspicious sheriff and a railroad baron looking to buy land, and reports of a monster. However, before they can investigate, they’re caught up in another conflict. The charming bandit Bat-lash is in town, and he’s got bounty hunters on his trail – the lady gunslinger Cinnamon (who looks oddly like not-Daphne) and the ruthless Jonah Hex.

Hex, despite being in a kids’ comic, is still as ruthless as ever, planning to drag Bat-Last back to his bounty despite him likely being innocent. He’s only willing to accept one alternative – a duel to the death. Their shoot-out, however, is soon interrupted by the monster, a steam-powered behemoth. The appearance of the monster gave away the villain’s identity immediately, but that’s not really the point of the comic. The issue has a strong ending, allowing Bat-last to get away from the likely unjust charges, and revealing the truth about Cinnamon’s identity. This issue does what this title does best – dig up obscure DC heroes and introduce them to a new generation.

Good Or Bad? Take Your Pick On These Issues

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #25 – Robert Venditti, Writer; Ethan Van Sciver, Artist; Jason Wright, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Fail, Fail

Ray: I’m not sure what it is with Robert Venditti and destroying the characterization of members of the Sinestro family, but it’s been the biggest weak point of an otherwise entertaining space opera. With this anniversary, the grand experiment in an alliance between the GLC and the Sinestro Corps comes to a crashing end, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. The issue opens with a horde of Sinestro Corpsmen attempting to break into the holding cells to claim Tomar-Tu’s life in revenge for his killing of Romat-Ru. The Green Lanterns hold them off, but things escalate when an unconscious Kyle is found branded with the Sinestro Corps insignia. Arkillo interrogates his Corpsmen, but Soranik arrives to take credit. She explains her twisted reasoning – and then goes completely off the deep end.

Apparently, she wasn’t angry that Kyle didn’t tell her they had a future son – she was angry that there was an “heir to Sinestro” she never knew about. She declares the experiment over, renames herself Soranik Sinestro, and proceeds to lead the Sinestro Corps in a rebellion. My assumption here is that she’s possessed by Parallax or something because, otherwise, this is just horrible writing. It’s not a bad issue, per se – the final battle is fantastic, John Stewart gets maybe his best moment in years as he deploys a fail-safe with a brilliantly ironic twist, and Guy and Arkillo’s bromance (which seems to be brought to an unwilling end this issue) remains the funniest thing here. But overshadowing it all is a grossly out-of-character Soranik and the torching of a promising new status quo. Also, Sinestro is back, burned but alive and in the care of Lyssa Drak. Because, of course, he is. Now both family members can be one-dimensional villains together.

Corrina: To give Venditti full credit, he’s made me enjoy a series starring Hal Jordan for the first time, mainly by allowing the supporting cast to shine. There are good elements to this issue, particularly John having thought far ahead in his idea of working with the Sinestro corps, and the members of the Sinestro Corps who eventually defect to become Green Lanterns.

The story doubles down on the biggest complaint I’ve had in this run: a completely unhinged Soranik. She used to be a Lantern, so she doesn’t seem to have had this level of anger before. Granted, she was manipulated by her father while a member of the Sinestro Corps, but there’s nothing I’ve seen in this run to suggest her complete turn to anger, vengeance, and hate. If Venditti later reveals the Yellow Ring is doing something to her mind, I might retract my criticism here but, then again, I may not, because that would mean he’s taken the only prominent woman in this story and made her go crazy, not to mention become a psycho girlfriend. Ouch. I thought we were past this, Green Lantern titles.

Green Lantern
Soranik gets a name change to go with her new attitude , image via DC Comics

And the art? Ugh. I usually like Van Sciver’s art but Soranik’s body seems weirdly elongated at times, as do some of the splash pages.

Final note: this title improved by leaps and bounds once Sinestro was defeated/killed. Bringing him back? That would only make me want to not read it any longer. If I were buying this instead of receiving review copies, this 25th issue would be my jumping off point.

Superman: Action Comics #984 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Patrick Zircher, Artist; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: Kinda Anti-Climactic

Ray: The final issue of “Revenge” delivers epic action on several planes, as General Zod’s master plan is revealed and we get a couple of shocking reveals. The issue opens with Jon missing, Lois and Krypto hiding in the fortress, Supergirl unconscious, and the other heroes – plus two villains – trapped in the Phantom Zone. Superman’s vision is restored in the zone, as the transition into the zone cures him of the Black Vault’s affliction, but they soon find themselves in battle with Eradicator and Cyborg Superman, who were betrayed by Zod as well. Blanque is nearly killing himself to maintain a psychic link with the zone for Zod, as well. When Mongul and Metallo express doubts, Zod quickly dispatches them, essentially revealing himself as simply using the squad for his own purposes.

And as for what those purposes are? Well, they involve the return of Ursa, a character I know many people will be happy to see again – as well as, shockingly, Lor-Zod. I don’t think anyone was expecting to see him again outside the Gods and Monsters verse, but this doesn’t seem to be the Chris Kent version. It’s only due to Jon’s grabbing of the Kryptonian battlesuit that he’s able to fend off Zod and allow his father and his allies to escape the phantom zone. Krypto gets to help too, although I wish Lois had a bit more to do in the issue (I’m stealing your line, Corrina!). Where it does work really well is in the characterization, both of heroes and villains. I’m especially liking Jurgens’ take on the slow, grudging respect between Superman and Luthor, and I hope this new status quo sticks. Also, intriguing hints as to Mr. Oz’s identity here. Could we have been misled?

Corrina: On the overall plot, I felt it was quite disappointing to have all the Supers arrayed against the enemies and not have a satisfying conclusion. Zod is good out there as a villain for Superman but I would have hoped this story would have ended with a much bigger confrontation and not just Zod, and family running away to fight another day. Even Mongul runs off too.

As for Lois, she should have been in that super suit, not Jon. I appreciate DC wants to push the new Superboy but Jon thinking of the suit before Lois is simply ridiculous, making an eight-year-old boy smarter and more innovative that the world’s best investigator reporter. BAH. I’m so tired of this.

Needs Improvement: Grades 6/10

The Hellblazer #12 – Simon Oliver, Writer; Davide Fabbri, Penciler; Jose Marzan Jr., Inker; Carrie Strachan, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: That’s the Ending??

Ray: It’s the final issue of Simon Oliver’s run on Constantine’s book, with Tim Seeley coming on next issue, and I have to say, I don’t think this story came together in the end. There’s a lot of interesting elements, including this mysterious order of djinns, but a good noir story needs a concrete finale, and this issue felt rushed, almost incomplete. It opens with Dante’s younger sister and his girlfriend hiding out in her apartment when the djinns arrive, quickly kill the girlfriend (who was never really a character at all) and kidnap the little girl. Dante meets with Constantine and Mercury, and I’m not sure what happened to the character of this guy – he’s suddenly pulling guns and threatening Constantine like a cliched rap artist/ It actually feels in kind of bad taste.

After Mercury is able to convince Dante that they mean to help him – but not before freaking him out with her psychic abilities – they go to recover the journal from Dante’s hiding place. They get ahold of it, but then they’re ambushed by the Djinns with their hostage. What follows is essentially a long negotiation, with no actual final showdown. I get that when you’re dealing with all-powerful cosmic evils like this story, you can’t exactly have your street level heroes get into a fist fight, but the entire confrontation feels anticlimactic. Eventually, Constantine offers himself up as a trade, seemingly gets killed and taken to the afterlife – and then gets pulled back by a familiar face. Seems it was all another con, albeit one even Constantine doesn’t fully understand. It’s not a bad comic, but it’s one not likely to leave people following this story for a year satisfied.

Corrina: I didn’t get the ending. Constantine turns himself over and the Djinns just stop doing all those evil things they’ve been doing for a long time? What side is Mercury on and what are her powers? I HAVE NO IDEA. ::throws up hands:: Incomplete about covers it.

The back half has Constantine ruminating on his life, and that’s interesting, But Zatanna pulls him back, so…?

I’m going with the creative team had zero time to wrap up their story before leaving, and that’s why this is a mess.

Blue Beetle #11 – Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis, Writers; Scott Kolins, Artist; Romulo Fajardo Jr., Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Still a Hot Mess

Ray: This issue spends the first part dispensing with the plots from the previous arc, which is a step in the right direction. Jaime’s possession by the Scarab turns out to be…a prank? Right after the battle, he just decided to pretend to be an alien monster to lighten the mood? Sounds nuts, but okay. Doctor Fate takes Arion into custody, while Mordecai tries to escape in bug form and gets crushed by OMAC in an amusing segment. But once the danger’s past, it seems clear that Jaime is far from okay. He reacts angrily when Ted and Terri want to check him out in the lab. The Scarab seems to be chattier than it used to, acting more like a partner to Jaime. I liked that move closer to the original status quo, but Jaime reacts with hostility.

Overall, the big problem with this series is that the genuine nature of the original run is nowhere to be seen. Jaime’s problems with everyone and his keeping of secrets from his friends and family is damaging his personal and school life, and that’s the opposite of what we saw originally. Paco and Brenda’s original snarky bickering has been escalated into a full-on fight constantly, which makes it hard to see how they’re supposed to wind up a couple. The new villain, Ghostfire, seems to be contacting Jaime psychically, and much like the last arc’s villains, feels more like a special effect in comic form. The one element that really works? Milagro and her new friend Tina, who’s the new kid Batman from JL3K1. They’re funny, entertaining, and a bit of light in a comic that very much needs it.

Corrina: If this series could have focused on Jaime and his supporting cast, it might be okay. As it is, it’s been a mess for a long while, with everyone who’s supposed to be a hero either an idiot or a jerk, and villains that spout ridiculous dialogue. Note: when your characters call out the villains for bad dialogue, it’s not meta, it’s only a recognition of the problem. That the dialogue between the “friends” at the high school is similarly bad just proves that point.

Then OMAC just squishes Mordechai. I’m glad to see that one gone, he was dull, boring, and ridiculous, but OMAC just committed murder, which means his human host may have some issues. It’s funny but it doesn’t belong in this comic. (It might belong in a good version of the Suicide Squad.)

Total Fail: Grade 3/10

Suicide Squad #22 – Rob Williams, Writer; Agustin Padilla, Artist; Adriano Lucas, Colorist

Ray – 3/10

Corrina: Enough!

Ray: One of the worst issues of what is consistently one of DC’s weakest series in the Rebirth era, as the team collapses once again. Amanda Waller opens the issue by escaping from captivity after last issue’s cliffhanger, running into traffic and being picked up by a friendly family. Some of these scenes aren’t bad, as seeing Waller genuinely vulnerable is actually pretty effective. However, it’s all a feint, as flashbacks show that Waller and Director Karla, the evil Russian cyborg, actually had a fairly friendly conversation about how metahumans are a danger to the world and need to be captured. And it seems like Waller agreed because, of course, she did. Wasn’t this the plot of Justice League vs. Suicide Squad a few months back? Although really, given the performance of the Squad, Karla may have a point.

Harley’s first outing as the team leader of the Squad proves in no uncertain terms why she’s a horrible choice for the role. Her leadership style is impulsive and emotionally driven, she doesn’t care about her team members, and she may be suicidal. Her decision to shoot Croc in the head to make Enchantress angry works, as the crazy witch freezes time and tries to kill Deadshot, while Quinn is able to look up the data she wants. I’m not sure when Croc’s skin became invincible – isn’t he supposed to be a crime boss with a skin condition? – but his survival was fully expected. Then it comes out that Boomerang killed Hack, and the team turns on him, nearly kills him, and leaves him to die in the frozen wilderness. They get back to base, and Waller tasks them with capturing Batman and Killer Frost. Again, this was just the plot of the last event. Nothing about this book is compelling to me.

Corrina: I know, I know, this is a books starring villains. It’s bound to be violent and full of bad people. But give me something book, something interesting beyond Harley’s mildly shocking idea to shot Croc in the head to set off Enchantress. As for Boomerang, the only reason he was left alive is that he’ll be used again, sometime. Because why else would a gang of basically assassins not kill him? Yeesh.

Now, to Waller. I was hoping the revelation would be that this Waller is an imposter or something but, nope, it doubles down on her continued awfulness. Yes, setting up villains to kill/capture heroes will definitely avoid the kind of collateral damage that supposedly worries Waller. What? You say that’ll probably lead to a big fight where things are destroyed in Gotham or somewhere else, thus traumatizing civilians? Nah, you’re silly. Waller is smart (even though she was wrong on Zod) and sneakier (even though she never caught Boomerang) and we should trust her (even though she’s in bed with the Russians.) I’m way past the breaking point with this title, it’s so bad.

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