Tuesday, May 28

DC Comics – June 2013 – New 52 Month 20

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

Well, here it is … “WTF”-month. Thankfully, no “WTF”-branding, however, at least on the comics. Continued little bits of news regarding what seems to be total editorial and creative chaos at DC does, on the other hand, make me wonder if they ought to just change the overall comics brand from “DC” to “WTF”....

Actually, no. Just in case some numbskull there thinks that's a good idea.

Again, I really don't want to go into details, except to note the two just-announced changes that most directly affect my reading:

Yeah, that's how I feel....
First, 'round about mid-month the long-dreaded news finally did hit with the pre-release of next month's Previews solicitations on-line. Legion of Super-Heroes is ending with issue #23. Not unexpected, given the objectively abysmal sales. I'd hoped the stability of those sales, which were not continuing to drop appreciably however low they were, plus Levitz's stature within the company, might save it and keep it as a low but consistent seller. But realistically, “stature within the company” doesn't mean dick these days, in just about any industry (how many older comics creators have been thrown under the bus over the years, right up to today, in favor of the current new “hot” writer or artist?), and 16,000 monthly sales just is not sufficient for a major publisher to keep a title going. Legion is such a cornerstone franchise of DC that I'm sure it will be back, but I am afraid that the rumors of late may be true, that it will be morphed into some kind of “Justice Legion,” i.e., “Justice Leaguified,” whatever that means. It's pretty clear from Levitz's own Facebook post that he won't be involved. Another, possibly related, rumor has Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire lined up to helm it, which I could go down with, hoping that Giffen reigns in his wackier side. (But, these are the guys from the “Bwah-ha-ha” Justice League International....) (Incidentally, Mark Waid's commentary on cancelling LSH is worth reading. Bear in mind that Geoff Johns helped essentially gut-shot Waid's “threeboot” series back around 2006-2007, barely a year in, by introducing the “retroboot.” Waid's bitterness is understandable.)

Then, over this just-past weekend (I'm writing this Wednesday 22 May), came unexpected news that James Robinson is leaving, not just Earth 2, but DC altogether. His statement was terse and worded so as not to impugn DC editorial, but I don't think anybody believes for a minute there weren't some kind of behind-the-scenes shenanigans that caused him to throw up his hands and just walk. He obviously had plans for beyond the next few months. I hope whoever succeeds him in the little side-franchise of the DCnU that is Earth 2 is able to continue his vision.

There is, I found just yesterday, however, perhaps a ray of hope that things might get better. Apparently there has been some kind of shakeup among the higher Warner Brothers hierarchy that has left a former head of the division that included DC Comics – and who reputedly worked well with Levitz when he was DC Publisher/President in keeping the comics publication on an even keel and somewhat insulated from the rest of the corporation, someone who apparently holds comics in a bit higher regard than your typical corporate mogul – as overall President of WB. I'm going by one article on BleedingCool that I read, but as I read it it could portend well. I could be misreading the situation, but I hope I'm right. Right now I'm still a DC comics fan, but sometimes I wonder why.

Finally, even without the “WTF”-branding, DC comics released in April had the “surprise” fold-out front covers. I thought about trying to duplicate the effect in my cover pics below, such that you have to click on the regular picture as you would see it on the stands to be taken to a scan of the foldout in full, but that would be more work than I'm willing to put in. Hey, I'm lazy. Sue me. What you're getting is the full foldout.

Let's look at some comics....

Earth 2 #11
Tower of Fate, Part 2: The Man Who Was Brave”

We get some background on Wotan, who does indeed have a Norse connection, as well as an explanation for why he has green skin and is effectively a transsexual. I didn't see that one coming – or rather, not in this title this month (see Batgirl). The main story has Jay Garrick Flash's bravery inspiring Khalid to take up the helm of Fate – but he insists on being called Doctor Fate as an attempt to hold onto something of his own identity. As the foldout shows Mister Miracle and Barda, Steppenwolf sends his protégée Fury to find Miracle.

Worlds' Finest #11
Putting It Together”

There are some annoying shifts in art this time – three different artists or teams – although it ends with Barry Kitson who's style fits in nicely with those of both George Perez and Kevin Maguire. Kitson also does the cover, which has one of the more clever foldout gimmicks of the lot. It plays with the idea that most people see the facade whom Power Girl is lip-locked and rubbing thighs with.

The girls are still tracing the Apokoliptian weapons they've uncovered, as well as Wayne's missing money-trail and the Holt Industries attack on Starr Island. They crash a Holt tech expo and come across the supposedly missing Michael Holt, Karen's former lover – who immediately plants a big on on her and reveals himself as Darkseid's minion DeSaad, here sporting a more cadaverous visage than is traditional.

Action Comics #19
Hybrid, Part 1”

Well, Andy Diggle's only issue turns out to be a full-length over-size story. Too bad he won't be able to play out the rest of what he establishes here. But maybe, working with Diggle's outline (presumably), Tony Daniel can complete it satisfactorily. He does have the ability even if he hasn't really shown it in the New 52 era. But this first issue of a multipart story is in itself exciting in both writing and art.

This story takes place in the past, but just a year rather than five years ago. We see Lois' first meeting with Jon Carroll. Superman fights some kind of armored war mech in Qurac, which is really just a ploy by Lex Luthor (is this before he was incarcerated, or are we seeing some kind of virtual-reality Luthor as in Supergirl?) to infect the Man of Steel with a nanotech DNA-resequencing virus. By the end of the issue he starts morphing painfully.

Detective Comics #19 which should be #900!
The 900” / “Birth of a Family” / “War Council” / “Birdwatching” / “Through a Blue Lens”

These stories are interspersed with a variety of pinups. In the pair of stories, we've got Man-Bats in Gotham City (including Zsasz-Bat!) in essentially a New 52 revision to the Man-Bat origin story since there is a new introduction of Kirk and Francine Langstrom. Kirk ends up becoming Man-Bat so his body will produce antigens to restore the people of Gotham to their unmutated states. The epilogue story gives a bit more background on the Langstroms. Turns out Kirk is a bit of a mad scientist, who passes off as a “minor side effect” to his experimental serum to restore hearing to the deaf the fact that it's actually turning deaf children into bats! Evidently somehow Talia secured the serum to create her army of Bat-Ninjas. Now, Francine transforms herself to join her husband.

In continuity, this issue is stated to take place after Batwoman #18; in Batman's own continuity, his relationship with his allies is shown to be utterly broken by the events of “Death of the Family,” despite the family's working together in the pages of Batman, Incorporated, which has to happen after “Death of the Family.” Ideally, the rest of Morrison's run there would show the relationship continuing to worsen, in line with that necessary sequence of stories, but I'm sure Morrison wrote his own story without regard for contemporaneous stories going on in other Bat-books. And it's up to us to fit the pieces together however we can. Oh well.

The rest of the issue has Bane declaring war on the Court of Owls in a story leading into Talon #7; Penguin's only loyal lieutenant reports to him in Blackgate and works to free him; and there's a nice little character-piece about division within the GCPD over Batman.

Superboy #19
Gone But Not Forgotten”

This issue purports to tell the story of Harvest and Superboy, but frankly I can't follow it and have nothing but a bunch of questions. Are we seeing multiple possible futures? Does Harvest's 30th century match up with what becomes the Legion's 31st century? (I still sometimes think of the 30th century as being the era of the Legion, but almost a decade and a half into the next I doubt there was much if any Legion history in the 30th....) More importantly, are we to take it that Superman and Lois are ultimately going to get together in the New 52 (sure, I think it's inevitable, but that hasn't been DC's line)? What is the significance of Harvest's realization that Superman and Wonder Woman are now hooked up? Is the third strand in Superboy's DNA Lex Luthor's – or Harvest's?

Batman and Red Robin #19

Well, now there's no more Batman and Robin, but the series continues with everchanging partners for Batman. I wonder how long that can last? Actually, the official title, per the indicia, remains parenthetically Batman and Robin. Which means there's going to be inevitable confusion regarding how to file this and subsequent issues, which I encountered immediately upon trying to find reviews for my link below to Comic Book Round-Up. They're choosing to categorize this comic under its cover title, effectively as a one-issue series beginning and ending with #19!

Peter Tomasi, continuing as writer along with artist Pat Gleason, doesn't really miss a beat and is really the one who is most directly dealing with the longer range effects of Damian's death on Bruce himself, while Grant Morrison continues detailing the immediate consequences in Batman, Incorporated.

Here, Batman is shown to have basically gone 'round the bend, wanting to reverse engineer the Frankenstein monster to bring his son back. He kidnaps and disassembles Frank, which I imagine won't improve relations between the Justice League and JL Dark when they end up clashing in Trinity War. Alfred calls in Red Robin to reason with him, and Tim is forced to actively sabotage Bruce's effort, which means relations between those two ain't getting better either.

Even more interesting is the introduction of Carrie Kelly, the female Robin of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, into the mix via a framing subplot. It turns out she's the “CK” who gave Damian the list of movies, which I and others had assumed came from Clark Kent. Damian was seeing her for some kind of lessons, I'm not clear exactly what, but it's apparently not common knowledge at this point that Damian Wayne is dead. How's that going to play out?

Incidentally, we get a specific date on a check from Bruce Wayne to Carrie Kelly – 27 February 2013. I'm sure that can't be considered hard and fast, but rather should be considered ephemeral “incidental” information. Tying a comics story about characters who pretty much do not age over the years to such a specific date over time literally dates the story, rendering it “old” before its time by interrupting the reader's suspension of disbelief. Often comics in the past would contrive for such dates (as on tombstones) to be obscured somehow, and that would have been easy enough here, say by Carrie holding the check with her right hand and her thumb covering the date. The specific year adds nothing to the story, after all.

Batman #19
Nowhere Man” / “Ghost Lights, Part One”

We are introduced to a new, mutating New 52 Clayface who takes on the very identity of whomever he shape-changes into. That is, of course, implicitly who shoots Gordon. In the backup, Superman checks on a typically close-mouthed Batman after the death of Robin, and joins him in investigating a building into which a number of people have disappeared. There they encounter a “ghost.” One interesting facet is that in the presence of this ostensibly supernatural force, Superman experiences an unusual nausea.

Batgirl #19
A Blade from the Shadows”

Gail Simone's back just in time for this transitional issue. Batgirl's final (yeah, right) confrontation with James Jr. leaves her a fugitive on the run from her own father, who seems here to betray no suspicion that his daughter Barbara is Batgirl. I'd be surprised if Barbara Sr. doesn't set him straight on that latter fact, if not on the question of whether sister has just murdered brother here.

But, of course, the element of this issue that hit the news was the revelation that Babs' roommate Alysia is “transgender.” Which means what, exactly? The word can have a wide range of meanings. See here: http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/transgender.aspx

Constantine #2
The Blind Man”

Leave it to John Constantine to be able to outwit the Spectre as well as Mister E while losing to the latter the needle to the thingamabob he's seeking but finding the compass dial, so he's still one up.

Justice League #19
War Games” / “Shazam, Chapter 11”
There's no part number in the main feature, although it's clearly setting up a story – most likely “Trinity War.” I'm getting echoes of Mark Waid's JLA: Tower of Babel – someone breaks into the Batcave and steals Batman's secret stash of Kryptonite. Meanwhile, Superman and Wonder Woman create a diplomatic incident for the Justice League, seen as agents of the United States, and consequently get a “talkin' to” by Batman, who reveals that he knows of their affair and the others doubtless suspect. And the newest recruits Firestorm and the Atom are alone on the satellite when Despero comes a'calling.

Oddly enough, the Shazam back feature does get a chapter number this go'round, for what that's worth. Eleven?! Billy gets a lesson on the history of Black Adam, which includes Ibac as the inventor of evil – then promptly goes and gets himself captured by Adam.

Supergirl #19
Super Power”

Turns out it was actually Luthor's operatives who captured Supergirl – but to the rescue comes Power Girl, who initially feared touching her counterpart lest it be like matter and antimatter, but all it does is mind-melds the two of them. “We are me.” And decontaminates Supergirl. Together the two trounce Luthor's superthug as Luthor watches from his “Techno-Organic HQ,” but the effort brings Supergirl's Kryptonite poisoning back full force. Power Girl takes her to the undersea Sanctuary, whose AI cures her and gives Power Girl a new costume (because her old one was again shredded) – which is essentially her classic suit complete with boob-window. The AI seems initially fine with the notion of two Karas … but suddenly it declares that one is a clone and must be destroyed.

Is Power Girl now named Kara Zor-El rather than the traditional Earth-2 Kara Zor-L? Or is that just a mistake/typo? One thing various reviewers have already commented on is Asrar's gorgeous art, which is particularly good this issue and makes it easy to believe that Power Girl is essentially a grown up – and rather filled out – Supergirl. They look like the same person.

This is writer Mike Johnson's last issue. At least he goes out on a higher note than the recent “H'El” crossover that really showed Supergirl in a bad light.

Batwoman #19
This Blood is Thick: Wounds”

It's serendipitous that I just read the 1990s Chase series in the collection published a couple years ago. Otherwise the beginning of this issue would lose me. But how does Cameron Chase's “cosplaying” would-be super-hero father fit into New 52 history where there is no elder age of super-heroes, e.g. the Justice Society, to inspire them? But I think it's becoming a little clearer that this series is about family, maybe the relationships between sisters. As far as family goes, I would just observe that the Kane family of Gotham City really suffers from a dearth of female names. Assuming that the original Batwoman and Bat-Girl are in continuity (I'm pretty sure Grant Morrison considers the former to be, at least), then we have: three Katherines (Kathy Kane Batwoman I, Kate Kane Batwoman II, plus Jacob Kane's present wife), as well as three Elizabeths (Betty Bat-Girl I, Kathy Kane's niece; Bette the former Flamebird now Firehawk [I think], Kate's cousin and perhaps the same as Betty Bat-Girl despite the variant spelling; as well as Beth, Kate's missing and criminally insane sister. Now, I know some of these may not be strictly speaking in continuity, but I wonder if even the creators really know which is which and how they really go together! And what do you want to bet that Jacob's son whose existence is revealed here is named … Jacob!?

Anyway, this issue takes place after Robin's death, which DEO Director Bones thinks will make Batman careless and give a prime opportunity for him to finally achieve his goal of discovering the Dark Knight's identity. Batwoman refuses to help, whereupon Bones threatens to prosecute Jacob, as he's been holding over her all the time; Batwoman calls his bluff, whereupon Bones plays his trump card – the revelation that her sister Beth is actually alive and well, and in DEO custody.

Question: Just how freaking long does Scarecrow's fear toxin stay in the blood stream?

Catwoman #19

Dang. From the title I thought we might see Slam Bradley reappear in the New 52. No such luck.

Should this issue be read before or after Justice League of America #3, which I've not even gotten because it didn't ship until five weeks late!? But blogger Snell's hilarious commentary on that issue could well apply here too: This is a dumb plot in which Catwoman is “captured” by the JLA so she can infiltrate Arkham Asylum just to break out and thereby establish enough “cred” to be recruited by the mysterious Secret Society.

After a good previous issue, I'm just as happy once more that I stopped pre-ordering this series.

Birds of Prey #19
A Cold Day in Hell”

So Condor is American Indian. Could he be the new Black Condor from Quality Comics/DC's Freedom Fighters? – in other words, the same stable as the Ray, Phantom Lady and Doll Man, and Human Bomb, as well as Uncle Sam. Whatever, Canary is having feelings for Condor. There is an interesting scene showing Strix's fear of the Owls. Basically, by issue's end, Freeze has tricked the Birds into leading him to the Owls' lab – and Starling reveals she is working with Freeze. I don't believe it for a minute.

Nightwing #19
Second City”

Nightwing has made it to Chicago, on the trail of Tony Zucco, but it turns out that Chi-town is hostile toward “masks,” partly because of continuing depredation by the Prankster. And it turns out that Zucco is secretly working for the mayor – not Rahm Emanuel.

Thought: Sonia knows that Dick Grayson has gone to Chicago. If Nightwing's presence becomes known there, won't she put two and two together?

Red Hood and the Outlaws #19

If I wasn't committed to this title for at least a while based on James Tynion IV being part of the Scott Snyder stable of writers and thus this becoming more directly a Bat-book (I presume), frankly this issue wouldn't grab me. Hopefully it will pick up. There is a bit of a disconnect in that it explicitly takes place after next month's Batman and the Red Hood #20, so maybe it will mean more in light of whatever happens there. On its own terms it is a weird metaphysical issue in which Roy and Kori chase Jason in the Himalayas to the hidden “All-Caste,” where, when they find him, he has no memory of them. In order to expunge the darkness from his soul, he has divested himself of all his memories.... I doubt that's going to last.

Legion of Super-Heroes #19
World's End”

I didn't get around to reading this issue until two days after the news of Legion's cancellation, which made it a bit bittersweet. Although the art of this arc is not to my taste, nor typically is such “deconstruction” (Giffennnnn!) usually, this story arc is a step up from what we've had so far in the New 52. I guess it's too little, too late. As much as I like Paul Levitz, his Legion style may be just too different from the norm to thrive today. One thing I've noticed since starting this blog is that it is always difficult to abstract, but the gist is that the Fatal Five are stepping up their assault, and more Legionnaires fall – including their most powerful, Mon-El himself, maimed and critically injured by issue's end. Just how badly is spoiled by the folded out cover. Mon's fate seems a sure sign of the end of an era; recall what happened toward the end of the Baxter run 25 years ago....

Aquaman #19
Death of a King, Chapter Two

Neptune's Beard! – Topo has grown! The biggest revelation of this issue is that Mera's husband ain't Arthur! – it's some guy named Nereus. Other stuff happens as well.... On what planet is the Bermuda Triangle south of the Florida Keyes (and why spell it that way?)?

Superman #19
Look Who's Flying to Dinner”

After dealing with an alien invasion in an innovative way that felt more like “Superman” than any sequence hitherto in the New 52, Clark meets his date Diana who is already at a housewarming party and Lois and Jon's (boy, that's hard to write), where everyone is acting strangely. Clark quickly perceives that it's similar to what happened last issue, but then he is suddenly swept away – and Orion of the New Gods informs him he must kill him to save the Universe. Considering Orion's been appearing in Wonder Woman, which I'm waiting for collection to read, I'm wondering what she will think of this....

Batman, Incorporated #10
Gotham's Most Wanted”

Well, the latest of the pre-Flashpoint Azraels, Michael Lane, appears to be in continuity – at least in Grant Morrison's continuity – and spouting authentic quatrains from Nostradamus, 10:73, including “The present time together with the past / Will be judged by the Great Joker”! Morrison's esoteric trivia continues with reference to Mendelssohn's drawings of the Jungfrau Peaks in Switzerland. … Oh, the story? – Basically, Batman becomes Batman-Bat. But – here, Kirk Langstrom is already an ally of Batman – oops, how in the world can that be reconciled chronologically with Detective Comics #19? (Colin at the The Real Batman Chronology Project takes up the challenge, and with a couple of assumptions and a great big crowbar kind of makes it work....)

Talon #7

Calvin escapes from Securitas Island with the help of the youngest O'Malley; Casey escapes Sebastian Clark with Sarah; on his way back to headquarters once he's gotten Casey's last communique, Calvin escapes being hog-tied by Batman … but Clark's new ally is Bane – who snaps Calvin's neck. An issue full of escapes – but I'd like to see how Calvin escapes from that! I really like this series.

Batman: The Dark Knight #19
Pool of Tears”

Well, it seems that Natalya the pianist took Bruce's revelation well, but he slipped up in letting Batman be seen dropping her off for her next concert, which brings her to the attention of the Mad Hatter, who sees her as the perfect Alice in his sick fantasy.

Justice League Dark #19
Horror City, Part 1: House of Misery”

Steve Trevor works on recruiting Deadman as a spy on the “Justice League Dark” – “We hate that name.” / “Whatever....” But the main action this issue has the House of Mystery up and disappearing. Constantine conjures up an irate Swamp Thing – which seems fully aware of itself as Alec Holland – to help track its wood through his connection to the Green, but too late. The House of Mystery unleashes nightmares on the world, including on the various Justice Leaguers Dark. Doctor Destiny has hijacked the House because of its import in the war to come – obviously ramping up to “Trinity War.”

What about the Flash, you ask? In this case, the cover is extremely deceptive. He shows up on the last page, long after the Swamp Thing portion is done.

Teen Titans #19

Didn't Red Robin hook up with both Solstice and Wonder Girl on the same night? – the dialogues don't reflect this. … Who is Wonder Girl's father? – please don't let it be Trigon! … Trigon attacks, so the issue of Red Robin's being uncharacteristically dickish is set aside for a battle in which a lot of soldiers end up killed, and Red Robin realises, “Those soldiers were killed in the line of duty – / – just doing what we were doing … / saving the people of this city from Trigon. // But when the rest of the world finds out what happened – / – all they are going to remember is a bunch of teenagers tried to take down this monster … / … and people died.” Where upon Superboy speaks very familiarly to Raven, who joined them in combating her demonic father – when had they met before?

This issue, this title, seems to be the epitome of what's wrong with the new DC – pointless flailing around, too many plot threads started and then left hanging with no progression or resolution, an overall theme of “heroes” being feared, hated, and hunted. This may indeed be more realistic, more like the real world would greet such beings, especially in the modern world, but it is not what I want to read in my comics. It's too much like Marvel, and I believe has led at least in part to the implosion of sales over the past decades. They say the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Maybe I am for continuing to buy DC comics expecting – hoping – they will break out of this rut and become great again. But as we approach two years into the New 52, DC seems more and more off the rails. It's no wonder that sales are tanking on most titles except for a select few, and that in order to try to raise the bottom line DC has resorted to a “churn-based model” of cancellation and replacement hoping to get a lasting bump – but the bumps generally don't last and slowly, inexorably, we seem to be watching DC's death throes. It's hard for an old-time DC fan to say, but even harder to watch.

Boy, that ended up being a downer!

* * *
Batwing #19
A Season of Change”

I picked up this issue digitally mainly to give it a chance since there's a new writing team, Gray and Palmiotti. They're usually pretty solid. I may end up having to go back to print if indeed it ends up being more closely integrated into the main Batman universe. This issue looks promising, but doesn't really hook me yet.

I, Vampire #19

Final issue. I intend to come back and expand this note (and the past several months) now that the series is over and I have a chance to read the ending arc all at once.

Smallville Season 11 #45-
Valkyrie, Parts 2 and 3” / “Argo, Parts 4-6”

In the Lana and Lois story, Lana's ally in Tinasha is named “David.” Since it seems that Bryan Q. Miller does not assign names or include things haphazardly, I would hazard a guess that David's last name is “Zavimbi”.... In any case, the issues here are similar to some that have been addressed in Batwing's early days – fighting the exploitation of children through both sex-slavery and child-soldiers. The warlords perpetrating those atrocities, however, have hired John Corben, who attacks Lana and Lois and now proves to have the ability to absorb Kryptonite – taking Lana's Kryptonite-laced nanites renders her powerless in this month's cliffhanger.

Following Superman and Booster Gold into the future of Supergirl and the Legion, we see Kara tell Clark her story, including that she is now an Argo-Kryptonian spy. But Nidrigh has his own spies on Argo-New Krypton – who seem to be more terrorists. When Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy foil their bomb plot, they are nonetheless being arrested until Clark and Kara interfere, whereupon the Argive cops fall down as if in worship. Well, it turns out that yes, they consider Kal-El to be their ancestors' liberator from the tyranny of Zod, but they are waging war on Earth to find the tomb of Faora, which they believe holds the key to their future. I get the feeling, though, that Booster Gold is going to be key to ending the crisis next month, since they spend time addressing his “shortcomings” as a hero this time.

Well, with Smallville Season 11, I was at least able to end on a higher note. That digital-first is a weekly joy to read.

Cheers! – and Thanks for reading!

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