Tuesday, January 15

DC Comics – Jan 2013

Reviews, commentary, general reactions, and random notes on the DC comics that were released during November that I received near the beginning of December. Caution: Spoilers ahead! [Link to previous month.]

Just a couple of news items this month:

Here's some more information on the impending return of Keith Giffen to Legion of Super-Heroes: http://www.newsarama.com/comics/keith-giffen-legion-of-superheroes-revamp.html. A “revamp on the run”? “No one is safe.” This could be good. This could be bad. I have a definite sense of unease.... (Nothing like rabid fans of Karate Kid have, I'm sure!)

Holy Boomerang, Batman!” – Well, it seems that Gail Simone's banishment from Batgirl was short-lived – pretty much just long enough for me to take notice of it and stick it in my previous “monthly round-up” post, then it was undone – http://www.bleedingcool.com/2012/12/21/dc-comics-put-gail-simone-back-on-batgirl/ . I would love to know the behind-the-scenes here. Was there really such a hue and cry that DC backpedaled? Or was there more at work here than we'll ever know? I suspect the latter. But, as I commented to a colleague, it probably stood Simone in good stead that she did not take the opportunity to start airing DC's dirty laundry in the midst of the fanboy virtual uprising that followed her first announcements. To my knowledge, her own statement in that first announcement that she herself would have more to say on the subject was never followed through on, for whatever reason. In any case, I'm pleased with the outcome.

As part of the spate of end-of-year retrospectives and assessments, of interest to me because I do seem to be buying more and more digital comics, mainly (by which I mean almost exclusively) through Comixology, Comic Book Resources offers this rather hopeful analysis of how digital sales are faring and might even, to paraphrase, be tapping into that Holy Grail of the pool of “new readers”: http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2012/12/digital-primed-for-greater-influx-of-new-readers-in-2013/ .

And now, on to the comics, beginning of course with the “real” comics for the month....

Earth 2 #6
End Times.”

Well, it appears that Khan's name is spelled correctly now, and that he is indeed a Sikh. There is indeed reference to Khan “[fighting] parademons and terrornauts armed only with [his] father's kirpan” – a kirpan is “a ceremonial four-inch curved dagger that Sikh men and women are obliged to wear at all times” (source). (There is also immediately subsequent an interesting exchange between Terry Sloan and Khan: Sloan continues, “But then, he wasn't your father … not year real father, was he? 'Khan.'” To which Khan replies, “The ice is thin where you're treading, Sloan.” I'm sure we'll find out more in the future – but not now.)

As Khan argues fruitlessly with Sloan and the World Army regarding the nukes descending on Washington, DC, and the disembodied Alan Scott manages to break the Grey's emotional hold on him, the others (Kendra Saunders, Jay Garrick, and Al Pratt) fight a holding action. They are losing until Alan comes back to his body ad flies Grundy into space, ultimately to the moon where there is no life force for the Grey to suck away. But, once victory is won, Alan proclaims himself as Green Lantern the most able to handle the coming threat, leaving Hawkgirl and Flash, who then manage to get away from the Atom.

So much for the beginning of a Justice Society here. Nothing to see here, people, move along. Of course, I'll be back next month.... What can I say? Robinson, Scott, and Scott are producing a book more interesting to me in and of itself than most of the rest of the New 52 put together.

Worlds' Finest #6
Family Matters”

As often, there are two stories converging at the end. Huntress gets caught by Robin in the act of stealing from Wayne Enterprises. They fight – but in studying each others' moves they recognize their similarities, as if they were both trained by Batman. Meanwhile, Power Girl mounts an Apokoliptian-Energy Detector to a satellite, gives some cosmonauts a show, and in returning to Earth almost runs into Supergirl. A burst of super-speed to avoid an awkward meeting burns off another of her seemingly endless supply of disposable suits, and she scandalises techs in Starr Industries' control center by showing up clad only in a bathrobe. Then she gets an alert that Huntress is fighting Robin. She gets there in time to drop kick him out of a dumpster where he seems to have gotten the better of Huntress, her appearance ending the fight long enough for a dialogue to commence. It turns out that this is only the second time Helena has “borrowed” from Wayne in the five years they've been on this Earth; whoever's been stealing millions every week is some other player. The issue ends with Helena on the verge of telling Damien the truth – and from Kara's expression in that last panel, she ain't too pleased with that turn of events … or maybe it's the dumpster debris she's picking out of Helena's hair.... There's also a one-page cutaway near the end where a Boom Tube briefly appears in near Earth orbit, from whence a burst of energy burns the Apokoliptian-Energy Detector off that satellite.

This time Kevin Maguire handled the Huntress sequence, while George Perez illustrated Power Girl. Maguire is rapidly becoming one of my favorite artists. There is a smooth elegance to his line that works so well. As increasingly of late, there have been criticisms of the Power Girl story, especially the penchant for blowing out a boob-window every issue – or more, as last time and this. I find it mainly just a bit annoying, a trope that can easily be over-used.

Action Comics #14
Superman's Mission to Mars”

Superman saves Mars Base from Metalek, the alien invader that previously appeared in issue #11, robotic refugees fleeing the advancing Multitude, which appears here as an angelic three-dimensional “shadow” image from a higher-dimension. Through some purely Morrisonian scientific mumbo-jumbo, Superman manages to duplicate how his father apparently drove the Multitude away from Krypton – then discovers that the real threat is Vyndktvx.

Star Light, Star Bright...”

As he does regularly, “every 382 days, like clockwork” (apparently the orbital period of his homeworld), Superman goes to Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to witness “a glimpse of home,” a planet orbiting the star LHS 2520, which he calls Rao. A star that is 27 light-years from Earth. And this night is roughly 27 years after the explosion of Krypton. “Those are the images that are just reaching Earth now. // The planet Krypton has been gone for years. // But as far as Superman is concerned – // – tonight is the night Krypton died.” Using the data from a network of telescopes from around the world, all processed through his super-brain, Superman is able to witness that event on a wonderfully somber final page. Luckily it doesn't have the same effect on him as it did during the previous revamp, as told in Action Comics #600 (May 1988) and Superman #18 (June 1988) – a lethal wave-front of Kryptonite radiation poisoning him!

This story is mainly narrated, by the device of a senior scientist explaining to a younger colleague the significance of this night, by real-world astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, and upon publication made a bit of a stir in the real-world news media, e.g. “Neil deGrasse Tyson locates Superman's home planet.”

Detective Comics #14
Death of the Family: Unnatural Selection”

The cliffhanger from last issue, Bruce Wayne being attacked by Penguin's hired assassins, is resolved quickly – with Penguin seizing the opportunity to appear to be the hero of the day as the savior of Bruce Wayne!

This main story has Batman going against Poison Ivy in a chemical plant owned by the Penguin – in what turns out to be a trap for them both. Ivy is taken away by Ogilvey, who proclaims that Penguin wants her dead. Batman gets a pass for some reason that Ogilvey leaves unexplained, although he says to Batman's unconscious form that if it were up to him it would be otherwise. But that just leaves Batman unexplectedly in the hands of a monstrous creature wondering where his wife, Ivy, is – ?!

This story, which is told in another of those annoying non-sequential narratives, occurs after Batman #13 and Birds of Prey #12. Batman seems a bit conflicted about Ivy, at one point referring to the events of the latter issue as Ivy “show[ing] her true colors.” Damian quips (more Dick Graysonish than Damienish, if you ask me), “Green?,” to which Bruce replies, “Criminal.” But within a page, his inner'logue states, “Damian doesn't understand. Ivy isn't evil. Just misguided. // And more often than not lately, we've found ourselves on the same side. Against Bane. Against the Court of Owls.” And he ends up kissing her by the end of that page … of course, that's just her pheromones … sort of. He's developed a new way to resist her lures, a means of periodically shocking his brain into a quick reset.

Seeds & Dirt”

The back-up takes place “before all that other stuff,” i.e., the main story. Poison Ivy breaks into Arkham Asylum to bust Clayface out – to be her helper now that things have “go[ne] south with the Birds.” She needs “somebody strong. Somebody stupid. // Somebody obedient.” So, she proclaims to Clayface, “I'm busting you out of here. // We're getting hitched.”

Batwing #14
The Nightmares Never Stop”

Doing a more literal expansion of the notes I make as I'm reading: “Well, the vigilante Dawn is obviously not the policewoman as I thought last issue. My second guess is Rachel from the current flashback sequences to David's orphanage. Ah, I'm right.” But, she was not around long ….

Batwing continues his fight against the cult leader Father Lost, who comes across as another Brother Blood or Kobra or any of the DC Universe's run-of-the-mill death-worshipping baddies. This has not been my favorite story of the series, and with Judd Wynick leaving I've decided to drop back to buying this title digitally. If at all.

The Rise of the Demon”

This issue is basically a long fight against the risen Demon Etrigan, punctuated with exposition about his history. The relationship between Stormwatch and their progenitor Demon Knights seems obscure, or even one of enmity? – or is that the ultimate end of Demon Knights?

The Engineer continues to act less and less human, and by the end of this issue has mandated no relationships between Stormwatch agents, basically just to spite Midnighter and Apollo. Midnighter proposes just keeping their relationship secret, but Apollo refuses – he won't go back in the closet. He proposes that they leave Stormwatch, together – but Midnighter has found something that he needs in being part of that group.

Superboy #14
H'El on Earth: The Face of H'El”

This issue takes place after the Ravagers/Legion Lost cross-over (citing Legion Lost #14-16). Superboy is having a tough time dealing with the fallout from Harvest seizing control of him, which seems only to confirm that he is nothing more than a “killing machine.” He storms off from Jocelyn Lure, back to his “home,” where Bunker tries to cheer him up. H'El makes his appearance, but is appalled when he realizes what Superboy is – a clone. He's nonetheless intrigued by the dual nature of this clone, both Kryptonian and human. Despite the appearance of the Teen Titans (sans Red Robin, who's on a “mission” to Gotham City), H'el overwhelms Superboy and takes him away.

Throughout this issue, Superboy continues to be distrustful of everyone around him, not least Lure. The hot landlady seems now fearful of him as well. When Bunker presses him for a name to call him, besides “Superboy,” he says, “Call me Kon. / Short for Kon-El. // It's an insult that crazy Supergirl once called me.” – Bunker's wide-eyed question, “An insult? / What exactly does it mean?” is actually answered by H'el: “An abomination in the House of El!” – except for some reason only Superboy can hear it, and see H'El.

There is a markedly different appearance to the art. The effect is more like Kenneth Rocafort's on Superman. Is that intentional? And, near the end, is it an effect of the art or do they mean to be depicting that H'El has already started to flay Superboy?

We also get another example of editorial incompetence in this issue – in his inner'logue, Superboy refers to Bunker as “the closet thing I have to a real friend.” It's unintentionally hilarious, actually, since Bunker is homosexual. If it's an intentional pun, it's stupid because it does not in any way fit the character of Superboy, and it's sophomoric to write it into his thoughts if it's not meant to be his thought. I'm pretty sure it's just lax proofreading.

Batman #14
Death of the Family: Funny Bones”

Wow! That first panel is so reminiscent of Scott McDaniel's art from about a decade ago! Batman escapes the Joker's trap only to return to Wayne Manor to find Alfred has been taken. And we then witness rare images of Bruce Wayne in anguish as he hears Alfred being tortured. He barely holds it together in the scene with Nightwing, exploding when Nightwing berates him for dealing with his pain in the only way he knows how, to internalize it, in a wonderful testament to how much he loves the man who “raised me,” who's “been a father to me for as long as I can remember. This is some great writing! His attempt to get Jim Gordon into protective custody having proven too late – the Joker had already poisoned him with a massive anticoagulant that causes him to start hemorrhaging – Batman thinks he's worked out the Joker's current m.o. – but the Joker outwits him and traps Batman on a bridge, seemingly blowing Nightwing up at another location while he subjects the entire Bat-family to a rant, claiming to know who they all really are, and promising to kill them all in 72 hours.

Men of Worship”

Basically, the Joker and the Penguin meet in a church, “outside the city limits, far from prying eyes and costumed idiots,” and after the Joker's usual carnage the two come to some kind of understanding that I'm sure has Penguin messing in his pants.

Batman and Robin #14

Well, I'm as confused as Damian. This issue is not listed as Death of the Family, but the Joker is ultimately behind the “zombie mini-pocalypse,” which I suspected from the moment Batman got back a quick analysis of the toxin that created the “zombies” – the code for the compound it most closely matched began with a J. Actually, the zombies are a cult devoted to acquiring eternal life through eating.... Batman discovers that while Robin is a voluntary captive being taken straight to the cult leader's lair, Bruce all the while demanding that Damian answer the comm – which he can't, of course, without giving himself away. Eventually father and son link up and fight the cult together, apparently defeating it. Then fake chattering teeth convey the Joker's cryptic message for the dynamic duo – to Damian's astonishment because he'd seen no indication of the Joker's involvement.

As soon as they're back in the Cave, there's another epic confrontation between Batman and Robin, including an exchange that gives some insight into Bruce's motivation in keeping the shrine to Jason Todd Robin – since Todd is of course back as the Red Hood: “What do you think this glass case is for, hmm?” – “To honor him.” – “No. / It's here for me – in a spot that I can't ignore – to remind me never again...” Bruce wonders if this is going to work, that Damian ultimately cares about nobody but himself. Which catalyzes the real pay-off of the past couple of issues, revealing what Damian was sneaking off into the sewers for in the first place. He wordlessly deposites a single weathered pearl, which Bruce picks up. “... My mother's pearl...”

Frankly, the zombie plot of this issue and the last was at best so-so – confusing, although it did provide the quote of the issue, where the cult leader reassures his followers when Damian bursts into action to save his fellow prisoners: “No worries... / mmm. // … It's always more interesting when your food fights back.” Of course, the real strength of this title has always been the character development between father and son.

Batgirl #14
Death of the Family: A Courtship of Razors”

Direct pick-up (pardon the pun) from last issue, Barbara on the phone as her mother is taken – she knows by the Joker. And then she gets her own phone call – distorted, tormenting her as the Joker's clown minions come against her, leading her on ultimately to a face-to- … well … -face with the Joker holding her mother. Along the way, Barbara, half-crazed, cuts her ties to Alesha, going almost for broke, driven by rage. But the voice on the line was not the Joker – it was James Jr. Is he working with the Joker or as an independent player? Anyway, the Joker lays out his motivation – to take away all that is “holding Batman back,” I read it as “keeping him sane.” Then, with a positively chilling full-on face view provided by artist Ed Benes, the Joker proposes marriage to Batgirl, presenting her with her mother's ring … and finger. 

And DC fired Gail Simone?

Junior knows that his sister is Batgirl. Does the Joker? – sure, he said he did in Batman, but he's the Joker....

Demon Knights #14
In: Occupy Hell”

All of the various parties' manipulations come to a head as the Demon Knights are tricked into opening a gateway into Avalon, where they find themselves threatened from before by its defenders, the unstoppable Silent Knights, and from behind by Lucifer's legions of Hell and Morgana and Mordru's horde.

It's choppy, hard to follow, and I'm losing interest and just playing out my preorders. I'm not sure I'm even going to keep getting it digitally....

The big reveal this issue was that the Demon Knights' Shining Knight “Sir” Justyn is a hermaphrodite – although that's not fully explicit, it's pretty clear, and still set the Internet mildly astir when the issue came out.

Team 7 #2
The Black Diamond Probability – Mission 1.2: Lockdown”

Vreeeeeeeeeewww...! This is the sound of Team 7 falling off my radar. I pre-ordered it out a couple months, had already decided to go digital after that, but may not keep reading at all. It's not really doing anything for me. Part of the problem is an impression of incomprehensible busy-ness exemplified by the cover … and last issue's as well. It would really help with new and obscure characters like most of these to have a guide on the first page – a head shot, name, and a short blurb. And I don't mean the little scattered captions like often appear in Legion … but we don't even get those here. Which means I'm at a loss who most of these characters are, and even if I know their names and appearance, what they're there for is still a mystery. Which does not foster interest when the story itself is pretty lackluster.

I mean, the story is fighting a head wind to begin with, since it concerns Eclipso, a villain I've never warmed to. Anyway, the team battles the Eclipsoed meta criminals in the hijacked flying prison, created by a modified century-old “Jekyll serum” from Arkham Asylum (and there's a reference to current issues of All-Star Western – which I'm not getting, although I bought and thoroughly enjoyed the first trade … which reminds me I never blogged it …), eventually defeating them just in time to discover that the perpetrator was a minion of Eclipso himself, who is imprisoned at the current destination of the flying prison. Yay. More Eclipso.

Legion Lost #14
Desperate Times”

You know, it's not just that I won't miss this title. I'm actually glad it's going. It's pretty much crap, and for me to say that about the Legion – in any form – says something.

This issue is one long fight against Daggor at the behest of 31st-century Science Policeman Captain Nathaniel Adym (– huh? – wha-?), punctuated by the appearances first of Harvest and crew, with whom the Legionnaires ultimately conclude an uneasy alliance against Daggor and the coming Conqueror, then Jocelyn Lure (one of Adym's officers, by the way) dragging Superboy with Caitlyn Fairchild and Ridge tagging along. Whereupon Harvest triggers some kind of killing rage in Superboy. Then something else happens that causes Gates to panic. Really, it's all a confusing mess ….

Justice League #14
The Secret of the Cheetah, Chapter Two”

The Justice League manages to take Cheetah alive by maneuvering her into the water where Aquaman can best her. Superman is saved from the Cheetah infection by a tribal witch doctor who tells them the story of the Cheetah god, the knife Godslayer, and so forth – which confirms that it is really Barbara Minerva who is evil, not the Cheetah god. Batman confirms this by tracing Minerva's former criminal identities. Wonder Woman suffers a crisis of confidence given how badly she was deceived. Superman takes her to Smallville, and in the context of a malt shop we are treated to a long soliloquy on why he is Superman, and they kiss … all the while under surveillance by Batman.

Despite the fact that I don't like the Superman-Wonder Woman hook-up, I've probably enjoyed this short two-issue story arc more than either that preceded it. Oddly, even though those former stories were supposedly separated by five years of time, Superman refers to them as if nothing much happened in between … which is another example of how the whole idea of starting the New 52 with supposedly five years of pre-existing history just doesn't work. Even the creators think of these as being fundamentally new versions of the characters with short histories, no matter how they try to write otherwise.

Doesn't this sojourn in Smallville actually contradict the Action Comics back-up from a few months ago which showed Clark selling the farm? Here, he's renting it out.

Shazam! Chapter 7”

Black Adam takes up his old mission of striking down “oppressive Pharaohs and freeing slaves” – by killing a Bernie Madoff figure in front of horrified protesters. Their reaction helps to convince him that the world has been corrupted because the Wizard hid away magic, and he determines to free it. The problem is, only the Champion can enter the Rock of Eternity. So he sets about recruiting the incarnate Deadly Sins, starting with Sloth.

Meanwhile, Billy and Freddy are spending their new money. It's clear that Billy doesn't know he can change back to his teen-age form. I figure he will discover this at a very bad time when he inadvertently says the word....

Supergirl #14
H'El on Earth: Last Son of Krypton”

It occurs to me that all this refusing to believe the evidence of her own eyes is somewhat reminiscent of the pre-Flashpoint Kara during her sojourn in the 31st century – Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #16-36 (2006-8), back during the “One Year Later” period that followed Infinite Crisis. It's not strictly parallel, but.... I hope this arc resolves that plot and finishes with her committed to her adopted planet Earth. The solicits aren't terribly hopeful in that area, but from the beginning the Supergirl solicits have been much more negative than what the creators actually produced. This being part of a cross-over with the other Super-books, however, we'll have to see.

We definitely are not there yet. Kara's current bout of doubt that her cousin is being truthful to her – if he's really her cousin at all – sets up the appearance of H'El to tempt her. He tells her the story that he was an assistant to Jor-El, sworn to the House of El, consigned by him to space to preserve something of the Kryptonian heritage. After long years wandering he discovered living Kryptonians on Earth. He displays powers beyond those of Superman and Supergirl (could this be what they will eventually develop?), including teleportation. He tries to prove his bona fides to Kara by volunteering to destroy the captive “abomination” Superboy, but Supergirl exhibits compassion and holds him back. H'El says he believes that Kal-El has forgotten his heritage, and he wants Kara to intercede with the son of Jor-El, so he teleports her (and in so doing somehow gifts her with English, so something good is coming up all this!) into an awkward situation with Lois and Clark … awkward since she has no idea about the concept of a “secret identity.” To her, he's just “Kal.”

I should have asked it already, but now's as good a time as any: Why does H'El look sort of like a Bizarro? – or another quasi-zombie?

Batwoman #14
World's Finest – III: Heart of Stone”

Okay, so that is Pegasus – even though he doesn't look like a winged horse. The lack of wings is definitely explained here. He refers to having been “clipped” by Falchion as part of the latter's brutal torture before our heroines showed up. Pegasus being a son of Medusa, Falchion (a non-canonical son of Medusa) is thus his brother. Anyway, Batwoman and Wonder Woman confer with Pegasus, who just wants to be put out of his eternal misery, because immortal though he might be, he will never heal. He tells them Medusa is in Gotham, a nexus of all evil. Wonder Woman fulfills his wish, killing him, which Batwoman has some trouble with, although she knows she is dealing with matters beyond her ken.

In Gotham City, Maggie Sawyer and Harvey Bullock are fighting Medusa and her supernatural minions (we also get flashes of Nightwing and Catwoman) when Batwoman and Wonder Woman literally drop in....

Catwoman #14
Death of the Family: To Skin a Cat”

This issue is such a mess that more than once I thought it must be a dream or a hallucination. Apparently it's not. The Joker is tormenting Catwoman in various ways, basically arguing that she weakens Batman, until finally she reaches the insight that the Joker is actually the one one who's in love with Batman. It's very hard to follow the narrative because of disjointed story and art. I couldn't tell what was happening in many of the panels, for instance the middle of p. 16. This is the third issue by Ann Nocenti, and I'm frankly not impressed. This is definitely a totally unnecessary side show to the main Death of the Family story; the next issue blurb looks to be more connected to the upcoming Justice League of America in which Catwoman will play a part.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #14
Up, Up and Away … My Beautiful, My Beautiful Balloon!”

This is only the second issue of this title I've ever bought, I was so put off by the first issue. But #14 has two connections that drew me in. First and most obvious is Superman, because he's on the cover; there's also the Batman group's Death of the Family crossover, for which I've also got the next couple of issues of this title pre-ordered. So I was really hoping not to feel the visceral rejection I did for that first issue when I picked this one up.

Thankfully, I don't. The writer is still Scott Lobdell, and I'm not sure I would have any interest in keeping this as an ongoing, but this issue is not bad. I particularly like that Starfire is now covered up and doesn't seem like a sex-bimbo. She actually acts a bit more like her “old” pre-Flashpoint self as I remember her.

There are two parts to the issue, matching the two connections mentioned above. In the first, Superman meets the group in space as they are returning from some adventure on Tamaran. This seems like a first meeting, and it's not that cordial. That seems to be the New 52 view of Superman, the world regarding him with distrust, and I don't like it, but at least it's consistent. Superman does get the information he's looking for, that yes indeed Starfire was visited by scouts for Helspont like he himself was in Superman Annual #1. Then, after the ship drops Red Hood and his girl friend (I have no idea who she is or why she's with them) off at her apartment, he returns from showering to find her overdosed, with a TV message playing from the Joker as the police burst in. I'm sure they're here to help Jason.

Birds of Prey #14
Three Hours of the Condor”

@1:17 Sherman Hemsley as Steel Condor
in Disney Channel Movie, Up, Up, and Away

Con-dorrrrr! Con-dorrrr! Con-dorrrrrrrrrr!”

In a world with Red Robin, to say nothing of Hawkman and so forth, why is Black Canary scoffing at a guy in a bird suit? – who can fly? – ?

The Birds track down Condor, fight him, then he takes them to the sword. He's shocked when Katana announces her intent to destroy the Daggers. Who of course attack in mass right then. Another fight leaves the Birds scattered, and Katana once more a captive of the Daggers. Black Canary is separated from her friends with Condor – who sucker-punches her with telekinesis and trudges away. All this happens as the inset clock that our heroines don't even know about ticks away from just under eight hours to just under six hours. So I guess it was just “two hours of the Condor” ….

It is a bit interesting that the inner'logue this issue is not from one of our main characters, but rather from the Condor. It's also funny that in the midst of the fight Starling puts in a call to Amanda Waller – and gets put on hold! We still get no clarification on what the Daggers' aims are – other than torturing Katana to death.

Nightwing #14
Die for Me”

This happens after Detective #14. I like the way they're presenting Penguin now, as a dangerous crime lord who nonetheless has a veneer of respectability, and also his own little supporting cast. It turns out he's orchestrating these events. He hired Lady Shiva to delay the beginning of an SEC meeting in Gotham City to protect his own criminal enterprises. He figured that if Nightwing captures Shiva, it would save him money. If Shiva kills Nightwing, that too would be a win. Neither happens – but Penguin still gets the SEC meeting delay. We also get more on Dick's Amusement Mile project, and his intriguing relationship with Sonia Branch. And the return of the Joker looms over it all, especially in Ogilvy asking Penguin what his plans are for that – and the end of the issue where the Joker appears in Raya's Blackgate Prison cell. That can't bode well for Dick.

Legion of Super-Heroes #14

Not to keep “hating on” Steve Lightle, whose work I remember fondly from the 1980s Levitz Legion, but last month Cosmic Boy looked like a Pez dispenser, and this month Element Lad looks like he's going through heroin withdrawal.

Chemical Kid and Element Lad track down and confront the raiders who injured Cosmic Boy, and eventually best them right before a relief force consisting of Night Girl, Light Lass, and Shadow Lass arrives. On the last page, Light Lass articulates the lesson: “Trust the planetary adapted types [such as Braalians, who all have magnetic powers like Cos'] to think they're so tough when they go offworld [where no one else shares their powers] … But they can't ever handle a unique … / … especially a Legionnaire.”

Also, Brainiac 5 discovers via a deep brain scan of Comet Queen that her programmed compulsion was not directed against the Legion per se, but against Brainiac 5 specifically. Sun Boy and Phantom Girl discover that the Persuader's atomic axe is not in its place. Levitz continues juggling his multiple plots tracking in parallel, but looming over all is the threat of the Fatal Five returning.

Aquaman #14
Throne of Atlantis: Prologue”

Still no individual chapter names, of course. Lazy.

The prelude is set two centuries ago, hinting at a story told later in the issue about an Atlantean king and queen killed by sailors. Aquaman and his brother, the current king of Atlantis, meet to discuss recent events in this book – those of the last six or seven issues happened within the past two weeks, incidentally). The brother, Orm, denies having anything to do with them. This meeting is altogether too amicable, given that we “know” this to be one of Aquaman's two major enemies (the other being Black Manta, of course). Although Orm is shown only in silhouette inside, he receives a full frontal shot on the cover, as the Ocean Master. There is, of course, an effort to develop his personality beyond the simple hatred of his brother born of jealousy, and remember that the New 52 revamp has him as the son of Atlanna rather than the son of Thomas Curry, something I recalled only halfway through. Hey, he's been Aquaman's paternal half-brother, fully human, pretty much all my life. Anyway, the issue ends with someone – Orm? – releasing the denizens of the Trench.

There's also a sequence where the newly imprisoned Black Manta refuses to join Amanda Waller's Suicide Squad, in which among other things we have it confirmed that Manta cannot breath water, as well as one where an Atlantean soldier washes up literally on Vulko's Norwegian doorstep.

The art by Pete Woods and Pere Perez is very much in the style of Ivan Reis. Reis, of course, is debuting as the artist on Justice League, and that's where this story continues directly.

Superman #14
H'El on Earth: Build a Parachute On Your Way Down”

Two of my favorite reviewers' had diametrically opposite reactions to this issue: Martin Gray at Too Dangerous for a Girl and Anj at Supergirl Comic Box Commentary (cited below). I fall in between them, a bit closer to Martin's more positive take this time. I don't think the characterization is as radically different in story context, and Kara's attitude could at least partially be seen as her putting on a bit of teen-age obstinacy, beside the fact that she is expressly deceived by H'El. But Anj is dead on in his criticism that the overlapping scenes at the end of Supergirl and at the beginning of Superman is a sign of bad editing. If they're going to do this kind of multiple perspective story-telling, the editors ought to be able to oversee the basic congruence of the parallel scenes. I don't think they are going for the only justifiable explanation that we are seeing the events from two subjectively different perspectives, where the two observers would basically see and hear things differently. But hey, I guess that's too much to ask when DC's editors these days can't even catch basic grammatical and typographical errors.

On another note, I am rapidly taking a liking to Kenneth Rocafort's art. In this I am helped a bit by my discovery a few weeks back of the neopulp sci-fi series he did with Paul Dini, Madame Mirage. But what's with the wonky panel arrangement on pp. 2-3 that essentially only uses three-quarters of the page space? Nevertheless, that is one hot Lois Lane on p. 1.

The story begins with Kal's perspective on the scene ending Supergirl #14, his combination of frustration with her and amazement that she can suddenly speak English. He's sceptical of H'El's claims, and protective of Superboy – whom he's not sought out even though he knows of him in a failure of story-telling logic if you ask me. Of course, that all leads to a knock-down drag-out confrontation that H'El wins by the use of all kinds of supra-Kryptonian powers – telekinesis, teleportation, and now the power of illusion when he beats down Supergirl while under the appearance of Superman in order to deepen the wedge between the cousins, because somehow his plan depends on her. But in his exchange with Superman he refers to untold stories of the untold past of the DCnU, when aliens masqueraded as Kryptonians as well as the day Superman failed Suicide Squad – exactly three years ago this day.

Oh, and there's some scientific nonsense about the heavy gravity of Krypton rendering unmanned space flight an impossibility. Come again? Adding a man makes it possible?

Talon #2
First Strike”

Calvin Rose penetrates the Court of Owls' Treasury, ostensibly to swipe files on himself and the woman and daughter he went rogue to protect, but really to slag the treasury. Rose and his associate Sebastian Clark are working different agendas, and this puts them at odds. Anyway, Rose confronts an undead Talon who is the son of a Grandmaster, and whose story further paints the Court as truly monstrous. The Court's reaction to these events is to resurrect the 1860s Gotham Butcher.

One of the best things about this book is the atmospheric art. It fits perfectly. But I'm getting the feeling they're really overplaying the monstrosity of the Court. They're almost caricaturish.

Batman Incorporated #5

This issue expands on Bruce's bombshell dropped on Damian last issue, via an imagined future – whether it's Bruce's or Damian's I'm not sure. We're back to Grant Morrison's trench coated Damian as Batman-future from Batman #666 and 700, I believe, at the very least. Things don't go well: From Batman's monologue at the end of the issue: “I don't know exactly how it happens. / But I know what happens. // I know how it ends. /// …. I had a dream of a future Batman who sold his soul to the Devil and destroyed Gotham. // Your mother is manipulating events to mold you into that Batman, her agent. / We changed this much at least – Your intervention here tonight didn't get one of us killed, which is what I'd feared. /// But you can't be Robin. / You can never be Batman. // Right now I can think of only one solution, Damian.” Damian looks back at him pathetically: “Nobody knows the future, Father. / Why would you do this to me?,” and quieter, “Don't make me go back to her. // I want to stay with you.” One can feel the pain of many children in many broken marriages on those pages, in which the background (after a nuclear holocaust destroys Gotham) shatters like a broken mirror – or a child's heart.

Of course, it may be that Batman did see a version of the future play out that way as he bounced around in time after being hit by Darkseid's Omega Effect in Final Crisis – if that happened, and as far as I'm concerned, for Grant Morrison's story it did.

But that was not the final end of the issue, which played out on one more page, from which one might infer that the Batwing series will be ending if events played out as they seem. Unfortunately, Knight and Squire, two of Morrison's recreations for his last few years' Batman saga with whom I was really taken, also look to be blown up along with other Batman, Incorporated, operatives.

It finally hit me with this issue. Chris Burnham's art reminds me a whole lot of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, just smoother.

This issue was like a brick wall for my Batman-reading colleague. It is obviously hard to follow. For one thing, it's Morrison mind-trippy-ness. But I also have to keep reminding him that he really ought to read the entire six-year Morrison Batman to appreciate what's going on, or even hope to follow it. Frankly, I find myself floundering at times and wishing for the luxury of time to go back and reread it all from the beginning with Batman and Son. On the other hand, only picking it all up a few issues into the first incarnation of Batman, Incorporated, this was his first Damian-as-future-Batman story. No wonder he was totally bewildered.

Batman: The Dark Knight #14
The Twilight Kingdom”

Were I not such an OCD completist I would have dropped this book by now. It is nothing but over-the-top grotesquerie very reminiscent of Tony Daniels' early issues of New 52 Detective. By the end of the issue Scarecrow is giving Gotham City a big old Christmas present in the form of a fear toxin apocalypse. I don't feel like giving this any more effort, so moving on....

Justice League Dark #14
Enter the House of Mystery”

There's a different artist here, which immediately hit me with a pang of disappointment, but bear in mind that Mikel Janin has done several issues in succession plus the annual, and doubtless needed a break to catch up. And frankly I'd rather have Janin back for another run rested rather than burned out. Finally, the fill-in artist captures his style to a degree so the difference is not too jarring.

There are two parallel stories here. In the one that starts on the first page, Steve Trevor, John Constantine, Deadman, and Madame Xanadu call in Dr Peril for his experience with paranormal science to figure out where Zatanna and Tim Hunter were taken. The Books of Magic are not in themselves magic at all, but high science triggered by Tim's magic. They end up calling on the recently incarcerated Dr Mist to try to reproduce Tim's magical aura and trigger them into activity again. Meanwhile, Black Orchid, Amethyst, and a reluctant Frankenstein go exploring in the House of Mystery, experience a series of weird encounters, most notably Black Orchid discovered Constantine's office with its cork board covered with questions very much like Rip Hunter's old chalk board in the Booster Gold series and elsewhere. Note that Constantine must not be up to date on Batman, Incorporated, because one of the notes questions, “BATMAN: Gothamite. Has wealthy backer. Who?” Overall, there is the feeling that we've got a couple of filler issues – both narratives end unresolved on a cliffhanger. But the questions on Constantine's board doubtless give plenty of obscure hints to future story lines, not just in this book.

Teen Titans #14
The Origin of Wonder Girl”

Several things go on in this issue. We have the resolution of the Cassie-Diesel story with her taking on the silent armor once again to save him from himself – although what actually happens to him is not revealed. Is he absorbed into her … er, so to speak? Bart and Miguel are feeling bored while they are recuperating. Kiran (Solstice) is being visited by an apparition that tempts her with an offer to make her human again. With the return of Red Robin, Superboy, and Wonder Girl, the Titans set up in Red Robin's penthouse – all except Superboy who goes home and apparently disappears. Then the apparition appears again, Kiran wants to talk to Red Robin, but he's called away on “family business.” When the Titans find a Jokerized effigy of him, they know there's trouble.

Meh. This issue began with a bad taste in my mouth when, on the first page, Red Robin spouts a bunch of nonsense about the demonic big bad of the DCU Trigon being the inspiration for various religions', including Christianity's, concept of a Trinity. I find that assertion gratuitously offensive. But getting past that, this issue seemed very scattered. Who is that apparition plaguing Kiran? A note references “current issues of Birds of Prey,” but that doesn't help.

Joe Kubert Presents #2 of 6

Another double-sized little anthology of stuff either by or chosen by Kubert. The first is part one of his own “Redeemer”: As a story, it's okay. I'm a bit put off by the overt perversion of the Christ mythos – especially after just having my faith impugned by Teen Titans. We'll have to see how it resolves before I can really assess it. I am a bit curious as to the origin of the stories in this series, exactly how they came about. Is this something Kubert had “on the shelf,” so to speak, or did he come up with it for this series? Next is Kubert's commentary on Sam Glanzman, complete with early examples of his sketches based on life in the navy, leading into another U.S.S. Stevens story, which actually relates the tale of another ship, the U.S.S. “Neversink” and it's landside Captain “Squish Squash.” Finally, a continuation of the “Angel and the Ape” story from last issue, a bit of lighthearted slapstick fun. Again, I wonder what the origin of this is? Obviously Kubert has a very high regard for Glanzman as an old colleague doing DC war comics. I don't know anything about Brian Buniak.

Wouldn't it be great – rights issues preclude it, of course – if this series could have at least one Kubert Tarzan story?


I, Vampire #14

This book is going to the dogs.  Well, not really, but Andrew discovers that he can make vampire dogs!  A vampire's best friend, and all that.  Mary, John, and new girl Deborah Dancer get away from Andrew, Tig, and Fido (that's not his name but I forget what it was) and start trying to find Andrew's sire to reverse his vampirism.  Maybe I've just not read closely enough, but I don't get how that works.  Anyway, Andrew and Tig to to the Oblivion Bar and start recruiting commanders for his new army.

Smallville Season 11 #25-27
Haunted, Parts 1-3”

Bart Allen (the Flash) returns to "catch up," but he's also dealing (secretly) with his own demon, something calling out to him when he pushes his speed.  We are introduced to the Smallville version of Psimon as well as Mallah and the Brain.  I'm still loving this.  We also get a treat, the beginning of a monthly off-week "backup."  My understanding is that it will be non-Superman side stories.  This time:  Martian Manhunter and Batman vs. a White Martian.  What is the significance of the graffiti on the sewer wall?  What exactly is the relationship between Bruce and Barbara (Nightwing) here?

Review: To be added.

Phantom Lady #4 of 4
Out of the Shadows and Into the Light”

The cover is a bit misleading because Funerella comes to a grisly end without ever facing Jennifer again, as Bender applies the lesson of what had happened to her in that battle in a bit more horrific fashion. There's more good banter between Jen and Dane – whom I really like in and of himself – as they decide on a less direct approach against Bender because they've found out super-heroing is just too dangerous. They witness Funerella's end via surveillance cameras. But Bender manages to track them down and attack. Phantom Lady unleashes the full potential of her shadow field on him – leaving him a mindless husk … just in time for Uncle Sam and the Ray to burst in with an offer they can't refuse.

I really liked this series. Sure, it's a total re-imagining of the Phantom Lady from her old Quality Comics self, but it's pure gold by Gray and Palmiotti – with nice art by Cat Staggs – and it's good on its own merits. And it's being followed directly by a similar revival of the Human Bomb, so their New 52-ization of the Freedom Fighters continues. It's a pity that these DC mini-series seem to be languishing in the low-selling range and that may not be sustainable as an ongoing. Of course, that's based on the only “hard” sales data I'm aware of, Diamond's sales to comic shops, which I'm not even contributing to since I'm buying them digitally. How much do the digital sales figure into DC's business decisions? One really hopes they're tracking that closely and consider them as well.

I do not agree with the following reviewers' assessments. But to each his own.

Cheers! – and Thanks for reading!

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