The big news this week is the first issue of Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerards. King is not only the current regular Batman writer but he’s also had acclaimed runs with Omega Men and Marvel’s Vision. Add Gerads’s art work to King’s sensibility for superheroes and you have an impressive beginning that is often more like a Vertigo or Image comic than a regular DC Universe story.
Any other week and we’d lead with the revelation Batman receives at the end of Batman: Detective Comics #962. Yes, Robin fans, this is the one you’ve been waiting on. (If you’re looking for our take on the final issue of Gotham Academy, we covered that in a separate post.)
Another Kirby-tribute issue, Newsboy Legion: Boy Commandos Special #1, comes out today, the vision of Howard Chaykin channeling the King.
And, of course, the regular DC line-up, with standouts New Super-Man #14, The Flash #28, and last but certainly never least, a special 25th issue of Harley Quinn.
WARNING: Major spoilers below for all of this week’s DC Comics.
Mister Miracle #1 – Tom King, Writer; Mitch Gerads, Artist
Ray – 10/10
Corrina: Unique and Haunting
Ray: Four books in, it’s clear that what Tom King loves to do most is take our favorite heroes and pick apart their fragile mental states. In Omega Men, the most optimistic and humane Green Lantern went through hell as an involuntary member of a terrorist militia. In Vision, an android’s quest for family and humanity led to unfathomable tragedy. In Batman, Bruce Wayne goes through a years-long dark night of the soul. And now, in the first issue of Mister Miracle, Scott Free’s carefree exterior holds some shockingly dark depths. He’s an escape artist, magician, and popular celebrity – and as the issue opens, he decides to end his life by slitting his wrists. He’s discovered by Barda on the brink of death, saved at the hospital, and the rest of the issue deals with the fallout. To say it’s an unexpected opening twist would be putting it lightly. Much of the issue deals with how the people around him react to this, from Barda’s delicate touch as she tries to prod at the issues underneath, to Orion’s violent visit and almost palpable anger. It’s all so painfully human, you almost forget these characters are technically Gods.
Then there’s the world around Scott, and how they react. As we all know, celebrities aren’t allowed to have personal lives. And by reinventing Scott Free as the equivalent of the DCU’s David Blaine, King is able to prod at that, showing how the entire world pokes at him, trying to get inside his mind. By the time he actually does reveal his motivations for attempting suicide, you’re not exactly sure whether it’s just a put-on to cover his pain or a hint at something much deeper. Where exactly did he go when he “died” briefly? Those answers are a long time coming, and by the end of the issue, hints of a much bigger plot are beginning to form, with one segment featuring an old JLI favorite essentially dropping the floor out from under the reader. This is essentially a cosmic superhero book, but one with a beating human heart. And it wouldn’t work half as well without the brilliant work of Gerads, who can seamlessly shift from mundane human scenes to the surreal and fantastical. Easily one of the finest first issues of a DC comic I can remember, and personally a smoother start than either Vision or Omega Men, for me. This is the beginning of another DC masterpiece in the making.
Corrina: I can’t deny the quality of the issue: the creative team is at the top of their form. Though Ray mentions Vision and Omega Men, King said in an interview last year that he viewed them as his “good intentions gone wrong” books, and Mister Miracle is not that, though it does seem to be a story of trauma and, perhaps, in the end, recovery. Still, we’re not sure what he is in this first issue: husband, escape artist, depressed, having a psychotic break from reality, having a real break from reality? Al of those? None? It’s not clear. King’s stories tend to be long-form, especially Omega Men, where the real story became clear only about six issues into the story. (I maintain it should have been published as an original graphic novel because of this.)
All this is a roundabout way of saying that while I recognize the quality of the issue, I wanted the narrative clearer in this issue. It jumps back and forth in Scott’s life, making the reader work hard to follow what’s happening, and it may be jumping in and out of reality as well. I see the genius in the work but I’m also frustrated, as I would have liked to seen something of Scott’s normal life, a little bit of his stability, because, without that, I cannot truly understand his instability, or what’s even at stake for him to lose, emotionally. The relationship with Barda is by turns sweet and yet frustrating, too, so it’s hard to tell on what foundation their love rests.
Hopefully, as this unfolds, I’ll look back at this as just the first chapter of an epic. But I wonder if this, like Omega Men, might have been better suited to a long-form graphic novel. We’ll see.
Batman: Detective Comics #962 – James Tynion IV, Writer; Alvaro Martinez, Artist; Raul Fernandez, Inker; Brad Anderson, Colorist
Ray – 9/10
Corrina: Azrael Resurrected
Ray: A fantastic final chapter to the “Intelligence” storyarc, as Jean-Paul Valley confronts his past, revelations are made about the villain behind Ascalon, and the veil is lifted for Batman. The issue opens with Jean-Paul in battle against what he believes is his younger self, that vows to destroy everything Jean-Paul loves – until a massive, far more powerful being enters their mindscape, in the form of a spectral Batman. Azrael wakes up inside his new suit – the Bat-suit from the 90s. And it looks amazing. Meanwhile, the rest of the Bat-family does battle against Ascalon, with Clayface in particular getting in some great moments. The battle doesn’t really turn until Zatanna shows up, however, and brings with her a level of power rarely seen in a Bat-book. What will get everyone’s tongues wagging, though, is a single word from Cass agreeing with Batwoman, heh.
Meanwhile, as Ascalon tears their way through the heroes, the character of Nomoz gets a great, heroic moment that also proves to be their last. Shame – I really liked this odd new character, but it works in the context of the story. And with that death, Nomoz reveals something huge about the power behind the scenes, something that will likely drive the character of Azrael for a long time. Zatanna eventually breaks Ascalon’s mind with the artifact that has been teases since the start of this arc, leading to a great reveal that explains why the end of the previous arc was changed – this is being done as a much more dramatic reveal here, and it really works. The biggest breakout star of this arc is Alvaro Martinez, who I would love to see on a Zatanna series down the line. However, as always, the title’s greatest strength is its ability to fuse the surreal and heroic with top-notch characterization for everyone in this huge cast.
Corrina: Is Tynion the first of the writers who love the 90s without reservation and so it shows up in their work? Obviously, I have no idea what goes on in his head but his work on Detective sure makes that case—and he does it so well I can only sit back and enjoy. So far, he’s written great moments for Cassandra Cain, Kate Kane, Stephanie Brown, and even Clayface. He’s also handled Luke Fox well, making that character more compelling than he ever was in BatWing.
This arc? It’s been Jean-Paul Valley, the last of the great Denny O’Neil’s creations in the Batman Universe. (Aside: Batman right now is living in Denny O’Neil’s world.) Originally, Jean-Paul was a young student pulled into a family legacy of Azrael, who wrecked vengeance on the unworthy. Later, he took over as Batman in the Az-Bats storyline–a controversial one because he was such a new character at the time–and Azrael also had his own comic for approximately 100 issues before he ‘died.’ In Tynion’s writing, he’s essentially the same character, a compassionate young man haunted by the Azrael persona, though Tynion has upped the stakes by creating an AI Azrael, a brilliant idea. It’s also lovely the way that the AI Azrael finds out too much for his own good and is thus vanquished, tying together the two threads of this storyline.
But without Martinez and Fernandez’s art to draw us emotionally into the story, it wouldn’t have worked. They handle numerous AIs, a whole cast of characters, plus images of the universe, so well that they make it look easy.
Supergirl #12 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Robson Rocha, Penciller; Daniel Henriques, Inker; Michael Atiyeh, Colorist
Ray – 9/10
Corrina: Supergirl Revenge Squad
Ray: Picking up with last issue’s cliffhanger, which saw Kara mysteriously shot with what seemed like a Kryptonite bullet, it’s clear from the start that something isn’t quite right. For one thing, the gun seems to have changed to a laser beam of some kind. Accident, or meta? Given that Cat Grant is currently presenting at a press conference somewhere else, I’m guessing intentional, and it’s clear to Kara that something is very wrong. While she’s not injured physically, it soon becomes clear that the laser shot had a different effect – it seems to have supercharged her, leaving her powers out of control and overpowered. As she tries to help people, she’s overwhelmed by her abilities and winds up causing more damage than she fixes (something she has in common with another hero this week, although I think Orlando’s take is more effective than that title’s)
I was glad to catch up with the rest of Kara’s supporting cast, including Ben Rubel, at her school. But her powers get out of control there too and lead to her accidentally opening up a crater in the school hall. Ben’s becoming a really intriguing character, and his apparent role as Kara’s secret keeper is a great way to keep him relevant in the story. I also really loved the scene with Kara and her imprisoned father, which shows she hasn’t given up on him. This issue is the start of the Supergirl Revenge Squad storyline, which unites Supergirl’s nemeses Emerald Empress, Selena (yes, that Selena), Magog, Indigo, and their thrall Solomon Grundy. Several of these villains are great characters (and then there’s Magog), and with Kara’s powers still out of control, next issue’s showdown with Grundy promises to be a good one. One of the strongest issues of the series so far.
Corrina: I always like the personal moments and those work well in this issue, from Kara’s one-way conversation with her father who may/may not hear her to Ben’s defense of her at school–and even the very fact that school has become important to her. The last may be part of the niggles I have about this book, in that big world-shattering crisis tend to hit often and we don’t often see any sub plots in her normal world, save in small bits and pieces. Having “Cat” shoot Supergirl should resonate more than it does but we’ve seen so little of this Cat Grant in this series that any poignancy is added not by what’s in the issue but from having enjoyed the Cat/Kara relationship in the Supergirl show instead. (And, yes, this Cat is most definitely TV Cat.)
Once again, Orlando makes me raise an eyebrow with the villains. I like the callback to Supergirl’s history and her one-time membership (many moons ago) in the Legion of Super-Heroes but unless you’re a serious DC reader, you may not get the talk of Saturn Girl and Emerald Empress and the Fatal Five. Maybe it’s a foregone conclusion that television fans aren’t reading this book and so that worry isn’t necessary but, for all the quality of the writing, this series remains a strange amalgam of the television show and the longtime DCU history of Kara Danvers/Supergirl.
Justice League of America #12 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Ivan Reis, Artist; Marcelo Maiolo, Colorist
Ray – 9/10
Corrina: To the Microverse (Not the Marvel One…)
Ray: After several arcs which dealt with smaller threats and character-driven plots, Orlando’s Justice League reunites with its top artist to take on its next mega-arc, as Ryan Choi takes the helm and delves into the mystery of his missing mentor. The issue opens with the team on various missions, as Ray continues to grapple with last issue’s meeting with his mother and Batman meets with Lobo to cash in his remaining chips with the main man. However, they’re all called back into the base when Ryan gets a signal from the Microverse, the first trace he’s found of Ray Palmer since he disappeared. Although there’s a lot of unanswered questions, Batman agrees to take Ryan, Lobo, and Killer Frost into the Microverse. And I have to say, once again, how surprised I am that Lobo’s become one of the highlights of this book. He’s hilarious.
Of course, once they arrive in the Microverse, it’s Reis’ time to shine. He hasn’t done as much work recently, but from his days as the iconic Green Lantern artist, there is no one who does wild blockbuster storytelling better than him, and now he’s unleashed on a surreal dimension that barely resembles our own. The ship is shot down by an unseen villain, and the four heroes crash-land in a surreal alien landscape where they immediately come under attack by alien forces. The technicolor nature of the Microverse took me by surprise at first, but it definitely looks unique and engaging. And then the issue ends with an appearance that may or may not be Ray Palmer, and we’re off. This is the kind of big, fascinating storyline that a Justice League book should be doing, and I’m enjoying it more than any other version we’ve had in a while. Great combination of action-packed storytelling and engaging characters.
Corrina: The pacing of this issue is perfect, from the time spent on character moments, such as Ray and dealing with his mother’s new family, to the discussion about whether to go into the Microverse after Palmer and then we’re off. It’s just enough setup and then no time is wasted on traveling, as trouble instantly hits their ship. It’s also a good way to explain to the reader exactly how the subatomic abilities and travel work, by showing what happens when they go wrong. Just enough science to explain the tech, but not enough that it becomes overwhelming.
But the pacing wouldn’t matter if I didn’t care so much about Ryan’s quest. He’s desperate here, and driven by friendship and obligation. And, yes, though I was against Lobo’s involvement on this team–him being a murderous mercenary and all—but perhaps Batman is right that the best way to handle someone you can’t imprison is to give them a quest where they can do some good. Best issue of this series this year, I think.
New Super-Man #14 – Gene Luen Yang, Writer; Billy Tan, Penciller; Karo, Inker; Hi-Fi, Colorist
Ray – 9/10
Corrina: Kenan is Great. But Get the Suicide Squad Out of This Book!
Ray: Another spectacular issue from DC’s most endearing underdog title, as the Justice League of China deals with crises inside and out. The evil Emperor Superman, a beta version of the process that gave Kenan his powers, has returned and seized control of Shanghai’s biggest tower as his base. Surrounded by dozens of loyal supervillains, he declares his intent to take control of China and fends off an attack by the Great Ten. On the streets, the League tries to keep down the chaos, but this isn’t helped by the fact that Wonder Woman is now a giant snake monster. The reveals about her true identity last issue have driven a rift between her and Baixi, and their relationship is one of the emotional cruxes of this issue. While she does eventually get her human form back with the help of Flash and coming to terms with her emotions, I have to say her snake form was just the right kind of metal.
The second half of the issue is essentially a high-octane chase segment as the League, with the help of Robinbot, infiltrates Emperor Superman’s tower to take the fight to him and rescue Kenan’s parents. Kenan’s complex relationship with his supervillain father and mad scientist mother is dealt with effectively, showing the conflicted feelings he has towards them even as he rescues them. Yang, writing the comic he was obviously born to write here, does a great job blending banter and action. Where it doesn’t quite work as well is in the issue’s guest stars, the Suicide Squad. Waller is keeping an eye on the chaos in China and deputizes her team to neutralize both Supermen. They’re certainly written better than in their parent title, but they feel more like a distraction in a comic that’s excellent as always.
Corrina: NOOO!!! Don’t bring the Suicide Squad into this excellent title. NOOO! :;deep breath:: Okay, I’m just going to ignore them for a while because this is such a good issue, from Kenan’s realization that he needs to save both his mother and father, to the appearance of Grant Morrison’s Big Ten, and the wonderful moments between Wonder Woman and Batman. This is one version of that coupling that I’m 100 percent behind. Other great moments include Kenan’s call to evacuate the citizens “quietly” which quickly becomes anything but quiet, to his consternation.
All these moments make it an excellent book. But the Suicide Squad’s appearance at the end truncate what should be a climatic battle between Kenan and Emperor Super-Man, which is essentially a battle between Kenan and what he could have become. I don’t need the Squad involved and, not that it matters because no one pays attention to the believability of the Squad at this point, but the Squad’s appearance violates China’s sovereignty, and I can’t see them buying “hey, super-villains, whatcha gonna do?” excuse from America. It’s just another problem with suspending disbelieve regarding this current Squad’s actions. Hopefully, the Big Ten will dispatch them post-haste next issue and we can get on with our regularly scheduled (and excellent) programming.
Justice League/Power Rangers #5 – Tom Taylor, Writer; Stephen Byrne, Artist
Ray – 9/10
Corrina: Once Again, Excellent Crossover
Ray: After an unexpectedly long delay between the fourth and fifth issue, this crossover is back with what might be its best issue yet. Full-on action abounds, but there’s some surprisingly great characterization and a breakout character no one saw coming. The issue opens at the United Nations, as the Power Rangers world deals with the sudden disappearance of Angel Grove on Brainiac’s ship. Everyone is in a panic, and things don’t get any better when the Justice League shows up. The diplomats react with suspicion to these mysterious warriors, but Wonder Woman is able to get their attention and let the Power Rangers make their case that the whole world must fight back against Brainiac. Meanwhile, Zedd has unleashed armies of giant insectoid monsters on Earth, keeping the heroes busy, especially with the Rangers depowered and relying on League tech.
Stephen Byrne’s art, which we already know from Green Arrow, is spectacular here, especially when he gets to focus on such things like monsters and Green Lantern constructs. But as the final battle rages, and the Lanterns are determined to leave no man – or robot – behind, it’s none other than Alpha Five who steals the show this issue. Yes, the timid robot from the original Power Rangers series, who finds himself alone with Brainac, as the two AI constructs have a lively debate over the value of sentient life and whether humanity has any worth to it. Who knew Alpha had such depths? But it’s not just talk, as the issue ends with a spectacular twist that sets up a great final showdown. Put that last page on the list of things I never knew I wanted, but am very glad I got. Along with Batman/The Shadow and Batman/TMNT, DC’s crossover boom continues and gives us some great stories.
Corrina: Not sure what caused the delay but at least this issue reminded me once again of where the plot stood. The JL has gone to the Power Rangers’s world to fight the joint threat of Brainiac and the regular Power Ranger villains. I would love this issue if only for Wonder Woman’s terrific entrance at the world council meeting, which is reminiscent of her simply walking into the leader’s meeting in the Wonder Woman movie. But the story is more than that, with several twists and turns, such as the Rangers backing up Superman as he rescues Alpha Five, who is obviously the key to defeating Brainiac and restoring the city of Angel Grove.
Once again, Taylor proves he’d be a terrific Justice League writer.
Grade B Comics: Solid! Rating 8/10
The Flash #28 – Joshua Williamson, Writer; Carmine Di Giandomenico, Artist; Ivan Plascencia, Colorist
Ray – 8/10
Corrina: Dark Barry Is No Fun
Ray: One of the best things about Barry Allen is that he’s one of the most optimistic, decent heroes in the DCU, driven by justice but not vengeance. So what happens when you start stripping that away? This new arc finds Barry literally corrupted. Not only have his relationships with both Iris and Wally been destroyed by his lies, but Thawne manages to literally infect him with something called the negative speed force, transforming his powers into something dark and dangerous, and giving him a ghostly pallor while in costume. The issue opens with the Road Reapers, a supervillain biker gang, running wild on Central City’s streets, while B-list villain Shrapnel is hired by a mysterious villain behind bars. While Barry manages to stop the bikers, his new powers display some disturbing elements, covering him with a deadly energy and ripping up the road as he runs.
While his role as Flash is completely changed by his new powers, making him hesitant to continue running, we also see this change influence him in his personal life. Barry’s becoming more distant, standoffish, and it’s affecting him at work just as his department starts coming under a crisis. Files from the department have been stolen, putting hundreds of convictions at risk, and Barry is tasked with working with a suspicious fellow investigator to uncover the culprit. It all feels sort of wrong, but I imagine it’s supposed to. Barry is not who he’s supposed to be here, and we’re seeing these new powers start to eat away at everything that makes him the Flash. The end of the issue has him make a horrible misjudgment that will likely make him wanted again, another dark twist. This arc could be fascinating, but it’s an unsettling start that could go either way.
Corrina: I take it we’re supposed to dislike Barry in this issue. If so, it worked. Barry as a sad sack has never quite worked for me and this Barry, reacting emotionally to everything, is certainly the most unlikeable Barry Allen that Williamson has ever written, so I have to believe it’s intentional. I believe I’m supposed to sympathize with Barry for being late to his job and for losing Iris and generally being put through the ringer but Barry is so full of self-pity this issue that I just think “Barry, you dumb ass.” Everyone around him is right–and even Barry is right that he shouldn’t use his powers at all. He is a scientist, after all, he should be hiding in his lab to sort all this out and asking his friends for help.
Instead, he’s just digging the hole deeper, personally and professionally, so I have to believe it’s because the Negative Speed Force is infecting him and influencing his decisions. I hope the comes to a relevation soon because I have only a small amount of patience for Barry angry and full of self-pity.
Harley Quinn #25 – Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Paul Dini, Writers; Chad Hardin, Artist; Bret Blevins, Penciller; J. Bone, Inker; Alex Sinclair, Colorist
Ray – 8/10
Corrina: What’s a Harley Party Without Mortal Peril?
Ray: Harley’s anniversary issue, the last of the major titles to hit #25 for now, kicks off a major new storyline and wraps up the backup for the time being, and it’s one of the better issues of the series. When it kicks off, Harley is having a relaxing day at the spa with Sy Borgman, who she thinks she’s keeping busy while a surprise party is planned for him – but the surprise party is actually for her. This gives the series the opportunity to bring back Harley’s entire supporting cast from this series and the last – including Poison Ivy, who gets a very enthusiastic welcome (that even Red Tool seems to approve of), and their best friend Catwoman. Harley gets very into party games, and winds up tossing herself out of a window accidentally – and is rescued by Power Girl, another fun cameo.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Harley comic without some good old ultraviolence, and that comes in the form of a team of assassins hired by the ruthless Madison Berkowitz to take care of her Harley problem for good. Once they show up, the issue turns into a carnage-filled action segment, but the carnage entirely comes from the bad guys. It’s mainly an excuse for Harley to get to pull off all sorts of violent moves, but it’s great to see the classic Harley supporting cast back together again. The extra-length backup is also a lot of fun, as Joker finally finds out about Harley’s secret plan to build them a new lair, but I can imagine their confrontation being a bit uncomfortable for some people to read – although he’s not overtly abusive here, some of his actions are very reminiscent of Mad Love. We’re getting a “Harley Loves Joker” one-shot in the future by this creative team, and while I’m sure it’ll be entertaining, I remain preferring Harley and Ivy.
Corrina: The revamp of Harley Quinn began with her fending off an army of assassins and so it makes sense that this anniversary issue would also feature an army of assassins after Harley. The difference is that, by this time, she has an army of her own, from local cops to the circus performers, to her super-friends, like Catwoman, and, of course, her love, Poison Ivy. The only flaw I can see in this issue is why professional assassins wouldn’t wait until Harley was alone. Because it seems to me that’s better than taking on an army.
At least they waited until Power Girl left. (But how far did she go? I kinda expect her back next issue.)
So, Harley’s friends throw her a birthday party, and it’s interrupted by assassins because she’s Harley. Chaos and fun ensure. It’s what you want from a Harley book.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #13 – Scott Lobdell, Writer; Dexter Soy, Artist; Veronica Gandini, Colorist
Ray – 8/10
Corrina: Cute Art
Ray: I don’t know what it is about this property that brings out the best in Lobdell, but while most of his other DC work has been weak to horrendous, any time he touches Jason Todd it’s surprisingly strong. In this issue, he manages to even wring genuine emotion out of normally flat characters like Artemis and Bizarro. The latter’s fate hangs in the balance this issue, as clone degeneration takes its toll and his battle against Grundy last issue has him on the brink of death. His only hope lies in Lex Luthor, who had a bond with the previous Bizarro that begun his journey to semi-heroism at the moment, and plans to repay that by trying to save this one’s life. The issue begins with a bizarre chibi segment from Bizarro’s mind, his fever dreams as he lies on the brink of death. It’s alternatively hilarious and endearing.
While Luthor works on fixing Bizarro’s genetic code, Jason and Artemis are left with nothing to do but wait and talk. Lobdell does a good job of showing Jason essentially as an angry, hurt young man looking for any sort of connection, although oddly his take on Bruce and Jason’s relationship is darker than what we originally saw at the beginning of this incarnation of the title, where Bruce and Jason seemed to be on relatively good terms. Artemis gets to expand on her backstory a little, as well as her first meeting with Bizarro. All three members of the team come out of this issue with a little added backstory and relatability, and the cliffhanger throws the whole team dynamic for a loop, even if it feels like a temporary twist. This remains one of the more pleasant surprises of Rebirth.
Corrina: One the good side, the adorable art from Bizarro’s “memories” of leaving Krypton. It’ll make you want a little Superman baby plushie. Also on the good side is the whole trip into Bizarro’s mind and thoughts, from his realization that he’s a created being to his wondering whether he’d be normal if he didn’t have to float and think so much as he was grown.
The bad side? I have no idea who Lobdell wants this Artemis to be. Yes, we’ve had several arcs focused on her training to be a savior of her people, and then having to kill her best friend, but she veers between “Luther’s being reasonable by saying he owns our friend” to “Our friend is obviously a sentient being who can think for himself.” Which is it, okay? Because those two thoughts are not compatible at all, and it’s that kind of thing that absolutely mars the conversation this issue between Jason and Artemis. Also, I object to the idea that Jason isn’t part of the Bat-Family. Batman obviously considers him one, and so do the rest of the Robins. (And I also remain annoyed his “retcon punch” ressurection remains in effect, rather than a far simpler “he was almost killed and became estranged from Batman because of that trauma.” I recognize that’s not Lobdell’s fault, though.)
So, the last page with smart Bizarro is interesting enough save for the fact it’s obvious it won’t last.
Grace C Comics: 7-8/10 Rankings: Decent
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #26 – Robert Venditti, Writer; Rafa Sandoval, Penciller; Jordi Tarragona, Inker; Tomeu Morey, Colorist
Ray – 7.5/10
Corrina: Metal/New Gods Tie-In
Ray: In the aftermath of the Green Lantern Corps’ nasty breakup with the Sinestro Corps, they’re starting to get back to normal, only for the New Gods to burst in and ruin everything. There’s kind of an odd juxtaposition with this comic coming out the same week as Mister Miracle, because the two versions of the New Gods are very different. While King’s are his own thing, maybe a bit influenced by Azzarello’s but definitely unique, Venditti’s take is straight out of the New 52 Godhead arc, which is referenced in this story and was much more of a straightforward cosmic adventure. Now, something new and ancient is hunting the New Gods, Celestial-like beings forged out of an ancient metal (word that’s used a lot, hmm). And Graf, a mysterious new Lantern recruit who has ties to the New Gods, is having visions that may be the key.
Where this issue works – and where this title is usually at its best – is in the banter between the Lanterns. Guy Gardner and John Stewart clashing over when Guy’s allowed back in the field after losing his sector partner is handled well, and I really enjoyed the interaction between Hal and Kyle as the two old friends bicker and snark about recent events. Then they find a destroyed solar system, come under attack by Orion, and watch as he’s cut down by powerful Omega Beams that rip a hole in his chest. With Orion barely alive, they flee and manage to get him to Salaak’s home planet where he’s treated – but the ancient thing that struck him down is coming looking for them. It’s not a bad comic, but it’s yet another giant cosmic threat with little context. Essentially, Mister Miracle was a take on the New Gods by way of a master. This is a take on the New Gods by way of a summer blockbuster, and it just feels a little flat as a result.
Corrina: Best moment: Guy and John’s talk. Worst moment: dragging the Green Lanterns into DC’s big crossover “Metal” event. Okay, yeah, I know. That was inevitable but they certainly don’t make interesting villains in this issue. They’re just big, giant bastions of unstoppable force without personality. I imagine we won’t even be told their origin even at the end of this arc because they’re connected to the big crossover, so their skirmish with Orion and the Green Lanterns will most likely end up a side issue.
But I could look past that and like this issue more because of how much the Corps feels like a real Corps save for the part where Kyle blames himself for Soranik’s actions and the break-up of the Yellow/Green alliance. Because, as idiotic as Kyle behaved, he cannot take responsibility for Soranik’s physical assault on him or her turn to the “Sinestro” side. It would be more realistic if he was questioning what the yellow ring might be doing to her mind and what could be done to reach her. But I’ve been frustrated with the characterization of Soranik and Kyle for several issues now.
Newsboy Legion: Boy Commandos Special #1 – Howard Chaykin, Writer/Artist; Wil Quintana, Colorist
Ray – 7/10
Corrina: Collectors Only?
Ray: The first Jack Kirby special, featuring Orion and the New Gods, seemed designed to be a crowd-pleaser. This one, featuring one of Kirby’s more obscure creations as brought to life by a creator that’s definitely an acquired taste, seems like it might be more of a cult book. Howard Chaykin, always best suited to WW2-era comics (rather than the current era, given certain…recent books), takes on the Newsboy Legion, the pint-sized journalist/Nazi-smashers as they take on saboteurs in the home front during WW2. The story picks up with the liberation of Paris, as a group of allied soldiers come across a Nazi plot involving a toy shop filled with primitive drones, and that leads them back to New York. The heroes of the JSA are off on the war front, so the protection of NY is in the hands of scrappy young civilian heroes like the Newsboy Legion.
Chaykin’s art is strong as ever, but his dialogue here is very accented, with characters from many different backgrounds each having their own dialect played very strongly. It can make reading this issue a bit of a chore at times, but Chaykin is definitely in his element. The bigger problem with the issue, for me, is that Chaykin is very heavy-handed in his politics, and it shows. In light of recent controversy, it’s easy to forget that he’s actually a fairly strong liberal, but this issue doesn’t hide that at all. The reveal of the villain – essentially a “patriotic American cowboy” who wants peace with the Nazis and an alliance against communism and the Japanese – is done fairly well, but then he just spends a good six pages ranting in slow motion before he’s defeated. This issue ultimately feels more like a curiosity than a satisfying story. There’s only one lead story this time, unlike last week, but the issue does also contain an original Kirby/Simon story featuring the Newsboy Legion, which is a fascinating look into the wide variety of comic genres originally.
Corrina: I found this almost impenetrable, which is something that Kirby’s comics certainly never were. Chaykin’s tribute combines all the weirdness and fun of Kirby but also contains the more modern-style in which explaining things to the reader via thought captions and “Previously in…” are no longer part of the narrative. That leaves me with two sets of characters with accents doing stuff and it quickly becomes confusing. I know some of the Newsboy Legion, from my Superman-reading days in the 70s, but none of the Boy Commandos ,and Chaykin does little to interest me in them.
However, as Ray said, Chaykin does have a distinct style and if you’re a fan, you’ll find what you like here. For me, my favorite part of this was the original Kirby/Simon Newsboy Legion story.
Lower Grade Comics: 6/10 or Below: Need Work
Titans #14 – Dan Abnett, Writer; Brett Booth, Penciller; Norm Rapmund, Inker; Andrew Dalhouse, Colorist
Ray – 6/10
Corrina: Garish Art, Shallow Storyline
Ray: In the aftermath of the last major arc, the Titans are more splintered than ever, and that winds up translating to the way this issue feels. There’s a lot going on, with a lot of major reveals, but they all feel like they’re sort of competing with each other. The ostensible major plot this issue focuses on Tempest, one of the Titans who has gotten the least development along with Donna Troy. The timeline jumps around, with the inciting incident of the fight being revealed later in the issue, but the core of the plot is that the Titans are nearly poisoned by Atlantean saboteurs, who are aiming a strike against the whole city. These loyalists to Corum Rath (an Abnett creation in Aquaman) are also former allies of Tempest when he was a student in Atlantean sorcerer’s school, but he left them behind when he turned his back on magic, and they want revenge.
The Atlantean sorceresses make for a fairly intimidating threat, although they’re dispatched relatively easily once Garth taps into his hidden magic. The problem is, the issue is filled with little side threats that are more a distraction than anything else. The team keeps on bickering, sometimes over who in the team is their traitor, and Wally and Roy get into a fist-fight over who gets to date Donna, which is just off-putting. I thought this was the grown-up Titans? The kids tend to act more mature than this. There’s multiple fights between allies, and by the end of the issue we finally find out who the traitor supposedly is – and it’s such a ridiculous reveal that it’s very clear it’s a fake-out. Overall, it’s not a terrible issue, but it lacks likable characters on the team to make it click.
Corrina: So Dick will use SPYRAL tech to reveal the traitor. Okay, then. And then he turns out to be the traitor. Okay, then. So what’s next? I don’t know, maybe yet another not-as-good rehash of the “Titans Hunt” or “Brother Blood” storylines in which one of the Titans is corrupted from the inside? If that sounds like I’m frustrated, I am, because I love the idea of this group of heroes and it’s come together in fits and starts but then it drops an issue like this, with a spotlight on Garth and his magic that could be interesting but, of course, contradicts the wonderful Peter David revamp of the character. This new origin of him studying magic is less interesting and the Atlantean stalker-squad is annoying. Add that to the ridiculous romantic entanglements that have been added in this series and it’s a mess of an issue.
Superman: Action Comics #985 – Rob Williams, Writer; Guillem March, Artist; Hi-Fi, Colorist
Ray – 4/10
Ray: It’s a fill-in issue following the conclusion of the Superman Revenge Squad arc, as Rob Williams and Guillem March join forces to bring us a two-part story teaming Superman and Luthor. Unfortunately, it’s just not good on any level, showing off all the weaknesses of Williams’ Suicide Squad run with characters where it’s much more glaring. The issue opens with Superman going up against the Machinist in Georgia (the country, not the state) as mind-controlled civilians and wolves are running amok. Superman manages to confront the villain, only to find that it’s him speaking remotely through another mind-controlled peasant. With the real Machinist (an obscure villain from the Johns/Romita run) still out there, Superman finds out that the tech he uses comes from Lexcorp.
That’s where this issue really goes off the rails, as neither of the two characters driving this story really act remotely like themselves. Superman is a bellowing, enraged mess, instantly suspecting Luthor as being behind the Machinist and charging into his building to accuse him. Reminds me a bit of Dumbledore in the Goblet of Fire movie, screaming about the Goblet. Luthor, meanwhile, acts oily and deliberately suspicious before feigning innocence. Essentially, it’s like the previous few arcs never happened – don’t forget, the last time these two men saw each other, Luthor was putting his life on the line to help Superman fight evil Kryptonians. They fly to Africa to pursue the Machinist, fight mind-controlled soldiers and wild animals, and then Luthor gets taken over by a mind control chip and attacks Superman. It’s all very basic, forgettable storytelling that doesn’t really make either character come off well.
Corrina: Why is Superman yelling at Luthor and instantly accusing him? Have the events of the last year not happened? I can only be charitable and guess this might have been a Superman story that sat on the shelf until it was needed for a fill-in, as happens sometimes. It also explains why it seems like the last few arcs never happened.
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #13 – Julie Benson, Shawna Benson, Writers; Roge Antonio, Artist; Allen Passalaqua, Chris Sotomayor, Colorists
Ray – 6.5/10
Corrina: One Step Forward, Two Back
Ray: The conclusion to the “Souce Code” arc tries to go a long way towards resolving some of the lingering complaints about this series, but to get there is a long slog through an iffy storyline, and it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions. When we left off, the Birds had been forced to team up with Calculator to rescue his children and wife from an evil corporation that was now under assault by Poison Ivy, and…yeah, if your eyes crossed there, mine kind of did too. There’s a lot of moving parts in this issue, but they don’t always click. The best part about the issue is the team-up of the Birds with two-thirds of the Gotham City Sirens. The third, naturally, has gone on to bigger things since. Catwoman’s banter with the Birds is a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t mind seeing her become a regular, although Ivy comes off as very one-dimensional.
The bulk of the issue is a wild chase/escape segment through the giant tower, as it’s revealed Ivy’s motivation for wanting revenge against the villain is that his fertilizer is killing bees. A very timely storyline, no doubt, but I can’t help but hear “A deadly bee weapon. My God. Bees.” in my head once Ivy unleashes her killer bees on the heroes. The art is good, although there’s a fairly glaring coloring error at one point. What we’ve seen in the last few arcs is that banter between female heroes works in this title, while most other things do not. The issue seems to understand this, as Gus Yale seemingly decides to quit the team and go on the lam this issue, cutting a deal with Calculator to free himself and protect the Birds – while the real Oracle returns, with Barbara seemingly deciding to split the difference and be both Batgirl and Oracle. I like the idea, but I see it being very hard to execute. There are shades of a promising book in here, but not quite.
Corrina: I liked this a bit more than Ray, mainly because Catwoman and Ivy seem nicely in character and, finally, the return of the proper Oracle, but there are still too many flaws for me to enjoy this book overall. Tops among them is letting Gus simply run off when he knows all their secrets. Hello! The old Oracle would have kept him monitored 24/7 just to protect her people, especially since he’s connected to the Calculator. (The good side of that is that Gus, a character who was a good concept but horribly executed, is gone.)
And, yeah, “My God, Bees!” was in my head as I read the sequence involving the bees. That storyline has messed up any use of bees in DC Comics for years to come. There are many call backs in this new series to Gail Simone’s run on Birds of Prey, and that’s a nice homage, but it only reminds me that instead of being a homage/update of that work, this series has been of lesser quality, executing similar concepts but not as well.
It’s so frustrating because I want to love this book but it’s as if for every high note it hits, there are three sour ones.
Superwoman #13 – K. Perkins, Writer; Stephen Segovia, Penciller; Art Thibert, Inker; Hi-Fi, Colorist
Ray – 6/10
Ray: This title continues to be one of the oddest fits in DC’s lineup, never quite sure what kind of title it wants to be, and that’s never clearer than with this issue – when the narrative actually made me wonder if I had missed an issue somehow. The last issue ended with the Skyhook plot still dangling, although the question of Lana’s powers had been resolved. This issue starts a completely new plot that feels like it’s already in motion. The story opens with Lana in a near-destroyed Smallville, under the control of Red Kryptonite and the thrall of a mysterious new villain. Lex Luthor is trying to talk her down from her rampage with this energy-powered villain, but Lana is fully possessed and proceeds to attack Luthor. Who is this villain? There’s really no way of knowing at this point.
However, flashbacks – which make up the bulk of the issue – make it clearer. The majority of the story is set during Lana’s teenage years in Smallville, where she’s become Clark’s secret keeper in addition to his friend. However, there’s two thorns in their side. One is their fellow student and suck-up teacher’s assistant Lex Luthor, and the other is motorcycle-riding bad boy Amos Aimes, who Lana has a crush on and Clark doesn’t trust. Luthor is insufferable here, and I continue to be confused by the popularity of the plot point where they go to high school together. Amos is a manipulative bad influence, so it’s not a surprise when he turns out to be the mystery villain in the present-day. This is a very 90’s-influenced title, so this story reminds me a lot of the retcon-in of Kenny Braverman as Conduit back then. There’s a few fun scenes – Clark desperately trying to rebel to get detention with Lana was great – but overall, the confusing structure and pacing of this issue sinks it.
Corrina: It’s all the rage to do flashbacks in movies, television, and comics these days. I have limited tolerance for them since they have to be done really well to work and, sometimes, even then I’ve come to prefer a linear story, as in Mister Miracle. And while the flashbacks are the best part of this issue, as I always love scenes of Clark growing up in Smallville, they’re not well integrated into the outer story, to the point where, as Ray said, I can’t make heads or tails of whether Lana is falling into ruin or standing up for herself.
Perkins has shown some quality during her work on this comic but there are still some flaws.
Scooby Apocalypse #16 – Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis, Writers; Ron Wagner, Andy Owens, Howard Porter, Artists; Hi-Fi, Colorist
Ray – 5/10
Ray: When a title is called “The Sacrifice”, you can generally bet something heavy is coming this issue. And this title doesn’t disappoint, at least in terms of major fallout to the status quo of the series. With a giant hive-mind monster (that reminded me a lot of the conclusion of the excellent Boom horror series Cognetic) forming a new threat to the Mystery Machine crew, and the gang being forced to reluctantly team up with Scrappy Doo, the issue is one of the tenser and more effective than the past few.
The problem is, the end of the main story tries hard for heavy emotion, and winds up just coming off sort of forced, because the character who makes the ultimate sacrifice is really lacking in any real character development to this point. Stronger is the bizarre Secret Squirrel back-up, with art by Howard Porter. I’m not 100% if this takes place in the same continuity as Scooby Apocalypse, but it’s the right kind of absurd – a secret-agent squirrel getting involved in ultra-violent James Bond-style antics. It made me laugh.
Suicide Squad #23 – Rob Williams, Writer; Gus Vasquez, Artist; Adriano Lucas, Colorist
Ray – 1/10
Ray: Not just the worst issue of the week, but likely the worst comic released with a Rebirth logo on the cover, this issue badly retreads a plot from an excellent event comic less than a year ago, and seems to mainly rely on major characters completely forgetting all the lessons of that story. Justice League vs. Suicide Squad pitted Batman against Amanda Waller for the fate of Killer Frost, and it ended with Batman taking Frost to safety. So why would Waller just casually decide to break that pact and go to war with the entire Justice League? Because apparently in this book, she’s taken complete leave of her senses. Disregarding any logical concerns, she sics the Squad on Killer Frost, ambushing her and tricking her into absorbing a poison through El Diablo.
Pretty much everyone in this comic comes off horribly. Frost goes from a decent person afflicted with a horrible curse to a crazed maniac the second she tastes human energy again. Waller and Batman both spend most of their time yelling and making bad strategic choices. Then there’s Katana, who seems to have been possessed by Waller and nearly kills Batman with her enchanted sword on Waller’s orders. And then there’s the art, which looks straight out of the 90s at points. The Suicide Squad works best when despite the fact that these are despicable villains, we have a reason to root for them. Here, they and Waller are unambiguously the villains, but they’re still stuck in the protagonist role despite doing nothing with it. This was just a very misguided start to a new arc that exacerbated the title’s already serious problems.
Corrina: I guess there’s an implication that Waller is now mind-controlled herself. But, I don’t care. This whole run has been awful and this is simply unpleasant to read.