DC This Week – August 23, 2017: Nightwing: Dictator

DC This Week
Nightwing: New Order #1, copyright DC Comics

Batman leads the week with two outstanding issues: Batman: Detective Comics #963 and Batman/The Shadow #5. But that’s overshadowed by the Elseworlds Nightwing: The New Order #1, which inspired some mixed feelings in our reviewers.

Elsewhere this week, Constantine the Hellblazer #10 sees the arrival of a new creative team that goes full Vertigo; Batgirl and Nightwing team-up in Batgirl #14; more Kirby tributes with Jack Kirby’s Manhunter Oversize Special #1; another Kirby character, Orion, is in big trouble in Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #27; Harley Quinn #26 has a political cliffhanger; and Kamandi gets trapped in people fighting over the (Greek) classics in Kamandi Challenge #8.

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

Warning: major spoilers below.

The Spotlight Title:

Nightwing: The New Order #1 – Kyle Higgins, Writer; Trevor McCarthy, Artist; Dean White, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Nope.

Ray: This alternate reality miniseries got a lot of publicity when it was first announced, relatively little of it good. The concept, about an alternate reality where superpowers were outlawed and Nightwing oversaw the new order as a brutal enforcer, was compared to Secret Empire (a bit unfair given the overtly political nature of that event and the firmly comic book politics of this one) and Injustice (more accurate, in terms of a purely good hero turning on his own). However, I held out some hope due to the fact that long-time New 52 Nightwing writer Kyle Higgins was on board here, giving hope that at least the characterization would be intact. And based on this first issue, I was right to have some optimism. This is probably about as good as a title with this concept could expect to be – which is to say, it still has problems. We don’t know why Nightwing went rogue and turned on his fellow superheroes – Superman is killed off in a fairly brutal segment early on.

Then it flashes forward a decade, to a world where Dick is the head of the Crusaders, a group designed to track down superpowered individuals and make sure that their powers are neutralized with drugs. Some don’t respond to the drugs, and they’re taken…elsewhere. The choice of Dr. Light as a harmless metahuman who just wants to be left alone amused me given his character’s history, but it works with the New 52 version. Where the story is at its strongest is with Dick’s interaction with his family – his son, and his “grandfather” Alfred. Alfred’s characterization is the best here – he’s clearly deeply disappointed with the choices his grandson made (and it’s implied Bruce’s death played a major role in Dick’s actions), but he can’t bring himself to abandon him. Then there’s Dick’s son, whose mother is not in the picture, and hints about her make the last-page twist fairly telegraphed. This isn’t a great comic by any stretch – it’s got way too many shades of Injustice meets Days of Future Past for that – but it’s far from the disaster it could have been.

Corrina: I have two issues with this concept. One is an overall comment that superheroarchetypeschtypes, and you can only push those archtypes so far before they break, not bend. To take an obvious example, Steve Rogers as Nazi Cap. That’s not a “what would be the worst thing to happen to Steve Rogers?” question, that is a “What if Steve Rogers were a different person?” question.

Dick Grayson has two overriding personality traits. One is optimism in the future, the other is faith in people. I could see stories where he loses that optimism or faith in people but that would disillusion him, take away his fun, and make him walk away from the world.

But here, the concept is “I can save the world if only I would make choices betraying/hurting people,” and, especially absent seeing his thought processes, I cannot buy in. This might work better with Bruce Wayne/Batman, because his dark side is control and over-compensation to save people, but it doesn’t work with Dick anymore than it works in Injustice with Superman as evil dictator, despite the tragedy that kicks off that series. At least we see Superman’s reasoning. Not so much here.

Here, we come to my second problem, which is the whole “let’s withhold the whole truth from the audience to build suspense.” No, I’ve had enough of that coy kind of narration, which has been prevalent in entertainment since Lost doubled down on the flashbacks. If your story is good, you don’t need that narrative trick. I admit that I’m curious to see who the mother of the young Grayson is but certainly not enough to keep reading.

So, absolute pass.

Grade A Issues: Rating 9-10

Batman: Detective Comics #963 – James Tynion IV, Christopher Sebela, Writers; Carmen Carnero, Artist; Ulises Arreola, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Colorists

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Spoiler: Agent or Double-Agent?

Ray: Following up on the strong Spoiler solo issue a few months back, Sebela once again steps on as co-writer as Tynion’s celebration of all things 90s continues in this issue. Fair warning, I’m a huge fan of both Spoiler and her partner in crime Anarky, so I was going to be predisposed to enjoy this issue. The good news is, I think it’s very good, so you can trust my review! It starts off with a strong, emotional segment as Steph and Tim get ready to say goodbye before he quits the Belfry and heads off to Ivy Town for college – but it turns out to be their goodbye in what seems like a far more permanent way. In the present day, Spoiler is hiding out in Monster Town, working with the charming criminal Anarky to raid medicine from Argus. Although Anarky seems to be with the good guys, he’s secretive and won’t even reveal his face to her.

Anarky’s had a weird road as a character since he was last written by his creator, Alan Grant. Since then, three other characters have worn the mask, all botching the character (fascist Ulysses Armstrong; a nameless radical whose idea of anarchy was killing cops in Zero Year; and an insane Gotham councilman who had a personal vendetta against the Mad Hatter). All fairly straight villains, while Lonnie Machin is anything but. Sebela and Tynion seem to have done their research on anarchist philosophy and give Anarky a lot of nuances. The reveal of his master plan is intriguing but also strikes me as a teenager’s idea of utopia that could go very wrong. I’d also be amiss if I didn’t mention a great segment involving Dr. October and Clayface, two characters that Tynion has really developed something great with. Sebela’s only co-written a few issues for DC and has a Blue Beetle arc coming up, but so far it feels like he could be a major new talent for the company, just like Tynion was a few years back.

Detective 963, Spoiler, Anarky
Spoiler’s not sure how to help Gotham survive. With you there, Steph. Image copyright DC Comics

Corrina: Anarky’s return is timely, especially as people on all political sides seem to have lost some faith in the system built by democracy. I’ve never seen him written well, save by his creator, Alan Grant, but while this issue is very, very talky, it works because you can see why Lonnie’s methods might appeal to Steph. We forget sometimes that she’s the child of a supervillain but also that she was raised in regular society (unlike Cass), so her perspective will naturally be skewed against the system since it didn’t stop her father and she had to move outside it to do so. But then Batman’s methods turned out to be similar so….

I wonder if Steph might be pulling a double agent cross on Lonnie, investigating because Batman asked her to do so since we know he’s aware of her activities. Either way would work, though I believe it’s more likely that Batman is worried about Steph. Or perhaps he’s waiting for the right moment to tell her that Tim’s alive. But I like her overall exploration of how to truly make a difference, especially in a place like Gotham.

As for Clayface and Doctor October, I’m looking forward to his spotlight which is, hopefully, soon, and that’s something I never expected when Clayface was announced as part of this series.

Batman/The Shadow #5 – Scott Snyder, Steve Orlando, Writers; Riley Rossmo, Artist; Ivan Plascencia, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Multiple Signals!

Ray: Snyder and Orlando’s horror-accented fusion of The Shadow (a character with countless incarnations) with the history of Gotham City has been so successful, the companies are doing a second mini published by Dynamite with Orlando continuing the story. That’s mostly unheard of in crossovers, and I can see why. This is one of the very best. The last issue saw Batman mortally wounded by the Stag, who escaped with Joker despite being shot. The issue opens with Alfred trying to stitch Batman up, but the cursed wound won’t close. With Batman getting closer to death, he decides to put on a special Bat-suit that will hold the wound at bay and charge back into battle, going after the Stag before he can finish his plans. And Batman reveals that he knows what the Stag’s secret is – he’s not one immortal. He’s a cult.

There’s obviously a similarity here to the Court of Owls, with a masked gang of animal-themed killers, but Stag is something else. The idea of a supervillain who appears to be one person, but is actually countless true believers who fight, and die, anonymously in the name of keeping the legend alive is both fascinating and incredibly creepy. The Shadow’s two closest allies have been kidnapped by Stag and Joker, which leads to a rescue mission on the cusp of the entry to the mystical city of Shamba-La. As always, the action and horror visuals are great, but it’s the dialogue that is this title’s secret weapon. From the tense snark between Shadow and Alfred, to the differing ways Shadow’s former friends view the return of the immortal hero they served, it’s all top-notch. The ending reveals the Stag’s plan for Shamba-La, and it’s worse than anyone guessed. We’re heading for a tense, spectacular finale.

Lamont Cranton, Margo Lane, Batman/The Shadow
When your supporting cast is just hanging around. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: Creepy has been the main adjective to use with this comic but it’s a good pulp creepy, especially with Rossmo’s art.
I would have preferred the story stay in Gotham, rather than switching to the doorway to a mystical city, which seems cliche but, then, we are talking about pulp here and mystical cities go hand in hand with it.

For me, the highlights of this issue were the conversations rather than the actions. The Shadow and Batman talking about wanting teachers to surpass the students, Lamont Cranston’s friends talking to each other, and the quick encounter the Shadow has with the person he once loved. The conclusion to this story should be incredible and I’m thrilled there is another miniseries already planned.

Solid Issues: Grades 7-8

Jack Kirby’s Manhunter Oversize Special #1 – Keith Giffen, Dan Didio, Sam Humphries, Writers; Mark Buckingham, Steve Rude, Artists; Chris Sotomayor, John Kalisz, Colorists

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Definitely Kirby-esque

Ray: The fourth Jack Kirby one-shot continues the one-on, one-off pattern with a main story that, sadly, just doesn’t have all that much to say. The main character, Manhunter, is sort of a throwback. Paul Kirk is much more of an old-school pulp hero, a big game hunter turned vigilante who parades around in a steel mask brutally beating nameless thugs. It’s an amusing throwback to see this human vigilante wearing the outfit that would later become the basis for the Green Lantern villains, but overall Kirk just comes off as a bland, cliched vigilante. Shades of Punisher, only with less killing and more hurting. Then he’s confronted by Sandman – not half as interesting as he was in his own special, and accompanied by his sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy – as they play the Batman and Robin role, trying to rein in their fellow vigilante and stop him from hurting anyone.

Once that confrontation happens, the issue mainly becomes a fight segment, as Sandman and Sandy flip all over the place, trying to get the better of Manhunter, while he counters their every move and eventually escapes. The banter isn’t as amusing as it could be because Manhunter doesn’t have an iota of banter in him. Mark Buckingham’s art is strong, but the story doesn’t stand out. The backup, by Sam Humphries and Steve Rude, is much stronger. It’s also sort of out of place, a random Etrigan story that has nothing to do with the main story. Jason Blood is seeking a refuge and potentially a way to rid himself of the curse of Etrigan at last, and heads to an abbey. The priest there says he has a way to free him – but it turns out to be a deception, unleashing another, far more dangerous beast. It’s strong, moody, and creepy in the vein of EC Comics. The pulp mystery story by Kirby in the back is another strong reprint that shows off another side of the legendary creator.

Inner page from Manhunter, which channels Kirby. copyright DC Comics

Corrina: You have to love the art team for doubling-down on the Kirby-style, reminding me of just how dynamic and fascinating his art could be, with its many angles and ability to add depth to every single panel. Just for that, I enjoyed the heck out of the main story. But Ray is right, it’s a bit of a thin tale, and has no real conclusion. Still…I think it was intended to showcase Kirby-style and it absolutely succeeds in that.

Jason Blood’s story is definitely a short tale that encapsulates everything that Kirby’s Demon was meant to be.

But the real star of this issue is the actual Kirby story, which seems to be one of those weird pulp horror stories at first and then has a terrific plot twist that makes it into something else altogether. Kirby’s cleverness is on full display.

The Hellblazer #13 – Tim Seeley, Writer; Jesus Merino, Artist; Carrie Strachan, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: An excellent start for this creative team.

Ray: It’s a new creative team for Constantine, as the acclaimed horror writer (and Nightwing writer) Seeley takes over and brings Constantine back to his Vertigo roots. This is probably the grittiest, most mature issue released in the Rebirth era. It picks up with Constantine waking up, hung over in a seedy motel. He hears some odd sounds from the vent, checks it out – and is promptly splattered with a slurry of human viscera. Definitely, a dramatic way to open the issue, although I can also see a good number of readers not getting past page two of their first issue. He’s questioned by Margaret Ames, a police investigator who has past ties to John and believes he may have killed the poor unfortunate in the vent. Constantine, though, has no memories of that night.

Constantine screws up a lot and is prone to morally dubious behavior, but it’s an interesting twist to see a situation where he doesn’t know if he did something terrible. Flashbacks show him having a normal night with some friends, being joined by a dealer of rare liquors, sampling a unique bottle…and blacking out. However, the surveillance footage shows a different story, and it shows a terrible fate for a random guy who harassed Constantine. After an investigation, it seems that the true culprit was…the alcohol, a mystical brew that took control away from him. The issue has a good amount of dark humor, and a disturbing, horrific tone that feels more like classic Vertigo than either the gonzo Tynion/Doyle run or the deliberately paced Oliver run. A strong start, but definitely not for everyone.

The Hellblazer 2017
The morning after not going well for John. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: After the more stylized artwork of the last two runs, the switch to Merino is a bit jarring, especially since the more realistic art instantly becomes gory. It works, though my one complaint is I’ve gotten used to Constantine being a skinny dude and not so ripped. (When does he ever work out, anyway? Perhaps it’s a spell because he’s just that vain.)

What I liked here is that, for the first time in a while, instead of someone calling John a jerk, his behavior proves what a shady character he can be. He lies to people, indulges when he shouldn’t indulge, and generally makes bad life choices. The saving grace is that he knows it and when we see what he remembers of that night, we know he’s going to find the culprit because he does somewhat feel guilty. I also liked the way his bisexuality is worked into this issue without comment. I’m not a big horror fan, so the emphasis on gore might eventually drive me away but the story has hooked me for now.

Batgirl #14 – Hope Larson, Writer; Chris Wildgoose, Penciller; Jose Marzan Jr., Inker; Mat Lopes, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Old-Fashioned Batgirl/Robin Team-Up

Ray: This much-hyped new arc pairs Batgirl and Nightwing in a story that digs up their hidden past – and also explores the often complicated relationship between them. It’s kind of an awkward time for this story, as both are coming off nasty breakups (hers turned out to be a supervillain, while his went back to supervillainy after a fight. Perils of the job?). They meet up after receiving a mysterious text, and are then attacked by two twin ninjas in odd circus-themed costumes, who deliver cryptic messages – and then throw themselves off a rooftop. Both girls remind them of someone they knew back in the day, who met an unfortunate fate – and trigger flashback. A large part of the story is set right after Barbara arrives in Gotham with her father as a teenager, when she just started as Batgirl. She’s bullied at school, her father is strict and overprotective, and her first meeting with Robin makes her think he’s a cocky jerk, but she strikes up a friendship with young substitute teacher Ainsley, who later hires her as an assistant on a personal coding project she’s working on.

It’s not clear what happened to Ainsley, but she’s obviously a sore spot for especially Barbara, and it has something to do with the Mad Hatter. After interrogating some of his henchmen, they track him down to a hospital, where he’s in a coma – only to awaken and warn them about a new villain called the Red Queen. Is it Ainsley, or is that too easy? Either way, it’s an intriguing start with good characterization of both Batgirl and Nightwing. The idea that they went to high school together is a new retcon, but it seems to have stuck from the New 52. The Batgirl/Nightwing relationship is a popular one, and although I’m not sure if it’s coming back (at least one major DC exec reportedly hates it) just exploring that past is going to be popular with the fans. Definitely one of the more promising starts to an arc in this title.

Batgirl, Nightwing, Babs Gordon, Dick Grayson
Team-up! image via DC Comics

Corrina: Here we have another flashback story, though it’s more relevant to the present-day story than just a narrative trick, so that’s good. Plus, we also have a nice Babs/Dick team-up and, as the person who grew up reading Robin/Batgirl team-ups, I love always love those two, even if Dick is Nightwing half the time in this issue. The plot is a little slight but that’s okay because the chemistry between the two leads carries the tale. I especially like seeing Dick in his Robin garb, though I will always, always, always miss the pixie boot costume.

Is DC moving to get these two back together? That would be interesting. I hate to say I’m more interested in that than the plot but, hey, it’s the creative team’s fault for writing their relationship so well. My one big niggle is that two people commit suicide in front of our heroes and they’re kinda unaffected by that.

Batman Beyond #11 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Bernard Chang, Artist; Marcelo Maiolo, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Solid Conclusion

Ray: The “Rise of the Demon” story wraps up with a conclusion that is oddly optimistic and seems to bring the title back to its Dini/Timm roots. That’s not where the issue opens, though, with Goliath apparently dead at the hands of Terry’s self-aware Bat-suit, Damian enraged by the loss of his pet, and Terry losing control of himself while Bruce watches helplessly as his two boys battle to the death. Damian is written a lot less menacingly in this issue, coming off more as a manipulative tactician who can use Terry’s weapons against him. Bruce, meanwhile, is focused on stopping the missiles from launching, but he has his own issues to deal with – in the form of Ubu’s son, the ruthless Koru, who attacks him seeking revenge for his father’s disgrace.

The evil henchman turning into the big bad so it can allow the main villain a chance for redemption is kind of a well-used plot point in stories like this, but it works here. Koru launching the missile allows for Damian to have some deniability that he never actually intended to allow it at all. Bruce, meanwhile, is able to give Goliath an adrenaline shot that wakes the creature up, and the return of his beloved pet snaps Damian back to reality. Terry pushes his suit to the limit destroying the missiles, Damian and Bruce finish the job and rescue him from space, and the issue ends with Damian reconciling with Bruce but choosing to stay behind. This is the first issue of this series since it moved over to the main DCU that’s actually felt like a true Batman Beyond story.

Corrina: Whew! Goliath isn’t dead. That’s a relief. As for the rest, it played out much like I hoped, in that Damian turns out not be the complete villain that he appeared to be, and there’s somewhat of a reconciliation with Bruce and Damian. While I suspect Damian might cause trouble down the line, I like the status quo.

Oddly, it’s Terry himself who receives the least amount of emotional screen time, especially after the drawn-out struggles to control the suit. But I hope, going forward, we see a much more confident Batman Beyond.

Kamandi Challenge #8 – Keith Giffen, Writer; Steve Rude, Artist; John Kalisz, Colorist

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: A Little Talky

Ray: As Kamandi Challenge hits the two-thirds mark, an old-school creative team takes the helm in the form of Keith Giffen and Steve Rude, as Kamandi takes on a pair of warring species with different mythologies about him in a story that seems to be more about political divisions than anything. Last issue’s cliffhanger involving the giant parasitic monster biting Kamandi mid-flight is resolved pretty quickly, as he guides his hang-glider to a safe place, rips off the creature, and kills it. One thing you’ll notice in this issue is that Kamandi is not in a good mood. He’s been through hell, is missing the people he lost along the way and is ready to snap at anything that comes near him. If he’s hoping for peace and quiet, though, that’s not happening, as he encounters a race of goat-people that immediately worship him as a God-like being named Odysseus.

They take him to their city, where the high priest fills him in on the mythology, but before he can decide his next move, the village is attacked – by wolf people, looking to rescue their hero, Ulysses – who is apparently also Kamandi. Two species that both apparently worship him, but believe him to be a different person. As we know, of course, those two names both signify classic folk heroes known for their epic journeys, which isn’t a bad parallel to Kamandi. The issue’s got some great battle sequences, and Rude’s art has a strong, classic, detailed vibe. However, Kamandi’s peevishness can wear a bit thin, and the issue doesn’t fully take off until the last segment, an epic battle segment as Kamandi struggles to escape the dueling warships – and then encounters a giant sea monster on the last page. Not one of the best issues of this miniseries, but far from the worst.

Corrina: For me, the war between the goats and the wolves was a one-note concept that couldn’t carry a whole issue. Happily, the emotional reactions from Kamandi more than makes up for it. Yes, he’s been through quite a bit, including being vivisected and losing friends, and he still has no real idea what is going on in the world. He’s due for a meltdown.

No wonder all he wants to do is get away. He doesn’t even try to consider either side, he’s just at the point of “they’re all mad here, time to go.” The art, especially the sea battle, is impressive, and that statue of Odysseus is tremendous. Perhaps it was meant as a tribute to the Colossus of Rhodes?

Sea monsters! Excellent.

Mother Panic #10 – Jody Houser, Jim Krueger, Writers; Shawn Crystal, Artist; Phil Hester, Penciller; Ande Parks, Inker; Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Trish Mulvhill, Colorists

Ray – 8/10

Corrina: More Violet Is Always Good

Ray: Another strong issue as this title delves deeper into the mysteries of Gather House, and Violet continues her rebound from her physical troubles after the last arc. She’s had the surgery to replace her implants, but things are still tense between her and her doctor thanks to her increasingly risky actions. But she’s cleared to resume fighting, and that’s all that matters to her. The Paige mansion continues to appear more and more like a horror house with every issue, with Ratcatcher living in the basement and his rats getting bolder with every day, and Violet’s senile mother holding twisted tea parties for rats in darkened room. If there’s one thing that this title is very good at, it’s setting the mood for each issue, and the gradual darkening of the mansion has been very effective.

Seeking to investigate leads on Gotham’s rich and powerful, Violet arranges what looks a lot like a date to go to a Gotham society dinner, but soon encounters a mysterious woman there who completely distracts her from anything else. It seems that this woman was one of her companions in Gather House, and these segments are depicted in some unique, dreamlike splash pages that add nicely to the surreal horror vibe of the book. However, the woman doesn’t recognize Violet or know what Gather House is, so the mystery develops and leads to an intense showdown at the woman’s house that night. One of the strongest issues of the series. The backup has an interesting central idea, of copycat Batmen being murdered, but like I said every month, three pages aren’t enough for a slow-burn noir story each month.

Mother Panic, New Animal
Violet is putting herself back together. Perhaps. image via DC Comics

Corrina: For the first five issues of this title, I didn’t buy in. It’s not that the talent behind this series was lacking: the art and writing have been consistently good, but it started with a concept that’s been used three times recently in DC Comics, that of a person conditioned since birth to be an assassin/killer and this take didn’t stand out. (Well, four. Helena Bertinelli’s school for assassins, Savage Things, Cassandra Cain’s upbringing, and the reworked Azrael.) Add that to a Gotham setting where Mother Panic was yet another Gotham vigilante, and it was hard to make this particular character feel fresh.

I still wish the series was set in its own universe, rather than Gotham, but as the series has focused more on Violet’s inward journey, as we find out more about who and what she is, I’ve come to enjoy it far more than in the beginning. These later issues are more self-assured and have a more consistent and interesting supporting cast. So now I look forward to it every much, which is a credit to the creative team.

Teen Titans #11 – Benjamin Percy, Writer; Phil Hester, Breakdowns, Khoi Pham, Penciller; Trevor Scott, Inker; Jim Charalampidis, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Spotlight on Aqualad

Ray: This tense, exciting issue benefits from strong visuals and a great central conflict between Aqualad and his father – but still suffers from a remaining team that doesn’t have much to do and has lots of ongoing characterization issues. The opening segment finds Aqualad and Black Manta fighting against a sea monster, and this segment actually does a great job of representing what an abusive parent is like. Aqualad is shocked and has some hope when Manta saves his life from the monster and seems to care about him – only to be blindsided when it turns out Manta just wants to use him, and is willing to hurt him or worse to get him to be useful to him. It seems that only someone with Xebelian blood can open the gates to the weapon, and now Manta has it in his clutches.

I enjoyed that segment, but whenever it cuts back to the Teen Titans, the tone changes. The team is still wholly dysfunctional as they attempt to track down Aqualad. Starfire has taken control of the team for the mission, but Damian still sees himself as the leader and gives orders, picking at the team’s sore spots until Raven snaps and attacks him over his comments about Wally. Beast Boy seems there just to turn into different animals and occasionally get into life-threatening situations. Eventually, the battle comes to the surface, and Aqualad is able to defeat Black Manta in a dramatic segment. He then has a meeting with Tempest who blesses his decision to take the Aqualad name (and comes up with an amusing explanation for its lameness) and the next arc focuses on a conspiracy targeting Beast Boy. There’s potential in this series, but it still feels like it needs a shakeup in team dynamic.

Corrina: The pacing of the confrontation between father and son was just right this issue. Just long enough for us to see Jackson’s anguish over finding out that his father never cared about him and just short enough that the issue isn’t stuck there.

I had hoped Jackson’s mother might show up to help her son but the conclusion still works, with him rejecting Black Manta and taking back the ring. Percy has done a terrific job of reintroducing this character to the DC universe and he’s a solid addition to these Titans.

Unfortunately, these teens aren’t all that, um, titanic yet, with all the infighting, and Damian’s insistence on not trusting his teammates. The biggest bright spot has been Gar, who has been perfect.

The Flash #29 – Joshua Williamson, Writer; Pop Mhan, Christian Duce, Artist; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: It gets worse for Barry.

Ray: This is one of those issues that just feels sort of…wrong, and I’m guessing that’s what it’s supposed to feel like. The Flash’s powers are going horribly wrong, as the opening segment makes clear – he’s been seriously wounded by Shrapnel’s blast, and he’s not healing. Normally surface wounds heal in minutes, but that effect has been disrupted. A flashback shows the brutal fight with Shrapnel after the villain killed the members of the biker gang that Flash was chasing, and Flash was barely able to survive as he tried to figure out his new Negative Speed Force powers. In the aftermath, he was scared to even run away because of the chance his powers could cause more damage. Making things worse, Barry’s life right now seems…empty. Both Iris and Wally want nothing to do with him after the last few arcs.

That leaves Barry more time to focus on his work as a CSI, which has also been suffering from his preoccupation and bad mental state. Last issue revealed a crisis in the office, with weapons tampering putting countless convictions in jeopardy. This issue, his new partner Kristen covers for him as they go to talk to the coroner, and Kristen proves herself to be rather wily. A meeting with the cops investigating the case drops a bunch of new hints, and Barry seems to be suffering from health problems due to his new power as well. What I do like here is that it seems that the mastermind behind the theft and Shrapnel’s attack is a completely original villain, rather than yet another retread. So far, this arc isn’t really to my taste, but there’s the chance of a great reveal to save it.

Corrina: Williamson said at Boston Comic Con that this arc owes a great deal to the classic Born Again story in Daredevil by Frank Miller. That means he plans to take Barry down to even further depths. It’s a good idea, to see how such a sunny hero reacts to everything going wrong, and it explains the turn of his former girlfriend to villain, as Elektra did.

But I’m not sure Williamson has sold his story as well as he should. The problem is that Barry is making choices that make me feel he’s a dumbass, not make me feel as if he’s doing his best but making tragic choice after tragic choice that will bring him down to the gutter. It’s not paying off emotionally for me the way it should.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #27 – Robert Venditti, Writer; Rafa Sandoval, Penciller; Jordi Tarragona, Inker; Tomeu Morey, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Genres not meshing well

Ray: Venditti’s blockbuster-style take on the New Gods continues in what seems to be a stealth Metal tie-in (the book will be tying in with the event for real in a few months’ time), but the title still suffers from a story that seems to be more explosive than compelling. When the issue starts, Orion is near death, but his beating heart has summoned the massive metal weapon that is attempting to work out the New Gods. As an aside, could writers please stop using the word “Golem” so flippantly? It’s a rather specific thing in Jewish mythology. But that cranky Jewish quibble aside, the issue does kick off with a rather epic move, as the creature proves to be unbeatable – so the surgeon they’ve recruited from Salaak’s planet literally stops his heart by removing it and replacing it with a Lantern energy machine until they escape.

Once Orion is safely out of the fray – and has had his heart placed back where it’s supposed to be – the story shifts to unraveling the mystery of where this ancient creature comes from, and that mythology draws back to the days of the Old Gods. An ancient, cruel king created beings to serve as his revenge in case he was ever dethroned, and they were then set to target his successors. This Yuga Khan character is very obscure, if he appeared before, so it’s an interesting bit of expanding the Green Lantern and New Gods mythology. And yes, the weapons were carved out of Nth Metal, which explains their extremely powerful nature. The issue ends with Kyle and Hal on a quest to track down Lightray and Highfather for answers. The action sequences in the issue are strong, but ever since the experiment between the two Corps collapsed, this series sort of lacks any nuance.

Corrina: It seems clear that the DC creators have done some homework on Kirby lately, especially when using the New Gods. But, in this case, I find the New Gods an odd fit with the Green Lantern Corps. One is basically a space-based adventure/law enforcement story and the other is a great mystical/universal concept with those larger than life, like Orion. I find the two thematic ideas very different and a strange fit, unlike Batman and the Shadow, which mesh perfectly.

The action is fine, though I found taking out Orion’s heart a bit of a cop-out there, and it does present the Corps with a powerful villain. But I don’t find the robots/named Golem that interesting overall. We’ll see.

Harley Quinn #26 – Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Writers; John Timms, Artist; Alex Sinclair, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Harley Doing Harley

Ray: This issue jumps around in time a bit as it picks up with the aftermath of the siege of Harley’s party, and then flashes back to show just how the entire gang got out of there. I’m kind of amused how the interrogation scene that the issue opens with contains several unrestrained wanted criminals just casually hanging around, including two prominent Gotham supervillains. Once Harley finishes arguing with Chief Spoonsdale and the mysterious Riviera, whose purpose in the issue will be revealed later, the bulk of the issue is mainly showing Harley and her friends tearing apart the gang of assassins known as the Unconquerable 25. These mooks hired by the evil Mayor and his henchwoman Madison to wipe out Harley’s circle prove to be…well, rather conquerable.

How much you enjoy this issue will mainly depend on just how much you enjoy watching nameless goons die in creative ways while Harley wisecracks. Ivy’s presence is fun, as her plants provide for some creative carnage and her rapport with Harley and Catwoman is a lot of fun. Potentially a Sirens revival in the future? Or at least a bachelorette party special for Selina’s wedding, I hope. Some of the action feels a bit jumbled, and other characters like Harley Sinn don’t really have much to do. But the action segments are entertaining, and the end of issue twist – which has already been spoiled in solicits – has just the right air of absurdity. Harley’s running for Mayor. I’d probably vote for her against some politicians, to be honest. Not the best issue, but it continues to be a funny, over-the-top book.

Corrina: I’d vote for Harley over…hm….well, let’s keep politics out of this but it seems Harley’s past crimes are probably not a detriment to her running for office, especially if she can expose the corruption in the mayor’s office.

This is a fun issue but what keeps it from being great is that this assault is basically the same as we saw when this series started: a bunch of assassins after Harley. This time, though, Ivy and Selina are in on the fun, and Egg gets some good lines, and Harley is righteously annoyed about her birthday celebration being interrupted. I even tolerated Harley Sinn. So, while the quality of this series has been erratic, it’s regaining its footing and I’m fully on board with Harley’s mayoral candidacy.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #29 – Sholly Fisch, Writer; Dave Alvarez, Artist

Ray – 8/10

Ray: This title usually is at its weakest when it’s dealing with obscure Hanna-Barbera characters as opposed to crossing Scooby-Doo over with the heroes of the DCU. This issue is the exception – probably because it’s the first of the Hanna-Barbera issues that fully embraces the crazy and also includes a clever mystery with several twists and turns along the way. The crossover this issue is with Top Cat, the fast-talking petty criminal of a talking cat who runs secret alley cat poker games while outwitting the well-meaning but dim Officer Dibble. Top Cat creates a fake ghost to scare Dibble away – only for Dibble to then call in the Mystery Machine crew to help him solve the mystery.

The rest of the issue is an elaborate slapstick routine, as the cats first attempt to scare off everyone with their ghost – only for another, bigger ghost to show up. This is followed by a pair of shady real estate developers who are planning to take over the neighborhood – and apparently there’s a school that shady real estate developers go to, where they learn how to scare people off and create fake ghosts. The wacky routine keeps building until they’re scared off – not by ghosts, but by a lack of profitability, and the second ghost is exposed with one last funny twist. It’s a great tribute to a cartoon few people likely remember anymore.

Not Up to Par: Grades 0-6

Superman: Action Comics #986 – Rob Williams, Writer; Guillem March, Artist; Hi-Fi, Colorist

Ray – 5/10

Corrina: It’s Okay

Ray: The weak fill-in story that begun last issue develops a few interesting developments, as the title turns out to be a stealth lead-in to the storyline “The Oz Effect”, which begins next issue and leads into the milestone 1000 issue in only seven months. But while this issue focusing on Superman and Luthor has its positive points, it’s got a lot of flaws too. The issue starts off with Luthor mind-controlled by Machinist to turn on Superman, and Luthor’s Apokaliptan tech quickly overwhelms the Kryptonian. Superman’s only play is to drag Luthor into space for the fight. The art in this segment is…frankly, ugly. Not what I’m used to seeing out of March at all. The faces are so ugly in places it was at first hard to tell that Luthor was somehow being corrupted by his armor to turn into Darkseid.

That’s not a plot point that’s explained all that effectively. Is it the armor itself corrupting him? Is it the Machinist’s mind-tick? Something’s turning him into a nine-foot alien, and it’s only Superman’s belief in him that manages to turn it back. While I like the idea that Luthor is able to reform and turn his brilliant mind in the favor of good, heart-to-hearts between Superman and Luthor still feel sort of wrong. Especially with the over-the-top anger between them last issue. Machinist is eventually captured and exposed, in a rather anticlimactic scene, but what people will be talking about this issue is the final scene – which also is easily its best scene, as Luthor is ambushed by Mr. Oz. Oz is different here, having a deep disgust for Luthor and his decision to wear Superman’s armor. There’s a lot of hints as to his origins here, which aren’t what people might have expected. Far from a great issue, but some interesting teasers worked in.

Corrina: Luthor and Superman team-ups are inherently interesting because they’re so different and they trust each other so little. Unfortunately, this issue adds mind-control to the team-up, making the conflict less subtle and more of the punch-punch variety. Plus, mind-controlled Superman has become a cliche at this point. However, the pacing is good, and so is the art, especially as Luthor and Superman fly into space, then fall back down to Earth. And Lois Lane isn’t being misused. So, overall, it’s fine but not more than that.

Blue Beetle #12 – Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis, Writers; Scott Kolins, Artist; Romulo Fajardo Jr, Colorist

Ray – 5/10

Ray: Another issue, more characterization issues for this title as it gets ready to wrap up its initial run next issue. Last issue, Jaime’s powers got the attention of Batman as a new villain showed up to terrorize El Paso. This issue opens with Batman showing up in Ted Kord’s lab to interrogate him about Jaime and whether it’s safe to let him keep using his powers. This segment could have had some potential, but the problem is that the issue makes both heroes come off as rather unpleasant. Batman is at his worst Bat-dick mode, berating and insulting Ted, complete with digs about how he was never a real hero. Ted comes off as a testy, grasping amateur who feels like he has something to prove to Batman. Batman heads off to spy on Jaime himself, as Jaime is planning for an upcoming date with Naomi. When he gets a call from Ted trying to warn him about Batman, he reacts by yelling at Ted and hanging up on him, because maturity.

Jaime’s plans soon take a side turn when the new villain Ghostfire shows up, getting his attention by writing in the sky with fire. Surprisingly, despite the fact that this title has an ongoing problem with villains, Ghostfire turns out to be the most interesting part of the issue. He’s essentially an old, sick man who is trying to call attention to his plight, and his powers don’t seem designed to harm so much as create a show. His flames also have psychotropic powers, which leaves Jaime…a little off his game. That nearly results in tragedy for some bystanders, which Batman prevents. The meeting of Batman and Jaime again relies too much on Batman liking to play mind games with people, and doesn’t really seem in character with the way Batman treats his own partners – he respects young heroes, and here he mainly seems to be trying to rile Jaime up. Surprisingly, the best dialogue of the issue goes to the refugees from JL 3001 as they scheme to return to their own timeline next issue.

Jaime Reyes, 2017
Would love to see more of this in Blue Beetle. image via DC Comics

Corrina: If only this series had focused more on Jaime and less on the refugees from the future, Ted Kord being odd, and the general weirdness of Arion’s attack. The few pages focusing on Jaime’s life are excellent but they’re surrounded by less interesting stuff and Batman isn’t helping. Because, as we see from the new Justice League comic, he wants to help new heroes suceed. I am gobsmacked that DC cannot seem to relaunch such a terrifc property well. (See new 52 relaunch also.)

Suicide Squad #24 – Rob Williams, Writer; Agustin Padilla, Juan Ferreyra, Artists; Adriano Lucas, Colorist

Ray – 3/10

Corrina: Not Improving

Ray: There are a lot of answers this issue, for sure, but it’s still a title that suffers massively from the series’ ongoing problems – poorly defined villains, weak characterization, and absolutely no one to root for. The issue opens with Killer Frost captured, Batman presumed dead, and Amanda Waller coming off as increasingly unstable as she orders her team to begin a crackdown on metahumans. Katana is shell-shocked by her decision to use the sword to strike her former ally down, and now the sword itself seems to be judging her. The Squad is expressing doubts with Waller’s leadership, but she uses the threat of the brain bombs to get them back in line. Batman, of course, is not dead, and fights his way to Belle Reve after a brief battle with Killer Croc in the swamp.

Waller has a teleconference with Director Karla, where he plays on her lingering guilt over losing her husband and child years ago and gets her to authorize a strike against the metahuman population. Batman faces off against Enchantress, who spends a full page ranting to the audience about nothing in particular before she’s knocked out by Harley and Katana, who are switching sides. Really, there’s no reason either of them should be in this book at all save synergy and sales (in Harley’s case). The reveal that Waller is being possessed by one of Karla’s Russian metahuman villains is predictable, and yet the villain doing the possessing is so forgettable I barely even remembered they existed. Is it the worst issue of the series? No, that would be two weeks ago. But it’s still the weakest link in the Rebirth chain.

Corrina: Oh, so now Waller is mind-controlled? The more readers are told how this concept can be misused, the more I begin to question the entire concept, which is probably not what DC wants.

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