Thursday, July 12

DC Comics – July 2012

Reviews, commentary, and general reactions to the DC Comics that were released during May that I received at the beginning of June. [Link to previous month]

Well, friends, I goofed this time! The way I do these monthly write-ups of my DC Comics reading, as I do for most of my review/commentaries, is take notes as I'm reading using the “Notes” app on my iPhone. Then I have those notes to jog my imperfect memory. Guess what – There's no way to retrieve those notes if you accidentally delete them. Unless you've recently backed up your iPhone by connecting it to iTunes, which I rarely do. I wifi most everything I want onto it, and charge directly off the wall. Well, guess what I did about two-thirds of the way through my stack. Yep. … After an afternoon's fruitless search on the Internet, including offering my son $50 if he could figure out a way to retrieve it – hey, I was sure it wouldn't be the first time I'd make this mistake – I finally had to admit I was screwed. This is a definite flaw, I think, in the official “Notes” app. I've since found a separate Notes app that keeps a trash can from which you can retrieve accidentally-discarded notes, and I've started using it instead.

But what it meant for now was that I have no notes for most of these comics upon which to base any kind of write-up. I'm not going to go through and read them again just for that – heck, I was already way behind due to a family vacation, and I've already received my box with my June issues which I'm ready to start reading. My OCD nature being what it is, I can't start those until I've “retired” last month's comics, i.e., finished this blog post. Therefore the first two-thirds of this is going to be little more than titles, covers, and my customary links to outside blogs.

It's a shame that this was the month that saw not only the debut of DC's “second wave” of New 52 titles, but also two major cross-overs – “Night of the Owls” in the Batman family of titles, and “The Culling” in the “Young Justice” family of titles. Luckily, in the latter cross-over, it's pretty straightforward and the most important part is the final chapter, for which I do have notes and will write a normal paragraph or so on. In the case of the former, well, for “Night of the Owls here is a comprehensive time-line and reading order. It's not actually the order I read them, since I generally read books in the scheduled order of release and by their order in the original Previews solicits. But it gives the gist of the events. As to the “second wave,” I was looking forward to Earth 2 and Worlds' Finest enough that I am going to reread them in full, as I will do for about the fourth or fifth time since Free Comic Book Day at the beginning of May for DC's offering for that next-best-thing-to-Christmas in any comics fan's life.

Starting with that...

Free Comic Book Day: The New 52! #1
Coming Next Year … Trinity War”

This actually has a cover date of June, but who cares. It came out along with the first Wednesday of May's issues, which were cover-dated July. So that's how I'm treating it. It basically serves as a combination teaser for what is apparently going to be DC's first big post-Flashpoint line-wide Event crossover, “The Trinity War,” and preview of the Second Wave titles replacing the six lowest-selling titles of the initial New 52. I was not buying any of the cancelled titles.

In this short teaser, seven multicultural “guardians of magic” judge three whom they call the “Trinity of Sin” – apparently the “Trinity” of the “War,” although traditionally for the past few years the term “trinity” in DC terms has meant Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The Trinity of Sin are: 1) the hooded woman from Flashpoint and the first month of the New 52 titles (as well as at least one other appearance since then), whose name is Pandora. The Pandora; 2) the Phantom Stranger, who appears to be settled now as Judas Iscariot (if I recall, one of the former putative origins); and 3) an unnamed, unrepentent warlord who becomes the new Question. Then, in the midst of the Red Room, a secret repository of super-scientific objects, receiving a signal from Earth 2, showing events (more or less) that occur in Earth 2 #1, it is attacked by a computer virus. At ARGUS, Steve Trevor receives a package with no return address containing a copy of the book on the Justice League, Gods Among Us. Pandora herself raids the Black Room, a secret repository of magical artifacts. Then there is a big quadruple-page fold-out spread providing a widescreen glimpse of the near future and a confrontation between members of the Justice League and other mysterious superbeings, including a new masked, black Green Lantern, with the tag forecasting the “Trinity War.” The balance of the book presents short excerpts from the six Second Wave titles.

Well, despite myself and my preference that DC stay away from the Big Event stunts for a while, I find myself intrigued. There have even been rumors that the black Green Lantern is a replacement for a deceased Hal Jordan – Batman taunts him that he is no Hal Jordan – but I kind of doubt they'd go back to that well again after one stated purpose of the New 52 was to get back to the iconic versions of the main heroes at least (sadly, that didn't extend to the second-generation heroes such as Wally West, Donna Troy, and so forth). I wonder if it's not John Stewart, whom Batman may not have worked with or even met in the post-Flashpoint continuity.

Earth 2 #1
The Price of Victory”

Five years ago – before or after “Earth 1”? – Apokalips invaded Earth 2, under the command of Steppenwolf. A different Superman and Wonder Woman battle the parademons, buying time for Batman to plant some kind of virus in a network of towers. A female Robin is providing him with air support while Supergirl is flitting around the world guarding various platoons of troops setting nukes around towers as backup. We see one of those platoons under the command of Al Pratt. In the midst of battle, the god Mercury appears to Wonder Woman, bearing word that the gods are falling, but that she has given him faith in humans. In quick succession, Wonder Woman and Superman are killed, and Robin witnesses the death of her father Batman as his plan works and the tower network goes down, taking with it the parademons. Supergirl has arrived, and she and Robin perceive a shadowy humanoid figure in the collapsing “energy tube” through which the invaders had been coming. They try to take the figure and vanish with the tube.

All this is narrated in retrospect from five years later – the present – by Alan Scott. Meanwhile, a young wastrel named Jay Garrick sees Mercury fall to Earth before him – prophesying an even greater evil.

This is a good first issue, thematically tied into the opening arc of Justice League. Although these new “Earth 2” heroes are quite different from the Golden Age DC characters, I have a lot of faith in James Robinson's demonstrated love and respect for those iconic progenitors of basically the entire super-hero comic genre. And Nicola Scott's art is beautiful here.

Worlds’ Finest #1

Over dinner in Tokyo, apparently taking up almost directly from Huntress #6, Helena Wayne discards her Helena Bertinelli ID. Karen makes reference to the Fukushima Disaster, presumably a parallel event to what happened in our world. She has recently purchased a Japanese research lab for its experimental Quantum Tunneler, which she believes offers hope for she and Helena to return home to their Earth. It's interesting how quickly we see the differing attitudes of Helena and Karen, that Helena is accepting of their exile while Karen is trying to get home, to the point that she's willing to “break seven of the Ten Commandments to do it.” Anyway, they get an alert that the lab has gone up in flames and rush there. The QT has itself survived, apparently, but Karen takes a new heroic identity as “Power Girl” as they attack the saboteur. We also get reference to Karen's appearances from the very beginning of the New 52 in the pages of the new Mr. Terrific title which I was not reading – nor apparently many others, because it was part of the first round of cancellations.

In the middle of all this, we have a flashback to those events of five years ago, with Helena Robin and Karen Supergirl plunging into the energy tube chasing Darkseid (presumably), ending up in a hard landing on an Earth not their own. Fifty-nine months ago, Helena has established new ID's for them (and raided Wayne Enterprises funds – would Bruce really miss this?). We find that Lois was “lost … to one of Darkseid's infiltrators …. It crushed Kal ....” By a few weeks ago, Karen has emerged as a science-technology mogul while Helena is quietly acting as a vigilante, the Huntress.

The art – both George Perez in the present, Kevin Maguire in the flashbacks – the story by Paul Levitz – all great. Need I say more?

And now for bare-bones quick hits (and not always even that much) on the issues whose notes I lost:

Action Comics #9
The Curse of Superman”
Executive Power”

This interlude issue presents a tale of Grant Morrison's President Obama Superman – well, not literally Obama, of course – first introduced way back in Final Crisis. I'm not quite sure what the purpose was, but it was pure Grant Morrison, and in the second story we got a glimpse of what having a president with Superman's powers might be like – and energetic debate between him and the Wonder Woman analogue about how his very holding the office constitutes a flouting of the U.S. Constitution he is sworn to uphold, much less what he's doing in that story. It's at the very least interesting commentary.

Justice League International #9
Into the Firestorm”

O.M.A.C. is brought in, first as an opponent, then becoming an ally – just in time for the “Continued in Firestorm #9!” notice. Joy. I don't read Firestorm.

Detective Comics #9
Night of the Owls: The Owls Take Over Gotham”

8:26 pm: See aforementioned time-line.

Two-Face in 50/50”

Batwing #9
Night of the Owls: You Have Been Judged Unworthy”

An 1856 prelude, then 4:30 pm: See aforementioned time-line.

Stormwatch #9
The Da Vinci Coda”

Teen Titans Annual #1
The Culling, Part One”

See write-up for Teen Titans #9 below.

Includes several pages of “Overview” and sketches, with a “Map of the Colony.”

Superboy #9
The Culling, Part 2: Lost Claws!”

See write-up for Teen Titans #9 below.


Batman #9
Night of the Owls”

7:51 pm: See aforementioned time-line.

The Fall of the House of Wayne, Part 1 of 3”

Turns out Alfred's father did not want his son to follow in his footsteps as the Waynes' butler.

Batman and Robin #9
Night of the Owls: Robin Hears a Hoo”

7:38 pm: Yep, it's just Damian here! See aforementioned time-line.

Batgirl #9
Night of the Owls: In the Line of Fire”

1944 prelude, then 6:07 pm: See aforementioned time-line.

One observation I remember noting was that I should bring the cover to Fanboy Wife's attention as a new pose for her “Superhero Yoga” ….

Demon Knights #9
In: The City Stalked by Death”

Legion Lost #9
The Culling, Part 3: Unbeatable”

See write-up of Teen Titans #9 below.


Justice League #9
The Villain's Journey, Chapter One: The Call For Adventure”

Wonder Woman #9
The Dearly Beloved”

Supergirl #9
Like Daughter”

Batwoman #9
To Drown the World, Part Four”

More fun and games with incomprehensibly non-linear story-telling. Sometimes such a structure can have a point – Christopher Nolan's Memento comes to mind. More often – and here – it seems like a conceit.

Birds of Prey #9
Night of the Owls: Gangland Style”

Prelude from 1842, then 8:22 pm: See aforementioned time-line.

Nightwing #9
Night of the Owls: The Gray Son”

Intercutting stories of Dick Grayson's great-grandfather William Cobb and Nightwing's 8:22 pm battle with the Talon who once was Cobb. See aforementioned time-line.

And this is where I accidentally deleted my notes for all the preceding. My notes for the rest were made subsequent to that catastrophe. So, back to my normal verbosity....

Catwoman #9
Night of the Owls: Mirrors Come in All Sizes”

Prelude from 1665: A Talon loses his knives, is censured, and put in cold storage … to be brought out on the Night of the Owls. Present, 5:24 pm ff.: Catwoman and Spark are staking out the Penguin to steal the knife that he has that they need to make the set from last issue complete. Of course, that inevitably brings a confrontation with the Talon sent to assassinate Penguin … which just happens to be the one who lost the knives in the first place. During the battle, Catwoman perceives his damaged nature – similar to her own – and sympathizes enough to leave his corpse for Batman respectfully with the complete set of knives after Penguin has managed to blow its brains out. But Penguin acknowledges his debt to Catwoman – which I'm sure will come back sooner rather than later.

Legion of Super-Heroes #9

The Legion has been stretched thin with the threat of the returned Fatal Five and so forth. Brainiac 5 is obsessing over the post-Flashpoint closure of Time Travel, but Harmonia is discouraging him from pursuing it. Mon-El checks on Takron-Galtos that Validus is still incarcerated (what exactly is the status of Validus these days? – any connection with the Ranzz-Ardeen twins?). Brainiac 5 and Dream Girl are abducted by a Dominion raid, but then the Legionnaires find themselves forbidden by the United Planets from mounting a rescue because there is no conclusive evidence that this was an act by the Dominion government itself. Star Boy quits the team in anger, vowing to rescue them himself.

A couple of observations: On page 4, Francis Portela draws Dream Girl in a very Mike Grellish martial arts pose. – I imagine this is not the first time Ultra Boy misjudges the timing of his switch from strength to invulnerability in mid-punch – “Gotta time this. One-Two-Three – power switch! … [WHAM] … Damn – Close but not quite. Sore knuckles and a broken bone” – but I don't remember such a point being made of it.

Batman, Incorporated #1
Leviathan, Part One: Demon Star”

Grant Morrison is back! – on the last arc of what will by the time it ends be a seven- or eight-year saga. At least that's what he says, and given the fact that he's now more focussed on Superman – I think he's probably being truthful except for possible individual stories. It has been a ride.

Exactly how this fits in with what went before, pre-Flashpoint, is anybody's guess. How much of the first run of Batman, Incorporated, even of that last special issue that came out post-Flashpoint but was in-your-face pre-Flashpoint continuity, carries over has been a point of debate/contention that ultimately will only be resolved by what we see here unfolding on the page. Really, it's all up for grabs. Well, whatever Morrison decides to grab!

Anyway: How to summarize? Talia's put a bounty on Damian, and a small-time hood seemingly collects – but now needs to join Leviathan because Batman's hot on his trail. There are references to Batman's coming back from the dead – in those terms – as well as Damian's time with Dick Grayson. The Dead Heroes Club that Batman has assembled in secret, off the radar, to thwart Leviathan includes Batwing. So when does this take place? Typically, the issue begins with a cryptic scene set one month in the future, when an obviously broken Bruce Wayne standing in a rainy cemetery, ordering Alfred to “Tell the others it's over.... … Batman. … All of it. … This madness is over.” Whereupon they find themselves surrounded and what may be Commissioner Gordon declaring, “Bruce Wayne! … You're under arrest! … Hands in the air!

Aquaman #9
The Others, Chapter Three”

Black Manta attacks Prisoner, a soldier on a US base in Germany who seems to be able to channel his old battalion's abilities and psyches – which torment him. He's obviously a member of the Others. In the Amazon Rainforest, Aquaman and Ya'wara fight off an attack, she demonstrating ability to control jungle animals like Aquaman does sea life – but to different sound effects. They discuss the need to run down the other Others.

Meanwhile, Mera is interrogating Shin. He tells her that he helped Tom and Arthur Curry to understand Arthur's abilities, but was rebuffed when he wanted to go public with his findings. He had therefore allied himself with Manta in order to get a sample of Arthur's blood. Tom Curry died of a heart attack during the attack, however – and Arthur killed Manta's father in retaliation.

I doubt that's really what happened, but if each party believes that's the case, it's a rather nifty inversion of the old history where the enmity between Aquaman and Black Manta became a blood feud when Manta murdered Arthur Jr., Aquababy (the whole 1970s saga is reprinted in last year's Aquaman: Death of the Prince).

Superman #9
Secrets & Lies”

In a sequence that again seems more like the old Superman than we've had in a while, Superman saves a Russian submarine from sinking. Of course, it seems that the sub contains some secret that causes the Russian officers to rather rudely send Superman on his way. Clark is challenged by Lois on why he's been incommunicado of late. She also rejects a blogger's claims to have proof of Superman's secret identity. Said blogger manages to get Morgan Edge to air the claims anyway. Superman is fighting a new villainess (? – I assume) named Anquish when he sees his identity revealed publicly on TV to be – Spence Becker – !?

Batman: The Dark Knight #9
Night of the Owls: I Can No Longer Be Broken”

Wow! David Finch actually pencilled the interiors this time. (Last issue he didn't, remember – and still had his name prominently on the cover.) I guess when he did this issue's cover, however, he must have been under the impression that Red Robin was finally going to have a part in a Batman tale. Uh … no. His appearance in a single panel at the end of the book – literally at the end of the Night of the Owls – looks like an afterthought insertion to me, maybe to justify using the cover. If so, it fails.

10:55 pm: We see mayoral candidate and Bruce's friend Lincoln Marsh kill the Talon who has fatally stabbed him, a scene which picks right up in one of the earlier books. Here it is followed by the flashback story of the Talon that killed Marsh, a Talon that had grown old and sloppy, and had been retired after encountering a giant bat years ago (Batman – why would he not remember this earlier encounter?), inspiring fear in the undead killer. As they say in the movie, however, Lincoln kills the Talon only mostly dead – it revives in time to see Batman again, and this time to realize he's just a man. They fight, the Talon is defeated – but escapes into a sewer....

Justice League Dark #9
The Black Room”

A new team, a new direction, and as it says on the cover, “new threats!” Overall, the effect is, oddly enough for a book titled “Dark,” a somewhat brighter feel. It definitely is a more straightforward story.

Constantine leads the group now, at the behest of Steve Trevor and ARGUS (i.e., for the promise of access to the Black Room), against Felix Faust to recover a new magical artifact. His companions are Zatanna and Deadman, with the addition of Andrew Bennett the Vampire and Black Orchid, the latter explicitly ARGUS's agent to keep Constantine honest. It is ARGUS that has already dubbed them the “Justice League Dark.” In the end, it turns out the artifact Faust had acquired was a tesseract – better known as The Books of Magic. I maybe need to go back and finally read that Neal Gaimon trade paperback I've had for several years but never gotten around to.

Teen Titans #9
The Culling, Part 4: If This Be Victory – !”

It turns out that because of the Notes wipeout, this is the only chapter of “The Culling” I'm giving any in-depth attention to. Actually, it doesn't matter. I think this is the only one that makes any difference – if any do, since was there really any doubt that the various groups would emerge from the experience more or less intact?

In Parts 1-3, basically you had a running battle getting the players to where they are now.  In this issue, while the Teen Titans continue to battle Harvest to give her time, Caitlin Fairchild manages to escape with a group of the imprisoned metahuman teens, and the time-lost Legionnaires manage to overload the Power Sphere and blow up the Crucible. The Legionnaires escape the blast in a Time Bubble that Gates had found in one of the other parts. The Titans escape by burrowing downward and then back up to emerge on what seems like a prehistoric island. Could be worse – they could have emerged under a couple thousand feet of ocean! Harvest also escapes.

Who or what Harvest is remains a mystery. He claims to be a human, working for the greater good. He hints that he's from the 31st century, and definitely uses that era's technology such as the Power Sphere and the Time Bubble. … And it's pointed out to us again that Yera is working toward a different agenda from her companions. … One thing I think remains unanswered at the end is, where is Skitter?

Batman Annual #1
First Snow”

The story, which substantially retcons the origin of Mr. Freeze while paying homage to tradition, is bookended by sequences over thirty years ago. In the first, the child Victor Fries' mother falls through the ice on a frozen Nebraska lake.

Although the title of the story does not carry the same interior title to match the cover masthead, this is another “Night of the Owls” event, beginning at 12:02 am. The Court of Owls stole Mr. Freeze's technology. Freeze escapes Arkham, going to the Iceberg Lounge and the Penguin to get guns, then off for revenge on the man who “stole Nora,” the wife whose revival from suspended animation has been Freeze's main motivation. He considers that man to be Bruce Wayne. In another flashback to six years ago, we find out that soon after his return to Gotham City (what does this do to his time-line? See here for a deft solution) Bruce is wanting to get Waynetech out of cryonics, threatening Fries' secret project to thaw Nora. In the present, Freeze find's Nora's cryochamber, but there's something wrong. Nightwing and Damian are waiting for him. They fight – is this the first time Damian's encountered Freeze? Bruce calls Freeze to the penthouse. In flashback, sometime after the previous one, Bruce confronts Fries over his secretly maintaining the Nora project, precipitating the accident which created Mr. Freeze. My initial reaction at this point was that Bruce was being incredibly callous, but wait.... It turns out that Nora Fields was already in cryonic suspension before Fries ever “met” her – she was the subject of his doctoral thesis and became his obsession to the point that he created the fantasy: “Mr. Freeze out to save his dying wife from the cruel businessman who took her away. … But we both know that's a farce, Victor. She's old enough to be your grandmother, for God's sake.” He's really in love with the Cold. Then Batman infuses Freeze's armor with the compound stolen and tested by the Owls – which begins thawing him.

In the closing flashback, we see that Victor's mother had not died in the lake, but suffered severe brain damage. And some time later, Victor wheeled her through a hole in the ice of that same lake, to drown.

Excellent story.


The Ravagers #1
Children of Destiny”

Caitlin Fairchild and the kids from the Crucible emerge in Alaska. Well, I think that's what it says. But haven't other comics located it in the Antarctic? <Sigh of exasperation> Anyway, the group immediately starts fragmenting. And Rose Wilson is chasing them, almost immediately killing the first couple that break off. Caitlin promises those who stay with her that she'll do everything she can to make things right with them. But when they encounter a group of refugee guards who also escaped the destruction of the Crucible, the abused metahuman kids attack and almost kill them. Caitlin manages to talk them down, just in time for Rose to show up. Caitlin and company escape by taking a suicidal plunge....

I was surprised, after reading reviews even worse than the one linked here, that I actually kind of liked this. I'm going to keep getting it digitally, at least for now. … I find it interesting that the metahuman teen called Lightning, who has a brother called Thunder, is named Ayla, especially given the other 31st-century connections that there were in “The Culling.”

I, Vampire #9
Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over)”

Several weeks after the previous issue, Andrew Bennett and his army of vampires are encamped in Utah, subsisting on cattle. On one of his runs into town to purchase cattle for his army, Andrew has an altercation with the locals, who think something weird is going on. “Some people're saying y'all are vampires. … You're probably more the 'Twilight' kind than the '30 Days of Night' kind, though, huh?” Whereupon a perfect comeback is missed. Andrew should have responded, “I don't sparkle, do I?” Instead, we get, “There's no such thing as vampires. … Besides, look – the sun's up and I'm not on fire.” Anyway, his followers are getting restless living on cattle. He challenges any of them to try to supplant him. Mary takes him up.

Also, the professor and Tig have made their way to the castle of the Van Helsings, and the issue ends with them all winging toward Utah.

Now that we're past the crossover, which I didn't enjoy as much, this issue returns to the quality of the earlier issues, which I liked surprisingly much. I think this title is quite underappreciated. I fear it won't be around for long – Andrew already has popped up in this month's Justice League Dark.

Superman Family Adventures #1

I'm not sure I'm going to always include this in my write-ups, but I do want to bring notice to it this time. This is a kids' title, replacing the much-loved Tiny Titans which I found to be a delightful romp through an amalgamated DC Universe through the eyes of children, which I always described as “Peanuts with super powers.” It's written and drawn by the same team, Art Baltazar and Franco, but there's a different feel to it. I wonder if it will catch on to the same degree? There are not as much of a chance for off-the-wall DC references, since there will be more truly plot-driven stories, as here.

Lex Luthor attempts to sap Superman's powers into his battle suit, but in battle with Superman, Supergirl, Superboy, and Krypto he only succeeds in sapping part of the superdog's powers into his own pet mouse – which turns against him, creating a new super pet. It's a light, quick read that I'll continue getting digitally.

Smallville: Season 11 #7-9

We get something of a continuation of the “alien = bad?” story that I'm really getting tired of in DC and Smallville of late. Ollie and Chloe are checking the site of the crashed “alien” ship, finding it to be manufactured by Queen Industries – which is the first Ollie knows of it. I get the impression it's really from the future. Lois visits the wife of Hank Henshaw who is keeping vigil over his ravaged body. The wife blames Superman (another trope I find a bit tiresome). Superman visits Luthor and finds himself maneuvered into appearing as the bad guy, wanted for questioning by General Lane. There's a confrontation over Metropolis, and Lois gets caught in the crossfire, Superman barely saving her right in front of her father. Luthor continues his debates with Tess, claiming he knows how to be rid of her. But he needs to test the procedure first – which he is going to do on Henshaw, transferring his consciousness into a robot body. As they continue searching for who or whatever came down in the ship, Chloe and Ollie talk, then realize there's someone with them. When Henshaw realizes what Luthor has done to him, he goes berserk and this triad of issues ends with him lifting Lex off the ground by his throat, “Why . Did . You . Do . This . To . Me ?!” And Prof. Hamilton calls Superman....

And that's it, quite a bit late, but Thanks for reading anyway.... Cheers!

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