Monday, October 28

DC Comics – October 2013, New 52 Month 24

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

Here's the link to the October solicitations (for comics to be released mostly in December): (link).

I only made note of a couple of news items. One is that Smallville Season 11 is shifting to a “series of miniseries” format, dropping the “Season 11” branding and sequential numbering, supposedly to remove a perceived bar for new readers picking it up (link). This mainly irks me because it will make the weekly purchase from Comixology quite a bit more cumbersome, especially since they just a short while ago introduced an efficient “subscription” function which automatically purchases each week's installment for me and has it ready for me to download whenever I want, rather than having to manually go in and make the purchase each week. Being title-based, the subscription will no longer work. Also, it will be harder (impossible) to keep reading order straight if you're not purchasing them week-to-week. Yeah, that helps the new reader.

Secondly, and we're far enough along into October as I write this (the 12th) that sales data for September has been released, it seems that the September-released “Villains' Month” stunt paid off big time for DC. More next month, maybe – except that DC's immediate exultation really rubbed at least one retailer the wrong way (link). By all accounts, the retailers were the ones who really got screwed in the resulting debacle.

Whatever, before “Villains' Month,” there is this one more month of story-driven rather than stunt-driven comics to get through....

Legion of Super-Heroes #23

I pulled this comic to the front just because it's the last issue of my favorite comics property for the foreseeable future and I was anxious to see how it went out. Basically, the story that we get is what Paul Levitz actually does best, more of a character-based round-robin than a chapter in some on-going saga. It goes out quietly, but in style … with some of the best art this book has been graced with in a long time. Why, oh why?, DC, did you not put Kevin Maguire over here a long time ago, before the swan song, and shame on you for how you've treated him of late!

Overall, the Legion is cleaning up after last issue's conclusion to the devastating events of the past several issues, looking forward to a long, hard road to get the United Planets back on its feet. Then comes the final blow – as the UP unceremoniously disbands the Legion. There is repeated reference to everything of late being Brainiac 5's fault, I think referring to the #0 issue last year, but the Legion is keeping this a secret amongst themselves. Anyway, the members of the Legion scatter, most to their home worlds. Some reminisce about the “good times.” Some imagine another Universe where the Legion of Super-Heroes goes on strong. Most interestingly, it becomes apparent in this final issue that the New 52 Legion of Super-Heroes we've been seeing in this book – and presumably the handful of members stranded in the 21st century in Legion Lost – are the Earth-2 Legionnaires, a thousand years after the Apokoliptian warlord Steppenwolf killed Superman with a spear through the heart as in Earth 2 #1. So we can hope that someday we will see the “real” New 52 Legion as more or less teased by Grant Morrison in Action Comics. Because, for whatever reason, this one failed.

It's quite (and typically) gracious of Paul Levitz to clear the deck for a rational reboot of the Legion that does not retcon his own final run out of existence, and incorporate different facets of the New 52 continuity into his tale along the way. There are, of course, all kinds of dangling threads and unanswered questions, and I'm sure that if you examine it all too closely the “Earth 2” solution won't quite hold up, but I choose to let it work as seems to be Levitz's intention. Anyway, what about the Lost Legionnaires? I had hoped to see them reunited with their 31st-century comrades, if only in an epilogue. They are from this Legion, right? But their series occurred on Earth 1. How did that happen? When they went to the future, if I recall correctly a future beyond this title's “now,” and saw the ruined Metropolis, were they on Earth 2? I doubt it was all thought out that deeply.

In any case, this being the end, I feel obliged to make some overall comments on this run. On balance, I enjoyed it, but I can understand the critics, and there are many, who found it slow. It's very much old-school comics story-telling, such as Levitz excelled at in the 1980s Legion run when it was one of the two best-selling titles published by DC – ah, those were the “good old days”! I didn't realize how different that is from modern story-telling, but unfortunately Levitz's efforts here ended up incorporating some of the least desirable aspects of the modern style, e.g., too many splash pages, not enough story per issue. Levitz's Legion was especially hard hit when DC standardized the vast majority of their books to a twenty-page, “Holding the Line at $2.99” title rather than granting it the “elite” status of a 32-page $3.99 title, undoubtedly because of sales, even then, well back before the advent of the New 52. I had already perceived something of a subsequent drop in the overall story effect 'way back then. Frankly, Levitz needs the space to tell his expansive stories with this legion of characters.

Nonetheless, the Legion of Super-Heroes has always been front-and-center in my comics affection, and I will miss them. I will also be there, God willing, for the next reboot. May it come sooner rather than later. Until then …

Long Live the Legion!

Batman-Superman #3
Split Screen”

Hands down, the funniest line in this issue – in this month's DC comics: “That 'S' … doesn't stand for 'Hope,' huh?” Actually, on second reading, it might not be meant to be funny, but rather dead serious, if the Earth-2 Superman's \S/ is the Kryptonian glyph for “Hope”....

Anyway, the story continues right from last issue, with the New God Kaiyo jumping from body to body, but in the end tempting the heroes of two Earths with a new devastating weapon and news that Darkseid is coming. Oh, and Wonder Woman has joined the fray, with the heroes of two worlds working together, initially to destroy the government's new weapon in case of an “S-level event” – but see above. We also get a flashback of Earth 2's Clark and Bruce meeting as kids, looking to be about ten or twelve years old about fifteen years further in the past from this book … but does that work out mathematically since if this story is happening about five years ago or so, on the verge of Earth 2's Apokoliptian War, Helena Wayne (age about seventeen then?) would have had to be born when Bruce was what, about that age, ten or twelve?! Whatever, maybe we don't have all the pieces yet, or I missed something. In any case, there is very nice interaction between Alfred and Jonathan Kent, and continued stellar art.

Earth 2 #15
War Torn”

The Wonders get their asses kicked by Steppenwolf's Terrors, but are mysteriously left alive as the World Army comes into Dherainian air space – and wondering why Steppenwolf seems so eager for the attack. Hawkgirl is captured while tracking Sam's killers and the Apokoliptian connection. Barda and Mister Miracle are fighting Fury when a (female) Red Tornado appears to take them all into custody of the World Army. … That does not do justice to this marvelous (wondrous?) “elseworlds” take on the Earth 2 heroes, which continues a steadily driving story toward Robinson's departure, only one more issue hence (I believe) although that's two months from now because of “Villains' Month.

Action Comics #23
Atomic Knights” / The World of Krypton, Part 5: “Fortitude”

In the lead story, Superman goes from fighting Straith to fighting against the rest of Pax Galactica, to fighting alongside them all against the Devourer of All Living Things in the Universe – which is a magical construct built around the dead heart of the green woman's brother's corpse. He destroys it, winning the status of ruler of Pax G, who then swear fealty and service to hime. He commands them to “go home, find another quest” … far away from Earth! Overall it's a bit of a tongue in cheek story, but it's actually quite fun. Not a lot to discuss, though. In the backup, Jor-El refuses to go along with the Colonel's plot and is about to be killed when he is saved by his old friend … Commander Zod.

Detective Comics #23
Bat and Mouse” / Man-Bat in “Marital Abyss”

Batman continues maneuvering against Wrath, Bruce Wayne's rival Gotham millionnaire E. D. Caldwell. By the end, Alfred has been captured by Caldwell, but not before getting proof that Caldwell is indeed Wrath preparing for an all-out war. The issue takes place subsequent to Detective Comics Annual #2.

Wow, it turns out that Francine was a Caldwell Technologies spy on Kurt Langstrom. Man, DC really do have it in for traditionally happily married couples, don't they? She was seeking a way to weaponize his formula. But when she used the modified version (see last issue's revelation) on herself, she discovered “freedom” in becoming an addicted mankiller.

Justice League of America #7
Trinity War, Chapter Four”

We continue with the standard team cross-over trope of multiple recombinations of various groups from the three teams as Superman and company, including the Question, find Doctor Psycho, but he didn't make Superman kill Doctor Light. Nevertheless, the truth comes out regarding the raison d'etre of the Justice League of America – to defeat and replace the Justice League. They confront Waller, whereupon the Secret Society detonates Doctor Light's body. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman and her companions confront Lex Luthor, to whom Pandora is giving the Box. Sounds like a great idea to me! Wonder Woman claims the Box just as Batman and his group appear, along with the Phantom Stranger who dies at the end.

Moving along....

Worlds' Finest #15
Down the Rabbit Hole”

The cover copy says it all … well, sort of. Actually, while Helena's been captured and being tortured, Karen has followed them through the Boom Tube. DeSaad confronts her and succeeds in extracting something from Karen's mind – and screwing up her powers. Helena gets loose – she's the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, after all – joins the fray, but then DeSaad proclaims that he wants them to “ripen” some more and casts them back through the Boom Tube. Whereupon Karen implies that he has destroyed her powers. Remember, they've been acting wonky from the beginning of the series though.

Superman Unchained #3
Answered Prayers” / “Epilogue”

Superman meets Wraith, is overcome by him, then they talk, along with General Lane. Wraith (“William Rudolph's Ace In The Hole”) is an alien who arrived on Earth in 1938 (of course), was taken in by the US government, and has been serving a secret shadow group within the government ever since – arranging the world order to their liking. I guess that explains all the great things that have happened. What I entertained was not a mistake in issue #1, the erroneous date for Nagasaki, was indeed just an egregious historical error because here it is explicitly explained that what the world believes to have been the second atomic bomb dropped onto Japan was actually just a bluff to fool the Japaneese into believing that we had more than the single bomb we used at Hiroshima. That is actually an interesting plot point, ruined for me by the incredibly stupid blunder regarding a basic historical fact.  Anyway, Lane accuses Superman of cowardice, that he is unwilling to get his hands dirty doing what is “necessary.” Wraith is the real American hero. Wraith does seem to be an heroic figure, who tells Superman that they've actually fought side by side – only Superman never knew Wraith was there. Nevertheless, when an Ascension terrorist plot in Japan gives them the chance to work together knowingly, Wraith laments that it's unfortunate he will ultimately have to kill Superman.

In the lead story's other plot, Lois is in a plane crashed by Ascension in the Arctic – but is then saved by a seeming miracle. The epilogue has comatose Lex in his sentient fighting armor showing up at Jimmy Olsen's pad wanting to be his pal....

Let's see: “Straith” in Action Comics, “Wrath” in Detective Comics, “Wraith” in Superman Unchained....  Where's "Strath"?

Superboy #23
Match Time”

Superboy fights a series of battles which are ultimately discovered to be all in his head due to the influence of the Psycho Pirate who now has Medusa snakes floating around his head....

Batman #23
Zero Year – Secret City: Part Three” / Bruce Wayne in “The Pit”

Zero Year continues its parallel narrative. Thomas Wayne finds and rescues young Bruce from his fall into the cave. Red Hood attacks and almost kills adult Bruce, leaving him for dead in his townhouse, but he makes his way home where Alfred patches him up. Bruce despairs that he's losing the war, and hallucinates memories of the fall and his father's belief that the life of the city runs in the caves. He sees a bat crawling over a bust of his father, and that becomes his New-52 inspiration. … In other characters' “monologues,” Red Hood tells the gravely injured Bruce how he was inspired to knowledge of the meaninglessness of everything by the senseless murder of the Waynes, and that he hopes his killing their son will likewise bring some child to that same realization. Also, Alfred conveys his guilt that he feels he could perhaps have saved the Waynes if he had been in the surgery (I always figured they had died at the scene), as he had saved so many others before in battlefield hospitals when a soldier was supposedly too far gone. So he will always be there for Bruce.

In the backup, Bruce is 24. He wins repeated to-the-death pit matches in which he refuses to kill by defeating his opponents until they will not go against him – which is contrary to his teacher's intended lesson that he learn that in war you only win by killing your opponents so they can't come back.

Batgirl #23
Wanted, Part One of Three: Manhunt”

Batgirl” didn't appear except in a flashback scene on page 1. The overall plot has Commissioner Gordon hunting for Batgirl, Barbara's new boyfriend's past coming back, and Babs donning ninja gear to track and help him. Everything converges toward a tragic climax which as Gordon shooting Ricky dead before his disguised daughter's eyes.

I'm tired of this story arc. The reader – or at least the reader of Suicide Squad or keeping more or less current in the wider DC Universe if they're not reading that title – knows that James Jr. is not dead, and there's the huge plothole that Barbara Sr. should have some role here. She has to know that Babs is Batgirl, right? The only explanation for her continued silence, letting her daughter hang in the wind as a fugitive target of her own father's unwitting vendetta, is that she completely cut herself off from them again and is completely ignorant that Gordon is pretty much aiming to kill Batgirl. That will have to be addressed.

Nightwing #23
World Turned Upside Down”

Images of crucifixions, except for Our Lord, always seem somewhat gratuitous and vaguely sacrilegious to me. They definitely are charged with implicit connotations that seem inappropriate in super-hero comic books. Just my opinion.

Anyway, the Prankster continues to terrorize Chicago, and Nightwing is running ragged. Then at the climax even as the Prankster goes for the mayor, Tony Zucco – whose wife, upon learning his past, shamed him into taking responsibility for his past – shows up proposing that he and Nightwing work together. Could this possibly be an attempt to write a story of redemption? What will be Nightwing's reaction?

Justice League Dark #23
Trinity War, Part 5 of 6” [from cover]

Basically, just a bunch more fighting in a melee centered around the Box, until they find Madame Xanadu who reveals it's not a box at all but rather a door … which the Outsider says is time to open. When The Hero Formerly Known As Captain Marvel touches it, the pulse of magic affects all magic wielders, imparting visions of other dimensions and universes, including the Earth 2 heroes.

Supergirl #23
Out of the Past”

Somehow the notes I took for this comic and the next (Batman and Nightwing) vanished from my iPhone, so this is a quick overview from memory. Kara fights a bunch of her own nightmares given form, but eventually is worn down and succumbs to the Cyborg Superman's attack, which basically disintegrates her alive (yeah, that's what I want to see in my comics, a young girl's body literally ripped to shreds as she begs for her life), with her matter used to reform his pre-Cyborg self – whereupon Zor-El, Kara's father, has a horrified “Oh, shit! What have I done?” moment. Just as Brainiac arrives, apparently chasing him down. The good news? From dialogue, it seems that the disintegration process scrubbed the Kryptonite poisoning from Kara's cells, which was itself slowly killing her. Talk about cure being worse than the disease!

Batman and Nightwing #23

This appears to be the final chapter in the long study of the ramifications of Damian's death. All other efforts to somehow bring Damian back having failed, Bruce has been reliving the night of his death over and over again in virtual reality, trying to find a way he could have saved him. Alfred has called in Nightwing, his first partner, to talk him out of the simulation – instead, Dick joins him, and shows him that he could not have done it alone. But he was alone, and doomed to fail. Afterward, Alfred enters the VR, and also saves Damian, by preventing him from having entered the final battle at all. Bruce finds him weeping, and realizes that his own pain and guilt is hardly less than Alfred's who also lost a son that night. They share their pain, and together turn the VR off.

The only way I could see that ending being any better is if there had been some indication that, had Alfred kept Damian back, Bruce and the others would have all died. As it is, hopefully we can put all this behind us, although I hope Damian is never forgotten in the storytelling short of a massive reboot. And unless they are going to go back to where the pre-New 52 DCU was, I'm tired of reboots.

Birds of Prey #23
Dreams That Never Were”

This issue is mostly dream sequences induced by the nerd girl, keeping the Birds in a dreamworld where we witness some interesting visions until Basilisk's ride picks up Black Canary and Condor. Batgirl and Strix manage to break out of the dreams and fight a bit, but are left wondering how they're going to rescue their teammates. In the epilogue, Canary wakes up with her Canary Cry gone – dampened by the presence of a hitherto presumed dead Kurt Lance in suspended animation.

Batwoman #23
This Blood is Thick: Veins”

In two main narratives, 1) Kate takes the Scarecrow's fear toxin to prove her love for Maggie, and Maggie proves hers by staying with her through the nightmares, and 2) the rest of the crew kidnap a DEO agent to find out where Beth is being held. He doesn't tell despite their torture … until Bette appeals to his ambition. Finally, Operation Batfrack begins, basically the original plan whereby Bane wore down the Bat before breaking him.

Operation Batfrack” – Greatest. Name. Ever!

Red Hood and the Outlaws #23
All Fall Down”

Yeah, this title is not clicking for me. I'm likely dropping it. The story is something about the League of Assassins needing Jason to save them in battle against the “Untitled.” But Roy's allied with the Untitled to save Jason from the League of Assassins. And Kori shows up saying that neither one of them knows what's really going on. Neither do I, other than some more stuff happens that looks bad.

Justice League #23
Trinity War, Chapter Six: Conclusion”

ARRGHH! I hate it when the conclusion of one event leads directly into another “event.” So what is an “event”? Just another incident in the continuing narrative.

Here we have revealed that Pandora's Box is some kind of artifact from Earth 3, three being the “number of evil.” See my bit of a rant last month (link) regarding the perversion of the idea of “trinity” in the new DC. A rift was created years ago during the Darkseid … Event … that allowed two survivors from the destruction of that alternate Earth through into “our” world – Alfred Pennyworth … and this new female Atom, who's been playing them all. They set about finding Pandora's Box to allow the others of the Crime Syndicate (evil doppelgangers of the Justice League) through, which they here accomplish, along with activating the Apokoliptian tech ripped from Cyborg to form some independent machine intelligence. It was Atom who placed a sliver of Kryptonite in Superman's brain that has been poisoning him slowly as well as triggered his heat vision to kill Doctor Light and trigger the Trinity War. And the Crime Syndicate declares this world theirs. … Continued in Forever Evil #1. ARRGHHH!

And here I liked this sexy new Atom.

Aquaman #23
Death of a King, Chapter Five: Dead End”

Wait! What is that? A Geoff Johns chapter with an actual chapter-title? I ask him now – Was that really that hard?

Anyway, Aquaman and Mera escape Xebel with the Xebelians hot on their … fins? They return to Atlantis where the Scavenger has been gleefully devastating the city. Aquaman overtaxes his telepathy unleashing the new Lovecraftian Cthulhu-like Topo on the Scavenger's submarines, then loses consciousness, bleeding from his nose, ears, and eyes just as the Xebelians and the First King arrive....

only to wake up six months later, being cared for by Vulko somewhere on the surface, shirtless and with a beard. Oh no you'd better not, Geoff Johns!

In a side story, Tula and her team basically stand around outside Belle Reve prison not doing anything until they get word that the Scavenger is attacking Atlantis.

Superman #23
Psi War, Part One”

Man, can that Kenneth Rocafort draw sexy babes, or what? And he renders the new “Kryptonian Armor” Superman costume in a manner that even I like it! Get him back on interiors, DC! (And to think I used to dislike his art....)

This issue is presented by a mysterious narrator who affects an almost tongue-in-cheek air, and who is ultimately revealed to be the same Psycho Pirate as appeared on the last page of Superboy, vide supra. The bulk of the issue recounts the conflict between the HIVE Queen and Superman until Hector Hammond shows up – sort of – and takes her on until he himself is overcome apparently by the Psycho Pirate who inflicts a sort of cranial deflation on him.

A side scene checks in with Lois, who is now lying comatose in the hospital under the vigil of Jon Carroll (whose name Psycho Pirate apparently can't spell). Then Lois starts awake seeming to realize that Superman is in trouble.

Batman, Incorporated Special #1

This one-shot comprises several short stories about various members of Batman, Incorporated. I'm not going to detail them. The best one for me is The Knight in “Without You,” in which the Squire works her way through her grief, day by day, to determination to take on the identity of the Knight. Especially if they don't follow up with some kind of continued presence of Beryl Hutchinson in the future, though, I'll consider this special issue just a way to wring a bit more money out of Grant Morrison's seven-year Batman magnum opus. They do give Morrison a page for a good text feature giving his thoughts about the saga overall, which is worth reading although it should have been longer.

Talon #11
True Strength”

As often, there are two parallel stories: 1) Calvin and Anya's team escape Bane and Santa Prisca with news of his planned invasion, and 2) Casey escapes to the roof of GCPD headquarters to trigger the Bat Signal, but is found and beaten by the Butcher before Batman arrives and saves her – or does he? She is in bad shape as she pleads with him to work with Calvin Rose to save Sarah. At the end, Calvin tries to contact Casey, only to get Batman who tells her that Casey probably won't make it. In the epilogue, the Outsider (who we now know to be Earth-3 Alfred) offers Bane membership in the Secret Society – and he dumps Sebastian Clark.

Batman: The Dark Knight #23

Batman deploys and finally perfects a new way to capture and hold Clayface, and the issue ends with the villain back in Arkham. Along the way, however, the question of how Clayface knew of Batman's relationship with Natalya leads Batman to the mastermind of Clayface's current very atypical crime spree, the Penguin. Overall, I found this issue quite a bit harder to follow than previous, maybe a result of Maleev's very atmospheric but perhaps confusing art.

Teen Titans #23
Hello, I Must Be Going!”

The first few pages have the Titans thwart an effort by someone in the late 31st century dragging Bart through a time portal – and introducing themselves along the way. Reminds me of the Power Rangers. Or Zan and Jayna. The rest of the issue is mainly character moments culminating in Miguel and Garfield leaving to go to Miguel's home where his boyfriend has come out of a coma. There is a nice passage where Tim tells Raven why each team member is there, then shows his own bad judgment of character in saying she should be team leader should anything happen to him – we know she's a mole for her demonic father!


Smallville Season 11 #63-66
Hollow, Part 4 of 4"

In the end, Tess holds back from exacting justice-in-kind on the attackers at STAR Labs, or on Lex, although in the latter case she comes close to killing him the way he killed her body in the finale to Season 10 on TV.  Emil turns out to have survived being essentially gut shot, and in fact is up and about seemingly within a couple of days, and Tess tells him of her choice to be as human as possible given her virtual disembodied state of existence.  Lex suspects that there's more to the robot construct that almost killed him than meets the eye as he and Otis analyse scans of the ship from the STAR Labs raid and conclude it is from the alternate "Earth 2."

Olympus, Parts 7-9 of 12”

The introduction of Wonder Woman to the Smallville mythos continues as Ares is incarnate via the machinations of Felix Faust!  This is a better story arc than this terse summary would indicate, but it's very late and I'm just about petered out for the day.

Reviews to be added
* * *
Overall, a typically mixed bag. I didn't pick up Batwing for this month, and frankly I'm just not interested enough since I'm now having to wait two months for the dollar drop. I'd just as soon wait for the collection. Warning in advance – next month's write-up may well have a rant on how DC seems to be wanting to drive me away entirely. I'm seriously thinking about curtailing my purchases from them severely. Were it not for inertia compounded by the pre-order lead time that means if I stop something now I've still got several issues coming, I may have already done so, especially given the flip side to that being that if I want to pick something up there's the same lag before I actually receive something I pre-order. It makes changing course harder than the Titanic bearing down on the iceberg.

Thanks for reading.

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