DC This Week: July 12, 2017: Dark, Metal Days Ahead

No! Not Baixi! cover to New Super-Man #13, Imagee via DC Comics

Do you love superhero mega-events? Because DC jumps in with both feet this week, with Batman receiving a sword of fire  in Dark Days: The Casting #1. It’s one of the numerous excellent issues this week, including New Super-Man #13, which features the full Justice League of China; Bug: The Forager #3, the oddball story which is fast becoming one of our favorites; Gotham Academy: Second Semester #11 has us mourning that the series is coming to an end; Barry Allen faces his future in Flash #26; and Supergirl and Batgirl escape the Phantom Zone in Supergirl #11.

Oh, and the Superman cast fights all the villains in Superman: Action Comics #982.

Plus reviews of all this week’s DC Comics.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW.

Grade A Comics– Ratings 8-10

Dark Days: The Casting #1 – Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Writers; Jim Lee, John Romita Jr., Andy Kubert; Pencillers; Scott Williams, Klaus Janson, Danny Miki, Inkers; Alex Sinclair, Jeremiah Skipper, Colorists

Ray – Rating 9/10

Corrina: Omniscient Voice: And So It Begins

Ray: While not quite as in-your-face spectacular as the first issue of this prequel to Dark Knights: Metal, this last issue before the event proper begins in August still delivers some truly spectacular scenes, great teasers for what’s to come, and a brilliantly memorable showdown with the Joker. Hawkman still narrates this issue, showing how the mystery has played out over his thousands of years and lives. Some of those segments introduce new characters, like the society of the Immortal Men – of whom Duke Thomas’ mother was implied to be a potential – while others bring us the return of classic characters who haven’t appeared since Rebirth. Hawkman’s membership in a previous version of the Challengers of the Unknown isn’t a big surprise – given that Snyder’s relaunching that concept – but the involvement of the Wizard Shazam definitely is. So I’m guessing the Johns Shazam reboot might be getting memory-holed?

Corrina: There is a ton here, so I’m going to jump in mid-review on Ray. My first reaction to the Hawkman narration was “Are they making Hawkman EVEN MORE COMPLICATED than he was before?” And he was complicated enough before that Geoff Johns felt the need to write an entire arc of Justice Society of America to reconcile it all. (Though, as always, I always think why not say ‘that was one story, this is another.’) But my reaction to Hawkman’s narration may be my general reaction to this whole tale, as well told as it looks like it’s going to be: This looks like a story to explain stuff in the DC Universe and Rebirth. And I have a huge hate for stories that do that. However, this issue proved more entertaining to me than the first prequel, so we’ll see.

Batman and Wonder Woman
Dark Days: The Casting #1, Image via DC Comics

Ray: While Hawkman’s last will and testament provide a lot of backstory, it’s Batman who actually drives the story, as he goes on a pilgrimage to unlock the secrets of this mysterious metal and its ties to a conspiracy he’s been tracking. His first stop brings him up against a griffin and crosses paths with Wonder Woman, who gives him an enchanted weapon forged by the Gods. His second stop is much less friendly, as he encounters the 90s telepath Dubbilex and reunites with Talia, who is seeking the metal herself and has enlisted the help of a deadly assassin known as the Silencer – another upcoming title drop. If there’s one thing these two issues have driven home, it’s that Snyder is drawing on everything from both his run and Morrison’s to bring us what might be the most epic, surreal Batman story yet.

Corrina: I like this Batman. I like that he talks to people. I like that he admits vulnerability to Wonder Woman. I also like my DC knowledge challenged, as this issue has some deep cuts.

Ray: The third segment is the best, though, finding Duke Thomas and Hal Jordan against the Joker. Now, this is one talented fighter and one Green Lantern against an imprisoned psychopath, which shouldn’t be a tough match – but it’s the Joker. No one writes a more terrifying Joker than Snyder, as he plays the two heroes brutally and engineers his escape. But this Joker isn’t just evil – he’s terrified. He’s glimpsed something that scares even him. We get hints of Duke’s true nature, and Batman’s insane plan to ensure his legacy bears fruit – in a terrible way that’ll kick off the big threat. This is essentially a story about Batman’s humanity opening the door to something evil, and that gives it a nice grounded touch – even as it provides us with a never-ending array of confusing, horrifying images that leaves me anxiously awaiting the main event. Snyder and Capullo unleashed is going to be incredible.

Corrina: I’m less enthralled with the idea of Duke Thomas and Hal against the Joker. See: my anti-Joker prejudice. But this Joker is very much the immortal-like figure from Snyder’s run, the one who was resurrected along with Bruce. I still think, as in the current Batman storyline, ‘The War of Jokes and Riddles,’ that people would just smash or shoot the Joker. He’s THE JOKER. Characters have to be bent into different shapes to let him live. It kinda works here, with all the revelations, but, again, I wish Duke wasn’t some sort of chosen figure. We went down that way once with Dick Grayson and Talons and I didn’t enjoy it all that much. But I do like seeing Hal be confused and wrong, so…there’s that.

If you like huge monster-mega superhero events, this is the one to read right now. This one hasn’t won me over but the writing is certainly better on it than any mega-crossover of the last few years.

Wonder Woman #26 – Shea Fontana, Writer; Mirka Andolfo, Artist; Romulo Fajardo Jr., Colorist

Ray – Rating 8/10

Corrina: Already Decided: This Run Is Too Short

Ray: I would not envy any writer coming onto this book immediately after the defining run by Rucka. The job is especially imposing for a writer who has only written one mainstream DC comic before like Shea Fontana, but she acquits herself with this first issue, a solid character-driven story that addresses some major current issues while keeping the focus squarely on Diana and what makes her the hero she is. The story picks up at a refugee camp, where Diana is helping to keep the peace between asylum-seekers and thugs looking to take advantage. However, even her best efforts are unable to protect everyone as war rages outside. Meanwhile, flashbacks to Diana’s childhood do a good job of showing the Amazons’ struggles in raising a child when they have all been adult warriors for thousands of years – as well as young Diana’s pain as she chooses to commit to the way of the warrior.

Back from her mission abroad, Diana debriefs and tries to come to grips with the horrors she’s encountered on the way. There are some odd side stories in this segment, including an encounter with a nerdy Wonder Woman fan who gives her pamphlets, but it seems like this story is trying to slowly build up a new WW supporting cast. Etta Candy reappears, giving Diana an invite to her brother’s wedding, and Diana is checked out by a doctor friend who seems to be dealing with some mysterious health problems of her own. However, the issue takes a darker turn at the wedding, when Diana is called into action to prevent an attack – and she may be too late. This is a Wonder Woman comic that unapologetically addresses things like war, terrorism, and racism, and I’m not sure if Fontana immediately hits all the landings – we’ll see how it plays out next issue – but it’s a strong start.

Wonder Woman #26, 2017
Young Diana is about to stumble onto a family secret. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: Anyone following a definitive run like Rucka/Scott/Sharp would be in for a tough comparison. This issue may not be perfect but it’s also a better Wonder Woman story that basically anything in the new 52 run. If the series had started with this creative team, I’d be enthused. As it is, I’m already bummed this creative team is only on board for one arc because the promise of a great story is all in this issue. Diana is the person she needs to be, doing the job she needs to do, and I like that Fontana is setting up a solid, supporting cast, especially including Etta Candy. I was surprised but delighted to see the flashbacks to Young Diana and the idea of Amazons struggling to raise the single child in their midst–it seemed a callout to Gail Simone’s classic “The Circle.” And any run that starts by reminding me of that story is doing a ton of things right.

Batman: Detective Comics #960 – James Tynion IV, Writer; Alvaro Martinez, Penciller; Raul Fernandez, Inker; Brad Anderson, Colorist

Ray – Rating 9/10

Corrina: So Good

Ray: This arc took a little longer to get into than some of the previous ones, but as it’s developed, it’s become a fascinating story about faith, as well as a subtle prequel to Metal. At its core, it’s about Bruce and Zatanna, who met as teenagers – although I’m surprised they’re the same age, apparently – and that relationship now comes into play as Bruce seeks answers about the nature of life and death. The opening segment, in which Bruce gets Zatanna to show him the true nature of her magic, is one of the most stunning segments we’ve seen in this title so far. It’s rare to see Zatanna use her magic in a way that literally breaks reality because it’s so hard to counter – but here that’s the point. She’s trying to scare him off, and it doesn’t work. So she takes him to what he’s looking for – The Gnosis Sphere – and it opens up more questions than it answers.

Then there’s the actual main plot of the arc, involving the Church of St. Dumas and the mysterious assassin Ascalon. While Azrael was the weakest link in this title so far, with this arc he’s really come into his own, as we get a better look at what exactly drives his battle to separate from the cult, and the link that St. Dumas still has with him. Very good use of Batwing and Batwoman as well, although I have to say I’m kind of sad to see Rookie being used as a robot butler now – Gordon’s run as Batman was amazing, and I wish he was still a team associate. The issue’s light on action, but by the time Ascalon appears and St. Dumas gets is claws back into Jean-Paul, it’s clear that next issue is going to be an explosive showdown.

Corrina: Azrael has been on the scrap heap of Batman-supporting characters for so long that I’d thought he’d eventually be lost and forgotten, despite the excellent miniseries that introduced him. (Admittedly, his title had some issues at the every end. But the beginning was terrific.) Somewhere, I believe Denny O’Neil has to be smiling in his retirement, because this Azrael/Jean-Paul Valley is his concept of the character. This is a kind man brainwashed to do all sorts of horrible things. He’s the chosen one who rightly fights his destiny. I also like what Luke adds to the team, particularly with Tim Drake’s absence.

But, yeah, I always miss Jim Gordon and he’s definitely been on the sidelines in Rebirth.

On Batman and Zatanna, Batman’s characterization matches up note-perfect with his other appearance this week. But it’s Zatanna who is the real surprise for me here, with the creative team showcasing exactly what makes her unique, why she sometimes seems not as powerful as she is, and gives her a statement of purpose that could well be used as a launching pad for her own series.

The Flash #26 – Joshua Williamson, Writer; Howard Porter, Artist, Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Race To..Nowhere?

Ray: The Flash has taken a dramatic turn as Eobard Thawne is unleashed again to destroy Barry Allen’s life, with full knowledge of all the previous continuities (even if I’m still not sure how he survived The Button), and this issue turns the arc into a twisted, time-bending thriller. When the issue kicks off, Barry and Iris are trapped in the future by Thawne, witnessing a twisted version of their reality where their kids, Don and Dawn, have gone rogue and are terrorizing Central City as the new Rogues, all because Barry was never there for them. It’s likely just Thawne’s torture for them, but it drives home his point that Barry is always running away from his problems and responsibilities. Meanwhile, Iris has just found out Barry’s secret identity, and is taking it…relatively well? (Better than another character handles a shocking revelation this week, that’s for sure.)

One of Williamson’s best strengths on this book is just how human everyone is. Iris is hurt, yes, but she understands the human reasons behind Barry’s deceptions. Barry’s been lying with the best of intentions for so long, he doesn’t know how to stop. Even Thawne is driven by the most human of emotions – petty jealousy and anger. With Iris’ life in danger, Thawne baits Barry into joining him in the Speed Force, essentially sacrificing himself and putting an end to the Flash legacy by trapping him in the antithesis of the Speed Force – only to then betray him and head off to target Iris. That backfires, however, when Barry emerges, possessed by the Negative Speed Force into a twisted version of the Flash. How this new “Negative Flash” arc will play out is still to be determined, but this issue is one of Williamson’s best.

Corrina: Jeez, Barry, why would you trust anything Eobard says? That guy never found a lie he didn’t like. I wish Barry had talked things out with Batman about telling Iris, as Bruce seems to have learned a totally different lesson there, allowing Selina into her life. Plus, the multiverse is full of many wrong things via alternate choices. None of them need apply to this Barry, which he should know.

And the fact that I’m talking about the character choices means that this comic got to me. I felt for this Barry, the best iteration of this character in a long time. And for Iris, who does understand the risks that Barry takes and why he wants to protect people. As always, Williamson takes this plot of Barry sacrificing himself to the Speed Force (much like the television show) but gives it an original twist. I wonder if the show will steal it?

Bug! The Adventures of Forager #3 – Lee Allred, Michael Allred, Storytellers; Laura Allred, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: The Kind of Crossover Fun I Love

Ray: Not quite as brilliant as the last issue’s strange trip through WW2-era DC weird science comics, but this excellent, surreal Young Animal comic continues to develop its own, very strange universe. The opening page has an almost Deadpool-esque quality as Bug makes his crash-landing, but soon he’s struggling to survive in lava flats with his companions – a little ghost girl and her talking teddy bear. There’s some amusing stuff involving a yak, and a campfire that gets interrupted by the arrival of the villain Chagra and his new ally – the impossibly strong titan Atlas, who has been turned against them. The battle with Atlas, while impressive, has an almost slapstick quality to it as Atlas works more like a bull in a china shop than anything.

Amid all the action, there’s a good deal of information dealt out. We find out exactly who this talking teddy bear is, and it’s not anything I expected. We also get a great flashback to just what happened after Forager was struck down in battle on New Genesis, although it still doesn’t explain how he’s alive again. The second half of the issue, where they arrive at the Golden City of Hyssa, kicks up the intensity as (after some odd misunderstandings involving carrots) they find themselves inside a crystal cavern giving a vision into the totality of the multiverse. The reveals here drive Chagra insane, and turn Atlas into a wild card. The Allreds have an unmistakable style that works really well here – combining the clean, cosmic work on Silver Surfer with the more bizarre, abstract Madman. I have no clue where this series is going, but I think that’s the point.

Bug: The Forager #3, 2017
Bug’s not having a good day. Image Via DC Comics

Corrina: Did I detect a shout-out to the glorious comic Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takada in this? Because the Teddy Bear who claimed to be a fox spirit and the ghost girl sure seemed a tip of the hat to Monstress. A fun one, of course.

If so, not only is this comic referencing obscure and fascinating DC material, it’s reaching even further outside the box. The Titan Atlas is new to me, as is the whole idea of the crystal cavern containing the multiverse, though I was familiar with the history of the Source Wall, which is pure Kirby. I’m glad to have answers about Bug’s humanity/New God status though, hey, he’s still a bit dead. But he remains a fascinating guide, competent, fun and confused at times, to this wild universe. Not an easy line to walk, nor is the tone of this comic easy to execute but, oh, it does. This is vying with Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye for my favorite New Animal series.

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #11 – Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan, Karl Kerschl, Writers; Adam Archer, Penciller; Sandra Hope, Inker; MSASSYK, Backgrounds and Colors

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: Maps And Robin Ultimate Team-Up!

Ray: The penultimate issue of this brilliant series has to balance some very dark themes with the usual hilarious action of the series, and surprisingly, it works very well. When the issue kicks off, Kyle is seriously injured from Olive’s fire, and Maps is not in a forgiving mood. She’s decided Olive is a villain, and despite Olive’s apologies – and Kyle waking up long enough to tell her to try to save Olive – she sends Olive running and is ready to leave her to her fate. Seeing the chipper, lovable Maps like this is a surprising twist, but it makes sense in context. Colton and Pomeline aren’t willing to give up on their quest to find out the truth about Amity Arkham and her link to Olive, though, and they convince Maps to go on one last mission with them – to Wayne Manor.

The one-issue guest-appearance by Damian Wayne in the first volume was a hilarious delight, and it’s no different this time. Maps, Colton, and Pom manage to arrive at Wayne Manor just as Two-Face and his goons have invaded the place, looking for hostages. They decide that Colton and Pom will do just fine, leaving Maps on her own – until she encounters Damian. Damian is keeping to himself, staying out of the way and planning to take out the villains, and Maps is a complication he neither needs nor wants. Their ensuing team-up is one of the best scenes of the series so far, and while Damian isn’t willing to help them, Robin is. Damian’s use of his secret identity in this series is really clever, and with Olive’s powers spiraling out of control at the hands of the terrible trio, Maps finally makes the right decision and joins her friends for one final battle at the Academy. Next issue, I predict tears. I really hope some of these characters stick around the DCU.

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #11, Olive and Maps
Olive and Maps may be at the end of their friendship. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: While Maps had an understandable breakdown over her brother’s injuries and over Olive turning into, well, a demon and betraying them all, she certainly quickly regained her equilibrium in deciding to steal something from Wayne Manor. That caper adds a much-needed blast of humor to what’s been mostly a terrifying ride into Olive’s possession. And, of course, Damian shows up and, in his way that he has, teams up with Maps, even while basically claiming she’s useless.

Though Maps seems unaware of Damian’s secret identity, I suspect that will not last long. Well, maybe it will, given the series is ending. :unhappysigh::

New Super-Man #13 – Gene Luen Yang, Writer; Billy Tan, Penciller; Haining, Inker; Gadson, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: Never Forget Kenan Is Still a Kid

Ray: As always, this title delivers an effective combo of big-scale superhero action with a more grounded, human take featuring a rookie hero. In fact, I would say that anyone who loved Spider-Man: Homecoming this week would be smart to check this book out – it’s probably the closest DC has come to capturing that vibe since the Blue Beetle run by John Rogers. When this issue kicks off, Kenan is reeling from the reveal that the ruthless Dr. Omen is claiming to be his long-dead mother. Complicating things further is the fact that she’s claiming his father is alive as well – and she’s currently falling off a building courtesy of an evil proto-Superman. Although Kenan fights, he’s quickly outmatched by the villain, who calls himself Emperor Superman. This leads him and Avery to retreat to find I-Ching and seek help with his powers.

There’s a brief interlude in the mental plane, as I-Ching helps Jenan realize what he needs to do next – track down the other members of the Justice League, who have scattered. Wonder Woman is off the table for now after the events of the last arc, but Batman (and Robinbot!) is busy trying to keep the peace as Emperor Superman attacks the city with the help of an army of escaping supervillains. One of them is Baixi’s old rival, Feng Rongpei, now reinvented as the Bane of China. Meanwhile, Dr. Omen is captured and has the fate of her husband – Kenan’s father – dangled in front of her in a tense segment. There’s a lot going on in this series, and it almost all works. This book has escalated the threat level with every arc and still manages to flesh out its characters. Don’t sleep on this book – unlike Gotham Academy, it still has a shot!

Kenan Kong, New Super-Man, Justice League of China
Kenan has some serious parental issues. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: Consistent quality has been the hallmark of Yang’s new Super-Man, with Kenan being the best addition to the Superman-verse in years and, yes, better than Jon Kent, who has gotten more publicity and more spotlights over several books. Meanwhile, Yang not only has built a wonderful and unique storyworld for Kenan, he’s also done the same for the new Justice League of China. And I’ve come to adore them all.

Robinbot is just terrific, especially since Baixi makes for a Batman that, while not super-prepared like his inspiration, has much more fun being a hero. And a Bane of China? Awesome. Now, it’s time to find out who’s been pulling the strings on everyone all along.

Superman: Action Comics #983 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Viktor Bogdanovic, Artist; Jonathan Glapion, Inker; Mike Spicer, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Enjoyed the Superman Team. But Lois…..

Ray: This issue is essentially a no-holds-barred slugfest, as well as providing an interesting look at just why supervillain teams aren’t sustainable. Everyone has their own agenda, and there’s always going to be one guy who’s the bigger dog in the fight. Superman is still blind as he takes on Zod, Cyborg Superman, and the rest, but he’s backed up by every hero wearing the S-shield this issue – from his blood family to the Chinese teenager he’s met all of twice. The return of the Superman family is what makes this issue as strong as it is. The issue starts off with the two sides having a standoff before Superman refuses to surrender, and then the fight begins with Zod going directly for Superman. Each of the Supers picks their own target, and the villains quickly get the upper hand.

If I had one problem with this issue, it’s that Lois and Jon – while written well – are essentially marginalized this issue. Clark’s goal is to keep them safe and send them to the escape pod, and they run there only to be apparently blown up. We know they’ll be fine, so that just makes this a cheap way to make Superman angry. Still, the action is strong, and Zod in particular is a ruthless villain who is really effective this issue. His backstab of Cyborg Superman – with Eradicator’s consent, apparently – to send him into the Phantom Zone along with the Supers at the end of the issue is a great twist, and turns the rest of the arc on its head as heroes and villains alike will have to work together to escape the Zone next issue. This is definitely an old-school comic, but Jurgens still gets Superman and his world better than almost anyone else.

Corrina: Seeing the Superman crew together, facing off against the Superman Revenge Squad, is more fun to read than I anticipated, especially since everyone receives their moment, especially Superman and Zod. For once in a big action-fight scene, I felt emotionally invested in the outcome and wondered exactly how our good guys would triumph. Right now, the odds look against them for part 2 next month.

And, of course, Lois and Jon aren’t dead. The destruction of that flyer is obviously a ruse. But, yes, it’s yet another example of Lois being relegated to the role of Mom. People still have lives when they’re parents, creators. Just look at the dads running around the DC universe having all sorts of adventures. Batman, Superman, Deathstroke…all come to mind. But Lois becomes a mother and suddenly that’s all she can do? ARGH. Yes, I’ll keep singing this song until it changes.

Supergirl #11 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Brian Ching, Artist; Michael Atiyeh, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Compassion Wins

Ray: Supergirl heads out of the Phantom Zone in this book just as she goes into it in Action! That amused me. This issue, which brings Kara’s current arc to a close and sets up a major new arc, is a fun if slightly chaotic read that bombards the audience with fascinating phantom zone images courtesy of both the villain and Kara’s mysterious ally Psi. As the issue opens, Kara is descending into a psychic field where Psi is manifesting as a giant cosmic dragon. These scenes, as Kara uses her compassion to talk down this traumatized girl who is rightfully angry at the world and everyone who betrayed her, are the issue’s strongest. Meanwhile, Batgirl and Ben Rubel are on their own, trying to hold off the evil Kryptonian Xa-Du until Kara gets back. While Brian Ching’s art is often a bit cartoony, his take on the villain is brilliant.

This issue is all about guile and courage, as Barbara goes up against a ruthless villain who is far more powerful than her, and figures out where his weaknesses are. Meanwhile, Kara tunes out the monstrous image Psi is producing and sees through to the vulnerable girl inside. That leads to the best visual of the issue, as Kara charges back into battle on a giant dragon and lets Psi destroy Xa-Du and his pirates. With the crisis averted, Psi chooses to stay behind and try to reform the Phantom Zone, while Kara and her friends head home. Kara and Barbara make a great team, and I’m hoping to see more of this team-up in both their books. Then there’s the big cliffhanger, as Kara heads off for a meeting with Cat Grant – and promptly gets shot with a Kryptonite bullet, with Cat almost definitely under Emerald Empress’ control. That’s one way to leave people waiting for the next issue.

Supergirl #11, 2017
This reunion did not go well. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: The visual of Kara riding the dragon to the rescue was one of those amazing images from comics that will stick with you. I know, last week, I was less than complimentary about the events inside the Phantom Zone, finding them too gory for my taste. That’s all forgiven with this issue, which was all about intelligence and compassion saving the day. For Kara, it was about offering an outstretched hand, rather than a fist. For Batgirl and Ben, it means not letting the strangeness of the Zone overwhelm them and not giving into the madness that’s obviously taken most residents.

I read this issue before Action Comics, and now I expect Psi to welcome Kara back and send her home at the head of an army to defeat the Superman Revenge Squad. Well, after Kara recovers from being shot, that is.

Justice League of America #10 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Andy MacDonald, Artist; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Wishes Are Nightmares

Ray: Thus far, this title has been hopping around the world, and turning its focus on different Leaguers in each small arc. This issue, it’s time to return to the hometown of the Ray, Vanity – the site of one of the best set-up one-shots before this book launched. It introduces a new villain with one of the most interesting MOs of the series – but he may not be the villain at all. A mysterious force is appearing around Vanity, granting people’s fondest wishes – sometimes something as simple as being cured of a painful chronic disease. However, these actions are apparently disrupting the natural order of things, and are drawing the attention of a brutal other-dimensional warrior known as the Kingbutcher – who promptly rips the new gift out of these people’s lives, leaving them more desperate and lower than ever.

This gets the attention of the Justice League and puts Ray at the forefront of this issue as he’s reunited with his childhood friend Caden, who is now the Mayor despite being nearly blinded and scarred as a child by an outburst of Ray’s powers. Ray and Caden’s friendship is one of the most intriguing parts of the issue, and that sort of pushes all the other heroes this issue a bit to the background. Lobo gets a few good one-liners, Vixen pushes back against Batman’s domineering leadership, but they’re all mainly side characters to Ray Terrill’s drama. And that drama turns shockingly potent with the end-of-issue twist, as we find out exactly what Ray’s mother has wanted since he left. As usual with Steve Orlando’s writing, it’s the subtle personal content that makes his work sing.

Corrina: I loved Ray’s one-shot issue, which took Christopher Priest’s original concept of the new Ray and expanded on it, producing a terrific new hero. I’m thrilled to return to Vanity and glad that Caden is present in the story as well. Orlando has been playing around with various tones for this series since the beginning, which dived into a reflection on real-life politics and terrorism. The last arc spotlighted a pulp vibe with Makson. And in this issue, he switches to fairy tale mode but, like many fairy tales, having your wishes granted has unanticipated consequences. The villain, Kingbutcher, is interesting because he has a point. Our deepest desires are not always benevolent to others. In Ray’s case, that means facing his mother’s attitude toward his unique abilities head-on. Ouch.

Split Decision: Good/Bad Ratings

Red Hood and the Outlaws #12 – Scott Lobdell, Writer; Dexter Soy, Artist; Veronica Gandini, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: It’s Decent But Not Excellent

Ray: A surprisingly well-done and emotional issue picks up directly after last issue’s cliffhanger, which found the team celebrating their victory in the Middle East only to see Bizarro mysteriously collapse. The culprit, it turns out, is the clone degeneration that hits almost every Bizarro, and the cover – a homage to the story that got me into comics – indicates that this issue is not going to end happily. The story picks up with Bizarro near-comatose at the hospital run by Jason’s criminal mentor Ma Gunn. Jason is taking it hard, having come to see the strange, simple giant as a friend. Artemis is more fatalistic, but neither one has much time to reflect as a mysterious villain – likely Black Mask, out for revenge – unleashes Solomon Grundy in a destructive rage on Gotham.

The latter half of the issue is primarily a big slugfest, which is where the unusually strong story flags a bit. Solomon Grundy is near-Superman powered, so that leaves the two conscious heroes at a big disadvantage. Artemis mainly charges headlong into battle and gets batted around by the super-zombie, while Jason plays it more strategically and hits him with heavy artillery – until he eventually leaves an opening and is about to be crushed. That’s when Bizarro’s super-hearing picks up that his friends are in trouble, and he forces himself out of his bed, charging into battle and using the last of his strength to knock Grundy out before dying in a great segment. But that’s when Luthor shows up, likely with plans of his own for Bizarro. Not perfect, but probably the best issue of the series.

Corrina: Yes, it’s sad that this Bizarro dies. But I would be sadder if the writing of his character had been consistently good since his first appearance, instead of the last couple of issues. It lessens the emotional impact of his admittedly heroic and affecting death.

But, still, I can’t recommend this comic. Artemis is still very much a cipher, despite having a whole arc dedicated to her origin. So far as I can tell, she’s strong, and a warrior and often angry and she wants….I have no idea. To be a hero? To fight? For some peace? Take your guess. At least I know why Jason does what he does. If you are a Jason fan, this series is decent to read. But it never approaches excellence.

Grade B Comis: Rankings 7-8

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #12 – Julie Benson, Shawna Benson, Writers; Roge Antonio, Artist; Allen Passalaqua, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Agreed It’s Best So Far. But That’s a Backward Compliment

Ray: This is probably the best issue of this entire series so far (which, as you’ve read in our reviews so far, that’s not a high bar). The reason this issue works while so many others failed? It’s about the characters it should be. It’s essentially an elaborate caper comic that pits the Birds against two-thirds of the Gotham City Sirens (the third has gone on to bigger things). Last issue set up the Birds teaming up with Calculator to rescue his family from a heist gone wrong. And the person they need to get the good back from? None other than Catwoman. I enjoyed the subtle hints to what was going on between Batman and Catwoman as Barbara called Bruce for help getting Selina to meet them, but she’s none too pleased when she finds out she’s been lied to.

Complicating things after the requisite fight? She doesn’t have the actual item. She got it for someone else – Poison Ivy, who is currently undercover at shady corporation Terracare, and plotting a brutal revenge against the corporate tyrants. While Dinah tries to broker the release of the hostages (who include a thankfully non-chewed Marvin and Wendy, for those who remember that bizarre storyline where they got mauled by Wonderdog), Helena, Barbara, and Selina infiltrate the building with Calculator and Gus along for the ride. This soon deteriorates into a battle against Ivy’s encroaching giant vines. I’m not 100% sure as to Ivy’s motivation, but the issue is overall entertaining and lacks Gus in any significant role, so that’s a win.

Corrina: One the one hand, it’s great to see the band back together and this issue handles the large cast fairly well. So it is, as Ray said, the best issue of this series. But that’s only because the bar has thus far been set so low. And there are signs of problems even here, with Calculator being somewhat one-dimensional, and that whole mess with Gus as yet unresolved.

But, hey, there’s Selina, being Selina, and her characterization is better than anyone so far in this series, and the same can be said of Poison Ivy. For once, I’m interested in seeing a conclusion to a story in the comic.

Superwoman #12 – K. Perkins, Writer; Stephen Segovia, Artist; Art Thibert, Inker; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Needs A Better Foundation

Ray: In many ways, this book is the most 90’s Superman book published in a while – it’s just not actually a Superman book. Ever since K. Perkins took over writing, she’s displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of the character’s weekly era, bringing back obscure villains like Atomic Skull and Skyhook, and even drawing further on what Phil Jiminez did with the electric Superman powers that Lana seems to have inherited. There’s a lot to like about this title, but the problem is, it still isn’t quite coming together as a whole. This arc, Lana’s felt almost like a supporting character in the Irons’ family drama. Plus, a surprising amount of time this issue is devoted to Atomic Skull chasing down and interrogating a z-list villain, although this bears fruit when the villain gives them a clue to Crash Irons’ plan.

The ongoing plot of Zeke Irons’ disappearance is a good emotional core, but it still goes on a bit too long. The rift it creates between Lana and John as John gets ready to break his own code, and the way that plays out in the end, is the strongest part of the issue. Skyhook remains a thoroughly creepy, vile villain, and the big fight scene this issue is one of the series’ best, but by the end of the issue he’s just dropped a few vague hints as to what’s happened to Zeke, with still no actual answers. My biggest issue? There’s yet another switch-up with Lana’s powers, and very little context as to how. There’s quite a few good elements in this comic, but it’s still not quite there compared to the rest of the Super-line.

Corrina: Jimenez approached this comic much like a Superman Family comic–Irons family in particular–so I have no objections on that score. Besides, the Atomic Skull is busy stealing every scene he’s in, reminding me somewhat of the lead character of Dan Jolley’s Bloodhound. And, yes, that does put Lana somewhat among a cast of many but that’s only because the story seems insistent on isolating her actions from the rest of the cast. I long for a conversation between Lana and Natasha, not the yelling. And I, too, wish for more context about what happened to Zeke all those years ago.

Planet of the Apes/Green Lantern #6 – Robbie Thompson, Justin Jordan, Writers; Barnaby Bagenda, Artist; Alex Guimaraes, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Ray: Like many of the recent crossover titles, this book doesn’t so much put a neat bow on everything as close out major plots and leave the door open for more. As the issue opens, Atrocitus and his rage-crazed Red Lanterns are descending on the Corps. Cornelius, mad with grief, has fallen to the universal ring and is putting the entire galaxy at risk. And the last best hope may be Sinestro, who has reclaimed a green lantern ring for the final battle. The opening half of the issue is largely a fight segment, with Cornelius losing control of his ring and powering up into a new form.

However, once that happens, it sets the issue off on a new course, and starts hinting at some of the heavier issues at play in the Planet of the Apes series. Cornelius’ ultimate heel realization and sacrifice are well-written, but the other villains, like General Ursus and Atrocitus, are fairly one-note. When the issue ends, it’s without resolving a lot of plot points – Grodd is still held captive by the Apes, used by Ursus to get information on Earth, for instance. In addition, certain elements of the ending seem to drive home that this is very much an alternate universe. It’s an entertaining crossover with great art, but doesn’t quite come together in the end the way the best do.

Not Satisfying: Ratings 6 or Less

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #24 – Robert Venditti, Writer; Ethan Van Sciver, Artist; Jason Wright, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Ray: After several strong arcs in a row, this title has taken an oddly circular turn right back to the start of the series and picked up its old problems – namely, good character development being thrown out the window for simplistic villainy. We saw that with Sinestro losing all the nuance he got under Cullen Bunn and instead becoming a sadistic torturer again, and now it’s his daughter’s turn. Soranik being angry or traumatized over the reveal about Sarko last issue made a lot of sense, and so does her confronting Kyle. What comes next…does not. Not only does she not understand that it’s not the kind of thing that’s easy to explain, she compounds her lack of forgiveness by attacking him and searing a Sinestro Corps sigil into his chest – essentially branding him. The implication is that this turn to insanity was inevitable because “Sinestro’s blood”. Disappointing.

The rest of the issue is stronger, dealing with Tomar-Tu’s shocking killing of his evil planet-mate Romat-Ru. The beginning of the issue shows how he was essentially provoked into losing his mind and killing the villain, as the villain taunted him with his horrible crimes and vowed to visit them on his family. The dead Sinestro Corpsman is a truly vile character, but it’s very clear that Tomar-Tu is not stable either, and Hal and John aren’t sure how to handle this. John, a consummate leader, decides that the best way to move ahead is with a fair trial – but the Sinestro Corps has other ideas. We know where this will go now. A newly villainized Soranik will lead the charge to kill Tomar, and the Corps will be forced to take up arms against them again. It’s all sadly predictable. It looks great, but the story is lacking right now, especially when it comes to Soranik’s characterization.

Corrina: Soranik being angry about Kyle lying to her and continuing to tell her to give over the yellow ring, showcasing a lack of respect, I’m totally onboard with. Let Kyle have it, Soranik! But, uh, not that much. She comes across here as petulant and immature. Once her anger cools, she could have a conversation with Kyle about possible futures and the possible existence of Sarko, especially since they know about multiverses. Instead, she physically assaults him. And so all my sympathy for her goes out the window. Are we supposed to read that as yellow rings inherently corrupting people or simply that Soranik is an abusive personality? I hope it’s the former because the latter messes with an excellent character.

The reason behind Tomar-Tu executing someone is well-drawn and so is his regret at what he did. I suspect John’s fair trial will soon go out the window, though, especially since Soranik is being portrayed as so irrational. This is my least favorite issue of this series in a long time.

Titans #13 – Dan Abnett, Writer; V. Ken Marion, Penciller; Norm Rapmund, Inker; Andrew Dalhouse, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Hot Mess

Ray: While Deathstroke headed off in a fantastic new direction post-Lazarus Contract and Teen Titans seems to be heading in a promising direction (with one major problem remaining in its leader), Titans seems to have hit a rough patch as a result of the changes, resulting in a team that seems more brittle and paranoid, and as a result much less interesting to read about. The key conflict still relates to Bumblebee’s missing memories, taken from her by HIVE in the previous arc. The issue opens with the team doing battle against a HIVE villain named Endgame, who’s tied into the HIVE power framework and can duplicate himself, giving each one different powers. He makes for a strong villain for fight scenes, kind of like a Multiplex with more sarcasm. However, he’s lacking in personality.

The problem with the issue, though, is the team itself. Almost everyone seems to have their own drama going on. Donna and Wally have a romance going (despite Donna having no real personality so far) and Roy is resentful of this to the point of sullenly snarling all over the place during the battle. Garth and Lilith have their own romantic drama now, mostly manifesting in Garth being overprotective and Lilith scolding him for it. Wally’s heart is brought up every two seconds, and seems to be manifesting in a new power for him where he can apparently stop time when his heart rate gets too high. While Bumblebee tries to get her memories back, Mal joins forces with Gnarrk to try to work behind the Titans’ backs. Then there’s the mystery traitor plot, which ends with Nightwing accusing Lilith of being the traitor out of nowhere. Nothing here is terrible, but nothing is particularly compelling either.

Corrina: It’s not so much the drama, as Ray calls it, as it is the soap opera-ness of it all. People hook up and have crushes seemingly randomly in the last couple of issues, the team basically hasn’t moved forward in their investigation, and, oh, it throws in the old chestnut of “one of you is a spy who has been co-opted by the enemy.” Tropes can work but this didn’t for me. As for the art, it’s improved, I think, and I say that only because I liked all the multiple clones. But it’s definitely in a kinetic style that tends to look garish to me overall. I like all these characters. I want them in a good story.

Suicide Squad #21 – Rob Williams, Writer; Gus Vasquez, Artist; Adriano Lucas, Colorist

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: No Feels For Anyone

Ray: As a new arc begins, this title isn’t all bad. It has one strong character going for it, and that’s Amanda Waller. This issue finds her dealing with the fallout of Rustam’s attack and the events of Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, as she’s called before Congress to account for her actions. She’s slick as always, denying everything and holding Congress at bay, but the issue also humanizes her a good deal as she uses her reach as a government official to spy on her pregnant daughter who has cut off all contact with her. The title never loses sight of the human cost of her actions – both to others and to her. Her story becomes less strong, though, when she’s kidnapped by the Annihilation Brigade and comes face to face with their scarred leader.

As for the Squad themselves? They’re the title characters, and yet they almost feel superfluous. Harley is now the field leader, and mainly seems to be proving that she’s a completely incompetent leader. She resorts to violence, at one point orders the shooting of one team member to motivate another, etc. Boomerang is cowardly, Enchantress rambles incoherently, etc. Then there’s the guy with a giant hammer for a head, who is essentially a walking plot device. When a scene works – like Enchantress turning the plane they’re riding in into a giant dragon – it really works, but those are few and far between. The big problem is that the title characters are uninteresting, unlikable, and in some cases weaker versions of what we see in other books.

Corrina: There’s something about a story on the side of the person who is flat-out lying to the American people and those who represent them that doesn’t sit right with me right now. No, my sympathies aren’t engaged for Waller, not even when she’s thinking about her children, especially considering how cold-blooded she’s been this entire run. Now, I’m supposed to feel for her when she’s as much a villain as the rest, at least in this run? No.

As for the rest, making Harley leader takes away any fun she brought to the book. The dragon looked cool but it doesn’t save this mess.

Scooby Apocalypse #15 – Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis, Writers; Dale Eaglesham, Artist; Ron Wagner, Penciller; Sean Parsons, Inker; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 5/10

Ray: This issue once again splits out the main story and the backup, but now that the characters are all together it mainly feels like the purpose of the backup is to give Dale Eaglesham a break. It’s still a bit weird to me that Eaglesham is the main artist on the book – remember when he was one of DC’s hottest artists on how titles like Secret Six and JSA? But that digression aside, this is another issue that’s not terrible but just sort of there. Most of the issue is devoted to the various character – now joined by Scrappy-Doo and his “pet boy” Cliffy – fighting monsters in the woods and running for their lives.

Scrappy started out as a pretty bleak villain, a sadistic bully who not only wanted revenge against Velma for making him what he is, but to kill Scooby simply for being the runt of the litter. Since meeting Cliffy, though, he’s become a bit more mellowed. I’m not sure if he’ll wind up being a villain in the end. Less effective are new characters Cliffy and Daisy. The former mainly seems to be there to whine, while Daisy seems too good to be true so far. Overall, there’s a few good visuals (like the last page of the main story) but this story just moves too slowly and lacks enough compelling characters to work.

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.