[ Since last month was DC's “Zero-month” and so many titles continue stories directly from cliffhangers at the end of the preceding month, here is a link to that preceding month's round-up. ]
As usual, before launching off into my comments on the comics themselves, here are a few notes on newsworthy developments in the amazing world of DC Comics.
First off, joining the previously announced Justice League of America – for which the first issue is going to have at least 52 variant covers (the main cover as shown, with a take-off of the raising of the flag over Iwo Jima with the US flag, of course, with variants of the fifty states' flags plus Puerto Rico … so far I've not been able to find the inevitable photoshop of the Confederate Stars and Bars version; but the Mississippi state flag includes it, which has already raised eyebrows – I'm a son of the South and I have no problem with it) – will be a new “cosmic” title, Threshold; Katana starring the character most recently in Birds of Prey; and Justice League of America's Vibe in response to overwhelming popular demand (not really). All of these are to debut in January and February. None of the latter three do I intend to get; only Threshold may I try out. The titles cancelled to make way for these are G.I. Combat; Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE; Grifter; Blue Beetle; and Legion Lost, only the latter of which was I getting. I presume the previously announced but yet to be titled new Superman book will fill out the magic number of 52, but that won't be coming until later; according to Wikipedia, its place will be held for the month of February at least by Young Romance: A New 52 Valentine's Day Special #1. (But see two paragraphs below for another announced but not, to my knowledge, scheduled new title.)
Of particular note to myself, although I can't say whether I consider it good or bad, is the announcement that Keith Giffen will be returning (okay, I'm taking the very long view here) to art duties on Legion of Super-Heroes in the near future. My assessment will ultimately depend on which Keith Giffen shows up – the artist of the “Great Darkness Saga” era or the artist of the “Magic Wars” era – as well as how much story input he will have. I think I've written this before recently in some context, but Giffen can be a really good writer. Sometimes, however, he tries to be too clever by several halves, thinking he's being funny but for me at least just coming off annoyingly disrespectful of characters whom I love. I'm reminded of a line by Tony Hendra in his Father Joe: “You can only parody what you once loved, and now loathe.” Probably why I've never been a huge fan of parody.
A humorous yet pointed commentary by “snell” of the Slay, Monstrobot of the Deep blog regarding the imminent cancellation of DC's now longest-continuously running title, Hellblazer, to be replaced by a new Constantine book more closely aligned with his appearance in Justice League Dark (i.e., now part of the mainstream DC line rather than under the Vertigo imprint), among other things points out the problematic nature inherent in the multiplicity of Bat-titles running concurrently. I can't not believe the number of different, some arguably superfluous, titles depress to an unknown degree the sales of any individual Bat-book. They definitely crowd out a more diverse range of titles.
Late in my delayed and slow – it's the end of the semester and I've got exams and papers out the wazoo to grade – composition of this post, some really disturbing news hit: Gail Simone announced via Twitter that she had been booted off Batgirl. I first saw it via a Facebook post from Newsarama: http://www.newsarama.com/comics/gail-simone-no-longer-batgirl-writer.html. The Last of the International Fanboys posted a short Facebook comment that partially sums up my own feelings about this: “I'm a big DC Comics apologist but when the writer of one of their most successful books is suddenly given the boot, well, it's worrying.” I went a little further in a comment to his post: “More disconcerting to me than the fact that Gail Simone is leaving Birds of Prey is the utterly disrespectful way she apparently found out about it. Just about the only thing I think I would find more shocking would be Paul Levitz being booted from Legion of Super-Heroes in such a manner. And yet I'm starting to think it's entirely plausible.” In the next few hours, various other comics news outlets broke the story as well, which seems to have caused a bit of a Twitter firestorm as well, according to Bleeding Cool: http://www.bleedingcool.com/2012/12/09/comic-creators-respond-to-gail-simones-firing-by-e-mail-off-batgirl/ . I do not understand DC Comics management these days. This is going to take some time to process, but nothing good will come of their alienating both creators and old-guard fans like me.
I'm sure there's other stuff, but those are the only things I made notes about. So now, back to the main stories (in most cases) …
“Welcome to the Grey!”
Right off we find that the United States of Earth 2 post-Apokolips War has a female President, as she is saved from the Grey engulfing the White House by Wesley Dodds – a Canadian agent of the World Army and but one of multiple gas-masked “Sandmen.” The commander of World Army Intelligence, “Sentinel,” appears to be a Sikh, named Kahn (shouldn't that be “Khan”?). He answers to shadowy figures on monitors – which to my mind is an overused trope just within the New 52. In any case, they watch as the new “Wonders” and the Atom fight each other and Grundy. Green Lantern forms a plan that has him confronting the Grey while entrusting the protection of his body to others. He seems to have learned very quickly about some unexpected new powers. Deep inside the Earth, the Grey tempts him with the prospect of resurrecting Sam. Meanwhile, Sloan is called in by the shadowy figures. Kahn is hostile to him for his past actions, but Sloan informs him that a nuclear strike is already under way to destroy Grundy, sacrificing Washington DC and the new Wonders to save the world. That seems to be Sloan's m.o.
I don't necessarily like the specifics of some of the changes that are being made. Heck, I don't like the specifics of most of the changes that are being made. But I do like the more colorful, sleeker costumes that so far seem to be the norm for the Wonders of Earth 2.
The civilian name of Wildcat is dropped here when it is said that Flash pulled a “Ted Grant” on Atom, from context confirming that Grant is still a boxing champ in this world.
“Three Midnights, Far from Home”
This whole issue is basically individual character studies of Huntress and Power Girl framed by a character moment with both after another session trying to further test and understand Karen's somewhat altered powers – with her suffering the predictably shredded costume. Karen's story has her fighting off an other-dimensional invader who zeroed in on the CERN super collider – with her suffering the predictably shredded business suit. It is possible to overuse this joke.... Helena's story is of thwarting a sniper attacking a women's issues protest on Boston Common.
With Perez ably handling the common framing sequence, guest artist Jerry Ordway delivers a typically solid art job for Karen. I didn't care so much for guest artist Wes Craig in Helena's part. Overall, it was kind of a throwaway issue, but it was pleasant enough. The fact that I love these characters and Levitz writing them goes a long way.
“The Ghost in the Fortress of Solitude”
It's Hallowe'en, and Superman is in the now-Arctic Fortress of Solitude, cataloguing Kandorian artifacts retrieved from their shrunken state with the help of Professor Palmer. He ends up trapped in the Phantom Zone by the first criminal ever imprisoned there – also on Hallowe'en, although on Krypton they could not know it, twenty years before the explosion that destroyed that world. Aided by little Kal-El's dog Krypto (did they really call him that? – Would you name your dog “Eartho”?) (remember how the courageous canine was lost in the Zone 'way back in issue #5?) as well as the Phantom Stranger – who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got sucked into the Zone from Metropolis – Superman by the very force of his will manages to make his escape and re-imprison the criminal. And then he succeeds in rescuing Krypto to boot!
I always like Krypto stories, and Grant Morrison pulls off one of the best in this resolution to the dangling question of what happened to him back on the eve of Krypton's destruction. But we are about to enter the last arc of Morrison's run. I think I repeat myself, but whatever – I'm missing him already!
“A Boy and His Dog”
And guess what! Not surprisingly, Sholly Fisch pulls off a great tale of Krypto in the back-up, a sweet story of how the dog literally shadowed his boy from the insubstantialness of the Phantom Zone for all Kal-El's life, through adventures and quiet times, right up until the present. Well, I guess the five-years-ago present....
So far there's been no reference, I believe, to Krypto in the “real” present of the DCnU. I hope that has no significance other than that Grant Morrison is notoriously close-mouthed about his plans until he brings them about, so even the other writers probably didn't know the Superdog is still part of the story. In particular, wouldn't Supergirl recognise him, and vice versa? If he's still around. I hope he's still around.
Reviews: http://comicboxcommentary.blogspot.com/2012/10/review-action-comics-13.html and ...review-action-comics-13-back-up-feature.html
“Duck and Cover”
Oh happy day! There's a new writer and new artist on Detective Comics, and it is better! The Penguin hires some Hong Kong hit men called the Ghost Dragons to keep Batman busy and distracted while they kill or maim, it doesn't matter which, just delay Bruce Wayne from getting to the opening of the new Martha Wayne Children's Wing of the Neville Community Center, mainly so that the Penguin can poach the naming of the building for his own family. That's a sometime, but in my memory not recently used, characterisation of Oswald Cobblepot – scion of another of Gotham's big families, wanting due recognition as one of the Important People. I didn't read that New 52 miniseries that came out either last year or earlier this year, but from the title Pain and Prejudice I wonder if that worked the same angle. Batman, of course, thwarts the plot against Wayne anyway, but the distraction allows Penguin time to “outbid” Wayne's generous donation that had gained the honor in name of his mother, so the name goes down as Esther Cobblepot Children's Wing.... Whereupon Penguin tries to call off the now-redundant hit. Problem is, the Ghost Dragons have taken that contract and will not stop until it is fulfilled....
One thing I like here is that the new artist actually makes Penguin look human, not like some mega-beaked mutant.
One thing I like here is that the new artist actually makes Penguin look human, not like some mega-beaked mutant.
This is a character piece with Penguin's man Ogilvey subjecting a potential new henchman to an IQ test. But while “smart is what keeps you alive in Gotham[,] / Too smart … That's what'll get you killed. // Because somebody who's too smart will have ideas of their own. / Somebody too smart is going to ultimately prove to be a threat.” BLAM. And that's the end of Martin from Miami.
“A Hard Turn”
Honestly, until I looked at the credits again just now I thought this was the first post-Judd Winick issue. He is leaving, right? I felt there was such “a hard turn” in the story this must be the start of something new.
Looking at the cover, you know the word “bloodthirsty” is going to be used in this review. So I'll get it out of the way. This issue concerns the worrisome rise of a bloodthirsty new cult to a figure known as “Father Lost,” which is tied to an increasing number of blood sacrifices of missing persons, as well as a new female vigilante, Dawn – whom I suspect will turn out to be David's fellow officer, Kia. Which probably guarantees it's not her.
“The Rise of the Demon”
I'm basically just playing out issues until I run out my pre-ordered monthlies and – maybe – start getting it digitally, or maybe even as trades. I strongly feel it will read better in larger chunks. In this issue, a weird, crime-prone block in London is finally explained. Etrigan the Demon was buried there at some time after the Demon Knights era, and he has of late been affecting people with weak minds until one finally invokes him – freeing him. Midnighter and Apollo are there confronting him at the issue's climax. In other news, Stormwatch is still mystified by the Horn, and Harry Tanner is still on the moon with the blonde chick enthralled as he intrigues against the Shadow Lords or whatever they're called.
“A Blade of Memory” – Death of the Family: Prologue
This is, to my surprise, the first issue I read that actually does take up from a two-month-old cliffhanger. Batgirl manages to rally from being stabbed in the side and take down Knightfall, but the latter's standard villain rain tells the story of how Cherise, once a princess of Gotham, witnessed her parents' torture and deaths, even was forced to participate, and went mad. Accused of being her parents' own murderess and confined to Arkham, she there conceived a way to turn Gothams' villains' madness against them, learning the “craft” of madness along the way, before using her father's connections to buy her freedom. She vows to destroy Batgirl, and by the end of the issue, her associates are already building an army of Batgirl's new rogues.
Wow, the recuperative ability of the Bats from deep stab wounds – wasn't Bruce literally impaled through back to front in an early issue of Batman? – strains credulity to the breaking.
I'll say it now and leave it off for the other issues this month that sport it (Batman and Catwoman), but I really hate the die-cut cardboard Joker-mask that serves as an outer cover for this issue. There is an upside, however – I'm spared the banner for Arrow!
“Knock Knock” – Death of the Family
First off, we get a definite statement as to how closely New 52 chronology is tracking with real time, which is to say pretty closely. It's been “one year” since the Joker had his face flayed from his skull. Unheard of since then, he returns with a bang, infiltrates the Gotham City Police HQ, and torments Commissioner Gordon by picking off his officers around him. Then he vanishes before Batman gets there. Batman and his allies confer in time to view a televised threat from the Joker that seems to promise reduplication of his original appearance in Gotham – way back in the real Batman #1 in 1940. But the Joker actually ends up carrying through with a perverse inversion of that debut. He lures Batman back to where it all began according to his much later origin story, with the unknown “Red Hood” falling into a vat of chemicals in the Ace Chemical plant – and into a trap. Harley Quinn, whom I've not seen either in the New 52 since I've not seen the first issue of Suicide Squad, was key to trapping Batman, but she seems remorseful for what's coming. Then a tagged cliffhanger has Alfred hearing a scratching at the door to Wayne Manor, being taken aback by the sight of a two-headed lion cub – and immediately being attacked by the Joker.
This short backup tale gives the background for Harley's appearance in the main story, telling how he tormented her and maneuvered her into the position she need to be to entrap Batman.
This issue sure lays out a lot of promise! I have a lot of faith that Scott Snyder can follow through, though. So far, it does look like this will be an “epic event” in which the ancillary titles such as Batgirl and Catwoman will not be essential to following the main story in this book, which is how it should be.
Reviews: http://batman-news.com/2012/10/10/new-52-batman-13-review/ – And I wish I could say I thought of the obvious fun that can be had with that blasted die-cut outer cover, as Andrew demonstrates.
First off, what does Damien mean by “Another couple of months … /// … and I'll start growing ...” One theory as to how a ten- or eleven-year-old son of Bruce and Talia can fit into a little-more-than-five-years time line for Batman is that his growth was accelerated. But I thought previous issues of mainly this and Batman, Incorporated, had reconciled the chronologies without accelerated growth....
Secondly, what's this pseudoscientific nonsense about temporary gravity anomalies associated with solar eclipses? The only gravitational effect that I know of is increased tidal forces resulting from the necessary alignment of the sun and the moon along a single vector, which is well known and would not send a satellite spinning out of orbit.
It is cool that Batman has a Batrocket to go with all his other toys, though.
Anyway, after a quick trip into space to protect one of Batman's cloaked comsats from said temporary gravity anomalies, Batman and Robin get reports of zombies climbing out of their graves in Gotham, which Batman ejects to investigate. Robin takes the opportunity of Batman and Alfred both being out to steal out of the cave into the sewers on some unknown mission, where he defeats an attack by some mutant lizard thing. Contacted by Batman, he is ordered back to the cave, but upon hearing of the situation on the surface he ascends and is almost immediately attacked by a zombie mob. Or is it a “herd of Walkers”?
The Joker is known to be back in town, but I have no idea how this will fit into the Death of the Family event that it is not tagged with.
On the other hand, maybe the accelerated growth kicked in between pages 15 and 16, which would explain why Damien appears to have grown several years in between. Of course, the change in artists at that point could also explain it....
My introduction to Stormwatch above would work here as well, except in this case I'm running out my pre-orders specifically to Paul Cornell's last issue. I must admit, however, I am losing interest even in his run because I'm finding it very hard to follow and see what point he's trying to make.
In this issue, the Demon Knights are in hell – literally – being tormented in various ways, al part of Etrigan's plan to secure Avalon for Lucifer and buy his own return to higher station in hell. And Etrigan is enjoying his own first freedom in centuries from Jason Blood. Jason, however, is about to kill himself, sending himself to hell in pursuit of his companions, when he is confronted by Mordru and Morgana.
Some kind of cosmic threat is approaching Earth, heralded by a silver guy riding a surfboard – oops, wrong universe – heralded by a red-skinned guy riding a talking space dragon. The red dragon-rider is powerful enough to beat down Wildfire. But 'way more interesting than all that is the revelation that the Echo mole among the Lost Legionnaires is Chameleon Girl when her Echo handler appears with a Time Bubble to warn of some threat to the time stream that is about to be focussed on the Earth. I wonder where they were when the Flashpoint Event was about to happen – although to be fair that has at least been acknowledged in the Legion books, moreso than in the rest of the DCnU books. Other things that we find out is that Tyroc is, according to said handler, fated to die in the 21st-century past and that Wildfire's broken visor will be found as an archaeological relic a thousand years hence in the Arizona desert – which is where, I think, the Time Bubble apppears. There is also a side scene which has Harvest exulting that the time has come that will either save or destroy the world.
This series is winding down to its end, apparently segueing into its closing story arc.
“Law and Disorder”
This transitional issue is symptomatic that this book never seems to get its own footing before being jerked into another cross-over. Two are coming up: This issue leads into Ravagers #5, but there's also the upcoming H'El crossover with the Super-titles. Yahh! It's also very scattered.
Anyway, Jocelyn Lure, mysterious visitor from the future sporting very large and prominent breasts on the cover here, makes a deal with Superboy to find Caitlyn for him in return for him working for her on occasion. We see that her 31st-century map is tracking Superboy, Tellus, and Kid Flash. Not sure what the criterion is. Superboy is also being tracked by the silhouetted figure of H'El, who recognizes that he is not “Kryptonian.” In an interesting link to the Superman titles, Lois Lane dispatches Jimmy Olsen to New York City to get the scoop on this new player sporting the \S/-symbol. Superboy tries to have a “normal” day out with his sexy young landlady who seems oblivious to the fact that someone tried to attack her when they went clubbing. That someone ambushes Superboy and they fight, which Jimmy seems coincidentally perfectly placed to witness. The NYPD gets involved, until Jocelyn extracts Superboy from the fray and teleports him to a surprised Caitlyn and the Ravagers.
Of course now sexy landlady sees that her tenant is one of those metas....
Of course now sexy landlady sees that her tenant is one of those metas....
So pretty quickly after I lost interest in even reading Ravagers as a digital purchase, I am buying at least a couple of hard copies to get this cross-over. When I stop and think about that, I'm not happy.
“Black Diamond Probability – Mission One: Black Ops”
Not sure yet if this book is catching me. It's got an intriguing premise – “The Secret History of The New 52 is Told Here!” Of course, that could also sort of be a description of Stormwatch. I'm kind of feeling like this will ultimately suffer the same fate, decision that reading collections will be more pleasurable. I'm going to give it at least a couple more issues, though.
Anyway, this first mission is a trial-by-fire, a test. There is a running commentary by Lynch, including another bit of narrative introduction to the various characters, which since the same thing was done in issue #0 seems a little redundant. So which is to be considered the real first issue of the series? Sliding an issue #0 into an on-going series can make a brief detour in story-telling without, number-wise at least, interrupting the main flow of the story. Starting a series off with issue #0 at the the same time seems a little stupid if you think too much about it. Anyway, a big floating prison has gone off-grid, and needs to be recovered. Predictably, the collection of individual experts that Lynch has brought together have the inevitable problem acting together as a team. Then, in the prison, they come under attack by a mob of “Eclipso'd” people. From the solicits there seems to be a lot of Eclipso, a second-rate DC villain whom I've never cared for (and don't expect to now), coming in the near future.
I realized something quite annoying in trying to track down information on this series and issue. On the cover, the title is given as “Team Seven” spelled out within a giant stylized “T7.” I read that as the official title indeed being spelled out. Not so – it's a combination of “spelled out word” and “numerical symbol”: “Team 7.” That's how all the various indexing sites have it, and is indeed what the indicia at the back of the book says, which makes it official, I guess. It just was not my first thought.
“World's Finest – II: Stygian Descent”
In the sleek DEO submersible that Batwoman first showed up in at the end of issue #12, she and Wonder Woman penetrate an underwater prison for mythological monsters that include Medusa. They find a charnel house. The Amazonian guards have been slaughtered. They are attacked by dark monster worms of Nyx. In a cutaway, Chase and Director Bones discuss their options if Batwoman is killed, which include recruiting Bette. But Wonder Woman and Batwoman manage to break free. In another cutaway, Jacob Kane and Bette practice meditating and silent inner'loguing, which includes the latter ruminating on the pain she still suffers but hides. Using DEO tech, Batwoman manages to free herself and Wonder Woman, and they emerge in some exterior landscape with a cabin in which is the living but decayed demigod “Pegasus” (should that be Perseus, the mythological foe of Medusa, rather than the winged horse which this is not?).
A few comments. There are interesting parallel inner'logues from the two heroines throughout, largely complemented by JHW3's typically beautiful but typically sometimes confusing art. Batwoman's provides some effective meditation on what it is like to be in the presence of a demigoddess. But once again this book featuring (for this story arc) Wonder Woman does not track well with either the Justice League or Wonder Woman books, especially the latter. For instance, there is no sense here that the Amazons and Queen Hippolyta are dead as in the main book (unless they have been resurrected in the last couple of issues). In what is put forth as a unified DCnUniverse that ostensibly should have some degree of consistence, this is a bit maddening. Frankly, however, this is the Wonder Woman that I find most like the pre-Flashpoint version, therefore my favorite of the New 52 visions.
“Burnt Offerings: A Death of the Family Prelude!”
Someone is tormenting Catwoman with items that were once her friend and fence Lola's. Remember that Lola died as a result of their relationship in issue #2. It's somehow related to a chess-themed score that her new fence gives her. But Selina finds that these giant chess pieces she is moving from location to another enclose captives whose lives are sacrificed when their piece is “killed.” She manages to save one at the end of the issue, who appears to be a child.
Yes that's vague. It's hard to follow in places. I don't know what the point of the story is. It's not hard to guess who the tormenter is given the overall cross-over this issue is linked into. One point, however. Obviously the issues' release order does not necessarily match the reading order, but how much does it matter? At this point it's unclear how closely this story is tied into the main arc anyway.
“The Secret of the Cheetah, Part One”
Okay. The Cheetah is a were-beast, right? It looks like she's butt-naked, except for some bling. … So, my question is: Why don't her nipples show? – Wouldn't they? – What about her genitalia? … I mean, other than the obvious answer! But am I the only one who's wondered this?
I figure this is a question that won't be answered....
Anyway, the story begins implicitly right after the end of the previous issue, with Superman and Wonder Woman lip-locked. But they quickly pull back and both appear conflicted about The Kiss. Then cut to “Five Days Later” when Wonder Woman is having what obviously is just the latest in a long series of confrontations with her one-time friend, now enemy Barbara Minerva, a.k.a. The Cheetah. Over the course of the rest of the story, Wonder Woman (re)tells the story of the Cheetah and the Justice League helps her attempt to save her friends by taking a new tack – track down the South American tribe which is the source of the magical dagger that created the Cheetah. Of course, the Cheetah shows up – and bites and transforms Superman into a male were-Cheetah. Uh-oh.
This story marks the debut of Tony Daniel's art on Justice League. He is loads better as an artist than he proved to be on Detective Comics of late. Even more than usual, he seems to consciously channel Jim Lee, so the transition is just about as smooth as can be. This issue looks great. But writing-wise … this group still seems like a team that does not have the five to six year history that they supposedly have at this point. This – but even more so the previous story arc – really has the feel of the early days of the League.
“On the Outs”
This is a prelude to the upcoming Justice League of America title. Steve Trevor is drowning his sorrows in a bar after having been “fired” by the Justice League. There he's approached by Oliver Queen, who has evidence of a new threat. The story is co-written by Jeff Lemire – I haven't heard; is he involved in writing the series?
“Swear By My Eyes”
Wow. Is there another issue out there that was replaced by #0 last month? – because it sure seems like something's missing. Since issue #12 Batgirl's mission to attain Batman's help has succeeded, he has given the Birds of Prey (and the world, although that's unstated) a cure for Poison Ivy's virus. Moreover, no mention is made of Ivy's fate – although we can take it from Detective Comics that she survived Katana's sword thrust. Or have I missed something altogether?
Whatever, the Birds are still in a weakened state as Katana's sword (which she believes contains the soul of her dead husband, remember) is stolen to lure her to Japan to be tortured to death by the criminal Dagger clan that she betrayed at some time in the past. Against her wishes, the less-than-tip-top Birds follow her to Japan and save her, but by that time the sword has been stolen – again – by a mysterious figure called the Condor.
That latter bit of intelligence is extracted from a captured Dagger by Starling by means of threatened torture: “There's something my Uncle Earl taught me that I've been dying to try,” she tells him, brandishing a knife. “Hold still now! … / I'm trying to keep the optic never intact here, which is the important part. // Anyway, Uncle Earl told me that if you remove an eye from its socket and keep the optic nerve attached … / … you then turn the eye to face the other eye, then there will be all kinds of groovy special effects goin' on in your brain!” – “Condor! Condor! The Condor has it!” screams the captive. – ! – But there's something about the grin on that captive's face on the last page that makes me think maybe Starling may have just gotten played.... Sealing that impression is Starling's voice from off panel, “Trust me, I can tell when someone's lying.”
The Daggers also have some other plot going as well, one that will leave Japan a poisoned wasteland. This is obviously the countdown that appears here, there, and yonder throughout the issue. Tick. Tock.
Once again, Starling steals the show, not just in the passage quoted above. There's also this: “Konichiwa, bitches,” as she holds the still-smoking bazooka that just blew the Birds an entrance into where the Daggers are about start having their fun with Katana. And this: “Katana, you're never going to believe this, but... / … some dude in a bird suit has your husband. / And by 'husband,' I mean 'sword.'”
The Legionnaires are trying to interdict an attempt to recreate their old foes the Fatal Five, find the missing Tharok computer chip, and ascertain the location of the Persuader's atomic axe. Meanwhile, Brainiac 5 is trying to determine the cause for Comet Queen's betrayal. There's some interesting interaction between Dream Girl and Duplicate Damsel regarding the latter's complicated feelings toward Brainy. A married woman, no less. But as Dreamy points out as her parting shot – “I won't argue with you. // Especially since you're perfectly equipped to argue with yourself” – and since it has been established in the past that Luornu's various “selves” can have their own distinct personalities, monogamous love may well be a foreign concept to Carggites. Something that just occurred to me that I don't think has ever been addressed in the context of her marriage to Bouncing Boy. Us fever'd fanboys' fantasies have always, I'm sure, been dominated by how great Chuck had it being able to regularly have a threesome with his wife – and that's just when she was Duo Damsel! (Some other thoughts … if Luornu gets pregnant, can she still divide [multiply?]? If she can, will both/each self still be pregnant? If each self gives birth separately, would the babies then be able to combine back into one? Or would each be able to further divide/multiply? Talk about instant population crisis! … If each self eats until they're half-full, then combine, would the unified Luornu then be completely full?)
Anyway, the main focus is, however, on the team of Cosmic Boy, Element Lad, and Chemical Kid fighting pirates. The kid is shown again still to be a novice, and Cos ends up overwhelmed by a trio of Braalians working for the pirates. Another workmanlike issue that ultimately will fit into a long and complex tapestry, I'm sure.
The interior art by Scott Kolins works okay, better than I feared it might. It's a bit unfinished looking, but that's Kolins. The cover, by classic 1980s LSH artist Steve Lightle, is not his best – especially the way Cos' head looks like it's falling off backwards.
Well, this issue obviously happens after the events of Batman #13. It might be immediately after, or even coincident with the later part of that issue. Dick tries to consult with Bruce – and can't contact him. Which doesn't worry him too much. Anyway, it's a night of odd quiet in Gotham City, whereupon the Penguin informs Nightwing that the assassin Lady Shiva is coming to town. Dick takes on the job of dealing with her – after spending a bit of daytime tending to his civilian identity, which includes a deepening relationship with Sonia Branch. Back out on the hunt, he meets up with Batgirl at some point after #14 of her own mag, but since that doesn't hit until next month we don't have any clue as to the fate of Barbara's mother, except that she isn't mentioned in an all-but-deranged exchange that makes clear Babs is spooked by the return of the Joker, obsessed with making him pay, and pissed that Dick is working his own case and won't drop it to help her. Going undercover, Dick gets information on where Shiva is supposed to arrive by boat and get hit by an ambush … but it turns out that Shiva used that as a distraction while she made her first hit …
Even with guest creators for this issue, this series doesn't miss a beat.
Kara is confronted by the first member of her “rogues gallery,” Tycho, in her undersea Sanctuary, which is itself an artificial intelligence that eventually helps her defeat and imprison him. It grew from a fragment of her space-pod, which was prepared by Zor-El to be literally her sanctuary on an alien world. She learns and remembers more about her departure from Krypton, including that her father was experimenting on her before he launched her into space and it was her mother who shot him to try to stop him. She uses the Sanctuary's link to the Earth's computers to call up her only friend, Siobhan – but then the Sanctuary informs her that it has discovered Superman fighting an unidentified Kryptonian presence on Earth....
Amethyst in “The Catalyst: The Blood of Amethyst”
Amethyst sees her mom in full battle array as a warrior, including wielding the Power of Amethyst to violent effect. She disobeys her mother and stays to help fight off the attackers, although she is revolted by her own actions in killing an attacker. They know that the evil aunt is on her way, so they and their new allies flee, but leave a message calling on said evil aunt to give up her murderous ambitions. Yeah, like that's going to happen.
All in all, it's okay – but not really grabbing me.
Beowulf, “Chapter II: Iron Trolls”
In an interesting link to the main DCU/DCnU, Beowulf and Wiglaf fight off Waynetech war machine “Iron Trolls” as they proceed to Heorot, where they help prepare for an attack by Grendel. The climax has Wiglaf unwittingly about to be the first victim, however.
Zero for two, this backup story is not really working for me either. I know I've got at least one more hard copy issue of this coming (because I got my November comics this morning and it was in it), but I don't know if I'm interested in either of these stories even to read it, and I'm not continuing past that unless I have a radical change of heart.
This is the big confrontation between Leviathan's thugs and Batman, Incorporated, united. Damien as Redwing helps with the victory – and gets to climb up the side of a building just like in the old 1960s Batman show! He fights hauntingly well alongside a figure clad as “Wingman,” about whom he is puzzled as to the identitity especially once it becomes clear that Bruce is still undercover as Matches Malone – blown though that cover might be. Wingman turns out to be Jason Todd, which Damien considers to be a betrayal … but it's nothing like the shock that comes when Batman announces that their only viable option, victorious though they might be in this battle, is for Damien to go back to his mother, Talia.
I have no idea how – or if – this story can be made to fit in with the New 52 continuity. The series carries the New 52 branding on the cover, for what that's worth. Really, I wish they'd just let Grant Morrison run out his story in the pre-Flashpoint continuity that, taking the long view, 95% of Morrison's six-seven-year saga took place in.
But the story is rip-roaringly good enough that it ultimately doesn't matter … too much.
One quibble: Does gunpowder burn so blazingly fast in a trail like that? Sure, it's an old story staple, but didn't Mythbusters do a show about it? … http://mythbustersresults.com/episode88
“The Undead Past”
… And this is the continuation of another Scarecrow story, which tend to all follow a predictable plot and that I tend not to care for. Batman is held prisoner, subjected to fear toxin, has to deal with his own fears and insecurities, but ultimately prevails and breaks free. The only thing really new is the revelations about new elements of Jonathan Crane's own childhood past – which knowing the New 52 sensibility probably contradicts what was previously his back story, but I don't care enough about the character to do the research.
There is one cool scene, very Batman on the last couple of pages. Having been left chained and spread-eagle in Scarecrow's lab of horrors, well … “Big mistake …
Oh – and look! – David Finch actually both has his name on the cover and did the interior art.
“War for the Books of Magic, Part 2: Revelations”
John Constantine and Black Orchid – who has some kind of connection to both the Red (animal world) and Green (plant world), being a shape shifter and controller of vegetation (but I don't know much about the Red and the Green so I don't really get it – just go with it) – easily defeat Black Boris, then realize they've been played as a delaying tactic. Elsewhere, Deadman possesses Blackbriar Thorn just before the House of Secrets pops into being, with Nick Necro and Dr Mist strolling out the front door to greet them. In London, Madame Xanadu and Tim Hunter are attacked by Felix Faust but escape. The others converge against Necro, but he easily trounces them. Zatanna agrees to go with him. The others follow through limbo in the House of Mystery, being flown under John Constantine's control, but Dr Mist sends the House of Mystery crashing back to Earth.
|Issue #6, Janin's Zatanna|
“They Will Join You in the Sun...” – A Prelude to H'El on Earth
After five days' testing the limits of his power in the Block, the lab near the center of the Earth overseen by “omniologist” Shay Veritas (who reminds me oh-so-much of the [albeit male] super intelligent scientist in Grant Morrison's All Star Superman), Clark surprises Jimmy in … well, a compromising situation, then has escalating confrontations with Perry, then Lois, then with Morgan Edge himself over the proper role of a journalist – that end with him quitting the Daily Planet. This is of course the scene that made such a furor when it was first released. It ought to make for some interesting sub-plots, but kind of like the Lois and Whatsisname relationship, I don't for a minute believe it's permanent. Superman is Clark Kent, who works at the Daily Planet and loves Lois Lane. It's ultimately an immutable Law of the Universe. So I'm not going to subject it to some kind of extensive analysis, just continue the ride. There is another aspect to the scene, however. Somewhat amusingly, showing that even his “returned” (i.e., New 52) super intelligence doesn't translate to always thinking things through before acting (in other words, this Superman is, contrary to the way some on the Internet are reading this newest iteration of the character, very human), he almost immediately has second thoughts, which Cat Grant's following him in walking out helps to catalyse. This Cat is nothing like the character as she was in the past few years leading up to Flashpoint, rather she reminds me of the version on Smallville, and she so obviously has a crush on Clark. Her bubbly lines to Clark sitting on the steps of the building immediately afterward are hilarious: “After you left, I told [Edge] that if he wanted some fasion-obsessed, self-absorbed, bobblehead who just does as she's told – / – he was going to have to do better than me because I am out of there!” – Clark: “I can't be sure you meant that the way it came out, Cat.”
Anyway, Clark's encouraging Cat to rethink following him into unemployment is cut short as Metropolis is suddenly attacked by a giant dragon-like creature which he only defeats with difficulty – during the fight it knocks him all the way to Ireland – just in time for Supergirl to show up spitting mad. She claims the creature is Kryptonian – therefore Superman is lying about Krypton being gone. As the issue ends, the cousins are being observed by a third figure. Something that I noticed at the very end is that this information is conveyed both visually and narratively, by a third-person narrator in caption boxes, which I think is very unusual these days: “Impossibly, neither Kal nor his cousin realizes there is another here with them. // A fellow traveler of sorts. // Waiting. // Biding his time before he makes a proper introduction.”
I've been ambivalently critical of Kenneth Rocafort's art in the past. I'm still undecided on it now. But I must admit it is growing on me pretty quickly. One advantage of his style is that it makes the “armor-plated” characteristics of both Superman's and Supergirl's uniforms less obtrusive.
I do have a couple of questions: What does the title have to do with anything? (except it's a quote from one or another of the Superman movies, I forget precisely which) – and what does the teaser blurb on the cover, “Who is the Fallen Angel of Krypton?,” have to do with anything?
“The Gotham Trap”
Having heard of the Night of the Owls, renegade Talon returns to Gotham City to see if the Court of Owls has really been destroyed. As he suspects, not entirely. He's attacked by Talons, beaten down, but saved by an old man who knows entirely too much about him. The old man is Sebastian Clark, whose father had written a book on the Court of Owls, which resulted in his own and his family's deaths – except for Sebastian, who had escaped to Europe where he has long plotted the Owls' destruction. Now with the Owls weakened and Rose as a weapon, he considers the time to be right....
I've considered switching this one to digital, but it seems closely enough tied into the world of Gotham City and the new Bat-lore that I'm going to keep it as issues, for now at least.
“The Origin of Wonder Girl”
Issue #0 was the origin of Red Robin, this is almost like issue #0.1. We get Cassie Sandsmark's new back story. Her mother is still an archaeologist, whose daughter is more like a “relic hunter” or a “tomb raider,” more like René Belloq than Henry Jones, Jr. In China, she slips up and is almost captured by the authorities, until a guy named “Diesel” (“That is seriously not his real name?” interjects Superboy, with amazing perception for a few-months-old clone) intervenes. Diesel then follows and fornicates with Cassie here, there, and yonder all around the world over the next few months. Great message you're giving to teen readers, DC editorial! Do you all feel no responsibility to put forward good examples? Anyway, in Cambodia, he discovers some kind of mystical armor that possesses him until, in trying to aid him, Cassie takes it on herself. Then the ruins in which they found the armor implode upon him.
Cassie tells Red Robin and Superboy this as they are being flown to Cambodia – Tim obviously has access to vast financial resources that smooth over any questions being asked. Red Robin recognizes the glyphs in the ruined ruins as the “Mark of Trigon” – another New Teen Titans-era baddie that I never cared for, as central as he was to their lore. It's amazing that, as much as I liked that title, most of their signature villains I never warmed up to – not Trigon, not Brother Blood … even Deathstroke has never really caught hold with me, although I don't have an immediate negative reaction when I see he's in a book. I do with Trigon and Blood.
Anyway, in an epilogue, skinny Amanda Waller recruits a now revived Kurt Lance to bring in the Teen Titans alive, indicating that it's for their own good.
I've asked this before: What does an editor do? – Not proof-read, apparently. “Unbelivable.” And I still wonder why the New 52 Cassie Sandsmark is called “Wonder Girl.” I have yet to see any connection with Wonder Woman.
“The Others: Conclusion”
No Arrow banner on the cover, hallelujah!
Aquaman and the Others escape the imploding island in pursuit of Black Manta. They catch up to him making a deal with some mysterious Atlanteans who may or may not include Arthur's half-brother Orm. The epic confrontation ends with Aquaman choosing not to kill Manta.
There is quite a bit more, but basically this brings to a close the tale of Aquaman making peace with his own past, culminating with the admission that he always feared losing Mera like his father lost Atlanna. Mera, of course, promises never to leave him … d'oh! – don't say that! – especially while some unseen observer clearly has other plans: “Mera will stand in our way.” “Then we move her out of it. Praise the king.” “Yes. Praise the king.” Which king? – Arthur? – Orm?
Next month: It's on from the second nice, pre-packaged trade-paperback-written story arc, “The Others,” to the next, which – oooooooooooo! – crosses over with Justice League, with “Prologue to Throne of Atlantis.”
This story takes place shortly after Superman has saved the world in issue #8. The wife beater from an earlier issue returns, recruited into an experiment to energise a human being with Kryptonite energy as a weapon against Superman. The Kryptonite Man attacks but is defeated by Superman and John Henry Irons … nevertheless revealing to Lex Luthor (who has now been fired, threatened with treason charges, by General Lane for his actions in that first arc) that not only is Kryptonite-power strong enough to stand a chance against Superman, but is in and of itself deadly to Superman. It's a good, solid story, in my opinion proving that Sholly Fisch could carry the main book post Grant Morrison. It won't be him, however, but Andy Diggle.
Max Landis “wrote” this story without words telling the New 52 origin of the Atomic Skull, or so I'm given to understand. First of all, I'm predisposed not to like it because of the “author” and his previous gratuitous insulting of Superman and his fans (via a short film satirising the Death of Superman), and there's nothing here to change my mind. I know I'm not the only one who feels that way – see Anj's comments that introduce his (much fairer than mine) review of the backup linked below. Basically, my question is: Is DC really so obsequious when “big names” deign to write “funny books” that they reward him with this?
Reviews: http://comicboxcommentary.blogspot.com/2012/11/review-action-comics-annual-1.html and ...review-action-comics-annual-1-back-up.html
“The Blood That Moves Us”
Batgirl, tracking the source of a series of arsons, and Catwoman, hired to free the female Talon from the “Night of Owls” Batgirl issue (#9), converge in the penthouse garden of a surviving Owl – the mastermind of the arsons, and who had hired Catwoman. When Catwoman learns of his role in the arsons, she and Batgirl must fight a whole cadre of Talons. They eventually pull out a win – barely, and only with the help of the Talon whom Catwoman had freed. Then Catwoman provides a diversion to give Batgirl and the redeemed Talon a chance to escape. The annual ends with a blurb promising, “See the Talon in Birds of Prey!”
It's a decent story, basically, I think, setting up a new member of the Birds to replace Katana, who is soon to be part of the Justice League of America as well as star in her own book. Will she still be called “Talon”? I'm not sure anyone saw – or actually when she had time to write – her name, “My name is Mary,” on the tile floor of the penthouse as shown in the final panel after Batgirl commented that she still didn't know what to call her. This Talon is mute, which in a way makes me really think of Cassandra Cain, the Batgirl introduced during No Man's Land.
One thing that stands out in this issue is the art in the first half, by Admira Wijaya – it's really pretty. The last half, by Daniel Sampere, pales in comparison.
“War for the Books of Magic, Conclusion”
The House of Mystery has crashed in the Sahara Desert, but repairs itself as our “team” picks up – or is picked up by – Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE. Madame Xavier and Tim Hunter also arrive as the destination of their escape from Felix Faust. They all continue toward where Nick Necro and the bad guys arrive in Nanda Parbat. John Constantine kick starts Tim's magic using Amethyst – who appears out of nowhere – as a catalyst, and also calls in Andrew Bennett. The confrontation ultimately appears to be a stalemate that only the death of Timothy Hunter can end – which Constantine provides to save Zatanna. But to Necro's surprise, he is still unable to access the Books of Magic. That's because, Constantine reveals, he actually “killed” the shape-shifted Black Orchid. And Necro is defeated. But Tim feels drawn to the Books of Magic, opening the volume. A seemingly mechanical device inside – which makes me think of a Mother Box – welcomes, opens a “gateway” – a Boom Tube? – and vanishes with him just as Zatanna grabs Tim and disappears along with him. Incidentally, the sound effect accompanying the “gateway” is not a “BOOM.”
It's a shame that Joe Kubert passed away this past summer after putting this project together, before he could see the finished product. If anyone deserved a vanity project like this, it was him. I recently saw something naming Jack Kirby as the most influential comic book artist of the 20th century, but I would say that honor must go to Kubert, if only through the Kubert School which he established and through which most of the last few decades' comic book artists have matriculated. I said a few other such words about him in my notice of his death, here. If this first issue is any indication (and I'm sure it is), the six issues of material he has either produced or chosen to present will make a nice commemorative volume that I fully intend to have library bound, with my only regret that I will never have a chance to get it autographed.
Here there are four stories in an issue twice the thickness that is now standard. The front half has Kubert returning to a super hero he worked on during two different periods of his life, in two different incarnations – “Hawkman.” I'm not sure if this story is meant to be in strict story continuity with the Silver-Age Hawkman which Kubert drew most of half a century ago, but if so it must be an untold story of Katar Hol and Shayera on an earlier mission to Earth from Thanagar to evaluate the danger posed by this upstart planet to their own homeworld and wider space. I can't say I'm widely read in the Silver-Age Hawkman, so I'm not certain if the wider telepathic communication skills with beasts other than birds was evident then or not. They use this skill to destroy a weapons cache under an African village. There's definitely potential for a follow-up tale continuing this mission. The art is, of course, perfect Kubert, about which I have one comment and only one quibble. The comment is, I find the style of top sported by Shayera as fascinating as when I first saw the same pattern on Kubert's depiction of La, the priestess of Opar, in his adaptation of The Return of Tarzan. How does it stay in place...? The quibble is that inside the book, although not on the wonderful, apparently pencilled-art cover (or is it charcoaled?), Shayera wears some rather goofy-looking round goggles that make me think more of an owl.
Hawkman takes up half of the page count. The latter half contains several shorter features. In “Angel and the Ape,” the pretty blond detective and her partner the talking gorilla star in a light little eight-page tale by Brian Buniak. This is followed by a short tale by Kubert himself, about a boy called “Spit,” that seems to be merely the beginning of a longer story that seems to be reproduced directly from Kubert's pencils. It tells of a waif who ends up on a whaling ship. There are then three pages of “Inner Thoughts, et al., from Joe Kubert,” relating the genesis of this project and giving short thoughts on the selections that make up this issue, ending with an invitation, “I'd like to hear from you. … Let me know what you think,” to which is appended a note regarding Kubert's passing. Finally, Sam Glanzman draws on his World War II service on the “U.S.S. Stevens: I Remember,” returning to an autobiographical well from which he has drawn in the past for both DC and Marvel (see here).
“The Dead Can Dance … and Die!”
Phantom Lady and Doll Man versus Funerella, who can decay and kill living people, then animate them as zombies under her mental control. Funerella herself happens to be dead already, apparently, and although Phantom Lady's shadow field can cut her – including amputating her arm clean off – the emotional voiding suffered by being enclosed in it doesn't seem to phase her. Our new super heroes manage to defeat her anyway … they think …. It's a solid enough done-in-one.
Andrew Bennett is now the evil lord of what few vampires still exist – which I gather to be himself and any he sires – which he intends to get about doing forthwith. We saw him chomp down on Tig at the end of last issue. She's his first new minion, and together they were more than a match for Stormwatch according to the now-good Mary Seward, who proves as tough a human as she was Queen of Blood – to a would-be mugger's chagrin. Oh, and I guess one of the perqs of being the new Lord of Vampires is that Andrew can rewrite a few rules of the game on the fly – such as that a vampire must be invited across a home's threshold to enter. By the end of the issue, Mary and John as well as Andrew and Tig have converged on the remote cabin of Andrew's one-time companion Deb Dancer, no weak sister herself we are given to believe.
“Detective, Parts 10-12”
A decade-long dream of seeing Smallville Clark meet Bruce Wayne comes to a satisfying conclusion here. Anj provides a very good summary and commentary based on the print version that comes out the week after the last of each month's chapters hits the Internet, so I'll just refer you to the review linked below for the details, plus scans. I'm with him in assessing this perhaps the best Super-book being published, to the point that I have decided that, although I have all the digital chapters I am nonetheless going to buy the trade paperback collections when they are published (the first, comprising digital issues #1-12, is being solicited for next month's pre-order). It's that good.
“The Menace of Metallo!”
Another whimsical all-ages romp through Metropolis introducing a new kind of Kryptonite-powered Metallo, as John Henry Irons jumps into the fray as Steel and Bizarro gets taken down a notch by Ma Kent!
And that's it, over two weeks late. Hey, what can I say, it was the end of a particularly grueling semester. But it's over now, and we unusually have three whole weeks before “On Call Day” this Christmas break! Whatever will I do with all my free time...?
Cheers, and Thanks for reading!