Sunday, April 28

DC Comics – May 2013 – New 52 Month 19

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

I think the biggest news to come out in recent weeks has been with the on-line previews of the new solicitations that will be published in the next issue of Diamond's Previews. What was assumed to be DC's first “mega” event of the New 52, probably drawing in everything like Blackest Night or Flashpoint did, seems not to be all that. In fact, instead of being presented as an independent miniseries with tie-in issues within various regular series, plus maybe some specials and ancillary miniseries, it is simply rotating through the three Justice League titles – JL itself, Justice League of America, and Justice League Dark. Which is not a good thing. I know for a fact that it is driving at least one new reader away, who had recently came on board Justice League as the putative flagship book of the DCnU starring the big names (well, and Cyborg...) but finds the book steadily departing from that ideal and attempting to compel him to buy two other series that he has no interest in! 'Way to go, DC!

Also notable, although there was little fanfare, was the addition of new verbiage to the “created by” credits for the Superman books. I first noticed it on Smallville Season 11 – “SUPERMAN created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster / By Special Arrangement with the Jerry Siegel Family.” It seems to be a result of recent developments in the ongoing legal case.

DC keeps creating public relations faux pas for itself and giving the real impression that the lunatics are running the asylum. The specific examples are quite frankly too irritating to detail, so I won't.

I'd rather write about the comics....

Earth 2 #10
The Tower of Fate, Part 1”

The villain of the piece is going to be Wotan, whose name invokes the old Germanic god otherwise known as Odin (“Thor's daddy,” as I tell my students) but otherwise seems unrelated. I'm aware of him from older comics, but have no real history with him and never saw him as more than a C-list villain. Maybe he'll be something more here. The “Talbot Mundy” to whom he refers (“In a scenario straight out of Talbot Mundy...”) was an early 20th-century English writer whose works greatly influenced such pulp writers as Robert E. Howard. The Great Beast on the last page really makes me think of the Balrog from The Fellowship of the Ring.

Worlds' Finest #10
Some Things You Can Change, Some You Can't”

Doesn't Power Girl look like an angel on that cover?

This issue really ought to be branded “Requiem” like most of the Batman family of titles. The second of the two distinct parts is definitely part of that memorial for the lost member of the family. It comes after Karen and Helena each retaliate against Holt Industry's assault on Starr Island. Then Karen calls Helena with news of Damian. The balance of the issue has Helena at her sort-of-brother's grave, where she is almost discovered by Batman – but she's not ready for that meeting just yet. The first of two tags to the issue has a Michael Holt mysteriously appear. The second deserves to be scanned in just for the wonderful expressions on Karen and Helena's faces. Kevin Maguire never ceases to amaze. Unfortunately, I've heard he's leaving this title.

Action Comics #18
Superman's Last Stand” / “Never-Ending Battle”

Soooo.... Vyndktvx had to attack Superman across all of time because at each point in time Superman defeats him – and does so “this time.” There's a passage with some great quotes that seem to lay it all out:

You felt their PAIN? / Feel it again. // Feel all at once the fear, the loneliness, the confusion of all creation as I bring this dirty little joke of a universe to its tidy, logical end. / You're too weak to stop me now!”

All … all at once. / That's it, isn't it? // For you, this is all happening at once. / You only attack once. / But I've had a lifetime to learn about you and your weaknesses, Vyndktvx. // This is your first and only attack. / But from my perspective we've fought before and will again. / And every time – you lose. // You lost against my father on Krypton. / You lost on Mars. / You lost against the Legion. // Why do you lose every time? / It's simple. / You have the power of a god, but you don't understand the basic rules of the trick. // For every action – // There is an equal and opposite reaction. / For every you // There's someone like me to fight back. / And I don't give up.”

Uh … what? – That is so Grant Morrison! … and I'm looking forward to a time, probably this summer, when I can go back and do a slow, studied, rereading of this entire Grant Morrison New 52 Superman saga at once – and give it a deservedly considered commentary here. That time is not now, unfortunately. But I always say that Grant Morrison is the most “rereadable” comic book writer out there, with each rereading of his books rewarding attention with new and interesting insights. (Which reminds me, I'm long overdue for perhaps my fifth reread-through of his great Seven Soldiers epic from a few years back....)

Seriously, though, that quote does capture something of the essence of Superman – a hero who thinks, but most of all simply a hero, who does not give up.

There is of course so much more to be admired in this run, but my first quick assessment is, it has been great, and I will miss my monthly dose of Grant Morrison Superman in future.

And also my monthly dose of Sholly Fisch's amazing companion pieces – I don't want to call them “back-ups,” because that seems to relegate them to some lesser stature than the “lead.” And frankly, as great as Morrison's main narrative has been, Fisch's more intimate character-driven complementary stories have sometimes outshone them. Here, “coincidentally” dated three hundred years after the 1938 first appearance of Superman in the “real” Action Comics #1, we see how he still inspires the little guy to stand up against oppression.

Which is the final element in Superman – the hero who INSPIRES.

And so ends the Grant Morrison/Sholly Fisch magnum opus, a consistently bright ray of (yellow) sunshine in the still-sometimes hard-to-accept New 52 DCnU Experiment.

Detective Comics #18 – “Requiem”
Return to Roost” / “Mr. Zsasz in A Cut Above”

Obviously, the war against crime goes on despite Damian's death. Penguin discovers Ogilvy's betrayal, which has left him with no resources to fight Batman – and ends up arrested. Ogilvy used Zsasz (who is given a new origin in the backup, related to Penguin's casino enterprises) to complete taking down Penguin's resources, and now he's using a former associate of Talia to aim Man-Bat at Batman.

I'm liking this very much. Ogilvy is being revealed to be a criminal genius whom I believe could develop into a worthy arch enemy and addition to the mythos if it is just played right.

Justice League of America #2
World's Most Dangerous, Chapter Two” / “Security Detail”

The group is about to be thrown directly against a mysterious, new Secret Society in a trial by fire – after a press conference/photo op with the President. Catwoman won't be at the latter, however, since she's a criminal … even though she is especially photogenic. I'd say so, especially with the front of her suit unzipped to her navel and spread wide open practically to her nipples! It's ridiculous. This is overall actually a bit better second issue than the first was, if that last were not so in-your-face as to jerk you right out of the story. Suspension of disbelief is important in this form of story telling, and believe me I can suspend a lot of disbelief. But there are limits. When the mind immediately thinks, if she moves even the least little bit she's going to be popping right out of that suit, it throws me right out of the story. In the back-up, Martian Manhunter lets a would-be assassin into the White House to prove to the President how much he needs the JL of A. I'm still with this title for now, if only because it will be critical in the upcoming Trinity War.

Superboy #18
Mind Your Manners”

Introducing the New 52 Plasmus and Doctor Psycho. My reaction to that is “meh.” But at the beginning of the issue Superboy is finally returning the millions of dollars that he appropriated from a bank several issues ago, citing both his fellow Titan Bunker's entreaties and the lesson of the H'El Event, i.e. his recent development through that story into choosing heroism. The issue ends with a hint/confirmation that Luthor was somehow involved in Superboy's creation.

Batman and Robin #18 – “Requiem”

There are not many words to be said about this issue, which is not meant to imply that it was not masterfully pulled off. Literally wordlessly, in a story without narration or dialogue, just the art, we see Bruce dealing with the reality of Damian's death, which may follow the stages of grief (I haven't analysed it that closely). When his rage takes him onto the streets of Gotham, well, were I a Gotham criminal I sure wouldn't want to meet up with him!

I don't know how long the creators had to put together these “Requiem” issues. I get the feeling somebody working in the same franchise with Grant Morrison, who inevitably goes his own way and seems to be rather closed mouth even with his colleagues as to what he's got in store (that's just my impression, right or wrong), probably doesn't get a lot of lead time to adjust their narrative to match his. I didn't see the interview, but one of my own colleagues was telling me a while back that he saw one where Tomasi admitted literally begging Morrison not to kill off Damian. I can understand. Maybe more than any other writer, Tomasi had developed the Morrison-created character quite richly over the past couple of years. I'm sure he had a lot of time and effort invested in Damian, and probably had plans for more, when Morrison shut it down – and there came an undoubted editorial mandate that virtually all the next month's Bat-titles must participate in the collective mourning “event,” “Requiem.” (I'm sure that's also going to play hell with deriving any kind of narrative chronology accommodating all of the titles as well.) Regardless of all that, Tomasi and Gleason adapted brilliantly, and this is a comic I'm sure I will “read” again, especially the first few pages which merely show Bruce and Alfred, alone in Wayne Manor. And the dog, who is obviously mourning as well.

And I ended up writing more words than I thought I would....

Batman #18 – “Requiem”

If Batman and Robin is the saddest story of the “Requiem” issues, this is probably the saddest of the various “Requiem” covers, and I mean that term, “saddest,” as a compliment. The empty boots, a warrior fallen. It conveys better than any other – to me, at least – the void that should and hopefully will be felt in the pages of the Batman books in the coming months, even though this issue continues development of a character who has been rumored to be Batman's “next Robin.” I'm torn as to whether there really ought to be a “next Robin,” and if so who it should be. Part of me admits the ridiculosity of the very idea, while another part of me always wants there to be one. And of course I know there will be one. “Batman and Robin” is such a cultural icon that DC will not let it lay fallow for long. And the fact is, that over the years, various stories (especially the wonderfully handled introduction and anointing of Tim Drake into that role two decades and more ago) have rather convincingly argued that having a Robin is a psychological necessity for Batman, to keep him balanced. Whether Harper Row (by the way, is there some significance to that name? – upon her introduction earlier in the New 52, it immediately resonated with me) should fill that role is a separate question, and I get the feeling that that's not the way they're going. Personally, the iconic status of the pairing aside, I might prefer Batman's new squire (whoa – there's a thought, but in Batman, Incorporated Beryl assumes her own fallen mentor's mantle, see below) not take the code name “Robin,” but rather “Backup,” as assigned to Sasha Bordeaux about a decade or so ago when she, Bruce Wayne's bodyguard, discovered her charge's other life and insisted on accompanying him in it. With the basic suit she wears in this issue. Which all digresses well away from this particular issue.

The story dovetails nicely with Batman and Robin, as Batman's rage continues to make him more and more reckless, until his self-appointed “guardian angel” Harper Row steps in and most likely saves his life when exhaustion leads to a misstep, and although the main thing she gets for it in the short term is a busted nose, she presses on and appeals to Batman's “financier” Bruce Wayne (whom she may or may not know is really Batman), and makes him realize that he must really deal with Damian's death.

A nugget is dropped for further development of the Harper Row saga – why was her mother's murder “quite the scandal”? In Gotham City, that's saying something....

Batgirl #18 – “Requiem”
The Mask of Ashes”

This, on the other hand, is an issue which felt to me as if the “Requiem” elements were kind of shoe-horned in. Understandable, if the creators had, as I suspect, short notice, but after Batman and Batman and Robin, very noticeable.

Batman tells Jim Gordon of Robin's death, which causes the Commissioner to worry about the effect that will have on the city, as well as to call Babs. But other than attempting unsuccessfully to talk to Dick, she is too caught up in her own Firebug case and being stalked by brother dearest to do much grieving of her own. At least that's how it could be read. She takes down Firebug, but James Jr. outwits her … and calls their mother to threaten to kill Babs, cook her up, and feed her to their father if mother doesn't meet him. Sick-0h.

I find the inner'logue narrative unclear. Sometimes it's clearly Jimmy-boy, but other times that doesn't seem to be the case.

Constantine #1
The Price We Pay”

I picked up this series mainly for two reasons – well, mainly for one reason augmented by another. The first reason is that John Constantine (and since he's British I'm trying to mentally pronounce it “Con-stan-tyne” to rhyme with “fine” rather than “Con-stan-teen”) is the main character in Justice League Dark, and this series has the same writers. But I'm also always been somewhat curious about him although I never picked up Hellblazer.

This is an okay first issue, but I'm not sure I'll be sticking with it. I will give it through the first arc.

It's an interesting premise (and bear in mind that I have no idea how closely or not it adheres to the original):

This is how the world is supposed to work: You give and you take. Cause and effect. / Ordinary people, they operate within a certain set of parameters. Right? Rules. Limits. / Then there's bloke's like me, yeah? We cheat. / We trick the Universe into handing us effects without the cause. Things we didn't earn. / We twist time and space. Warp minds. Create life. For people like me, there are no rules. That's magic. And that makes people like me very, very dangerous. / Dangerous to everybody, ourselves included. You cheat the system, and it tries to compensate. Nobody really understands how or why, but it does. / Magic is costly. You take what you didn't earn, but you pay for it. / You want to trust me on that.

'Course everything's changing these days. Seems like you can't throw a rock now without hitting someone who's found a bloody alien ring or a bulletproof cape. / You think that's a good thing? Well, you're free to believe what you like. / The costumes have their uses. But somebody who knows what's really going on needs to make sure nobody goes too far with the cheat. / Maybe that's me.”

One thing I'm not sure I'm liking in the New 52 is a tendency to make old classic heroes into villains. But it certainly fits the theme of this book, that magical power exacts a price, from the very soul.

Justice League #18
The Grid” / “Shazam!”

1) A sort-of try-out issue spiced up by an experimental Platinum of the Metal Men going haywire, providing a distraction for someone to hack the Justice League's systems and steal their full five-year database. In the end of the various candidates, some are unwilling to commit full-time to the League, but three new members are chosen: a female Hispanic Atom, Element Woman (who at one point refers to Rex Mason, so Metamorpho is still in some way part of the New 52's amorphous history, and Firestorm. It all seems a bit quota-driven to me, raising the “minorities” to three women and 1½ African Americans. … 2) I think I know where this sorry excuse for a Shazam story is going, and it may surprise you to know I'm for it. Billy is taking the other five foster children of the Bromfields to the Wizard where he wants to give the powers to someone else. I think it will end up being to them all as in Flashpoint, which will provide him with a degree of stability and hopefully maturity. And maybe a new name, Thunder, as in Flashpoint (with or without “Captain,” I'd prefer with). Frankly, if they're perverting the mythology of the character as radically as they have so far, might as well go whole hog!

Supergirl #18
What Kryptonite Does Not Kill … It Only Makes Stronger ...”

Lex is secretly keeping some kind of virtual reality contact with the wider world even from his maximum security prison, and proves to be quite interested in this new Kryptonian who has recently (think about how much time has really passed within the pages of this series – it sure doesn't seem like a year and a half). Kara is slowly recovering from her Kryptonite poisoning, thanks to Dr. Veritas (are we ever going to get the story on her?), but she's proving impatient and despondent. She ends up “checking herself out” of Dr. Veritas' care – and lab deep within the Earth's magma, and then is attacked by the lava girl creature from Superboy #3. They end up on the surface, where troops take a once-more unconscious Supergirl captive. … This issue has an overall strange feel to it – and is unexpectedly written and drawn by new team of creators, altogether different from the solicit and even the front cover. Come on, DC! Are you in that much disarray? It's not the first time that cover and interior credits don't match, but in the context of all kinds of other evidence of editorial chaos, this looks even worse than usual.

Batwoman #18
This Blood is Thick: Secrets”

Well it looks like Maggie said “yes” since she's now buying a new penthouse and refers to Kate as her fiancée … I would have liked to have seen her actual reaction to the Reveal of Kate Kane as Batwoman. Bette Kane is still dangerously impulsive. Kate is playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Chase and Director Bones, and they're preparing to slap her down hard, using her family against her. She also manages to piss off Batman. And Jake's wife discovers what he's been up to with Bette … and Kate.

Yeah, as usual, a lot happens in this issue. The art is passably in a style sort of reminiscent of JHW3's – but Trevor McCarthy ain't Williams.

Catwoman #18 – “Requiem”
He Said, She Said”

Since I'd preordered it, and it is part of “Requiem,” and Batman appears, I decided to read it. Actually, it's not too bad. A colleague said last issue wasn't that bad, either. I may check it out. I'm not sure it's enough to bring me back, however.

Batman is still flailing about in rage since the death of Damian, but we see he and Catwoman in something of a tender moment … after he symbolically beats her (actually, he does bash in her motorcycle helmet). She does end up quite bruised up … and uses them as an excuse to penetrate GCPD headquarters and plant a bug.

Birds of Prey #18
Burning Cold”

Black Canary is having doubts – about Strix, about Condor, mainly about herself. Mr. Freeze is out to take down the Court of Owls and comes for Strix. The Birds fight him off, but he takes Starling.

This is the first issue of new writer Christy Marx. Frankly, I couldn't tell any difference from Duane Swierczynski. That's a good thing.

Nightwing #18 – “Requiem”
Slow Burn”

Dick wrestles with his feelings in the wake of Damian's death, and ultimately realizes that the “weakness” highlighted by the Joker of trusting and depending on others is actually a strength. Very nice confluence of those two plots there. He thus opens up to Sonia … who brings him evidence that her father – Zucco, the man who killed Dick's parents – is alive in Chicago.

There is an indication that “Death of the Family” happened only two weeks ago, which means that Batman, Incoporated has pretty much happened since then.

Legion of Super-Heroes #18
Home's End”

More chaos, another seeming death. This time it's Star Boy, but I get the feeling he's not really dead. It's pretty clear, on the other hand, that Sun Boy is.

Aquaman #18
Death of a King, Chapter One”

Yep, it's the beginning of another multipart story. This time an icy king emerges from the Antarctic and eventually hunts down Mera – who's just finally, after some tense give and take, submitted to respecting surface law. It's not the government that captured her at the end of last issue, but rather the local police, following up the outstanding warrant resulting from the confrontation instigated by “Herb Tarlek.”

We do learn that the New 52 Tula (the original Aquagirl) is Orm's half sister by another mother, which means she has no relation to Arthur. The Atlanteans continue to be very hostile toward the surface world. Vulko, on the other hand, is almost pathetically eager to serve Arthur.

One thing I do love about this book is the art. There is a great atmosphere, so to speak, of deep see imagery.

Superman #18
Metropolitan Nightmare”

After the H'El Incident, distrust of Superman runs even higher than ever, both among the people and the US government. The latter takes especial exception to him keeping a huge cache of weapons in his Fortress.

Lois Lane is back reporting, but Cat Grant is determined to partner up with Clark Kent in a new blog venture.

There is an odd incident of Hector Hammond's dreams controlling people via a disc jockey's carrier wave. I don't care for him as a Green Lantern villain and see no need to bring him into the Superman mythos.

But it does look like we're headed toward a big confrontation between Orion of the New Gods and the Last Son of Krypton.

I have come a long way toward really liking Kenneth Rocafort's rather unique style. I actually miss him this issue.

Batman, Incorporated #9 – “Requiem”
Fallen Son”

And so the “Requiem” issues culminate in Grant Morrison's own. The first half juxtaposes scenes of Damian's bleak burial with Batman's fight against the clone. The second half sees Batman, Incorporated banned from Gotham City as demanded by Leviathan, and Batman is preparing to go up against Talia, who holds “Wingman” Jason Todd captive.

Since I really like the British members of Batman, Incoporated, I hope that Beryl taking a new partner as well as her mentor the Knight's identity even as there is talk amongst the British government of somehow bringing Cyril back to life is followed up, if not here then somewhere else.

Talon #6

I'm getting so tired of the persistent little typos that plague these books these days. Do they not bother with proof reading?

That aside, this is an interesting issue as Calvin Rose discovers nothing is as it seems (when is it ever?) and that he may have been serving the Court of Owls' agenda all along, with the revelation that Sebastian Clark is actually the former Grandmaster of the Owls. I would think that to be a red herring thrown at Calvin by the Owls except that Sarah seems to independently discover the same thing. Meanwhile, Batman is also getting warmer on the trail of the steroided up Talon, the Gotham Butcher.

Batman: The Dark Knight #18
Devil's Bargain”

Oddly, in just two issues this title seems to have turned much better than it was before. I cannot explain it, but I'm really enjoying it now, even though I'm still sceptical of the need for yet another Batman-centric title. It is worth reading on its own merits, however.

We learn a great deal about the tortured soul that is the Mad Hatter, specifically the source of his mania. I imagine the manufacturers of “the little blue pill” may not be very happy with DC Comics! – I mean, look what it really does! There is an interesting overall theme of second chances and do-overs. Including Bruce seeking his own, by revealing all to the Ukrainian pianist girl friend who recently dumped him.

Justice League Dark #18
The Death of Magic, Part 4: The Last Stand”

War ends on Epoch with the Return of the Real Hunter, Tim's dad Jack, who turns out to have been in hiding on Earth. Of course, there is a big battle and near disaster, with Tim suddenly seeing the reality of war and Zatanna jumping in to save the people of Epoch. In the end, Tim and Jack elect to stay to rule Epoch together while the others return to Earth, where John Constantine sends Trevor packing, making “an enemy” of the Justice League” and clearly foreshadowing Trinity War.

There are hilarious parts with Constantine compulsively telling the truth, but I want to call attention again to the stunningly beautiful art of Mikel Janin, whose women are delectable without being distorted disproportionately and oversexualized to any great degree.

Teen Titans #18 – “Requiem”
To Belle and Back”

Oops, I only thought Batman, Incorporated was the last of the “Requiem” issues.

After a seemingly tacked-on scene of Tim with an imaginary Damian and a fatherly Alfred, Red Robin pulls some kind of scam on his fellow Titans that has them fighting the Suicide Squad (including Superboy vs. Killer Shark, which I know with resonate with some readers although I wasn't reading Superboy back in the day) while he brokers some kind of deal with Slim-Fast Waller in line with his own purpose of the Teen Titans being to protect metahuman kids. Then there is a cliffhanger ending with Trigon in Times Square. Oh yay.


I, Vampire #18


Human Bomb #3 of 4
Chapter Four: The Ultimate Sacrifice”

A pretty good final issue to a series that, for me at least, was a little rocky getting started. A couple of interesting things. 1) For the first time, I think, we get confirmation – at least as I read it – that these “Freedom Fighters” revamps are taking place in the DCnU “proper.” 2) Most of the traditional group – all that have been reintroduced thus far – come together at the very end, for the first time. I'm afraid it will be for the last time, too. Sales-wise, these three miniseries (The Ray, Phantom Lady, and Human Bomb) have been disasters and to my knowledge there's not another one on the horizon. Which is a shame. But maybe, just maybe, the last minute (?) linking into the DCnU was meant to throw out a lifeline...?

Smallville: Season 11 #41-44
Valkyrie, Part 1 of 4” / “Argo, Parts 1-3 of 9”

Valkyrie” is the second of the new “side-stories” presented during the “off-week(s)” of the month beyond the three weeks during which the main stories take place. Here, we have Lois heading to Africa to investigate appearances of a new super-hero, who turns out to be Lana.

Argo” gives me what I've been eagerly awaiting for several years, ever since the first appearance of the Legion in the live-action episode of that name – an adventure set a thousand years in the future. Booster Gold and Clark are shanghaied to the 31st century by some kind of emergency recall protocol built into the Legion ring, where they find the Earth under siege by New Krypton, the descendants of Zod's Kandorians. Worse, Clark finds that Kara is being held captive by Kirt Niedrigh and Earthgov.

I repeat myself, I know, when I say that this may be the best stuff DC is currently producing.

And that's it. Cheers!, and Thanks for reading!

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