DC Dark Nights: Metal is in full swing with a number of tie-in issues this week but our standout comics are unrelated: Mister Miracle #4, Batman: Detective Comics #968, and New Super-Man #17 (which also wins the “most fun comic” award).
Ray loves the Batman: Lost one-shot which delves into a possibly supernatural/timespanning origin for Batman while Corrina is clearly on a jazz or blues wavelength and not digging the Metal stuff.
All this week’s reviews below and remember to check our index for past weeks!
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS RESIDE IN THESE REVIEWS.
Spotlight Issue: The Perfect Mister Miracle
Mister Miracle #4 – Tom King, Writer; Mitch Gerads, Artist
Ray – 10/10
Corrina: Trial of Scott Free
Ray: The second 10/10 issue of the week, which is almost unheard of – but not a huge surprise, given just how great this series has been so far. A truly great creative team can do wonders for anything, even an incredibly limited environment. The majority of this issue takes place within a single living room, and yet it’s more engaging than almost any epic adventure comic I’ve read. The issue opens with Scott Free and Big Barda being woken up by Lightray, who informs them that Orion’s charged him with treason and with being an agent of Apokalips. Barda’s method of protecting her husband is oddly hilarious, but it doesn’t detract from the seriousness of this scene – Orion has clearly lost his mind. Or has Scott? That’s the thrust of this issue.
Scott, as a royal, has the right to a trial, but when Orion shows up to conduct it, it’s not so much a trial as a prolonged execution. Orion will be judge, jury, and executioner, and the trial mainly consists of Orion wearing down Scott with confusing, loaded questions that give him no room for escape. The tension builds and builds until Scott completely unravels – essentially proving Orion right by acting like a violent maniac. Of course, we don’t know how much of that is Darkseid’s influence, if any – as Orion claims – and how much is mental illness and trauma. That’s what makes this comic so fascinating. It’s essentially a story about mental instability and how far it can push someone, and every issue leaves us with more questions than we started. The nine-panel grids allow for an emotional intensity that’s rarely seen in comics. This issue is two comic masters at work, and it’s unlike anything else you’ll read this year.
Corrina: It is unlike anything you’ll read this year, though it does have echoes in much of King’s other works. However, any comic that is such a perfect mesh of story and art that it creates tension with characters sitting in a living room must be applauded. And the writing and art have to be in perfect synergy or else the dialogue would not seem so spot on, nor would the panel close-ups.
For those looking for an easy narrative, it’s not here, as it has become increasingly difficult to follow the timeline of events concerning Scott and Barda. Some of this might even take place before the events of issue #1. I wondered while reading this if the narrative would take us back to the beginning of the story. Or it might be taking place after it all, in which case Scott has one more escape to make. My only complaint is that Barda has been something of a cipher for this whole series. I would like more hints to her internal life but this story is so focused on Scott’s relation to reality that it’s not possible. (Though Orion does come across clearly.)
Near Perfect Issues: Ratings 9-10
Batman: Detective Comics #968 – James Tynion IV, Writer; Alvaro Martinez, Penciller; Raul Fernandez, Inker; Tomeu Morey, Colorist
Ray – 10/10
Corrina: Bye, Evil Tim! Hello, Nice Tim!
Ray: The two major Rebirth-centric storylines wrap up this week, and “A Lonely Place of Living,” – the superior of the two from the start – delivers a final issue that is easily the equal in excitement and suspense of any issue of an event comic I’ve read in years. The issue opens by catching up on Ulysses Armstrong, who has been exiled to scut work in the Colony and is on hand when Brother Eye takes over the entire operation. Then, we cut to the Batcave, where the entire Batfamily (sans Stephanie, who is still doing her own thing) unites against the evil Tim Drake from the future. The fight scenes are spectacular, but what makes this scene sing is the little details, from banter between the Bat-kids, to references to origin stories we didn’t think were in continuity anymore, to dark hints about Damian’s future (boy is not having a good year in Rebirth).
While Evil Tim has a master plan involving Brother Eye, he also knows he won’t be around for it – Hypertime, or maybe even Doctor Manhattan, doesn’t want him to stay in this time period and is slowly pulling him back where he should be. That adds a desperate haste to his mission, as he seeks to persuade Tim that Batwoman is about to destroy everything he’s built. With an issue full of double-page spreads packed with panels, and a final showdown involving a fleet of analog Batplanes hunting drones out of the sky, this issue sums up everything I love about the Batfamily. With a fascinating adversary that only works for a short burst but has a massive impact while he’s here and a reunion for Tim Drake with the Batfamily that doesn’t give anyone a second to breathe, this issue is one of the highlights of Tynion’s entire Detective Comics run. The Bat-line is as good as it’s ever been.
Corrina: I’m as enthused as Ray about the Batfamily team-up, as the dynamics of all these characters have been the best part of Tynion’s run. I love how he puts together characters that I wouldn’t have thought have much in common, like Cass and Clayface, and creates entire relationships that resonate, and all without changing any of the characters from their essential selves. And, in Tim’s case, taking a character that was all over the place in the New 52 era and returning him to his original conception, as evidenced by the callback to the classic “A Lonely Place of Dying.”
But, I have problems with the villain. Lately, there is a bumper crop of evil versions of heroes Like Jor-El in the Superman stories. Or all these evil versions of Bruce Wayne in Metal. Evil Grown-Up Tim is not even the only future villain-from-hero this week, with Troia over in The Titans comic making an appearance too.
I have a low tolerance for the story trope of “you must kill the good person who will be evil someday.” (Indeed, it was just in Justice League too.) Stop teasing me with what might go wrong in the future. Focus on the story now.
But, I’m so happy to have Tim back and pleased with how the Batfamily works together in general. Now, if we can just get Stephanie back into the fold.
New Super-Man #17 – Gene Luen Yang, Writer; Joe Lalich, Penciller; Richard Friend, Inker; Hi-Fi, Colorist
Ray – 9/10
Ray: Everything comes to a head in the penultimate issue of Yang’s eighteen-issue storyarc (the series will resume in February after a guest issue in January), and this issue kicks the plot into high gear as Kenan and the rest of the JL of China arrive in America – and promptly accidentally declare war on the Justice League when their robot malfunctions. My favorite part about this issue is the way the Justice League didn’t instantly assume they were the villains, and instead sort of treat them like reckless kids. The scenes between the two Leagues were the highlight of the issue, from Batman scolding a hero-struck Baixi, to Avery being reunited with her mentor Barry, to Superman trying to counsel Kenan in the matter of his powers. Every character beat here is spot-on.
Then it’s time for the main plot of the issue to kick off. Kenan is in the US to get his hands on the Red Jade Dragon, which will restore his powers in full and allow him to get the upper hand on the evil All-Yang, but that artifact was looted from China long ago – and is now in the hands of a certain bald Metropolis businessman. Luthor’s appeared before in this series, when he effectively manipulated Kenan to take shortcuts involving his powers, but here he’s much more of a direct adversary. Although his security systems wind up being more of a nuisance than anything else – for both Kenan and Superman. By the time Kenan gets his hands on the Jade Red Dragon, it’s time for a final showdown with the All-Yang, and the issue ends with a potential big revelation and the debut of some spectacular new villains that should make for one hell of a final chapter to this story.
Corrina: This chapter perfectly blends humor, action, and the theme of superheroes, which is that it’s not the power that makes the man, but the ideals. In issue #1, Kenan is a bully who uses physical force to make himself feel better. In this issue, he’s a hero who ultimately refuses the gift of ultimate power. It’s a perfect arc. Oh, Kenan still has his faults, such as not quite understanding American property laws and his impulsivity, but he shows again why he’s worthy of being a Super-Man.
Some of the dialogue cracked me up, too. Superman: “I hope you don’t mind me saying so, Batman, but that machine looks like something you might build.” Batman: “I hope you don’t mind me saying so, Superman, but if I’d built it, you’d already be unconscious.” Superman: “Huh, so you do mind, then.” Then, there’s the lovely exchange between Wonder Woman and Green Snake who, of course, have some friends in common and Flash’s reunion with his former student.
Everything in this issue works.
Batman: Lost #1 – Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson, Writers; Yanick Paquette, Jorge Jiminez, Artist; Doug Mahnke, Penciller; Jaime Mendoza, Inker; Wil Quintana, Nathan Fairbairn, Alejandro Sanchez, Colorists
Ray – 9/10
Corrina: Metal Head-Space
Ray: The main Metal title takes the month off, but this all-star one-shot is essentially the fourth main chapter in the event, and it’s a mindbending journey through time, space, and Batman’s psyche that is well worth the ride for anyone who has been enjoying Metal half as much as I have. The story begins in a Wayne Manor of the future, as an elderly, retired Bruce Wayne is surrounded by his kids and grandkids. A curious little girl named Janet (almost definitely Tim Drake’s daughter), comes to her grandfather and asks him to tell her a story of his time as Batman – specifically, his first case, The Case of the Chemical Syndicate. It’s a fairly simple tale, involving the death of a businessman and the framing of his son. However, as Bruce goes through the tale, things start getting weird. First, things start happening differently than he remembers them.
Then he’s off through time. The first stop is at the dawn of man, when the Bats and the Birds went to war, and the legacy that would develop into the Hawkman family begins. And then it’s post-apocalyptic, where Batman is a freedom fighter in a desert wasteland – but the leader of the opposition is his wayward son. Then it’s back to the past, which leads to a detour into the history of both Thomas and Alan Wayne. The hellish future of Mayor Joker has some good visuals, but things only heat up fully once Bruce realizes that he’s been a pawn in Barbatos’ torture, and confronts the creature masquerading as his granddaughter. The issue then turns into a surreal hellscape that unmasks Barbatos as an incredibly important figure in Bruce’s history. Not many questions are answered, and many are raised, but then we’re only at the halfway point. This issue is a perfect fusion of the sensibilities of Morrison and Snyder, and it’s another must-read chapter in Metal’s unfolding.
Corrina: Synder has always wanted to dig deep into Batman’s psyche to see what supernatural force of nature is hidden inside. Look at his psychic connection to the Joker, for instance, in Snyder’s last Batman work, and how Gotham’s lifeforce itself brought him back. (And this is different from King’s interest in Batman’s internal view of himself.) The question is: does this Metal chapter add something interesting to the Batman mythos overall?
I’m not sure having a demon/supernatural being like Barbatos inserted into his roots adds anything to Batman. It takes Batman away from the realm of man and clearly into the realm of supernatural being, creating a hero closer to the Shadow than the original conception of a normal man driven to save others so no other person would have to suffer what Bruce Wayne did.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that Ray’s enthusiasm for this plotline is something I don’t share, which is no surprise to regular readers of these reviews. As always, it’s not the talent –clearly visible in the story–that is the problem. It’s that they’re taking this Metal story to places that provide little to no enjoyment or interest for me.
Action Comics #990 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Viktor Bogdanovic, Artist; Trevor Scott, Scott Hanna, Inkers; Mike Spicer, Colorist
Ray – 9.5/10
Corrina: Jor-El —Driven Evil?
Ray: The final chapter of “The Oz Effect” is also one of the best issues of Superman DC has published in the Rebirth era, an emotionally intense, action-packed showdown between father and son with major revelations and the start of another mystery. The issue opens with Jon Kent standing between his father and grandfather, desperately trying to convince Superman that Mr. Oz is what he claims to be. Superman still views Oz as a madman and is determined to keep him away from his family. Out of options to convince him, Oz activates his staff and teleports them both to the secret prison he’s run where he attempts to bring Superman over to his way of thinking – by force if need be. Jor-El’s twisted view of Earth is clearly a counter to Superman’s, but it also makes a good deal of sense, in terms of what he’s encountered.
The reveal of the source of Jor-El’s power – and what it can do to Superman – is something I had suspected. Of course any green light in a Superman comic is Kryptonite. But the reveal of what the staff does is the big twist to the issue that I didn’t see coming, and would have had the most tragic, twisted ending to a storyline I could remember – if it wasn’t for Doctor Manhattan’s intervention. Superman only comes around to the truth of Jor-El’s identity when he sees how he’s been working overtime to neutralize threats to him and his family, but by then it’s too late, leaving Superman with only unanswered questions. The next arc will be Superman searching for the truth, but this one ends with a powerful note that no matter what he goes through, Superman will never stop fighting. This story could have gone very, very wrong, but it’s turned out to be a near-perfect Superman story and the introduction of one of the most fascinating new wild card characters in a while.
Corrina: The reveal is that Oz is indeed a madman, driven to act that way because of the Kryptonite staff. That Jor-El has tried to “help” his son’s family even in the midst of that madness is admirable but his body count from influencing people to act on their worst impulses is incredibly high. Thus, my sympathy for his rationalization of his actions is limited, and while the story wants me to feel bad for Jor-El, I don’t. However, the story works in that I feel for Clark, who would go to great lengths to save any villain and his grief that he cannot do the same for his father.
In that sense, this works better than the confrontation with Evil Tim Drake in Detective because Jor-El does cause me to feel pity, whereas evil Tim was just, well, murderously evil. I wouldn’t say it’s a near-perfect Superman story because it feels like this was a plot that could have taken place in one issue, not in multiple parts, but it sticks the landing.
Supergirl #15 – Jody Houser, Steve Orlando, Writers; Robson Rocha, Penciller; Daniel Henriques, Inker; Michael Atiyeh, Colorist
Ray – 9/10
Corrina: New Start For the Series
Ray: It’s Jody Houser’s first issue on Supergirl as cowriter with Steve Orlando, and apparently a woman’s touch is taking this book to another level. While the title was always strong under Orlando, he’s a very plot-focused writer, and this issue indicates that his strength combined with Houser’s youthful, character-driven scripting is exactly what this title needs. Kara’s life has fallen apart, with Supergirl disgraced, her adoptive parents fired, and the DEO in the hands of hostile anti-metahuman radical Director Bones after the Zor-El fiasco. Kara can’t even count on her invulnerability anymore, as the Metropolis police are now equipped with anti-alien bullets. Her injured hand may not be a major plot point, but it’s kind of a constant reminder that the world is a more dangerous and hostile place for her now.
Supergirl’s role is minimized this issue, as Eliza and Jeremiah (who seems to be drawn as Asian in this issue – a tribute to Dean Cain? Nice detail.) are trying to keep her safe in her civilian guise. So a lot of this issue is devoted to Kara trying to find her way, in school (where we learn more about Ben and one of their classmates) and at home, where we see how Jeremiah and Eliza are struggling to parent a superpowered teenager. It’s those little details that really make this issue shine. The segments with Director Bones putting the screws to Dr. Veritas, and the introduction of a new villain with ties to 90s Superman comics are strong, but not as strong as Kara’s scenes. This book feels like a classic X-men book in some ways, and it’s easily one of the best Supergirl comics I’ve ever read.
Corrina: I can discern Houser’s touch in the storytelling, as this does feel like the beginning of a new era, rather than a continuation of Orlando’s view of Kara. It is more character-focused, and more aware that the story protagonist is a teenage girl struggling to fit into a new home. That makes Kara’s sadness at being ostracized more poignant than it otherwise would be. I like the new focus on Eliza and Jeremiah, who have been underused of late, but I’m less enamoured with Director Bones, simply because while he’s nothing physically like Amanda Waller, his character seems to have the same motivation as Waller, and that motivation “let’s lock up anyone with powers” is fairly one-note.
But I would like to see more of high school, and more of Kara, rather than Supergirl, in the story and Houser’s first issue promises exactly that.
Very Good Issues: Ratings 8-10
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #32 – Robert Venditti, Writer; Ethan Van Sciver, Artist; Jason Wright, Colorist
Ray – 8.5/10
Corrina: Arrogant Hero vs Arrogant Anti-Hero
Ray: The third chapter of Bats out of Hell pulls back from the huge scale of last issue and devotes its focus to one specific battle – Hal Jordan vs. the Dawnbreaker. Venditti remains on this issue but shifts nicely from focusing on the entire League to spotlighting Hal Jordan as he usually does in this title. But it’s the Dawnbreaker who really shines, as this creepy, twisted Bruce Wayne gone wrong brings a genuine vibe of horror to this story. The issue opens on a light note, as John, Guy, and Kyle work on rebuilding Coast City while Hal visits with his niece and nephew and bonds with them. But before long, Coast City is shrouded in blackness and Hal is under attack by his twisted counterpart, who uses the dark to ambush him and surround him with phantoms of the other Corps – and his deepest fears.
Ethan Van Sciver on art is always a visual treat, but he has a unique task this issue, working with negative space and covering most of the panels in shadow. Often times it’s just Hal being batted around by unseen forces, which is hard to make compelling, but it works here. Hal creates a strobe light effect that illuminates the battlefield for short period, and surprisingly the action isn’t hard to follow at all. Instead, it has the vibe of a haunted house, with ghosts and horrors coming out of every corner. It’s probably the most unique fight scene I’ve seen in any comic in a while, and while Hal holds his own, we know how this story plays out. The Dawnbreaker remains the most interesting of the Dark Knights, and thus far this is another strong chapter in a crossover that’s blowing Gotham Resistance out of the water.
Corrina: Evil Snot Bruce with a GL ring versus Hal Jordan with the greatest willpower ever. Alas, because this is a middle chapter, Hal will lose, but I did love the strobe effects by the artists, who pulled me into a fight scene with a foregone conclusion. (As for Dawnbreaker, he reminds me too much of Superboy Prime and that’s never a good thing.)
I feel like I should amend my review of every Metal comic to “not my thing.” Now, if we were riffing on classic blues or jazz or 1960s-1980s pop charts, I might amend that.
Wildstorm: Michael Cray #2 – Bryan Hill, Writer; N. Steven Harris, Penciller; Dexter Vines, Inker; Dearbhla Kelly, Colorist
Ray – 8.5/10
Corrina: Evil Justice Leaguers Beware
Ray: I don’t think anyone knew what to expect out of this title, given how little page time the main character had gotten and how slow-paced the parent Wild Storm title was.
But I’m pretty sure they weren’t expecting Metahuman Punisher killing evil mirrorverse versions of DC heroes.
Color me pleasantly surprised. The issue opens in a strange steampunk-influenced world, as Cray is hunted by a trio of mysterious assassins, and dispatches them in brutal fashion. He then whips off his VR helmet and hires the “assassins” – secretly his recruits who he was testing. They failed at killing him, sure, but they impressed him. It’s a clever, action-packed way to set up the main story of the issue – Cray going undercover as a troubled veteran so he’ll get snatched up by the deranged Oliver Queen.
Once Cray is on the island (after a brief meeting with Queen’s sister, who I’m not sure if she’s supposed to be Emiko, Thea, or neither, but she’s evil), the issue becomes an intense cat-and-mouse game of Cray and Queen taking shots at each other and both shrugging off their wounds – until Cray’s powers kick in, and Ollie very much does not shrug off that shot. I was a bit surprised to see this Oliver Queen killed off so quickly, but the ending makes clear that this is not just a one-off villain but the start of something bigger. This creative team does brutal, bloody fight scenes like few else in the business, and two issues in, this is the most entertained I’ve been by a stand-alone Wildstorm book in a very long time.
Corrina: I bailed early on the Wildstorm title, finding it going every which way, without a clue to the type of story that it was going to be. But this series has been clear from the first pages what kind of story it is: it’s a rumination on what makes someone evil, with the theme of when violence should be the choice to stop evil. But all that would be boring on its own: what drives the last two issues is Michael himself, a man who is comfortable with his violence but isn’t comfortable with leveling up in powers, especially when they’re not under his control.
The beginning of this issue gives us action but it also gives us characterization, as an insight in Michael. He’s not exactly a good guy but he’s reliable, intelligent, and confident. The fate of this Oliver Queen came as no surprise but the loss of his arm was still shocking. I’m on board not so much for killing evil members of the Justice League but for Michael’s journey through his new powers.
Justice League of America #18 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Hugo Petrus, Artist; Hi-Fi, Colorist
Ray – 8.5/10
Corrina: Curse Your Inevitable Betrayal!
Ray: After seventeen issues that were pretty much non-stop Superhero action, Steve Orlando returns home for a tense, densely plotted story that calls back to his exceptional work on Midnighter and reintroduces one of the Justice League’s deadliest villains to take on this fracturing team. Batman’s mysterious absence is already causing things to unravel, and the last thing the team needs is the addition of hipster documentarian John Porter, whose examination into the team’s dynamic quickly devolves into him targeting the team’s weak points. Some fail hilariously – Black Canary has no such hesitations, while Lobo just doesn’t care – but others hit home. When he targets all of Ray’s insecurities in a brutal segment, he sends the young, traumatized hero – arguably the team’s most powerful, as well – fleeing out of the base.
And that’s where things go from bad to worse. The JLoA’s open base, with hundreds of visiting tourists, suddenly has its security protocols triggered, and the entire group winds up sealed inside a base designed to keep a rogue Lobo contained. A brief side segment introduces a new hero named Doctor Chaos, who is up against the Might Behind the Mirror – briefly, at least. However, what we’ve known since last issue is the true identity of this “John Porter” – it’s the sadistic master of disguise Prometheus, who is teaming up with Midnighter villain Afterthought, and they’ve infiltrated the Watchtower, getting ready to tear the JLoA apart. This is clearly a return to form for Prometheus, more in line with the Morrison version than the terrible “Cry for Justice” cartoon. And in Orlando’s capable hands, this issue is an excellent set-up filled with tension.
Corrina: The look into the personal lives of our cast was terrific. However, that was nearly ruined, for me, with the terribly obvious use of Porter as a villain to expose divisions. One, he’s a stranger, so why are our characters taking him so seriously (even if he does hit home)? Two, why do all these pointed questions raise no one’s suspicion’s about Porter’s motives? It’s such an obvious set-up that it had the effect of making the characters look stupid, which didn’t ruin the personal insights but certainly lowered my enjoyment of the issue.
Having civilians on base should have made the team even more suspicous but they don’t react until the last minute.
I’ll reserve judgment on Prometheus, who I’ve never enjoyed as a villain, even when written by Morrison. His Midnighter appearance was tolerable, so I’m hoping for Orlando to pull that trick here too.
The Flash #34 – Joshua Williamson, Michael Moreci, Writers; Pop Mhan, Artist; Ivan Plascencia, Colorist
Ray – 8/10
Corrina: More Inevitable Betrayals
Ray: Michael Moreci is on for a two-issue arc that brings back one of the first new characters from the Williamson run – Meena, the brilliant scientist who was Barry’s second in command at the speed force academy. She was a great character when she was introduced, but the hints were pretty heavy from the start that when she came back, she would come back…not exactly right. So this issue’s conclusion is not a big surprise, but the way we get there has some interesting twists. The issue opens with a flashback to Meena’s time at STAR Labs and what led to her getting hit by lightning. Now, she and Barry are reunited, as Barry tries to figure out where she’s been. They’re soon joined by Wally, who is even happier to see his friend and mentor alive again, and Meena reveals she’s been studying Barry – the Negative Speed Force is killing him.
She takes them to an abandoned area where they can practice their powers, and this is probably the issue’s best segment – it’s great to see Williamson and Moreci cut loose and show the Flashes unleashed, using their powers in exciting ways as Barry tries to master his new powers. And Pop Mhan does a great job with the Negative Speed Force, making it feel genuinely wrong and eerie. A brief subplot with Kristen and her friends on the police force introduces another new subplot, but it’s only a diversion before Meena’s true plan is revealed – as she ambushes Barry complete with her team from Black Hole, and they trap Barry with the intent of draining his power. However, there’s one last clever twist at the end of the issue that shows exactly what her agenda is – or does it? This isn’t the most plot-heavy issue, but Moreci steps in with ease and delivers another strong outing for the Flash.
Corrina: I’d have liked to see more of Wally and Meena’s reunion, as that was (by far) the more interesting relationship that Meena had with the other Flashes, while her romance with Barry seemed more along the lines of ‘we have similar powers and adrenaline rushes, let’s see what happens.” Having read the previous issues, the story question was how fast Barry might see through Meena’s deception.
Or was it a deception? Williamson has a nice habit of unpredictable plotlines, so we’ll see. I will be happy to see the end of the Negative Energy Flash, no matter how this turns out.
Decent Issues: Grades 7-8
Gotham City Garage #3 – Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, Writers; Aneke, Artist; Kelly Fitzpatrick, Colorist
Ray – 7/10
Ray: I’m not really sure what it is lately with DC and turning inherently heroic Bat-characters into stooges of fascist regimes, but now it’s Barbara Gordon’s turn in the third issue of Lanzing and Kelly’s post-apocalyptic biker AU. In this world, she works as Oracle for Governor Luthor’s regime, and is in league with his ruthless enforcer Batman. Which…no, I don’t think so. I’m also not particularly fond of “Oracle” being used by an able-bodied Barbara Gordon, but I do like her steampunk getup complete with robot wings. At first, she’s convinced that Kara killed her father, but by the end of the issue, it’s clear that she’s going to be the first of the members of the “regime” to realize that Luthor is evil and switch sides. Batman, less so.
However, this issue doesn’t really belong to her – it belongs to Harley, who it is revealed was actually the person behind developing the “ridealong” mind control chips that turned the city into Luthor’s slaves, after she was eventually kidnapped. But after meeting one of the victims of the chip – who I believe is now her sort-of boyfriend, a version of the Joker who’s more of a harmless goof – she rebelled and sabotaged some of the victims, turning them a little crazed but free. And she does it every year, creating Joker riots in the city that Batman quickly puts down. But it’s an intriguing take on Harley that gives her a unique purpose in this AU. I just wish this title felt like it had more of a focused take on this universe. Right now, it feels more like sketches than anything else.
Corrina: The Oracle storyline, I suspect, was to setup up both of Jim’s daughters becoming heroes. I guess their eventual reunion will be nice and I do like the idea of all the female heroes teaming up to (eventually) take down Luthor and Evl Batman. But, so far, the storyline has more potential than is seen in the execution.
Harley’s story is better, providing new motivations and backstory for Harley Quinn, but also keeping her essential self intact. Seems it’s hard to alter her personality, no matter what dimension we’re in.
Scooby Apocalypse #19 – JM DeMatteis, Keith Giffen, Writers; Writers; Dale Eaglesham, Andy Kuhn, Artists; Hi-Fi, Colorist
Ray – 7/10
Ray: This is probably the best issue of Scooby Apocalypse yet, a disturbing, psychologically driven horror story with the most intriguing monster yet in this series. Yet, at the same time, it can’t quite escape from its roots. This issue picks up with the gang in Halcyon, a seemingly idyllic small town that first treated them like enemies and then welcomes them. But when Cliffy befriends a little girl, and she suddenly regrows his arm for him (side note, I barely even realized he was an amputee until now – so little was made of it), and he panics, they’re abruptly thrown out of the town by the sheriff at gunpoint. Most are happy to move on, Daphne wants to go back and confront them – but Cliffy wants to go back and find his friend.
What happens when he gets there is something right out of the Twilight Zone, as the only person he finds is this mysterious little girl. No people, no town. It turns out that none of the town was real, except in her mind. The nanites changed her, allowing her to keep her mind and gain these powers – but also essentially turning her into a grotesque zombie. What ensues is easily the darkest moment of the series, and it would probably work really well in a title that wasn’t a Scooby Doo revamp. Still, credit to the creative team for trying something new here. The backup, focusing on Secret Squirrel, finds him out of commission and as such brings in his ally – Morocco Mole. This title is gonna do its thing.
Corrina: It’s a measure of the issues with this title is that it can produce a better Twilight Zone story than a Scooby-Doo story.
Cannot Be Saved: Grades 6 and Below:
Harley Quinn #31 – Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Writers; John Timms, Artist; Alex Sinclair, Colorist
Ray – 5/10
Ray: It’s the last act of the long-running Palmiotti/Conner run, and it seems like it’s going to be ending on a downer note for the character and the readers. Last issue showed Harley drop out of the Mayoral race at the last minute, after being blackmailed by the Mayor, who has kidnapped Mason and is threatening to kill him. So this issue is a very dark, action-packed issue where Harley mounts a last-ditch attempt to save him – with a shocking downer ending. After Harley assaults the Mayor live on stage, she’s arrested but is soon sprung by Chief Spoonsdale. Before she’s released, Red Tool and Tony team up to track down the location of Madison Berkowitz and the kidnapped Mason. Harley promises to bring Mason back safely, says goodbye to Ivy, and heads off on a road trip with Harley Sinn.
I will say, the segments involving Harley Sinn were surprisingly among the issue’s best. It’s easy to forget that Harley is actually a brilliant and talented therapist, and Sinn is little more than a damaged daddy’s girl who has been abused and discarded through most of her life. Although she was my least favorite villain at the time she was introduced, Harley’s compassion for her made a lot of sense and won me over a bit to the character. But then, they arrive at the secret hideout where Mason is being held, and things go downhill. They’re ambushed by some old villains, Sinn is shot and tortured, and Harley is forced to watch as Mason is beaten and murdered in front of her eyes. So this entire gauntlet was for nothing, just so Harley could go rogue and back to killing people at the end of the run. Predictable, cliche, and disappointing.
Corrina: Of course, Sinn is a murderer of multiple people, including some of Harley’s friends who came to rescue her–or, at least, Sinn severely injured them. Harley manipulating Sinn, absolutely. The story asking me to find Sinn interesting for her struggles? Nope.
This issue is brutal. Though the series has always had a dark streak, because it is about a super-villain/anti-hero and not a hero, in this particular chapter, the brutality overrides any of the humor that makes Harley’s story interesting and palatable. I’ll reserve judgment on the ending until next month, just to see if it’s a fake out, but what started so promising, as a Harley-style satire on politics, has devolved into a grim mess.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #16 – Scott Lobdell, Writer; Dexter Soy, Artist; Veronica Gandini, Colorist
Ray – 4/10
Ray: Last issue ended on an ambiguous note, as Batwoman and her team defeated the Outlaws and announced that they’ll call “her” to take custody of them. “Her” is now revealed to be Amanda Waller, who Batwoman is apparently fine with. To be clear, this means Kate Kane – a member of the Bat-family – just turned over Batman’s adopted son to a sadist known for putting brain bombs into the heads of villains and forcing them to kill for her. That’s character derailment of an order you’ve got to work pretty hard to reach. The first half of the issue is devoted to the Outlaws in the custody of the Suicide Squad. Jason Todd being held by Captain Boomerang didn’t do much for me, but Artemis being psychoanalyzed by Harley Quinn had some funny moments, even if it devolved into fighting way too quickly.
By the time they escape and find Bizarro (who has been having tea with Waller and discussing pressing threats), this issue is over half gone already and very little has happened. Then it’s explained why Bizarro has managed to get Waller’s attention – he’s trying to help her prevent a massive natural disaster that will be caused by a series of abandoned military bases. And who abandoned those bases? In a name you never expected or wanted to hear again, we get a reference to Lobdell’s creation Harvest, from the horrible Teen Titans and Superboy runs. I don’t think bringing up the absolute worst element of the New 52 was really a good idea, but Lobdell gonna Lobdell. We got good Lobdell for 15 issues, but New 52 Lobdell was always lurking. Next issue will be an Outlaws/Squad team-up, but I’m hoping after that we get back to some quality storytelling like the start of this arc.
Corrina: A note: I have bailed on this comic. Ray will be handling all future reviews.
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #16 – Julie Benson, Shawna Benson, Writers; Roge Antonio, Artist; Marcelo Maiolo, Colorist
Ray – 5/10
Corrina: Expectations Too High?
Ray: Last issue started a fairly intriguing storyline, where all the men of Gotham were felled by a mystery virus, leaving the female heroes – and villains, and antiheroes – to try to figure out a cure before it was too late. Some character glitches aside, it was a fun issue with a ton of guest stars. Unfortunately, this issue takes that plot in the most predictable direction possible and gives it a political sheen that really doesn’t work. As Amanda Waller takes control of Gotham from its hapless interim mayor, the various costumes meet and form a plan of action. There’s some fun moments in the early going, from the banter between the heroines to Ollie playing a hapless man-in-distress and accidentally luring out a villain in the process. I also liked Selina briefly looking in on a sick Bruce.
But once the villains are revealed, the issue takes a different direction that doesn’t work at all. It seems that the virus is man-made, created by a group of radical feminist caricatures called the Daughters of Gotham. They view men as inherently dangerous and unworthy of life, and are aiming to wipe them out to create a paradise for women. This leads to the rest of the issue becoming an awkward combination of strawman feminist dialogue straight out of a right-wing parody, combined with Batgirl and the other heroines awkwardly left to argue “Not all men”. Comics doing social commentary is good, but when it falls flat – like here, or in the recent Captain America run – it really falls flat. Shame, because last issue had some promise, but the story’s off the rails now.
Corrina: This issue should be a blast, similar to the great issues of Wonder Woman during the Emperor Joker storyline that included basically every single DC heroine.
But it’s undercut time and time again by frustrating narrative choices. First, Waller’s takeover of Gotham is rushed and brings a character who should operate in the shadows into the spotlight. But it gets worse, as the narrative bends and breaks over the need to somehow make straw-feminists responsible for the virus. It becomes a treatise on what kind of feminist a person should be and it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant to read and it sorta puts our heroes on the wrong side, as theyy take up the #notallmen side, Instead of an anti-violence/have compassion angle, our heroes are like “yeah, feminists are evil.” Ugh. This book keeps taking concepts I love and executing them poorly.
Titans #17 – Dan Abnett, Writer; Minkyu Jung, Penciller; Mick Gray, Inker; Blond, Colorist
Ray – 4/10
Corrina: Curse Your Inevitable…Ah, Nevermind.
Ray: This title has gone steadily downhill since its inception in Titans Hunt, and the intriguing cast of reunited characters has given way to an endless parade of angst and over the top battles. This issue finally reveals the mysterious, all-powerful villain that’s been hunting them since the beginning of the series, and it’s…evil future Donna Troy. Now, Donna Troy has been in one confusing story after another since she was literally created accidentally when the writer of the original Teen Titans didn’t realize that “Wonder Girl” was just Wonder Woman flashback stories. So another alternate Donna is not needed, especially when her motivation for going evil is one of the dumbest things I’ve read in a long time.
Being immortal is hard, sure, but waiting for the last of your friends to die and then realizing “Wait, I’m not a human. I’m just going to kill everything” makes Donna seem like she was never actually much of a hero at all. So we’re essentially back to where we were in the awful Finch Wonder Woman run, where Donna was a violent serial killer. She taunts the other Titans about how she dies, yells a lot at her heralds, and essentially acts like a typical evil cosmic villain. When the focus shifts away from Donna, such as in the segments involving young Wally trying to revive OG Wally, it can have a few decent moments. But those are few and far between, and this evil “Troia” is easily the worst antagonist this series has had so far.
Corrina: From the soap-opera-ish moments that substitute for real drama to the issue-long-angry rhetoric from supposedly future Donna, this issue is simply unpleasant to read. I realize it’s calling back to several eras of Titans comics with Troia and “Who Is Donna Troy?” but this is ridiculous. That it also relies on the single worst new origin story for a Titan, Donna’s creation as a weapon of evil in an arc of Wonder Woman that’s best forgotten, is just another nail in the coffin for this title. More dirt is thrown on the grave with Troia’s motivation of “well, you all die anyway.” Huh???
Wonder Woman #34 – James Robinson, Writer; Sergio Davila, Penciller; Scott Hanna, Mick Gray, Eber Ferreira, Inkers; Romulo Fajadro, Jr., Colorist
Ray – 4/10
Corrina: Inevitable Betrayal #3 This Week
Ray: So, four issues into this run, we finally get a better picture of where this run is heading…and it’s not good. The good news is, early worries about making this Wonder Woman run all about a man were probably unfounded. Jason gets the focus this issue, but it’s clear that he’s not going to be the focus going forward. But this issue is more than enough of him, and it doesn’t help that his story unfolds in the most predictable way possible. The issue opens with a flashback to his first day on Themysrica, where he’s spirited away by the Amazons and given to Glaucus, an immortal fisherman who raises him as his own. In the present day, Diana and Jason are reunited at last, and after a brief encounter with his cartoonish shipmates, they go off to compare notes and try to bond.
It’s not that Jason is a bad character in these segments, it’s that he’s so boring. He’s every single aw-shucks beefcake you’ve ever read, as they talk about their childhoods, compare powers, discuss the direction they’ve chosen to take their lives. It’s like watching an awkward family reunion, except they’re flying. Diana fills him in on Grail’s plot, the sun sets – and then Jason suddenly pulls a heel-turn. He announces he feels nothing for Wonder Woman, and in fact is in league with Grail and is going to help her kill Diana. He then reveals he has the power to turn into living water, and the issue ends with Diana at the mercy of the two villains. I knew Jason was either going to die or turn evil, but this is abrupt and predictable, even for this plot. If there’s any hope for this run, this entire plot needs to be wrapped up as soon as possible, but I’m not optimistic.
Corrina: The idea of Jason was uninteresting, even at the beginning, but he could be written in a way that might have made him more palatable. This is not that. This is yet another villain spouting off his philosophy and being smugly superior. I’d say “what a waste” but the concept of Jason was lousy already. This just made it worse. And, to get that betrayal, they had to make Diana not as smart as she should be. Diana is optimistic and hopeful and trusts in people, yes. But not without reasons—see her interactions with Veronica Cale in Rucka’s arc, where she wonders at the woman’s hidden motivations for winning a “date” with Diana.
Here, Diana is simply “oh, wow, brother!” :sigh: This arc cannot end fast enough.
Superwoman #16 – K. Perkins, Writer; Stephen Segovia, Penciller; Art Thibert, Inker; Hi-Fi, Colorist
Ray – 6/10
Corrina: Same Old Lana
Ray: The final arc of this series debuts a threat with ties back to the original arc of the series, in the form of Midnight – a malevolent artificial intelligence that is targeting every major character close to Superwoman – and eventually, the citizens of Metropolis itself. The issue opens with Lois – a former Superwoman herself – collapsing in the Ironworks after being attacked by Midnight, surging with electricity and speaking in binary code. Natasha and Traci are able to decipher her speech and figure out it’s a message from Midnight. Meanwhile, Midnight has kidnapped countless people, including John Henry, and is suspending them in a surreal purple void.
There are some creepy scenes and great visuals in this issue, but the overarching problem is that Midnight turns out to be just an extension of a year-old storyline. She’s an artificial intelligence created by the power surge Lana used to defeat Lena Luthor in Jiminez’ storyline, and that makes everything she’s done Lana’s fault in a sense. This feels like just another way to give Lana an insecurity crisis in the last act of her story. And that’s the problem with this title. Contrast Lana Lang’s story as a superhero struggling with her own inner demons with Jessica Cruz. Lana seems to be constantly getting set back, not making any real progress. The supporting cast and visuals in this title have some strong elements, but overall the story just seems to have very little forward motion.
Corrina: Perkins, who came on the series late, isn’t responsible for the main problem, which is that Lana has basically never changed from issue #1–as Ray said, she’s still uncertain, she’s still not fully in control of her powers, and she’s still making rookie mistakes. That lack of character development has been killer for this title. I hate to see the potential in Lana’s story fall flat but it has.
Suicide Squad #29 – Rob Williams, Writer; Barnaby Bagenda, Wilfredo Torres, Artists; Jay Leisten, Inker; Adriano Lucas, Colorist
Ray – 4/10
Corrina: From Bad to Worse
Ray: Another issue of Suicide Squad, more betrayals, and shocks as the two teams continue to unravel the history of Task Force X. This issue, the tone switches from spy thriller to horror movie as the team consisting of Harley, Katana, Croc, and Boomerang accompany Rick Flag Sr. and Karin to the monster’s base on the moon. As soon as they get close, Flag seems to be taken over by a sinister force that turns him into an enraged, red-eyed monster who attempts to scuttle the mission. They’re able to calm him down and free him, but things go from bad to worse in the base, when they encounter a corpse-hopping alien monster and discover more about what led to the deaths of the previous Squad. Some creepy visuals, but it’s essentially a collection of tropes.
The other segment really has even less going for it, as Deadshot has to escort Waller to safety with the help of Enchantress and El Diablo as an army of robots attack them. This segment mainly consists of Deadshot betraying everyone in sight, El Diablo speaking in a cliche of latino speak while torching people, and Enchantress being coerced into using magic to pull them out of the fire. The only really interesting part of this issue is the backstory, where we learn more about the betrayals of King Faraday, and how he used the original Task Force X as disposable hitmen to take out his enemies – and disposed of them when needed. The issue does have a few great visuals, particularly on the last page of the main story, but it needs a much better story surrounding it.
Corrina: Ah, we’ve added King Faraday to “any nuance wrecked completely to make him a nasty villain” list of character devolution. He can sit on that shelf next to Waller, I suppose. Me, I won’t be reading this title any longer.
Ragman #2 – Ray Fawkes, Writer; Inaki Miranda, Artist; Eva De La Cruz, Colorist
Ray – 4/10
Ray: You remember the early days of the New 52, where DC was throwing a lot of concepts at the wall? Sure, there were some oddball gems like I, Vampire, but for every one of those, there was an overly gritty, non-sensical reboot of some obscure concept that had been stripped of all its charm. That’s this Ragman relaunch in a pinch, completely losing the heart of the character which was on display brilliantly in titles like Shadowpact. Instead of essentially being an updated version of the Golem, in which a Jewish man inherits an enchanted suit of rags that protects the world against evil, here he’s a corrupt IDF veteran who steals the rags from a tomb and gets possessed by an ancient evil.
This issue doubles down on the horror elements of the first issue, frequently switching to the disturbing visuals he experiences and debuting the first major villains – a brother-sister pack of demons that are hunting the rags. The only bright spot is that it seems the souls of his brothers-in-arms are still alive in the suit, somehow, giving him a moral grounding as he fights for his soul. But this isn’t Ragman. It’s a magically influenced Venom. Inaki Miranda’s art is quality, especially when the issue delves into demonic horror. Very reminiscent of the artwork on Coffin Hill. But unfortunately, it’s all in service of a title that not only feels like it misses the point of the character, but takes away some great representation in the process.
Corrina: I had hopes for this title but I’ve come around to Ray’s way of thinking. This seems like a completely off take on the character. But he did remind me to go re-read Coffin Hill, so there’s that.
Disclaimer: GeekDad received these comics for review purposes.
All images in this post copyright DC Comics.