Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Monthly Recap: January 2012

Monthly Recap

January 2012

The first month in 2012 has been a somewhat hit-or-miss for DC's 'new 52' titles. While previously strong titles like Action Comics and Resurrection Man suffered slight hiccups, other strong titles such as Batman and Green Lantern kept their momentum and readers' attention.

Red Lanterns saw an interesting turn as it gave some back story to some of the lesser-known members of the Corps that feels only rage. Doing this allows for more ranged storytelling, possibly in an 'A-story, B-Story' style that could intertwine or connect with other Green Lantern-related books.

In Supergirl, Kara flies back to Krypton hoping to find something where there is nothing. Frustrated and confused, she is approached by a mysterious warrior calling herself Reign. After a brief fight, she reveals herself to be a living weapon of mass destruction searching for the same answer - the reason for Krypton's destruction - as Kara. We're left with Supergirl unconscious in the dead city of Argo floating around a dead sun.

One of the most underrated books of the 'new 52' is Blue Beetle. While it sometimes comes across as cheesy and/or unconvincing in terms of adolescent behavior, it provides a solid tale of a teenager coming to possess powers he can't fully comprehend. While it's an obvious attempt to mimic Marvel's success with Ultimate Spider-Man (which creates an even bigger connection now that Ultimate Spidey is also Hispanic), Blue Beetle offers an integral part of DC mythology with a great multi-cultural setting. As the intergalactic legion responsible for the creation of the Blue Beetle scarab comes searching for their missing unit on Earth, they get called to join the invasion fleet heading to attack the Blue Lantern home world of Odym, a war promised to be covered starting in Green Lantern: New Guardians #10 this coming June. It's a great one-off to a future event that promises to be a great read.

Red Hood and The Outlaws is a fun read. While not as coherent as some of the other Batman-related books (and I use this connection in the loosest sense), Jason Todd's journey as Red Hood joined by Arsenal and Starfire is pure comic fun. Poised as DC's "renegade" superheroes, this 'team' operates purely out of self-motivation and personal conflict. And while they're sometimes targeted by outside forces, it's usually about them. This month, the Outlaws didn't do much, but Red Hood gets a good shot in the nuts about who he's fighting and why.

Overall, DC had a good showing this month. With the announcement of the Second Wave of New 52 titles, I'm interested to see how their inclusion will shake things up.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Review: Superman #5


Superman #5
Written by George Perez
Pencilled by Nicola and Trevor Scott

This month's Superman was a thinker. Not much time has passed since the end of issue four, and Supes is stuck in a cyclone made of fire and ice; a curious thing indeed. After a few minutes of controversial news coverage, the cyclone dies away, along with Superman's previously gentle and charming manner. A new militant Superman has taken his place and begins exterminating any major threats to Metropolis.

Superman has been a point of mixed emotions for me. On the one hand, I like how DC is incorporating non-DC villains into the canon, though I'm frustrated about the pace at which things are developing. It hasn't been uncommon for writers to utilize the half-thoughts-half-article approach to Superman, allowing a more human scope in which to interpret Superman's actions, his behavior and his very existence. Unfortunately, George Perez hasn't really used this technique in the best way. He's severely fragmented the storytelling flow by constantly skipping back and forth to Lois, Clark, Perry, Jimmy and others. And with this fragmentation comes a missed opportunity to really give this relaunched Superman some awesome personality.

The final pages really get things going again and definitely make me want to read the next issue, so we'll see how things pan out next month.

Grade: C-

Review: Teen Titans #5


Teen Titans #5
Written by Scott Lobdell
Artwork by Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund

Teen Titans has been pretty good since the 'New 52' relaunch. While some of the member choices are a bit questionable (I mean, Skitter instead of Beast Boy? C'mon...), Scott Lobdell has done a great job weaving the stories of each of these characters into a larger mythology within the new DC universe. Lobdell also pens Superboy, giving him ample page space to make connections, create an intricate backstory and give the DC universe a rather formidable enemy.

Issue five claims to present all the members of the Teen Titans together for the first time. Unfortunately, this is a lie, as Skitter is absent from the brawl and Superboy is their enemy. So...they're kind of all there? Whatever. The issue still stands on it's feet as a great book. I was skeptical, from the beginning, of Bunker, a new teen hero who's Hispanic, homosexual and who's power consists of creating purple psionic bricks. It's a pretty weak description for a character that has actually been written well and without a whole lot of sappiness, which is difficult for comic book writers to avoid when writing multi-ethnic or homosexual characters. In this battle, Bunker is the only one - at least for a moment - who can stand up to Superboy's own psionic powers, slowing him down enough for Red Robin to swoop in and give ol' Kon-El the psychological beatdown he needed all along.

We're still in a transitional place for the Titans. Superboy is their enemy. Kid Flash doesn't have a proper costume yet, Skitter doesn't understand her powers, Wonder Girl is anything but 'wonderful', and Solstice has yet to be developed beyond the 'information dump' girl. But this is the fifth issue, and we're starting to see the seeds of the full team take root. Superboy starts questioning his beliefs, all the rest of them get a dose of humble pie as they're beat to the ground one by one, and N.O.W.H.E.R.E. begins to panic as they realize that Superboy may no longer see them as allies (and still no acronym clarification). Soon, we'll get to see the road Superboy takes to joining the Teen Titans.

While not the finest issue of the title thus far, it's definitely one of the better ones. While both Teen Titans and Superboy have taken the scenic route in their storytelling, those scenes are starting to make more sense and things are being brought together more and more. Lobdell has the chance to build an inter-title mythology and so far, he's succeeding.

Grade: B-

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Review: Justice League #5


Justice League #5
Written by Geoff Johns
Artwork by Jim Lee and Scott Williams

Fragmentation has long been the problem with the Justice League. It's difficult to tell a chapter in a story - in 22 pages no less - that encompasses the whole range of heroes that fall under the Justice League banner. Even the core seven - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman and (newly added founding member) Cyborg - present an overflow of high-profile characters that need to be represented. It's a problem with the current status quo of single comic issues in general, but it's more prevalent in Justice League because of the sheer amount of content Johns has to work with.

It's a blessing, but also, in this issue five, a curse. Already in the first issue, we saw the 'Green Lantern & Batman' show that made it feel more like a crossover mini-series than the flagship title of DC's 'New 52' relaunch.

While subsequent issues have faired better, this month's story brings us back to Hal and Bruce kickin' it old school. Though Darkseid is front and center in the opening pages, he quickly gets put off-panel to focus on Green Lantern and Batman talking things out. Before that, though, we get to see a good bit of fast thinking from Barry Allen as the Flash. Darkseid's (technically still not named) Omega beams have locked onto the Flash and instead of outrunning them, he phases through a parademon to change the beam's target. It's a little cheesy, but aptly conveys Barry's newly-interpreted powers as a speedster.

Johns is sticking to his guns with his interpretation of early Hal Jordan as a total dick. In this issue, he decides that only he can stop this alien menace, even though his first attempt left him with a broken arm. Next, when it's just GL and Bats alone...again...Hal tells Batman that, if he dies, "THEN I DIE!", a sentiment that somehow moves Bruce into unmasking himself and revealing who he is to Hal, who promptly screams that he has no idea who Bruce Wayne is.

I understand that Geoff Johns loves Green Lantern. I also understand that Batman is probably one of the most interesting characters to write, so writing them together - which hasn't been done nearly enough - sounds like a good idea. Unfortunately, this is supposed to be Justice League. This was the first issue where the entire team was gathered, yet Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman have a handful of words at best before being relegated off-panel. I know Johns and Jim Lee have high hopes for their new incarnation of Justice League, including adding a ton more members. But as it stands now, they seem to be having trouble just balancing seven.

I still really enjoyed this issue, despite all my whining. It was filled with action from Darkseid, Flash, Green Lantern and Batman with a great last page of the whole team heading out to take down their first villain as a team.

Grade: C+

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Analysis: Superman/Superboy/Supergirl: The First New 52 Crossover


Superman/Superboy/Supergirl: DC's first New 52 Crossover

A few days ago, DC editor Matt Idelson announced the New 52's first crossover event. Citing hints in Action Comics and Superman in upcoming months, Idelson explained that this crossover would deal with the Superman family of characters. He continued on to say that Superman hasn't yet met Superboy in this reality, and that the Man of Steel's relationship with Supergirl hasn't been the most pleasant thus far. Seeing how these characters interact will be the main focus of the crossover, concluded Idelson in his comments.

In June, it will have only been 10 months since the New 52 relaunch with six titles already cancelled and replaced with six new books. Obviously, DC isn't looking to drag anything out, and letting sleeping dogs lie is not on the itinerary; unpopular books should be axed, a crossover would be neat, and new titles need to be introduced to keep attention on the New 52.

But is there a real need for a crossover event so early on? Reading reviews from several other sites has yielded a common desire from many journalists: more cohesiveness between titles. The main reason given - a good reason - is that this new DC universe has started to feel fractured, like no events in one book truly affect those in another. And while various titles have somewhat produced said cohesion (see Justice League Dark and I, Vampire), it's a far cry from the tightly-knit world that once existed.

But to be fair, isn't that one of the reasons DC decided to re-launch it's entire line in the first place? Part of what made it difficult to dive into comic books (as a new reader) was the sheer amount of history littered throughout regular narratives. Hardcore fans loved the winks, nods and hat tips to previous events, new audiences found it near-impossible to break the think ice of continuity. Re-launching 52 titles was an effort to clear up the muck of historical cohesion that drove away potential new readers. It feels almost like a step backwards to introduce a major crossover event so soon into the life of the New 52, some titles of which will only be two months old when the event starts.

Though, the idea behind a crossover event to establish the Superman family is a good one. In the past, DC had the time to slowly introduce Supergirl (multiple times over the decades) before eventually getting around to Superboy, which also took a long time. Since all four titles (including Action Comics) that will be included in the event premiered at the same time, DC needed a way to bring these three characters, who all share the same insignia, together to be the surrogate family each one of them needs. This event could go very well. If DC sticks to only including Superman-related books in it's 'tie-in' scope, as well as keeping it simple and fun, it will be success. If they expect me to buy Justice League Dark or Catwoman, it will be a disaster.

Readers who jumped in when the relaunch started in September have decided which books they read. It's not unreasonable to ask said readers to pick up Superman-related titles if they'd like to understand the relationship between Superman-related characters. And honestly, most people who are reading Superman and Action Comics are probably reading Superboy and Supergirl anyway. These new audiences are in a fragile spot right about now. Justice League #5, arguably the most popular title of the relaunch, was the first of the New 52 titles to be delayed, something that may not sit well with new buyers. And if, come summer, they're asked to pick up issues not on their list at the local comic shop, they won't. It's as simple as that. Comic books are a luxury many cannot afford (especially in this economy) and buying extra books for a possible single-panel shout out to the real event isn't something many people are likely to do. And, some might feel alienated by the prospect of having to buy other books to understand what's going on in Superman, a book they actually read.

So, DC, you have a chance to do things right this time around. Please, please don't screw this up.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review: Green Lantern - New Guardians #5


Green Lantern: New Guardians #5
Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Tyler Kirkham and Batt

This title is all sorts of a mess. First of all, it's called New Guardians, which would imply that they are similar, in at least some respect, to the current Guardians of the Universe. This is not so. Second, with five issues under his belt, Tony Bedard still can't make up his mind about the direction of the title. And lastly, it feels nearly like a chore to read through the pages and pages of nothing but dialogue.

Let's start with the 'Guardians' part. I don't know if DC just couldn't decide on a better name, or if there will eventually be some crazy awesome connection to the original Guardians, but right now, there doesn't seem to be any discernable reason why the book should be called New Guardians. Others might see this as a trifle and simply move past it to analyze the content inside. I feel like the title is a misdirect, and one that keeps me from fully understanding the characters' actions.

The 'story' thus far in New Guardians has been that everyone attacks Kyle Rayner, then they all go to Oa (only to get kicked off), then they go out in space a bit before running into a solar-system sized spaceship. It's an alliteration that might sound cool, but in effect looks like a universal mobile. And in this fifth issue, we're introduced to the (apparent) villain, Invictus. As some sort of 'sun god', Invictus literally wakes up from sleeping in the sun to come bring some pain to those who bear the Mark of the Beast. Turns out the beast is...Larfleeze? And these people are pissed because little ol' Glomulus is puttering about? Seriously? I just don't know where Bedard is going and it's becoming a little frustrating trying to guess.

While this books should be awesome, showcasing huge battles involving all the different Corps members, we're instead treated to Kyle & Friends Wax Poetic about Life, Power Rings and Bein' Gangsta. The different plot elements seem placed simply to allow the characters to go on and on about their problems, plans or insults. It's all pretty boring.

One good thing about this issue was the banter between Kyle and Glomulus, one of Larfleeze's more popular constructs and possibly the cutest villain in DC history. Glommy and Kyle start getting into conversation and Glomulus' very nature - as simply a construct or a living, thinking being - comes into question.

I want to like this book. I love Green Lantern and Kyle is my all-time favorite GL, so I keep reading, sticking it out hoping that things will get better. Fortunately, this month's Blue Beetle promised a pretty awesome new arc starting with issue #10. Here's hoping things get better by June.

Grade: C-

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: Aquaman #5


Aquaman #5
Written by Geoff Johns
Artwork by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado

Geoff Johns really loves Aquaman. For a character who's traditionally been one of the least popular and least nurtured in DC history, Johns has been consistently delivering dynamite material for Atlantis' lost son. One of the main problems with Arthur Curry is that no writer tried (much) to delve into his characterization beyond the surface anger. Instead of becoming a more well-rounded hero through the years like Batman, Green Lantern (not including the forever-thick Hal Jordan), and Superman, Aquaman has always had a case of arrested development. It's for all of these reasons that I've loved the 'New 52' Aquaman so very, very much.

Issue five begins the second story arc for Aquaman since the relaunch. After the events of "The Trench", which stands by itself as an amazing story, the first page shows three panels of Arthur falling through the sky only to land in a desert. It's a perfect use of panel space because the reader immediately knows something isn't right and wants to know what happened, all without any dialogue. Ivan Reis and Joe Prado have been bringing their A-game since issue one and this month is no exception.

Flashing back to 12 hours earlier, we find out that Arthur has been called in by Commander Clay, the de-facto military persona who gave Aquaman grief during the events of "The Trench", because the navy done gone and started poking at something shiny. Aquaman arrives and quickly identifies the piece as Atlantean, though it was ancient, even by their standards. Arthur realizes that it came from a time before Atlantis was sank. The artifact becomes the main point of conflict between the Navy and a mysterious new enemy as the issue continues.

This issue has solidified Aquaman as one of the premier titles of the 'New 52.' Letting the first four issues set up Aquaman's world before diving into the origins of Atlantis was a fantastic strategy and it's allowed for Arthur Curry to develop at a pace more fitting in this new era of comic books. Where once readers needed only a few pages and a narrative exposition to give them characterization, it now takes whole arcs to flesh out characters, as well it should. Johns understands the craftsmanship behind developing a character beyond their most prevalent elements. Of course Superman can fly, but how does he feel about the national debt crisis? Wonder Woman flies an invisible jet, so does she have a license? These anecdotes might seem trite, but they serve as examples for the kind of ideas Johns is using to create a deeper, richer character experience. And Aquaman is all the better for it.

Grade: A+

Monday, January 23, 2012

Review: DC Universe Presents #5


DC Universe Presents #5
Written by Paul Jenkins
Pencilled by Bernard Chang

** Since I've just now started covering DC Universe Presents, I won't be writing a full Review for the title's first arc, "Deadman: Twenty Questions." Starting next month, regular reviews will be written for each issue and it's completed arcs. ***

In the final chapter of "Twenty Questions",  the first arc in DC Universe Presents, Deadman goes philosophically head-to-head with the deceitful goddess Rama for the fate of his soul. If that sentence alone doesn't get you pumped about Deadman, I don't know what would.

Paul Jenkins has done a fantastic job reinterpreting Boston Brand's story for the 'new 52.' By giving Deadman a less altruistic path, Jenkins gave us a five-part tale of higher beings flawed by their very nature (much in the same vein as recent Green Lantern arcs concerning the Guardians of the Universe) and how a simple question can change everything. Jenkins spent the first four issues of DC Universe Presents delving into Deadman's abilities, his 'style' of heroism and how he fits into the new DC universe. At the same time, he wove a philosophical thriller based on the questioning the meaning of life and existence. What makes the arc so satisfying is that you don't need a background in critical analysis to understand the sentiments and feeling create by these questions, by pondering the essence of life. Jenkins' technique involves boiling down the various philosophical idioms presented to their most minimal form and presenting them in fun anecdotes. And while that made for an awesome build-up, it was great to see Brand speaking so frankly to Rama in this final issue featuring Deadman.

While Brand knows he can't "win", in as much as being free of Rama's grip, but at least he can alleviate some of the pressure before giving in to her control. Through a mildly complex series of connected ideas, Brand explains that gods feel no humility which means they could never think to ask one of the most simple, yet most important, questions mortals feel every day of their lives: "Why me?" Everyone has, at some point in their lives, felt victimized and that shared sentiment cannot be felt by those with no true humility. In a true 'thinker' piece, Jenkins crafts a damn near-perfect origin story for Deadman before letting him go to exist between the pages of other books until DC sees fit to give Brand his own ongoing.

Grade: A

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review: Wonder Woman #5


Wonder Woman #5
Written by Brian Azzarello
Pencilled by Tony Akins

Since Justice League got pushed back a week, I'll be covering Wonder Woman instead. When I looked through the schedule, though, I realized that I wasn't covering any books starring female heroines. So, starting this month, I'll be adding Wonder Woman to the schedule of regularly covered titles. I've thoroughly enjoyed Wonder Woman to date. For a character who's been reinterpreted and re-imagined so many times, it's a wonder (pun totally intended) this book can be this good.

Fortunately, Brian Azzarello has an amazing take on Diana that hasn't been attempted in the past; he fundamentally changed Diana's birth. Instead of being 'molded from clay and brought to life', Azzarello has thrown us a curve ball and revealed that Diana is actually a daughter of Zeus, and therefore a demigod and child of Olympus. While Wonder Woman always had a deep and literal connections to the gods of Greek mythology, the 'new 52' Diana has a much more personal connection now that she has discovered her blood relation.

This first arc is focusing on Diana's ability to cope with family issues. First, she finds another of Zeus' unknowing suitors who bears one of his children. Next, we learn Diana's true heritage and how Hera is none to happy about it. More and more, Diana is realizing that her place in this crazy family is less defined than she believed. Meaning, while she was a bit melodramatic about the situation at first, she's come to accept that 'fate' has nothing to do with how she conducts herself. After years of believing a lie woven to protect her from the truth, 'destiny' and 'fate' seem a little less rosy to Wonder Woman than they once would have.

Plus, Poseidon shows up at the end!

Grade: B

Friday, January 20, 2012

Analysis: The Second Wave of the New 52


The Second Wave of the New 52

Recently, DC announced the cancellation of six titles from Septembers relaunch called the 'new 52.' The six titles include the Rob Liefield-penciled Hawk and Dove, as well as Men of War (Brandon, Derrenick), Mister Terrific (Wallace, Gugliotta), Static Shock (Bernadin, McDaniel), Blackhawks (Costa, Lashley), and O.M.A.C., penned by DC co-publisher Dan DiDio. DC cited low sales as reason for their cancellation. While this may have been true for the excellent O.M.A.C. and Men of War, critics have lamented titles such as Hawk and Dove and Blackhawks for poor writing and directionless storytelling.

DC followed up news of the cancellations with the announcement of six new titles to fill the empty slots that will new known as the 'Second Wave' of New 52 titles. They are as follows. I've added some commentary, but take it with a grain of salt until you read them when they launch and judge for yourself.

Batman Incorporated (Volume 2)
Written by Grant Morrison
Pencilled by Chris Bunham

Honestly, did we really need a second run of Batman, Inc? Was anyone but Grant Morrison clamoring to do this? At this point, I'm sure Morrison has DC by the balls and is pretty much allowed to do whatever he wants, despite how weird it gets (anyone remember Seven Soliders back in 2004?) I tried to read Batwing back in September, but was sorely disappointed, so I'm not too hot on Batman Incorporated.

Earth 2
Written by James Robinson
Pencilled by Nicola Scott

On the flip side, Earth 2 is the book fans have been clamoring for since the Justice Society of America went away back before Flashpoint screwed everything up for everyone ever. Instead of mucking up it's own established history of superheroes only appearing 5-10 years ago, DC has opted to give readers the Justice Society once more, but will keep them on their native Earth 2 in the multiverse...which now seems to exist again. Some might argue that this title calls into question if Infinite Crisis ever happened, while others will keep their mouths shut and be happy to have a Justice Society title once again.

World's Finest
Written by Paul Levitz
Pencilled by George Perez and Kevin Maguire

Another puzzling choice, but for different reasons than Batman Incorporated. Powerl Girl and Huntress will be the focus of World's Finest, starring as citizens of Earth 2 trapped in our universe trying to find a way back home. I understand the desire to introduce more characters into the revamped universe, and I think World's Finest is an excellent way to do that. Honestly, I just wonder why Power Girl and Huntress specifically? I understand they're both from Earth 2, but in this revamped world, they could have paired almost any character with Power Girl and made it work because why not! I'll remain optimistically skeptical until I read the first issue.

Dial H
Written by China Mieville
Pencilled by Mateus Santoluoco

A re-imagining of Dial H for Hero, this new series by novelist China Mieville sounds awesome! The concept revolves around a mysterious dial that grants normal people superpowers for a short time by entering H-E-R-O on the dial. Not too dissimilar to Resurrection Man, an already fantastic series, Dial H has the potential to be a great showcase of heroes and powers.

G.I. Combat
Written by J.T. Krul (main issue), Jimmy Palmiotti (back-ups), and Jon Arcudi (back-ups)
Pencilled by Ariel Olivetti (main issue), Justin Grey (back-ups), and Scott Kolins (back-ups)

As you can see from the list of authors and artists, G.I. Combat is going to be a more collaborative effort. While DC cancelled Men of War and Blackhawks, it's two military-themed books, this new series will be reinterpreting classic DC military tales for the modern age, including the first primary arc about the War that Time Forgot. Back-up tales featuring the Unknown Soldier and the Haunted Tank are on schedule with more to come!

The Ravagers
Written by Howard Mackie
Pencilled by Ian Churchill

Loosely spun-off from events in Superboy and Teen Titans, this new series from Howard Mackie will tell the tale of four super-powered teenagers on the run from N.O.W.H.E.R.E., a sinister organization trying to turn them into super-villains. My assumption is that Rose Wilson, daughter of Deathstroke, will be among the group, seeing as her moniker was Ravager before the 'new 52' relaunch and she's been heavily featured in Superboy since it debuted.

Review: Green Lantern Corps #5


Green Lantern Corps #5
Peter J. Tomasi - Writer
Fernando Pasarin - Pencils

Back in 2005 - after Hal Jordan's resurrection in Rebirth - DC brought back Green Lantern's sister series from the days before the original Parallax saga starting with a mini-series entitled Green Lantern Corps: Recharge. While the series saw it's ups and downs, mostly stemming from it's fragmented storytelling and too-often reliance on knowledge of events in GL-proper to understand events in Corps., it was a solid book that focused on Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, John Stewart, Kilowog, and a cast of nearly six other Lanterns from various sectors.

While it's previous incarnation was good, the 'new 52' Green Lantern Corps feels like it's own book that can stand on it's own stories. Keeping a focus on Guy, John and Kilowog was the right choice for the Corps series of the GL-centric books. Kyle has never been comfortable amongst the Corps (and was thusly given his own series to star in), and the letting lesser known Lanterns pop in and out gives them character context without becoming overbearing or drawn out.

This fifth issue gives quite a bit of back story to the first arc's villains, the Keepers, courtesy of the telepathy powers of newly cynical J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter. It really was a 'BURN!' moment when he called out the Corps for their failures with Krypton and Mars. Tomasi is skillfully employing the Guardians' terrible track record as of late in telling his tale of a planet charged with protecting Green Lantern batteries when they are being stored in the 'pocket dimension' described by GL's for decades. In fact, the batteries temporally travel to the planet inhabited by the Keepers. When the Guardians mysteriously remove all the batteries, the Keepers' world begins to die and they began to lash out for resources anywhere they could find.

In one stroke, Tomasi has not only given the Green Lanterns a formidable foe without resorting to a crisis-level villain, but also provided another great piece of the Guardian's history of fucking everything up. I've read (and thought myself) that blaming the Guardians for everything has become a crutch for writers over the past five years. To many, it seems as if the Guardians apparently acted more like the CIA, killing, cheating and lying to claw they way to the top, rather that behave like the benevolent beings presented over nearly seven decades of comic continuity. But that's the beauty of a race that's as old as time itself; they've had a lot of time to screw things up, and a lot of universe in which to do it.

Grade: B

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: Batman #5


Batman #5
Scott Snyder - Writer
Greg Capullo - Pencils

It's good to see the Dark Knight so unhinged! It's been a good while since ol' Bats went a little nuts of his own accord. I don't mean he wanted to lose his marbles, but at least it's not at the expense of fear gas, neurotoxins or any other foreign agent; good, old-fashioned mind games that have sent Batman to the edge of his sanity.

Scott Snyder is seriously killing it on Batman and even for an issue very devoid of actual story progression, the audience gets so much! At the beginning of the issue, it's already been eight days since Bruce was dropped into the labyrinth. While Batman is going crazy, alone in the dark, Gotham is also going nuts without a Batman to stay the crime. It's a brilliant stroke of duality that really gives Snyder's story a fantastic cohesion rarely seen in modern comic stories.

Seeing Bruce confront hallucinations, his own mortality and the (apparent) potential loss of his 'story', or, his memories, his history as a Wayne and as a hero. While everything stays in the 'generally vague' category of explanation in this issue, next month's issue looks like it will give us some answers to the Court of Owls' motives and maybe their members!

Grade: A

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Crisis Update: Villains United

Crisis Update
Volume I, Entry 5

Villains United
Gail Simone - Writer
Dale Eaglesham - Pencils

Gail Simone is a pretty hit-or-miss writer. Sometimes, she flubs it pretty hard (like with the new 52's Batgirl, which hasn't really gone anywhere in five issues), but on some occasions, she knocks it out of the park. Villains United is one such case.

What is essentially a rebellion story, Lex Luthor has created a secret Society and is recruiting villains from across the world. From the lowliest of cat burglars to the likes of Deathstroke, Black Adam and Dr. Psycho, Luthor invites all but six villains to join his cause against the superheroes of the world. These are the six villains that the title focus on.

In a double entendre, Villains United eludes not only to the unification of villains under the Society led by Luthor, but also the rogue group of six that come together to combat Luthor's stranglehold on the villains of Earth. Made to participate by blackmailing them, the mysterious Mockingbird finds Deadshot, the man who never misses; Cheshire, lethal assassin; Parademon, solider from Apokolips stranded on Earth; Rag Doll II, disowned nephew of the original Ragdoll; Scandal, daughter of Vandal Savage; and Catman, one of the most forgettable of Batman's adversaries. While the revamped Catman gets the star treatment throughout the series, most of the 'Secret Six' get a lot of panel time and, eventually, have good chemistry during fights and operations.

Villains United was a way for DC to show readers a more relatable side of some of it's villains. Though each is made to work for Mockingbird against their will, the members of the Secret Six begin to develop their own personal moral objections to Luthor's tactics with his Society. And this is the real value from a story such as this; being able to see villains acting in a less-than-evil way is exhilarating. Of course, Cheshire betrays the group in a moment of deceit that would have been missed if it wasn't included, and Parademon dies at the end, giving way for new member - and Scandal's lover - Knockout.

Gail Simone's character-driven story was, by far, my favorite of the 'Countdown to Infinite Crisis' mini-series. The series told a story without being overbearing while also giving readers valuable information about the coming crisis. It felt the most coherent and the most satisfactory at the end.

Grade: A

Monday, January 16, 2012

Crisis Update: Rann-Thanagar War

Crisis Update
Volume 1, Entry 4

Rann-Thanagar War
David Gibbons - Writer
Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Joe Bennett - Pencils

With the four mini-series leading up to the titular Infinite Crisis, DC gave it's readers four distinctly different stories, all under different genres. The O.M.A.C. Project does it's best at 'spy thriller' and espionage narrative, Day of Vengeance is for the magic-lovers, Villains United! chronicles a rebellion, of sorts, and Rann-Thanagar War weaves a science fiction tale about a massive war that breaks out against the planets of Rann and Thanagar, two peoples who've been at odds for centuries. Much like Day of Vengeance, David Gibbons stuffs a multitude of narrative into six issues, not even counting pages of Adam Strange that depict Rann, a highly-technological utopia, being transported to the Polaris galaxy, inadvertently causing Thanagar (home planet of several iterations of Hawkman, Hawkgirl and Hawkwoman) to rotate off it's axis and travel lethally close to their sun.

And this is where Rann-Thanagar War begins, right in the thick of the action. After Thanagar's evacuation, the Rannians reluctantly allow Thanagarian refugees safe haven on their planet. An uneasy truce exists between the two peoples based on a mutual agreement that a rogue player was responsible for the teleporting Rann. If it sounds complicated, it is. Rann-Thanagar is the type of title that can't be read lightly. Nearly every page has integral information or plot-advancing events that are necessary to understand any of the characters' actions as you go forward.

Fortunately, the story is pretty awesome! A secret sect of Thanagarians swearing fealty to Thanagar's ancient evil gods of the Seven Hells plots to overthrow the reigning Thanagrian government and declare war on Rann. Before reason can take hold, the Rannians and Thanagarians are in all-out war. As Rann and Thanagar are both highly influential societies, they command many allies who all begin arriving to add their strength and firepower to the brawl, resulting in an even bigger war. The Seven Hells sect successfully reanimates Onimar Synn, the Eater of Souls and the most powerful of the Seven Devils, on the charred surface of Thanagar. Long(ish) story short, Synn and his followers travel to Rann and Synn proceeds to devour a lot of souls.

The heroes in this saga are numerous, including Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, Jade (daughter of Alan Scott), Green Lantern Kilowog, Captain Comet, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Hawkwoman, Hawkbaby (just kidding), Adam Strange, the Omega Men, Donna Troy, L.E.G.I.O.N., to name a few. One of the main drawbacks to Rann-Thanagar is the multitude of characters. Without having read extensive amounts of DC back issues, many readers can easily become lost in subtle references to the past, nuanced relationships and a general sense of familiarity between characters who haven't shared any panel-time in recent history.

And while the story rarely ever lets up, in terms of action, the very end of issue six leaves a lot to be desired. Of course, Rann-Thanagar, along with the other three lead-up series, exists specifically to do just that: lead-up. Meaning, it made sense to let them all finish up on cliffhangers or unresolved plots because Infinite Crisis would take care of the rest. But Rann-Thanagar simply ends by revealing the rip in space and time. It sounds really cool, but this quantum singularity is given a single panel before the issue closes.

Grade: B-

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Review: Resurrection Man #5


Resurrection Man #5
Dan Abnett - Writer
Andy Lanning - Pencils

Much like Action Comics #5 this month, I felt this episode of Mitch Shelley's saga left a lot to be desired. I don't know if DC coordinated this or not, but it seems like multiple issues are delving into origin stories this month.

Last we left Shelley, he was dead...again. But this time, it took a bit more to send him back. While being treated by a beautiful redhead physician, we get a flashback to three years prior. Deathstroke makes a guest appearance as a contracted mercenary with some possibly hypocritical tendencies, but mostly we see Shelley going about his job, which seems to be covert in some sense. The situation is left vague to let the reader come to their own conclusions before an eventual reveal. However it's meant to be read, it feels like Shelley isn't in the most ethical lines of work. Unfortunately, the issue only spirals into more confusion until the flashback ends and Shelley awakens on a hospital bed.

Dan Abnett throws a lot of plot into this issue and doesn't give many answers to raised questions. I'm sure there's an eventual conclusion that everything will lead to, but introducing some cybernetic-suited warrior in the last pages without so much as a name is kind of frustrating. It makes for a good cliffhanger, but not a solid single issue of work.

Grade: C-

Reiew: Green Lantern #5


Green Lantern #5
Geoff Johns - Writer
Doug Mahnke - Pencils

What a great issue of Green Lantern! After four relatively uneventful issues spent reminding readers over and over again that Sinestro is a GL once more, we get some plot development! Green Lantern is the only character, besides Batman, whose continuity was kept intact. Partly, I assume, because the 'Brightest Day' year-long event wrapped up right before 'Flashpoint' and the New 52 relaunch. But also because, like Batman, Green Lantern has a history that was worth keeping. That's not to say Superman doesn't have a long and rich continuity, but beyond his 'death' in the mid-90s, there aren't that many memorable Superman story lines.

Geoff Johns does an excellent job of tapping into Green Lantern history while still keeping the plot current. While the ring itself chose Sinestro to be a Green Lantern once again, the rest of the universe sees things differently, including his old yellow lantern corps. who have taken Sinestro's home planet, Korugar, under martial rule instead of protection as Sinestro ordered.

Even though he saves the planet, the older generation of Korugarians definitely remembers Sinestro's iron fist rule over the planet years earlier. It's a humbling moment for Sinestro when a child praises his actions only to be scolded by his mother. What makes this scene so fantastic is the way Johns expresses Sinestro's emotions without actually having the character show any at all. Hal Jordan acts as Sinestro's 'conscience', mentioning the doubts and concerns any normal being would have, only to be shot down by Sinestro at every turn.

In the final pages, Sinestro gives Hal's construct ring enough power only to get him back to Earth. With no battery to recharge, Hal becomes panicked and realizes that he only cares about the power of being a Green Lantern. It's a welcome bit of character growth for one that hasn't had much since his resurrection in 2004. Hal sees a little more clearly that he wants to be with Carol Ferris and makes the first steps toward making that a reality. While it may come off as cheesy to newer readers, GL fans will know this is a monumental moment for Jordan. With a sixth issue left to complete the 'Sinestro' arc, I'm interested to see how Johns will segue into the next adventure for Sinestro and Hal.

Grade: A

Friday, January 13, 2012

Crisis Update: Day of Vengeance

Crisis Update
Volume 1, Entry 3

Day of Vengeance
Bill Willingham - Writer
Justiniano - Pencils

Magic has always been a major part of the DC universe. Characters like Doctor Fate, Zatanna and Captain Marvel have long provided a supernatural element to comics that often brings more complex story lines and challenges. Unlike heroes (or villains) whose powers are derived from their physiology or science, magic wielders have an air of mystery about them simply because magic has no base in laws of physics, on our world or otherwise, meaning that even those who can use magic barely know where it comes from.

Which makes Day of Vengeance one of the more interesting titles of the four lead-up mini series to Infinite Crisis. The Spectre - God's 'Hand of Vengeance' - has gone rogue without a human host, vowing to destroy all magic thereby ridding the world of evil. To combat this massive assault on the world of magic, six magic-based heroes come together to form the Shadowpact, a name revealed to have been used throughout the history of the DC universe whenever magic is gravely threatened.

The members of the Shadowpact are lesser-known characters in DC's lineup, including the most recognizable, Blue Demon, a bouncer turned demon; Ragman, a 'Spectre-lite' tool of justice who can absorb the worst of sinners into his cloak of patched rags, allowing them to lend their spiritual help to Ragman in exchange for getting a little closer to salvation; Nightshade, a girl who can control darkness; Nightmaster, the owner of Oblivion Bar, an inter-dimensional bar that caters to magic folk, and the wielder of the mystical Sword of Night; Enchantress, a powerful magic user who can turn evil if overwhelmed by magical energy; and Detective Chimp, given his intelligence by the Fountain of Youth. Because these characters were rarely used before Day of Vengeance, Bill Willingham was able to pen a tale that didn't need to rely too much on retconned history beyond the Spectre's situation.

It is revealed early on in the plot that Eclipso, taking control of Jean Loring (the Atom's ex-wife who murdered Elongated Man's wife, Sue Dibny, in the pages of Identity Crisis), desires revenge on the world of magic and persuades the Spectre that magic equals chaos, and chaos equals evil. Without a human host to provide compassion and logic, the Ghost of Vengeance begins a genocide of magic users across the DC universe.

Midway through the series, a massive battle between the Spectre and Captain Marvel erupts. As the champion of the wizard Shazam, Marvel is the best equipped to confront the Spectre, but Shazam's power is dwarfed by the Spectre's nigh-godliness. Like I mentioned earlier, magic in the DC universe is such a bounty for storytelling because it doesn't have set parameters or limitations. As Marvel starts to falter, Enchantress channels all the magical energy left in the universe directly through her and into Marvel, causing him to balloon in size and power to match the Spectre and level the playing field a bit more.

Of course, their brawl is only the halfway point in Day of Vengeance.

So as not to give away the entire plot, I'll just say that Willingham manages to pull a few more tricks out of his sleeve for the rest of the series. The only part of Day of Vengeance that irked by a bit was the pacing. Almost opposite of it's sister series, The O.M.A.C. Project, DoV seems to pack as much plot as it can into six issues. Willingham could have given the Spectre/Captain Marvel battle three whole issues and it would have been just as good. By the end, readers have an excellent set-up for Infinite Crisis as well as an awesome new magic team, the Shadowpact.

Grade: B+

Review: Batman and Robin #5


Batman and Robin
Peter J. Tomasi - Writer
Patrick Gleason - Pencils

I've been a general fan of the Batman titles presented in the New 52. Scott Snyder's Batman is the best of them, but Batman and Robin definitely comes in at a close second. Damian Wayne is an interesting character, one that has depth and story potential in a circle of characters that's been a little stale for a few years. What's most interesting about the Dynamic Duo's title is the relationship between the two characters, not only as crime fighters, but as father and son.

Batman and Robin #5 has Robin running away from Wayne Manor with Morgan Ducard, son of Henri Ducard, one of the men who trained Bruce as a young man before he was Batman. Morgan has persuaded Damian to forsake Bruce's ethical lessons in favor of swift and brutal justice against criminals. And the issue starts off great, with a nod to and Infinite Crisis-era Bruce who has the entire city's security system redirected to the Batcave. While also drawing similarities from 2008's The Dark Knight, Batman's use of invasive security measures is a little jarring, as is the sudden shift in narrative into an exposition dump on the Ducards.

I'm sure Peter J. Tomasi thought it would be a good idea to give readers a look into Bruce's past. Unfortunately, the history lesson takes up most of the book and seriously hits the brakes on the main story, which is a shame because Robin's defection is an extremely interesting story. It's been obvious since Damin became Robin that he would, at some point, defy Bruce and leave, and that's why it's so satisfying to see how it's going to happen. Morgan Ducard has had a presence in Batman and Robin since it's 'first' issue back in September, and while readers were give a slight backstory a few issues back, it feels like wasted potential to not parcel out the Ducard history over the span of multiple issues instead of a data dump.

Patrick Gleason is an excellent artist for the Dark Knight, whose minimal style effortlessly conveys the darkness and tone of Gotham City. I'm a fan of artistic consistency and DC has done a great job of keeping their artists on lock.

Grade: B

Monday, January 9, 2012

Crisis Update: The O.M.A.C. Project

Crisis Update
Volume 1, Entry 2

The O.M.A.C. Project
Greg Rucka - Writer
Jesus Saiz - Pencils

After Countdown to Infinite Crisis, DC launched the four mini-series that would lead us dear readers into the comic event nearly 20 years in the making. A cynic would say that DC decided to release four consecutive six-issue mini-series before the main event merely to sell more books and tie-ins. And those cynics would be right. When I first read The O.M.A.C. Project nearly seven years ago, it was a lot more impressive. Perhaps it was the anticipation of greater things to come.

Greg Rucka pens a story better suited for an oversized one-shot (or at most, a three-issue series) more than an extended six-issue saga. Much of the page space is taken up with needless exposition and somewhat pointless espionage panels. And even with all the talking and cold stares, Maxwell Lord - the title's titular villain - is barely fleshed out as a character. The O.M.A.C. Project tells the tale of how Max Lord hijacked Batman's paranoia-inspired Brother Eye - a satellite equipped with any and all information pertaining to all meta-humans across the planet. Lord's motive is solid - he's frightened of the sheer power heroes like Superman wield - Lord has a history in the DC universe, yet Rucka takes little time to give the reader context as to why Checkmate's Black King is so damn mad at superheroes.

Sasha Bordeaux is also a pretty lame character. Of course she's a Rucka-created character because she has barely any development or personality. In O.M.A.C., she is simply the cardboard cutout that acts as the 'main character', the one us readers are forced to follow around despite her inane dialogue. And Jesus Saiz's 'same face' syndrome is quite problematic in these pages, as Bordeaux looks nearly the same as her sort-of-rival Jessica Midnight, another Checkmate agent, one who opposes Lord's total control of the organization.

And then there's "Sacrifice", an arc within an arc leading up to the beginning of O.M.A.C. #4. What's unfortunate is that in an obvious ploy to sell more books, DC made reading "Sacrifice" a necessity to understand anything in O.M.A.C.'s plot going forward. In September of 2005, readers had to pick up Superman #219, Action Comics #829, Adventures of Superman #642, and Wonder Woman #219 to get the whole story of how Max Lord uses his mind control abilities to make Superman his own meta-human weapon. At the end of Wonder Woman #219, Diana snaps Max's neck while Brother Eye records everything. And that is exactly where O.M.A.C. #4 picks up! Even when it was current, I remember feeling taken advantage of by DC; why shouldn't all the major plot points of a mini-series exist within said series? It's such a point of frustration that really had no purpose. Later on (around issue 5) the Brother Eye gains sentience, which is pretty cool, but even that juicy plot development gets sidetracked so we can get back to Sasha's personal drama. Bleh.

So, the basic problem with O.M.A.C. is a lack of depth. The idea for the story is a solid one rooted in DC's tumultuous past, but the concept and plot are given very little room to grow and are thus bogged down by their own weight. Definitely read The O.M.A.C. Project, if only for the basic necessary facts needed going forward into Infinite Crisis. Beyond basic exposition, there is little else to love about this title.

Grade: C-

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review: Action Comics #5


Action Comics #5
Grant Morrison - Writer
Andy Kubert - Pencils

Oh, how I was so getting into Action Comics. Grant Morrison was finally finally finally telling a story that wasn't convoluted in a ridiculous amount of intertwining plot lines and indecipherable head-nods to background images from five issues prior. I love Grant Morrison's writing, however gunked up it can get. And for the first four months of the relaunch of Action Comics, Morrison and Rags Morales had been retelling Superman's origins with such vigor and focus that it's been one of my favorite titles of the new 52. Many fans and critics have lambasted Clark Kent's new 'everyman' costume that he (apparently) wore for the first few years of his revitalized origins, so this issue will make them happy, as Superman's only real appearance is the final panel where he poses in all his Kryptonian-armor glory.

Issue #5 of Actions Comics goes back to the beginning, with Andy Kubert taking the reigns on the penciling side. On Krypton. Again. And this time, Jor-El purposely sends his son to a planet where he will be a god! This minor detail marks a HUGE change in Clark Kent's history, a rare chance to reinterpret not only Superman's look and demeanor, but also his moral character and ethical mission. Before, Kal-El has always arrived on Earth by mistake, making his actions benevolent for a planet that could have been any planet, really. Maybe this detail has been used in past reinterpretations, but in the new 52, it makes a lot of sense. Superman's overall attitude has undergone a drastic shift away from general politeness and sincerity towards a snarky sarcasm and big ego. It's a change I've liked so far and am curious to know how it will play into future stories as well as crossovers and Justice League arcs.

Anyway, most of the issue is dedicated to showing Krypton esplodin'. That's about it. So unless you've enjoyed reading the scientific jargon and every Kryptonian ever saying "Oh, Jor-El, you silly coot!" every other time Superman's origins have been retold, you can mostly skip about 26 of the pages of the entire issue. The parts about the Kents are necessary and respectably done. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about the back-up story about the history of Jonathan and Martha Kent, one that goes the extra distance to make their relationship hinge all the more on some 'miracle' that come in the form of a space baby. Why can't the Kents be simple? Why does their life have to include various hints at some biblical connection to something greater? Ugh. It's exhausting.

Issue Grade: C+
Art Grade: A

I'm a huge fan of the Kubert brothers, so anything they draw is automatically given a 'kudos' from this journalist.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Crisis Update: Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1

Crisis Update
Volume 1, Entry 1

Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1
Various - Writer
Various - Pencils

When I first read Countdown to Infinite Crisis, it was at a time when I was coming back to comics after quite a long break. Up through my junior year of high school, I regularly visited the small comic shop only seven blocks from my house and regularly bought or ordered Green Lantern trades from the Kyle Rayner years. He was always my favorite GL and DC had finally seen it fit to collect his adventures on some sort of regular time table.

Then, in January of 2005, as a freshman in college, I saw a poster for Green Lantern: Rebirth, a six-part mini-series chronicling the return of Hal Jordan. I immediately ran off and bought the second printing of Rebirth #1 and put my name down to receive each subsequent issue. I honestly believed I would collect Rebirth and be satisfied, that I wouldn't be lured back into the enticing world of superheroics and Earth-shattering events. Boy, was I wrong. It wasn't long after Rebirth wrapped up that DC was prepping it's fans for Infinite Crisis, the 'sequel' to 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, the crossover event that pioneered crossover events, killed off many DC characters (including fan-favorite Flash, Barry Allen), restructured the universe to answer for timeline inconsistencies and changed the DC universe permanently going forward.

The first in a blitzkrieg of tie-ins and mini-series leading up to Infinite Crisis came in the form of Countdown to Infinite Crisis, an 80-page prelude providing the catalyst events leading for everything else to come.

Countdown tells the tale of the second Blue Beetle, Ted Kord, as he investigates money laundering and stolen kryptonite that seems to be leading toward something more sinister. The only problem: no one important wants to give Beetle the time of day. The exceptions are Wonder Woman and Booster Gold, both who can't offer help for their own reasons.

Beetle goes out on his own and connects the dots until they lead him to a mysterious castle. Inside, Kord discovers a computer with any and all pertinent information regarding every metahuman on Earth. Within a few pages, Maxwell Lord reveals himself as the culprit. For those who haven't read their DC history, Lord was the business mogul who created the Justice League International back in the 1980s. At the time, he was just a regular human who wanted to do his part to protect humanity. In Countdown, Lord has become a criminal mastermind who has taken control of Checkmate, an international espionage organization. In the end, Lord murders Ted Kord in cold blood.

Like Identity Crisis before it, Countdown takes a character-driven approach to telling it's story. Ted Kord as the Blue Beetle has been one of the long-running jokes of the DC Universe. Along with Booster Gold, Kord had a reputation as a screw-up. With good intentions and bad luck, Kord was always a second-tier hero often relegated to the sidelines, not only in narratives, but in publishing practices as well.

Countdown addresses Kord's standing in the superhero community, showing how the decisions made by even the greatest of heroes can lead to devastating consequences. Superman and Green Lantern humour Kord before zooming off to something more important, Batman becomes aggressive and hostile, and the Martian Manhunter immediately blocks out Kord as soon as a JLA alert comes in. Even without any assistance, Kord strikes out on his own, knowing he probably has neither the ability nor the means to really succeed. It's a testament to Ted Kord and his persistence, his heroism.

Countdown is an excellent beginning to a rather lengthy lead-in to Infinite Crisis. At 80 pages in length, it gives a great overview of the DC universe before everything goes to hell.

Review: Batman #4


Batman #4
Scott Snyder - Writer
Greg Capullo - Pencils

Though this particular issue came out almost a month ago, I seriously just wanted to talk about Batman #4, a fantastic issue of the best of the Bat-family series in the New 52. Scott Snyder is seriously bringing his A-game. His intricate tale of the Court of Owls in Gotham City has given Batman an energy and suspense not seen in years. And though this issue was mostly spent in Bruce's flashbacks about the myth of the Court, it never feels like expository overkill.

Part of what makes Snyder's Court of Owls so cool is that it is so steeped in myth. Bruce is convinced the Court can't exist, but the signs are all around him and he really doesn't know what to do. And as always, Greg Capullo's artwork is damn near perfect for the Dark Knight (unlike David Finch's weird renditions of Gothamites.) Without spoiling the last pages, this arc is set to get even more engrossing in the coming months.

Issue Grade: A