Saturday, March 30

DC Comics – April 2013 – New 52 Month 18

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

The news coming out of DC – or rather about DC, 'cause DC themselves are being rather mum except with excited “great news” type damage-control announcements that invariably turn out to be premature or not the whole story at all – seems dominated these days by continuing word of chaos among DC editorial. The most disconcerting came within a handful of days just this past week (I'm starting this on 25 March) was that Andy Diggle is leaving Action Comics after only one issue as Grant Morrison's successor. Since Diggle's announced plans and vision for the greatest super-hero of them all seemed a step in the right direction, this is bad enough. Worse was the corollary news that Tony Daniel was to take over writing the title as well as art. The anguished “NOOOOOOO” you may have heard mid-week was me. Daniel is a decent artist. His writing in the New 52 has invariably sucked, and frankly before that was seldom more than adequate. Yeah, I couldn't wait to see Action Comics end up looking like the first year or so of Detective Comics. A couple of days to contemplate that bleakness was followed by the announcement that, no, Daniel won't be lasting but a three-issue arc then moving on to a preplanned, “major” project. No word that I've seen so far as to what Action Comics might look like four months hence ....

During roughly the same period came word that Joshua Hale Fialkov, whose writing I've really liked on the just-ending I, Vampire would not be taking over Green Lantern Corps – because editorial sucker-punched him with the mandate that John Stewart die. Fialkov walked and made no secret why. Whereupon DC crawfished and announced that there are currently “no plans” to kill off John Stewart.

See? Chaos. Do those people have a clue? It's ultimately quite disturbing, especially with rumors coming out of Bleeding Cool of other lame stunts under consideration – “Villains Month” in which, e.g., Batman #24 would be renamed “Joker #24” for that month only; mass cancellation of sixteen titles to be replaced by four weekly titles. And how is that last supposed to help?


The only thing to do is sit back, not think about that kind of stuff, just read and enjoy what we're getting … where it's enjoyable. Some's getting a little marginal on that score, though.

On to the comics....

Earth 2 #9
The Tower of Fate: Prologue – The Man Who Was Scared”

The introduction to the New 52 Dr. Fate. Somehow this issue seemed a bit more “in your face” with the fact that these are markedly younger versions of the Justice of Society heroes, which is quite jarring given that their role all my life has been as the elder statesmen of the DC Universe (originally, of the Multiverse). Maybe it was that Jay Garrick's mother certainy does not look old enough to be his mother. She looked more like his girl friend.

Umm, creators, please be aware that “New Orleans” is not swampland with isolated shacks. You don't have to go far from the city, granted, but a better caption would have been just that, e.g. “Near New Orleans” or a general “South Louisiana.”

Worlds' Finest #9

Raiders attempt to steal back tech that Karen Starr stole from Michael Holt. Yeah, Helena looks just as shocked that Karen's a thief as you do.

Action Comics #17
Superman and the Fiend from Dimension 5” / “Goodbye”

Another “all timey-wimey” issue, to use the Doctor's term. Man I'm going to miss Grant Morrison, with much less prospect of continuing greatness than I thought even a week ago (see above). A touching new twist on the death of the Kents, and the Adult Legion of Super-Heroes continues to be right in the middle of everything. But once again, as has happened a couple times already, ultimately the best part of the issue was the quieter back-up by Sholly Fisch, in which adult Clark gets to say a proper goodbye to Pa Kent. DC – your new writer for Action Comics is right here! – or if not “Action” Comics, since he excels at quieter stories (although he might do just fine with more slam-bang too), at least put him on some other title, preferably Superman-related.

Justice League of America #1
Worlds Most Dangerous, Chapter One”

The one with the 52 alternate covers, one for each of the states plus Puerto Rico and DC. Of which I got three: Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi. In retrospect, I wish I'd also plunked down a little for the really low population states. I bet there weren't that many of those printed, and they may end up being worth something in future.

Well, it's a workmanlike first issue. But no more than that. Basically, Amanda Waller (someone on the Internet refers to her as “Slimfast Waller”) and Steve Trevor negotiating to set up a team, with little illustrative character vignettes about their various candidates. And Green Arrow is almost killed on some secret mission. After a page basically recycled from Justice League #1.

Altogether unmemorable. Frankly, this issue did not do its job, and were I buying these things as they came out, there was nothing to bring me back for the next issue. DC are lucky I'm on a pre-order system and have already essentially purchased at least the next two issues.

I've still not come across a stars-and-bars faux-variant of the cover.

Detective Comics #17
The Pursuit of Happiness” / “Doctor's Orders”

This is what Detective Comics ought to be – Batman the Detective. Bravo! The best issue of the series.

With an insightful statement (by the villain) regarding Arkham Asylum: “You know, Gotham is probably the only city on the planet where criminals don't want to be found guilty by reason of insanity. / I've seen Arkham. I know what goes on in there. I'll take Blackgate any day over that place.” Too bad the doctor's orders say otherwise....

Superboy #17
H'El on Earth: Lost Cause!”

This world has plenty of hope – / – and his name is SUPERMAN!” So proclaims Superboy, showing just how much kinder this story has been to him than to Supergirl. This story really signifies his emergence as a hero. Earlier in the issue, his inner'logue while standing with Superman and Wonder Woman: “I got dragged into this mess against my will – / – and was swept up by the momentum of the moment. / The time has finally come for me to take an active stand – // – for my world and myself!

But at least you can see the pain in Supergirl as she continues to be deceived by H'El. On some level she has to know that she is being played, even if she won't let herself believe it.

Batman #17
Death of the Family, Conclusion: The Punchline”

When, oh when is Bruce going to learn that keeping secrets from the family is not a good thing? Because this time the Joker has succeeded in breaking the bond of trust which had to have existed, and I'm not sure how this is going to play out going forward. There is a nice scene between Bruce and Alfred, but his relationship with the rest of the family is going to take rebuilding.

Granted, I'm thinking that in the end it's revealed that the Joker never made it into the Cave all those years back, but how did the Joker discover all their identities? – Or did he? – It sure seems to me like the narrative depends on him knowing. But I do not think that Bruce really knows the Joker's true identity – I think he was turning the tables on him, tormenting him as he tormented them.

There is an interesting incorporation of the old chemical symbol for Hahnium (Element 105, now known as Dubnium) into the story as a component of the Joker's new blend. That has to have some lingering effects on the Bat-family.

Of course, there's no way the Joker is really gone.

Batman and Robin #17
Life is But a Dream”

Basically, a series of nightmares experienced by Damian, Bruce, and Alfred. Alfred's ends with a smile after he blows the Joker's head clean off with his trusty shotgun. It all culminates with a dream that Damian finally does not want to wake up from, himself and his father doing what they do best through the Gotham night to sun-up.

Batgirl #17
Endure the Flame”

This title briefly gets a new writer, a result of the Gail Simone faux pas on the part of DC a few months ago (see here at “Holy Boomerang, Batman!”). Immediately apparent is a totally different tone to Barbara's inner'logue – not bad, just different. Babs' efforts to bring in the Joker's fugitive henchmen are punctuated by James Junior's attempts to torment Barbara and their mother, and the advent of Firebug.

Justice League #17
Throne of Atlantis, Chapter Five”

The conclusion, in which Arthur confronts Orm, defeating him and reclaiming the throne of Atlantis, which leads to a tearful parting from Mera. And the war is over. The Trench are driven back. Vulko's motivation is frankly pathetic – basically to screw things up so bad that Arthur will have to take back the throne. Nonetheless, I do find this the most enjoyable arc of a frankly disappointing series that should be much better than it is. I'm sure it's because I'm more predisposed to like it because it's Aquaman-centric.

By the way, regardless of the issues' release dates, the end of this story is chronologically prior to Justice League of America #1. Time was, as recently as a couple of years ago, release dates would be a good guide to chronology – not perfect, but now it seems to have little or no relevance.

Hey, no “Shazam!” I didn't miss it.

Supergirl #17
“H'El on Earth: Girl vs. Goddess”

Kara gets whupped by Wonder Woman but finally sees the truth, that she has been cruelly manipulated by H'El, that their actions are dooming Earth in hopes of saving Krypton.

So what is up with the sudden appearance of the symbol on H'El's chest? She reacts to it. Is it something that he had been consciously hiding from her? – That's the most obvious answer, but if so why does he so quickly cave by revealing it? Or, could it be that it was always there but we were seeing what she was seeing, that she was so enthralled by him that she refused to see what was staring her in the face.

Kind of like H'El's overall plan.

Batwoman #17
World's Finest V: Mercy”

Man, that title still grates on me a bit. “World's Finest” are Superman and Batman, or at least a pairing of representatives from those respective families. Not a Bat- or a Super- and Wonder Woman.

This is the conclusion of this arc. With the breaking of the spell and the Perseus-like defeat of Medusa, Ceto appears – but not as a monster, rather as a woman freed from the ages-long stigma of monstrosity. Batwoman convinces Wonder Woman to spare Ceto, and apparently Diana gets another hanger-on. I wonder if that will be in any way reflected anywhere outside this book. The abducted kids also reappear and Batwoman is able to lead them to Maggie, whereupon she reveals her identity and asks her shocked lover to marry her. Oh yeah, we find out that Bette's new code name is Firehawk.

So the issue of homosexual marriage appears here, too. It was inevitable. I do feel compelled to say a couple of things. First off, at the near-certain risk of being denounced as a bigot, homophobe, general all-around awful person, I make no pretense that I find that behavior acceptable as a “life-style choice.” It is not part of my Judaeo-Christian, traditional Roman Catholic heritage. Nor has the pretense of homosexual “marriage,” contrary to the claims of some dubious “historians” in the past couple of decades, ever been an accepted societal institution in at least five thousand years of civilization. Yes, I support “traditional marriage” – let the insults begin.

Having said which, am I going to reactionarily drop this book? No. I've addressed this issue before, although perhaps not so bluntly. Batwoman is one of the finest comics being published today. The characters are well-developed, the art is amazing if sometimes overly complex. The misfire of issues #6-11 notwithstanding – a story-structural experiment gone horribly wrong – it never fails to enthrall me. These characters seem real, with all their human (and super-human) heroism and failings. Sin is part of the human condition. We are called to love the sinner while hating the sin. It's not just a cliché – it's a mandate. And, as I've said before, unless and until this book transforms into nothing more than basically a piece of homosexual propaganda, as long as the quality remains, I'm staying. Her sexual orientation is simply part of Kate Kane's fascinating, tortured character.

And I do wonder what Maggie's answer is going to be.

Birds of Prey #17

Whew!, Starling is okay. But Strix perceives quickly that something is up with Black Canary, and ultimately Canary tells her a little – that it's always been related to her husband Kurt Lance, but she doesn't understand it now because Kurt is dead …. We also learn that Starling is a plant by Amanda Waller, spying on the Birds of Prey – which tracks with an unfortunate rumor I've come across, that Starling is soon going to be moving over to Waller's own team, the Suicide Squad. I don't buy that book. I may have to start. Damnit, DC, I'm not made of money.

Catwoman #17

You know, after the implosion of this book with the advent of Ann Nocenti, I couldn't even bring myself to read this issue.

Moving on....

(If you're interested in what “real” reviewers thought of it, see here: Reviews)

Nightwing #17
The Long Week”

Why is Nightwing beating up on Valiant's X-O Manowar on the cover?

Dick uncharacteristically broods over the Joker's contention that his trusting nature makes him weak, until Damian of all people talks some sense into his head. There are some ironic parting words from Damian: “... Assuming you survive the rest of the week …

Why does Babs call Dick “Richard”? Does it signify a new distance between the characters? Or just that this issue seemed a bit off in characterization?

Red Hood and the Outlaws #17
Don't Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out!”

Is that title a metatextual comment by Lobdell? He's on his way out as writer, right?

This issue is maybe most notable from the perspective of someone always looking for how the various series fit together as introducing a big chronological impossibility, because despite Jason's “memory” here, there's no way the Batman, Incorporated arc that's in process, where he takes the identity of “Wingman,” could possibly take place before Death of the Family and this issue. Lobdelllll!

Anyway, Jason has a lot of seemingly out-of-character interactions with his fellow Bats … yes, he seems to be back within the fold … before unexpectedly falling victim to the Joker's parting shot, a sabotaged red helmet.

Legion of Super-Heroes #17
The Beginning of the End”

I do not like that title and its implications. I was recently astonished – and depressed – to see that this book is languishing well below the conventional-wisdom minimum for viability as a DC mainstream ongoing title, 20,000 copies per month. Well below. And there are rumors of major changes to come. Most notably, the conversion of the Legion as a future version of the Justice League. What the hell does that even mean? Other than it won't be my Legion.

Anyway, this, what turns out to be Keith Giffen's one-issue return to the title as partner to Paul Levitz, is a predictably wild and crazy thing. I had my doubts. I always am tentative on whether I want Giffen anywhere near the Legion – he's as likely to give into insanity and produce genius (kind of like Brainiac 5, there, come to think of it). But here it works, in spades. When they are at their best, there is a unique synergy between Giffen and Levitz in which, pardon the cliché, the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Even Giffen's affected Kirbyesque art, which I usually find less than appropriate for the Legion, is entirely appropriate given the centrality of the Promethean Giants to this story.

But, oh, Giffen, what are we going to do with you? I bet everyone was (and still should be) worried about Karate Kid, but I think it's clear ever since your “Five Years Later” run twenty years ago that you have something against Sun Boy too. I'm not sure you were still around on that run when he suffered the final indignity of fatal radiation poisoning and euthanasia, followed by reanimation, if I recall in some kind of zombiesque fashion. But you were the one who made him the United Planets' bitch which led to his discrediting and disgrace as a collaborator with the Dominators, if I recall correctly. At least here he doesn't go through any of that – just a sudden … is "decapitation" the word? – it looks like his head is literally obliterated.

In spirit, his sudden death successfully landing a crashing ship so that his passengers survive, reminds me of nothing more than Wash's untimely end in Joss Whedon's Firefly movie, Serenity.

Aquaman #17
Throne of Atlantis, Epilogue”

Epilogue? – it's as much a Prelude to what comes next. Again, the shameless decompression via wasted pages. It ain't like they've got that many! So why essentially waste the whole first page?

Anyway, Aquaman the King still finds himself trapped between worlds. The New 52 Sea Devils are introduced as eco-terrorists. Arthur has a seemingly sympathetic conversation with Amanda Waller – seemingly, because as soon as he dives below the waves, she orders a strike team to bring Mera in. Huh? – Why? Reluctantly separated by circumstances, that cannot but piss Aquaman off … royally.

Or maybe this is the start of an arc that will see Mera recruited by Waller for the Justice League of America or some other of her “projects.”

Superman #17
H'El on Earth, Conclusion: Fury at World's End”

Okay, there's the Oracle, front and center on the cover. But what was the purpose of the Oracle for all that buildup?

This is an overall satisfactory ending to a so-so story. At least Supergirl belatedly came to her senses and is instrumental in defeating H'El, through an act of self-sacrifice that I hope has her resistance to accepting Earth as her new home almost literally burned out of her. Ultimately, I hope this arc is for her, as for Superboy, a catalyst for emerging heroism. If so, it was a worthy story, even if it was ultimately not told very well.

Batman, Incorporated #8
The Boy Wonder Returns”

Well, this story was spoiled – by DC itself – weeks ago. Even if I were picking comics up weekly and thus got it pretty much as quickly as I could have, rather than waiting until the end of the month (which in this case, wasn't long since my it was released near the end of the month anyway), the effect would have been robbed utterly. It's an unfortunate effect of today's Internet-driven intense news cycles, compounded by DC's desperate need to keep some new Big Thing hitting virtually every day. Whatever, it's annoying.

Of course, this issue has the … brutal … death of Damian. Damn. I'm going to miss that snot-nosed little pecker. We do get at least a few good character moments between him and Dick, most notably just before they head into the climactic fray: “This is our last chance to prevent a catastrophe. / Are you with me, Nightwing? / The odds are completely against us.” – “When did we ever let something like that get in the way? / Robin the Boy Wonder, Damian.” – “So far I'd say you've been my favorite partner. / We were the best, Richard. / No matter what anyone thinks.

Damian Wayne, R.I.P.

Talon #5

At some unspecified time, but presumably soon after the end of Death of the Family because Nightwing is still vocally resentful of the Joker incident, we see that Batman is aware of Calvin Rose and is investigating.

In the main story, we get a bit of a nice interlude with Calvin, Casey, and Sarah in hiding, but almost living as a family completely with Sebastian who seems to have a way with kids, then the war is back on with an attack on Casey's father's island, now the center of the Owls' security. The Butcher is still on Calvin's trail.

Batman: The Dark Knight #17
Sweet Obsession”

You know, I still don't see the need for a third Batman-solo title in continuity with nothing really to distinguish it from the others. Is there, really, any reason this story could not be told in Batman except that Snyder is working wonders there? But I must say, I keep swinging back and forth on Dark Knight in recent issues. I actually kind of like all aspects of this issue, especially a bit more in-your-face dry humor.

There's no real indication that I can see in the pages as to when this takes place relative to the events of Batman, Incorporated #8.

Justice League Dark #17
The Death of Magic, Part 3: Prisoners of Epoch”

The Hunter goes to war … while Dad comes from our world to give him a vital message. The issue picks up a bit from last time, but it's still not that interesting a story line. I am liking Frankenstein here, especially how an element of the story is how out of place he is in a magic-based book.

Teen Titans #17
Grey Matters: A Prologue to A Tale of Light and Dark”

So. Did the trauma of what ever the Joker did to him lay Tim open to being possessed, perhaps by Trigon since Raven is coming in (looking absolutely stupid), and make him schizophrenic/bipolar as well as at least able to trilocate on top of being a horndog snogging Solstice and Wonder Girl at the same time? So it seems to me, at least. It's not really clear. At least the Barrows art is a notch up.


I, Vampire #17

To be added.

Human Bomb #3 of 4

It's sad that these Gray-Palmiotti “New 52” reimagined versions of the old Quality stable of characters are languishing at the bottom of the sales list. I generally like the “Freedom Fighters.” True, the Human Bomb never was my favorite, and here of the three titles (five characters [?]) so reintroduced he remains my least favorite, but after the first issue I found this a pretty good series and I'd like to see more, including at least a culminating “Freedom Fighters” team mini-series. I doubt that's in the cards, though.

Smallville: Season 11 #37-40

Still the place to go for the closest thing you're going to get to “old-fashioned” Superman action. Really seems strange to say it given it comes out of the Smallville continuity, but there it is.

It is so cool how much of Superman lore is incorporated, refashioned, or alluded to here … even, visually at least, “Electric-Blue Superman” from the '90s. Not an incarnation of Superman I got (either literally or philosophically), but it is nonetheless part of the rich heritage of the character. I've seen the name of Bryan Q. Miller bandied about on message boards as an unlikely writer for Action Comics, and I could live with that if he could handle that job and continuing this masterful series.

Cheers! – and thanks for reading!

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