Saturday, June 30, 2012

(COMIC) SUPERMAN #10

STORY: Dan Jurgens
ART: Dan Jurgens and Jesus Marino

Creating a cohesive, meaningful comic book universe isn't always glamorous. Sure, DC and Marvel would have you believe that these superheroes literally spend 24/7 fending off aliens, mad scientists, or other world-conquering threats. And these days, it wouldn't be a far reach to say that these heroes really are burning at both ends of the candle. But to really make a narrative world that readers can relate to and want to read about, un-amazing things must happen as well. Dan Jurgens understands the this basic ideal and works to make sure his stories are grounded in some sort of reality. Superman #10 finishes up the fight between Superman and Anguish while having that narrative intersect with Lois and Jimmy's attempt to debunk the claim that Spence Becker is Superman's alter-ego near the end.


Last month, I was sorely disappointed with Anguish as a Superman villain. She seemed, for lack of better words, weak. Her only characterization was her ability to shift the density of her own mass when necessary. It's a cool ability, but Anguish didn't have much else going on for her until this month. We come to find out that this woman is only really after a locket, nothing more. She's made a mess out of buildings and cars nearby, but that seems more like a cry for help than a criminal mastermind executing a robbery. And while Jurgens usually does a great job telling stories without telling stories, he makes Anguish explain her own powers simply for the sake of describing them, which is a bit narrative "no no" for me. Then, we get a big expository dump about Anguish's stepfather and how horrible he was. Yes, it's less exciting than, say, a battle with Helspont, but using a minor, fairly low-powered character is a good thing: if 'epic' was the standard, all these heroes would be dead from exhaustion by 30. We need characters like Anguish to flesh out rogue galleries and give these heroes something to do when magic is going crazy or owls aren't infesting cities.

Lois and Jimmy's task involves proving that Spence Becker is not Superman. Last month, paranoid blogger Victor Barnes went on national television to claim he knew the true identity of the Man of Steel. As the fight between Superman and Anguish winds down, Anguish hears about the 'true identity' of Superman and takes off for the suburbs to kill (or at least hurt badly) the Becker family. Obviously, Supes shows up and saves the day, but Anguish escapes at the end, pointing to a future for the character, something writers of the 'New 52' haven't been thinking about a whole lot as a lot of initial villains are getting taken out of the game pretty early.

Superman may not be the flashiest series, or the most interesting book in DC's 'New 52' lineup, but it serves a greater purpose. While titles like Aquaman and Batman are creating major villains and story elements that will resonate for years, Jurgens is making sure Superman won't burn out; there will always be someone for Big Boy Blue to fight, they just might not be cosmic-level threats every month.

GRADE
B-

(COMIC) JUSTICE LEAGUE #10

STORY: Geoff Johns
ART: Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Mark Irwin, and Jonathan Glapion

We're starting to get a little more of the bigger picture of the second major arc of Justice League. "The Villain's Journey" continues this month with some revelations concerning the League's outside lives and the origin of Graves.

A good portion of this month's issue is dedicated to giving readers a bit more insight into the lives of each League member and who knows what about who. Like a what's what of how their personal lives affect them professionally. Graves has been torturing and interrogating villains associated with each League member, learning more and more about them each time. Cyborg is forced to explain to Hal Jordan (who is still consistently thick-headed in Justice League) that the more Graves knows about them, the more he can exploit their weaknesses: Barry's police-influenced desire to work within the boundaries of the law, Wonder Woman's secret rendezvous to a Native American reserve, and that Batman doesn't trust anyone on the team. These little call-outs from Cyborg not only add bricks to the 'New 52' universe, but they also give readers connections between books (Barry Allen is dating Patty Spivot in The Flash, and this relationship is mentioned during the briefing.) The notion that Batman doesn't trust anyone also brings about the revelation that the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel work together outside of the League, something that hasn't been seen or mentioned up until now.


More so than ever before, Justice League is beginning to feel like a launching point for much of what happens throughout the DC universe now. Steve Trevor's consistent presence, Green Arrow's recruitment to some "other team", the Martian Manhunter's apparent sort stint as a member, and the use of Apokolyptian boom tubes as means of teleporting all show potential to affect more than just the adventures of the Justice League. These are the story elements that will have long-term results, possibly years down the road.


By the end of their discussion, the question of trust has been raised between all of them - how can they trust one another while some know more about each other than others? In days long past, the League was a simpler entity that rarely asked questions of this nature, simply because the readership demanded nothing more than superheroes beating up super villains. Today, it's important that a more realistic base be set for the characters we read about. Mistrust amongst a group of demi-gods who don't know each others' names is a very likely scenario.


Graves shows up on the Watchtower at the end of the issue to lay the smack down on the League. From the opening vignette, we gather that David Graves got his powers from some disgraced gods in Pamir Mountains. The closing pages tell us that these powers can somehow be used to harbor other souls and/or life-forces through emotional manipulation. With little more than a mention of her beloved Steve, Wonder Woman attacks Graves and quickly goes down, the life drained out of her both spiritually and physically as he body begins to wither. Soon, the entire League is down and Graves is in control of the Watchtower. A fantastic cliffhanger if I've ever read one.


The "Shazam!" back-up actually picks up a little bit this month as Billy sneaks out of the Vasquez's house late at night. Freddy Freeman follows him to the zoo where Billy is telling a tiger that it's the only real family he's got left. Freddy interrupts and before Billy can blow up, Freddy suggests vandalizing the house of the boys who hassle the other foster kids at school each morning. This bit of bonding between Billy and Freddy provides the seeds to Freddy becoming Captain Marvel Jr., or maybe some new incarnation of hero associated with the wizard Shazam.


And speaking of the wizard, Doctor Sivana continues his archaeological dig, now complete with a fancy magic-seeing eye that helps him see the mystical spells placed on the door to a greater prize than any gold or gems. As he utters a single, "Shazam", Black Adam emerges from the tomb demanding to see the wizard! The final, double-wide pullout pages of The New 52 #1 revealed what looked like Black Adam fighting Vibe, though many posited that it was just the 'New 52' version of Captain Marvel, as Billy Batson is much more mean-spirited than his former self. Obviously, Black Adam is here, which spells trouble for our little trouble maker.


GRADE
B

Friday, June 29, 2012

(COMIC) BATMAN INCORPORATED #2

STORY: Grant Morrison
ART: Chris Burnham

After last month's twisting, turning first issue of Batman Incorporated, Grant Morrison takes a hard left turn and gives us the abridged history of Talia al Ghul and how her dysfunctional family dynamic with her father, Ra's, and her son, Damian, leads to the forceful coupe of her father's empire. While the story is well told, and Chris Burnham's art continues to be one of the best reasons to read this book, Batman Incorporated #2 feels like Batman and Robin 1.5 instead of a series about Batman's international operatives, who never show up in this issue at all.

Knowing Grant Morrison, Talia's reinvention as the Gorgon (I assume) makes sense after a history lesson about Talia's childhood living with Ra's al Ghul, a life filled with sadness, terror, disappointment, and secrets. Morrison shows us how Talia never felt complete without a mother, leading to uncomfortable confrontations with her father throughout her young life, a time period reflected in Bruce and Damian's relationship, trading the super-villain-ness with hero stuffs. Batman himself only appears in a few panels, and only in flashbacks to demonstrate Talia's continued presence in the Dark Knight's life and how Ra's influenced the entire relationship.


As a competent Batman story incorporating multiple elements from the Caped Crusader's past, Batman Incorporated is doing a fantastic job building up to a greater goal, but as a title aimed at making comic books easier to pick up for new readers, it fails. Giving character history isn't a crime, but doing so in the second issue of an already complex series isn't the right way to go about it. Granted, this issue as a history lesson does give readers some context as to who exactly Damian Wayne is, but I really feel like changing the tone and focus of the series so soon after beginning the series will throw new readers off before they're willing to take the time to commit a rather obscure character's history to their comic knowledge.


GRADE
C

(COMIC) AQUAMAN #10

STORY: Geoff Johns
ART: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Andy Lanning

Last month, the big reveal was that Aquaman killed Black Manta's father when Arthur's father had a heart attack shortly after Manta attacked them. It was a major twist in the Aquaman/Black Manta history, and one that changes their core relationship. Pride is something neither man is in short supply of, which means their feud is everlasting and intensely personal.

Aquaman #10 begins with The Operative trying to figure out how Black Manta knew where to find the other members of The Others. After infiltrating Manta's headquarters, the Operative is revealed to be a fairly old man who works out of a giant military plane with his son who thinks his father needs to get out of the game before he gets himself killed. Geoff Johns has included a lot of diversity in Aquaman thus far (Shin, Manta, Ya'wara, etc.) and takes it one step further by including an old person. I hesitate to say 'elderly' because that sounds a bit more fraile, which the Operative definitely is not.

The rest of the issue features Shin's recounting of the events surrounding Arthur and Manta's feud to Mera, which also acts as the narration to the confrontation between the Others and Black Manta. Johns expertly weaves Shin's tale into the scenes of Aquaman against Black Manta, moving between flashbacks and the present with a flow not unlike that seen in Green Lantern: Rebirth. Arthur's rage is real, yet Ivan Reis' artwork vividly conveys the obvious doubt Arthur has about the situation, however minute that feeling may be. When Aquaman rages out at Ya'wara about killing Black Manta, you can see the anger in Arthur's eyes. The thing is, Arthur didn't even mean to kill Manta's father. Arthur goes after Black Manta, whom he believes to be alone on a fishing boat, and accidentally kills Manta's father while Manta is diving.


Instead of a conflict of pure vengeance and rage, the relationship between Aquaman and Black Manta in the 'New 52' is based on deep-seeded emotional issues and the transfer of blame tied to the death of their respective fathers. Family stands as a core element of Aquaman, and Johns' reimagining of the Aquaman/Black Manta feud is astonishingly good, especially when coupled with Arthur's past secrets being unearthed one person at a time.


GRADE
A

Thursday, June 28, 2012

(COMIC) JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #10

STORY: Jeff Lemire
ART: Mikel Janin

After a stellar reboot of the team in Justice League Dark #9, Jeff Lemire hits the brakes hard this month and brings readers an issue mostly full of technical details. The team has a new objective, which means they need to regroup and figure out a plan of action. Steve Trevor originally asked John Constantine to retrieve the map to the Books of Magic, but after discussing the Books' power, the team rethinks handing over the source of all magic power to the US government. But where to go that's hidden and safe? The House of Mystery, of course.

Constantine leads the group to the House of Mystery, which is situated at the crossroads of the mystical multiverse, to go off the grid while they figure out how to keep the location of the Books safe. A fun side story involves Deadman possessing Black Orchid, since Orchid's only involvement with the group is via Steve Trevor, the man they're now trying to avoid. Doctor Mist objects on the grounds that he too is an A.R.G.U.S. agent and a subordinate of Trevor, but he understands the importance of their new mission, and he's sure Black Orchid will understand as well. Mist doesn't have much of a personality beyond 'mysterious new character', but it's still nice to see an old school character coming out of the woodwork.


Andrew Bennett leaves, but Constantine uses this exit to explain that by accepting his initial invitation into the House of Mystery - which he "owns" - every member of the team is now bound to the House and can be recalled to it whenever Constantine desires. Zatanna's anger is exacerbated by the fact that the members of the team would have entered anyway, that deception wasn't necessary. I'm a little worried that John Constantine is turning into a big douchebag. It's one thing to be an asshole - apparently, people accept that some people just live their lives negatively. But it's a whole other matter when Constantine starts blackmailing and taking advantage of his own teammates. I understand the desire to make old Johnny a badass - he's a character that's always been reliable in that role. It makes no sense, however, to use him as the universal scapegoat for heroism wrapped in deceptive means. Basically, Constantine shouldn't always be the total anti-hero.


Madame Xanadu pops up to have another vision then whine about how no one listens to her. Xanadu really isn't that interesting in Justice League Dark. It seems in the centuries separating her current person from her younger self - in the pages of Demon Knights - have turned her into something of a lump on a log with premonitions of the future. It's unfortunate for characters who see into the future, but they rarely get developed beyond they gift of foresight. This is Xanadu's problem as a narrative character: she's solely based on her visions of apocalyptic futures.


The segue into the next issue begins when the team attempts to open the map to the Books of Magic, tripping a mystical lock on the map set by Felix Faust! Soon, the team is attacked by the Demons Three who are indentured slaves under Faust's command. The demons attack quickly before teleporting into an A.R.G.U.S. facility where Steve Trevor is interrogating Faust. This 'ah-ha' moment comes when the team realizes that Faust wanted to be in A.R.G.U.S. so his demons could help him break into the Black Room, the warehouse filled with all the mystical artifacts collected by the US government over the years.


GRADE
B+

(COMIC) TEEN TITANS #10

STORY: Scott Lobdell
ART: Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund

And just like that, Scott Lobdell is getting it right! This month's Superboy acted as part one of "The Mysterious Mystery of Mystery Island", and Teen Titans #10 brings us the other half of the post-"Culling" aftermath with Red Robin, Kid Flash, Solstice, and Bunker.

Since Lobdell used the first nine months of the 'New 52' to tell his sprawling, epically nonsensical arc about N.O.W.H.E.R.E., it makes sense to break this "cool down" into two parts, allowing for each character to get a bit more panel time as a result. While the writing isn't as personal as the scenes between Superboy and Wonder Girl, Lobdell still manages to give each character a lot more depth. For one, Kid Flash and Solstice have a thing. I'm sure Lobdell would argue that he planted the seeds for this relationship throughout the N.O.W.H.E.R.E. N.O.N.S.E.N.S.E., but he really didn't. Either way, the scene doesn't come off as forced or pandering - these kids actually seem like they enjoy each other's company.


About seven pages in, we meet up with Superboy and Wonder Girl at the point where Superboy #10 ended, bringing them to the 'other side' of the island, which meant it literally flipped over. With the team reassembled, Kon-El and Cassie discuss telling the others about the crazy flipped island thingy they discovered, but ultimately decide to not say anything based on the fact that no one knows what it means, so why cause more anxiety. After that, the island's nature isn't touched on again. This would be one of my only criticisms of this issue - Lobdell totally drops the island story in favor of one-on-one character dialogues. Honestly, the character development is much better anyway (and very much needed), so it's not even that big of a deal. It's mostly annoying on principle.


Tim Drake has a major crisis of conscience this month as he fails to see his succes beyond the failures that that came with it. Artemis was murdered (still confused as to why such a minor character made such a big impact), Danny the Street was destroyed, and Skitter is still missing. Tim feels like he didn't do enough, and decides to disband the Titans while chatting with Bunker. It's a childish decision - one based on fear - and Bunker stops Tim to knock some sense into him. Like many other heroes before him, Tim gets the 'responsibility' from Bunker about being a leader, taking initiative, making the tough decisions, and pressing on even when the going gets tough.


This, of course, leads us into the most awkward one-on-one of the issue between Superboy and Red Robin where Kon-El asks Tim exactly why he came to rescue him in the first place. Like a pretentious middle-aged accountant talking to a child, Tim tells Superboy to wait six months and learn before asking that question again. I'm sure Lobdell didn't intend for Tim to come worse than Bono, but it feels that way. Poor Kon-El - clones are sooooooo dumb, right?


I began reading this issue groaning each time N.O.W.H.E.R.E. or the Culling was mentioned. I wasn't a fan of that storyline, and at first, it felt like Lobdell basically doesn't have any other ideas, so he's forced to keep reminding us about this big thing that happened in order to fill speech bubble space. After a while, though, I realized that this is Lobdell's transition period - soon, new enemies will show up (like Amanda Waller - all around bad-ass) and the convoluted tale of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. can be relegated to the "early mistakes" pile.


GRADE
B

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

(COMIC) GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS #10

STORY: Tony Bedard
ART: Tyler Kirkham and Batt

I find myself finally admitting it to myself: Green Lantern: New Guardians is the best GL book in DC's 'New 52'. Hal Jordan and Sinestro's troubles in Green Lantern are getting long in the tooth, and Green Lantern Corps is similarly going nowhere pretty slowly. Kyle Rayner, on the other hand, has had run-ins with an intergalactic angel, Blue Beetle in New York City, and now the Reach as they invade planet Odym, homeworld of the Blue Lantern Corps. Last month's beginning saw one of the Blue Lanterns lose hope, falling to his death out of sheer despair.


Tont Bedard has done a fantastic job handling all the characters in the pages of Green Lantern: New Guardians. Not only does he have to juggle the seven members of the Rainbow Brigade (Kyle, Arkillo, Fatality, Munk, Glomulus, Bleez, and Saint Walker), but this issue throws in most of the Blue Lantern Corps, the various Reach soliders (some of which were featured in the pages of Blue Beetle), and now the Qwardian Weaponer. 


DC kind of misled readers a bit in their preview blurb about the issue stating that the 'New Guardians reunite to save Odym!' In fact, Bleez, Glomulus, and Munk are all absent. Bleez is dealing with her own drama in the pages of Red Lanterns, Glomulus was disintegrated in Blue Beetle #9, and Munk is standing with his tribe in Green Lantern. So, it's a 'reunion' of Kyle, Arkillo, Fatality, and Saint Walker, which ain't so bad - besides Arkillo, the other three are considered the "good" Lanterns of the New Guardians. Other than this misdirect, the issue is quite enjoyable.


The Reach has basically already won as this issue opens. Kyle Rayner sees that Odym is already halfway cocooned and tries to reason with Saint Walker to not sacrifice his Blue Lanterns to a lost cause. Of course, the Blue Lanterns of Hope don't really understand the meaning of "lost cause", and they show it by uniting their rings into a single wave that they use to free the Reach soldiers from the scarabs fused to their spines. Many of the Reach begin to see the horrors they've unleashed, while others resist and continue fighting.


I'm a little worried about the direction Bedard is taking Green Lantern: New Guardians. The invasion of planet Odym feels like it should have warranted something like four or five issues, but alas, Bedard only gives it two. And while NG is definitely the best Green Lantern title currently running, it still feels broken and fragmented - not necessarily within individual issues, but in the overall narrative flow and how each story segues into another. It rarely feels natural and often happens suddenly, without much explanation until much, much later.


By the end, Saint Walker recognizes the source of all the New Guardians' troubles; the person who led the Reach to Odym, a world that's virtually undetectable; the one whose actions have ripple awful consequences for the entire universe: Larfleeze. Agent Orange went from being a monster to comic relief, and now - it seems - criminal mastermind, manipulating those around him to get what he wants.

GRADE
B

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

(THE WEEK) JUNE 27 - JULY 3, 2012

Batman Incorporated #2
(Morrison, Burnham)

Grant Morrison continues his saga of Batman and his international posse against Leviathan! Let's hope things start making a little more sense!


Before Watchman: Nite Owl #1
(Straczynski, Kubert)

Before Watchmen is two for three right now, so hopefully J. Michael Straczynski and Andy Kubert can give us another great entry in this series.


Green Lantern: New Guardians #10
(Bedard, Kirkham)

"Fall of the Blue Lanterns" continues this month as the New Guardians reunite to stand against the Reach and their invasion of Odym!


Justice League #10
(Johns, Lee)

The Justice League's newest villain is finally revealed! Plus, "The Power of Shazam" back-up continues - maybe we'll get to see Shazam this month?


Justice League Dark #10
(Lemire, Janin)

The team finally establishes a headquarters - The House of Mystery - and take on the Demons Three!


Spider-Men #2 of 5
(Bendis, Pichelli)


Last time, this series was the Peter Parker Show, and it wasn't quite that interesting. Now, as Peter and Miles Morales meet for the first time, things should start spicing up!




Superman #10
(Giffen, Jurgens)

Superman's untouchable foe has found a way to harm Clark Kent, too!


Teen Titans #10
(Lobdell, Booth)

Let's hope the Teen Titans' foray on the Island of Mysterious Mystery is as enjoyable as Superboy and Wonder Girl's. Plus, Skitter is still missing?



Monday, June 25, 2012

(COMIC) DC UNIVERSE PRESENTS #10

STORY: James Robinson
ART: Bernard Chang

DC Universe Presents is a great series. While I didn't find "Challengers of the Unknown" particularly engaging, both "Deadman" and now "Savage" have been fantastic arcs that are highlighting less popular characters while simultaneously adding bricks to the 'New 52' universe and how it operates. And though Vandal Savage has been a mainstay in Demon Knights - a title I highly recommend - there's not a whole lot of character development for him in a time period where Savage was little more than a barbarian. "Savage" is giving readers a better look into the immortal man, who he was throughout the ages, and how his actions in the past have repercussions in the current day.

James Robinson has employed the 'Hannibal Lecter' approach to this story; Kassidy Sage, Savage's daughter and police office, has come to her father seeking help involving a serial killer mimicking Savage's murders years, decades, and centuries before. While Kass doesn't believe her father's to be trusted (or that he's immortal), she does believe that he can be useful in the case. It's a pretty common hypocrisy when police work with criminals like this - the law doesn't actually trust the criminal, so they only listen selectively, to what they believe actually makes sense. But hey, I'm no police officer.

While normally I find father-daughter conflicts uninteresting, the dynamic between Kassidy and Savage is fantastic. Robinson is really taking his time when it comes to their relationship, which is hard to do with only three issues in the "Savage" arc. Nonetheless, Savage is well written as a cold-blooded killer than just so happens to care for his family - centuries of life experience have shown Savage that some things are more important than others, and while he likes to mess around with Kass' head, he really does love his daughter and wants the best for her. It's not out of the ordinary, just out of character for Savage who, before the 'New 52' relaunch, was much more vicious. I mean, Scandal Savage was a super-villain from her first appearance!

I've mentioned before, in other reviews, how much I appreciate a dose of realism in comic books. That's not to say I prefer realism over innovation, just that including small bits of realism to ground a story can have immense effect on the overall appeal of the narrative. Seeing civilians tweeting and sharing pictures of an alien invader makes for a much more relatable setting than people using old cell phones and reading newspapers on the street. "Savage" only really employs 'sci-fi' or 'fantastical' elements with the villain, some white-skinned, red-cloaked mystery man who uses his own pattern of killing against Kass' squad to use them in his sacrifice, much like Savage did all those years ago.

After employing his own methods to the crime scene, Savage leads Kass and her team to the killer's location. Kass immediately has her father removed from the scene and taken back to the transport. On the way, Savage realizes he was wrong and that the killer was after the police, not the original victim. Though he tries to reason with his escorts, the officers don't believe Savage and don't radio back to Kass with the new information. One by one, Kass' squad is picked off while Savage attacks his escorts while on a plane mid-flight, then jumps back into the woods to save his daughter. The entire scene is excellently written by Robinson, and the artwork by Bernard Chang really drives the emotion. Chang's cuts between Kass' team and Savage are perfect and the violence is neither too gory or underdeveloped.

This second part of "Savage" would be hard to read as a stand-alone issue, seeing as elements from DC Universe Presents #9 come into play throughout the issue, and the ramifications of this month's events will be concluded next month. Then again, I guess the same could be said about most any comic book series, but in this case, it would be like watching The Godfather, Part II without having seen The Godfather or knowing anything about it. I'm sure it would be enjoyable, but you wouldn't have a frame of reference for these characters or their motivations.

GRADE
B+

Sunday, June 24, 2012

(COMIC) SAGA #4

STORY: Brian K. Vaughan
ART: Fiona Staples

To be honest, I wasn't quite sure if Saga was meant to be a limited or ongoing series when I first started reading it. None of the pre-release gossip I read really revealed one way or another, but for some reason I almost assumed it was just a mini-series, a story that had a finite beginning and end. To the extent of being called a 'limited series', this is not. Saga is definitely ongoing and this latest issue really brings a whole lot more depth to the world Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are bringing us.

The Will is taking a break on the planet Sextillion! What could be greater than that? Fair warning: this issue includes a lot of graphic images of sex...weird, weird sex. While a place like Sextillion might sound fun in theory, Vaughan and Staples' depiction of the world of sex is as deplorable, as vulgar as you'd expect from Vaughan. He's never been one to shy away from controversy, and this inclusion of a raunchy planet dedicated to filthy forms of sexual gratification might even spark some media interest.

Of course, the real ethical bomb hits when a Sextillion manager recommends that the Will engage with one of their 'slave workers', a girl that will say and do anything one desires. Though this planet is rooted in debasement,  there's definitely an aura of consent - everyone who's there wants to be there...of course. That changes when the Will is expected to take a six-year-old child into a room and use her for his own sexual fantasies. Chilling doesn't even begin to describe the feeling I had when I read this page. It's sick, it's disgusting, and the Will agrees. Without hesitation, the cold-hearted mercenary crushes the manager's head while exclaiming, "She's a goddamn child!" The narrator explains what's already quite evident - this type of third-person intervention being the only possibly bad thing I might have to say about this series - that the Will, for all his murderous tendencies, still has a line that he wont cross, or let anyone else cross. Vaughan does a fantastic job writing ethical dilemmas and the Will is a great vehicle for those moral tests.

Marko and Alana's side of things is a little less interesting this month. Marko wakes up from his coma and has to answer for his 'Gwendolyn' comment when he was on the verge of death. It's an important piece of character development that needed to happen in order to bring this couple closer together, but this particular instance was a little less than memorable. Of course, Gwen is probably going to play a part later on in the series, so in that respect, it's even more important to the plot.

I'm continually impressed with the quality of Saga. Vaughan has expressed that the series is heavily influences by Star Wars, and it shows; from the character-driven romance to the look into the seedy underbelly that exists all around the galaxy. Vaughan and Staples are creating one of the best comic book series I've ever read and it just gets better every month. If you're not reading Saga, you should. It's as simple as that.

GRADE
A

Saturday, June 23, 2012

(BEFORE WATCHMEN) COMEDIAN #1 of 6

STORY: Brian Azzarello
ART: J.G. Jones

Up until now, I could have said that I thought Brian Azzarello was one of DC's more talented writers on hand. His work on Wonder Woman has been amazing (if a little slow going), so I was very interested to see his take on the Comedian for Before Watchmen. The bad news is that it's total shit.

From the unfortunate cover art, to the ridiculous plot points and silly insinuations, Azzarello totally misses the mark, instead delivering a muddle piece of garbage that doesn't improve the character at all, or give us any real sense of narrative. J.G. Jones' cover art feature the Comedian wearing a leather gimp mask (something we've never actually seen him do before...) while holding a giant cigar between his clenched teeth. The gimp mask is just stupid looking, while the cigar doesn't make physical sense; you can't have an inch-thick cigar held by a smile - the anatomy doesn't work. Plus, the blood splatter on his head is obviously copied and pasted from the Watchmen logo - it's so shoddy that Jones doesn't even bother to revise the image to make it look like it's on a head instead of a flat surface.

And that was just the cover.

Comedian's story takes him to 1960s America where he's, apparently, good friends with the Kennedy family, taking such liberties as calling old Jack on the White House's direct line and 'taking out the trash' for a frustrated Jackie. It might be an interesting twist in character for anyone else, but Eddie Blake is supposed to be shallow and empty - that's kind of the point of his character. Comedian is an asshole, a piece of shit whose only reason for anything is for himself. No one wanted a deeper, more complex version of the Comedian, yet Azzarello tried to convince us that Eddie has some good in him and that the Kennedy's were some of the only people to see it.

It's also bad form to write JFK as such a lout. Throughout Comedian #1, John and his brothers act like pigheaded frat boys who think they can do whatever they want. I'll never ask any writer to censor history for narrative's sake, but Azzarello never met John F. Kennedy, and I'm venturing to guess he didn't do much in the way of researching the man's personal mannerisms for a comic book series. To me, it seems disrespectful and unnecessary.

And then, Azzarello does the one thing all the detractors of Before Watchmen were so worried about: he changed continuity.

Alan Moore strongly hints that the Comedian assassinated JFK through a cruel turn of events that made the weak-looking Kennedy a liability in the eyes of the US government. Zak Snyder's 2009 film adaptation explicitly shows Eddie Blake shooting the President before finishing his giant cigar. But none of this matters to a Brian Azzarello who probably said, "But what if the Comedian was framed??? Huh, guys? What if?" to an unresponsive audience. It's a stupid idea. With one page, Azzarello has managed to deconstruct the history of Watchmen while simultaneously proving the critics' point and pissing off millions of fans. And why does he do this? I guess I'll have to read Comedian #2 and see if Azzarello is intent on fucking up one of the greatest characters in comic book history. I'm also scared for the Rorschach mini-series now, knowing that Azzarello might turn our favorite detective into a news reporter or something...

GRADE
D

Thursday, June 21, 2012

(COMIC) BLUE BEETLE #10

STORY: Tony Bedard
ART: Ig Guara and JP Mayer

Blue Beetle has had it's ups and downs since day one. While the first arc re-introduced us to Jaime Reyes and his relationship with the Blue Beetle scarab - an artifact that we came to know is actually a malfunctioning tool of the Reach, an intergalactic hive-empire that can destroy entire worlds with a single soldier - it wasn't especially interesting. Beyond the spacefaring origins of the scarab, Jaime's run-ins with El Paso's criminal underground felt forced and came off as underwhelming. Nonetheless, Blue Beetle is an extremely interesting character and Jaime is written very well - his personality shines through Tony Bedard's clumsy plot, and this fact remains the title's anchor as far as quality goes. Throw in an upcoming crossover with Green Lantern and you've sold me. This month, however, focuses on Jaime's dealings with the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO) and it's director, Mr. Bones.


Bones is a staple of the old DC universe, using his cunning intellect and detective skills to help out the big-leaguers. Fortunately, our skull-headed friend has made several appearances now in the 'New 52', which is a good sign for the future of the character.


Blue Beetle #10 pulls an Alias on readers by starting the issue with scenes of Jaime's torture on Bones' orders before flashing back seven hours earlier on page three. Jaime is still buzzing around (pun definitely intended) New York City, but he doesn't really have a plan of action. One reason Blue Beetle is fun to read is how relatable Bedard has made Jaime. If you were somehow connected to a crazy interstellar beetle that intermittently took control of your body and turned you into a whack-job hero/menace, would you have any clear-cut plans? Last month, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner (who didn't actually reveal his identity to Jaime) suggested that Beetle go to the DEO and meet with Bones. With little else to do, Jaime takes Kyle's advice only to be handcuffed and escorted down to the department's lower basement levels.


This is where things get interesting. 


Bones has the bounty hunter from last issue (who was after GL) locked up and he immediately recognizes and talks with Jaime. A quick mention of the scarab's connection to the Reach - and it's true potential as a weapon of mass destruction - sends the DEO agents into a frenzy that ends with Jaime fastened to a torture machine. Bones is a great character because he's actually intelligent. When Jaime escapes, Bones knows they shouldn't go after him. More often than not, there's a chase because it gives more room to have more fighting. Instead, Bedard writes Bones like a rational detective: he hears Jaime's side, sees the evidence, and realizes that authority is not the right way to approach the Blue Beetle. Again, intelligence is often lacking in enemies these days.


The end of the issue brings back up the unfortunate video footage of Blue backhanding a girl in El Paso. Some reporters are yammering on about the difference between writing Blue Beetle as a hero, or as a menace. The decide on the latter, hoping to turn a one-off situation into a scandal, when Booster Gold shows up to put a stop to it.


This is what excited me most about this issue. Blue Beetle and Booster Gold have a long history together - when the Blue Beetle was Ted Kord, albeit - so it's fantastic that DC is building that relationship once again. In the 'New 52', Ted Kord is only a memory (I assume), so it will be interesting to see how a dead character will affect events throughout DC's imprint.


GRADE
B

(COMIC) GREEN LANTERN CORPS #10

STORY: Peter J. Tomasi
ART: Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna

I haven't been too impressed with Green Lantern Corps as of late. Peter J. Tomasi seems to be throwing all his energy towards Batman and Robin leaving GLC with a husk of a narrative to drive it forward. Part of this boring streak comes from the use of the Alpha Lanterns, a group of ridiculous Lantern police who have been a constant nuisance since they were first introduced years ago. I'm not a fan of the Alpha Lanterns - not from a story perspective, but from a narrative one. Alpha Lanterns are just buzzkills; they're not really "evil", and their storylines always focus on moral dilemmas. There's only so many times the Alphas can rise up - only to be talked back down using ethical logic - and brought back to the status quo before readers get bored. I'm already there.

Nonetheless, Green Lantern Corps #10 is easily the most enjoyable issue of the "Alpha War" so far. The first two entries into this arc were mired with legal jargon and judiciary proceedings - not things you want (or expect) from an action-based comic book. And while the best part of this month's issue is actually a debate over an issue of hypocrisy, the fights come out in spades.

Now that John Stewart has an expiration date, the Alphas and the Guardians discuss how it should be done. It's very, very interesting to see the direction Tomasi is taking this story now. The Alpha's immediately suggest that the Guardians be the one to execute Stewart; a way to "legitimize" the Alphas' decree. Without hesitation, the Guardians decline. Then the Alpha's suggest a group of Lanterns be chosen at random to do the deed, to which the Guardian's see (rightly so) as totally hypocritical. In a last ditch effort, the Alphas suggest an outside mercenary to act as executioner. Fed up with the Alphas' presumptuous attitudes, the Guardians decree that if the Alpha's want to execute John Stewart, they'll have to do it themselves. It's a harrowing part of the book and one that does not bode well for the future of the Alpha Lanterns. Eventually, Guy springs John from the Sciencells with dozens of Lanterns as backup. 


The worst part of this month's issue comes from John's confrontation with Kirrt's parents. By his own conscience, John asks to meet with them when they arrive to attend Kirrt's official funeral on Oa. It's a really stupid scene because John tries to explain that he's not looking for their forgiveness - he only wants a chance to apologize for his actions.

This isn't true at all!

If John really wanted to apologize with no ulterior motive, he would have written a letter or recorded a video for Kirrt's parents. And maybe they wouldn't read/watch it, but that's their choice. What Tomasi is actually giving John Stewart is one more chance to make things right with Kirrt's family. John wants a few more minutes to explain his side of the story and how it was the right thing to do. This is total bullshit. John's personality goes through such a violent shift in only a matter of pages that it's jut jarring to follow. One minute, he wants to atone for what he's done, the next, he's ready to die. Make up your mind, man! (I am, of course, speaking to Tomasi, who can't seem to decide if John should be a cold-hearted killer or a martyr. Either way, I feel like GL fans will lose. Putting John Stewart in this situation was unnecessary and mean. John's always been the GL that feels guilt more than any of them, and yet Tomasi decides John's the one to have to go through this totally painful and embarrassing trial.

GRADE
B-

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

(COMIC) AVENGERS vs. X-MEN #6 of 12

STORY: Jonathan Hickman
ART: Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales

In the last issue of Avengers vs. X-Men, the Phoenix was fractured into five pieces which bonded with Cyclops, Colossus, Magik, Emma Frost, and Namor. I was a bit skeptical as to Marvel's intentions with the 'Phoenix Five' - their appearance seemed to precipitate an even bigger fight between the Avengers and the X-Men. The kind of battle that levels cities.

Instead, Jonathan Hickman brings us into Act II of Avengers vs. X-Men with a somber overview of the new world order. This issue picks up ten days after the confrontation with the Phoenix on the moon. In those days, Cyclops has led the other Phoenix Forcers in reshaping the world into a better place. With the power of gods split between five benevolent beings (the possible exception being Colossus and his Juggernaut power, which hasn't been brought up yet), the X-Men personify the 'rebirth' part of the Phoenix omens, the part where this force can be one for major positive strange.

I'm actually pretty impressed with Marvel's decision to make this turning point one of growth instead of conflict. There's an obligatory stand-off at the issue's end, but it's only real purpose is to start the slow burn to the next big fight.

Avengers vs. X-Men #6 is all about the change being created by the Phoenix Five. Magik and Colossus are fertilizing once barren land, Namor has tamed the Aleutian Trench to provide fresh, clean, free water for the world's people, and Emma Frost has created a machine in the Gobi Desert that provides sustainable, renewable, clean, free energy for all. Oh, and Utopia is now a freaking paradise of technology and peace. Even the Avengers are a bit awe-struck by the X-Men's sheer force of good.

In this issue, Jonathan Hickman had to usher in a second act to the biggest Marvel event of the year, introduce a new status quo for the Marvel Universe, dedicate quality pages to both sides of the conflict, all while pushing the narrative forward. It's a big task and one that Hickman masterfully handles.

The mini-story dealing with the Electric Legion is a gem that sits right in the middle of this issue. The Avengers set out to stop the Legion from a rampage when Colossus shows up and talks it out. With the Phoenix powers, Pyotr just learns to speak Electric and brokers a deal for the Legion to power half of Europe. Iron Fist's disbelief starts a domino effect of disapproval with the Avenger's strategy to stand against the X-Men. Beast and Black Panther both see the Phoenix as a source of good that has only helped and improved the world since arriving. Wolverine, of course, stand by his convictions and Captain America, but many Avengers have begun to doubt.

Again, I want to emphasize the scope of Hickman's job here. Wanda Maximoff arrives at the end as the Avengers execute their covert operation to acquire Hope from Utopia. Cyclops is on the verge of taking out every single Avenger when Wanda's chaotic powers interfere with the Phoenix Force. Obviously, it's a sign that the Phoenix isn't omnipotent - it has a weakness.

And of course, Cyclops declares, "No more Avengers" on the last page, which is what we've been waiting for since Act II's announcement. Here goes nothin'!

GRADE
A

(COMIC) SUPERGIRL #10

STORY: Michael Green and Mike Johnson
ART: Mahmud Asrar

Supergirl is one of the most overlooked titles in DC's 'New 52.' It makes sense; Kara Zor-El is not one of the heavy hitters in DC's lineup of heroes, but she's also not as obscure as, say, Blue Devil or Vibe. No, Supergirl has pretty much always got the short end of the stick since her inception. I mean, this iteration of Supergirl is it's sixth volume. This is the sixth time Supergirl has been rebooted. That's absolutely ridiculous. Along with these reboots has followed a totally incomprehensible character history. So if you think about it, the 'New 52' was best for titles such as Supergirl - those lost in their own continuity, with nowhere else to turn. Like I said before, Supergirl is chronically passed over in favor of bigger titles like Wonder Woman and Superboy. This sucks because Michael Green and Mike Johnson have been building a pretty stable and well-structured world for young Kara. With a little more than just "Superman's cousin" to carry her title, Kara has been tested since the moment she arrived on Earth - including flying back to a ruined Krypton and fighting on a chunk of what was left with barely any powers - and has consistently come out ahead due to her unflinching determinism.


For the past few months, Kara's been kickin' it with Siobhan Smythe, a ballsy Irishwoman with a penchant for mastering foreign languages (including Kryptonian), and a bit of an evil spirit living in her that's being hunted by her father, the origin of that evil. Silver Banshee has been a longtime mainstay of the DC universe - mostly making trouble for Superman over the years - who here is recast as an anti-hero who has been cursed with this evil power by her father, Black Banshee - a new character created by Green and Johnson for this arc and one that I've really enjoyed so far.


While Silver Banshee's powers have mostly been based on her sonic scream (similar to Black Canary), ability to manipulate sound waves, etc. Black Banshee - on the worse hand - is all about the totally evil magics. He powers himself through sucking other souls into his own. This doesn't mean he eats souls to survive; he actually incorporates other souls into his own to make it stronger...more evil. That's a pretty twisted notion, and one that Green and Johnson take to it's literal extension when Kara attempts to 'overload' Black Banshee with her sun-soaked super-body. This tactic has the opposite desired effect and powers up Black Banshee more than he's ever felt.

The side effect of this amount of power results in a little bit of Kara manifesting itself within Black Banshee's soul, a world turned into a warped version of Kara's memories of Krypton. Green and Johnson write some pretty jarring moments as Kara travels through memories of moments that never happened; perversions of the memory of her previous life. Eventually, Kara meets Tom Smythe, Siobhan's older brother who sacrificed himself to Black Banshee years earlier to save his sister. Kara uses her residual energy to create a sword for herself and goes after Black Banshee, who has constituted himself as a Kryptonian flamedragon in Kara's memory.

The ending is what really makes Supergirl #10 interesting. After Kara and Tom are able to wound Black Banshee enough to force him to yak them out of his soul, Siobhan rears her silver head and lets loose a massive sonic scream that sucks Black Banshee into her own soul! She gives her dad a taste of his own medicine and traps him inside her own Banshee soul. It's an ending that's not only satisfying, but also promising for the future. Leaving Black Banshee alive (albeit, imprisoned) all but guarantees he'll be back to give Supergirl and Siobhan trouble in the future.

I'm seriously into Supergirl. Each month, it gets better and better. It completely outshines Superboy and Superman. The final pages of the issue introduce a character who uses a suit to change his shape (Chameleon, perhaps?), whose mission is to kill Supergirl! If Green and Johnson keep going with the same tenacity as before, things look good for the future of Supergirl.

Oh, and Siobhan reunites with her brother who was trapped inside Black Banshee for 15 years. That happens.

GRADE
A

Monday, June 18, 2012

(COMIC) 4-SENTENCE REVIEWS #4!

Resurrection Man #10
(Abnett, Lanning, Saiz)

I've been a extremely avid fan of Resurrection Man since last September, mostly based on the fact that Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning were less concerned with creating some amazingly big story arc and more focused on just writing interesting stories. I was pretty upset when DC announced that the series would end after it's 'Issue Zero' this coming September, but after reading Resurrection Man #10, I'm wondering if maybe it wasn't all that bad of a call. This month, Mitch Shelley and Kim Rebecki are still on the hunt to uncover Mitch's mysterious past, but instead of advancing the story at all, Abnett and Lanning bring back the 'avenging angels' that came after Mitch way back in issue four or five, a move that shows that maybe these writers really don't have a solid future in plan for the man who can't die. It's far more likely that Mitch Shelley's story will have a super-satisfying conclusion come next month, but we'll just have to wait and see.

GRADE: B






Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 of 6
(Darwyn Cooke)

Minutemen is supposed to be a look back at the original superhero team that set the (arguably) 'golden standard' for what the Watchmen eventually aspire to attain: the original idea of truth, justice, and the American way. And while we know the Minutemen had their own set of problems, they also operated in a simpler time when origin stories didn't involve intergalactic sentries or mystical interventions, but instead came from ordinary people looking to make their world a little bit better. In this first of six issues, Darwyn Cooke spends a lot of time going over the origins of each member of the Minutemen, and while this could come off as cheesy and overbearing, Cooke masterfully makes each introduction feel like you're meeting these characters for the first time. It's a phenomenal first issue and even better beginning to the Before Watchmen event.

GRADE: A






Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1 of 4
(Cooke, Conner)


In the first title dedicated to a member of the Watchmen (the first in the Before Watchmen series focused on the Minutemen, which features the Comedian, but none of the other Watchmen proper), and it's pretty damn good. Laurie Juspeczyk has grown up in the shadow of her mother, both in terms of training and studying to carry on the Silk Spectre name, as well as her infamous streak of compromising work after her days as a superhero ended. Laurie's tale starts as a romantic story with chisel-jawed Greg, a boy who knows about her mother's racy past and doesn't care - all he wants is to be with Laurie, and the two of them decide to run away from home and hitchhike to wherever. Darwyn Cooke has set up a very mid-60s story, complete with adolescent angst, social hierarchy, and a pinch of hippies to keep us interested for the next issue.

GRADE: B

(THE WEEK) JUNE 20-26, 2012 [update]

Avengers Vs. X-Men #6 of 12
(Hickman, Coipel)

Act II starts for Avengers Vs. X-Men! Now that the Phoenix Force has split and embedded itself in not two, not three, not four, but FIVE different X-Men, what will happen to the Avengers? Also, Olivier Coipel is one of my favorite artists, so the book will definitely be worth checking out if only for the awesome artwork!


Batman Incorporated #2
(Morrison, Burnham)

Continues the "Leviathan" story with Batman and Talia al Ghul fighting for over their son!

Before Watchmen: Comedian #1 of 6
(Azzarello, Wein)

I know I've been kind of lax with reviewing Before Watchmen thus far, but I'm going to get better at it! How do you review characters who've been in only one story for the past twenty years? I'll figure it out...

Blue Beetle #10
(Bedard, Guara)

Blue Beetle gets no love, even since DC reimagined him as a younger, more Hispanic hero who actually bonded with the scarab. This month, more about Jaime living in New York City...and Mister Bones! What could be better? Our inaugural review of Blue Beetle! Don't miss it!


DC Universe Presents #10
(Robinson, Chang)

Though I kind of fell of DC Universe Presents while it took a weird side step with "Challengers of the Unknown", James Robinson and Bernard Chang's "Savage" arc began fantastically last month, so I'm bringing back reviews of this series!


Green Lantern Corps #10
(Tomasi, Pasarin)

Peter J. Tomasi continues his quest to give us new information regarding plot advancement as. slowly. as. possible. I try to keep up.

Saga #4
(Vaughan, Staples)

This phenomenal series continues as our heroic duo (and baby) travel to planet Sextillion! What does that mean? Read the issue to find out and read my review to see why it's cool.


Supergirl #10
(Green, Johnson, Asrar)

Black Banshee has Supergirl trapped in his weird Black Banshee world! Weird! Also, Kara loses control!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

(TV) DC ANIMATED UNIVERSE, ENTRY #1

It seems that 'DC Nation' will not be airing new episodes on Cartoon Network in the foreseeable future. Green Lantern: The Animated Series is waiting on a second season renewal, and Young Justice is on a hiatus. So in the meantime, I'll be covering some classic episodes of DC Animated Universe shows such as Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League (and Unlimited), Superman: The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond. I'll be reviewing two episodes per entry, sometimes of the same show, sometimes of two different programs. I hope you enjoy the (DCAU) segments until 'DC Nation' starts up new episodes again.




Justice League Unlimited
Season 1, Episode 12
"The Once and Future Thing, Part 1: Weird Western Tales"

After two fantastic seasons of Justice League and a successful relaunch, Bruce Timm & Co. decided to have a little fun with Justice League Unlimited's first season finale. Every episode of this first season (third, if you rightly consider JLU a direct continuation of the original Justice League) is self-contained, only hinting at larger story arcs. "The Once and Future Thing" begins in Neo-Gotham, during the timeframe of Batman Beyond - a great start for fans of the DC animated universe that know it all fits together.

We meet David Clinton, a meek, passive scientist who's mostly content with using his self-built chrono-suit to collect historical artifacts, careful not to upset the time stream and cause changes to the future. Of course, this all goes out the door when his wife wont stop nagging him to do something more with his life. This is where the conflict arises, as Chronos (as David starts calling himself) infiltrates the Watchtower to steal one of Batman's extra utility belts, an act he definitely considers "doing something more". It's a bold move - one influenced by panic and desperation - and when the League catches on to Chronos' presence, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern go after him through a (mysterious to them) vortex to places unknown.

The trio wakes up in the American West during the 1800s, a time of hardship, lawlessness, and vigilante justice. The writers of Justice League Unlimited understood how much freedom they had in this series. Where Justice League was pretty tightly structured in it's two-episode format, JLU was given a lot more liberties. And DC's history is full of awesome characters, so it came as no surprise when Jonah Hex, Bat Lash, El Diablo, and Pow Wow showed up to lend a hand against a man whose taken a nearby town hostage with weapons from the future.

While JLU was definitely aimed at a younger audience, the writers and producers were quite aware they had a large adult following who had been asking for an animated Justice League cartoon for decades that wasn't the epitome of embarrassment like Super Friends. Fan service became a part of the series early on, and the inclusion of DC's 'Wild West' heroes is fantastic. While I would have liked a little more attitude from Jonah Hex, lines like "You're time travelers," totally make up for it. Hex is one of those characters that's basically seen and done everything, so giving him the knowledge to spot time-displaced persons is a slam dunk.

"Weird Western Tales", at the end of the day, really just exists to give fans the characters that would never normally be able to have a part on Justice League Unlimited. The writers could have conceivably taken the trio anywhere in time, but they chose this specific era because of it's history in the DC universe. There will always be people who moan and groan about the authenticity of the translation to a screen format, but the fact that the producers were willing to include these characters at all is a sign that they respect and admire the original work.

Bruce, Diana, and John eventually find David Clinton and break him out of jail on the promise that David just wants to go home. Of course, it wouldn't be a very interesting two-parter if the villain gave up after the first act, so David double-crosses our heroes and makes a break for it through the time stream once again.

GRADE: A


 Justice League Unlimited
Season 1, Episode 13
"The Once and Future Thing, Part 2: Time, Warped"

The second part of "The Once and Future Thing" is really where the meat of the story comes from. After David Clinton escapes incarceration in the old west, he also evades arrest at the hands of Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern. The trio follows David through the time stream, but the volatile nature of time travel - coupled with David's total control over their lack of any control - lands the League members in a Neo-Gotham ruled by Chronos.

While "Weird Western Tales" was great fan service for DC comics fans, "Time, Warped" is all about the DC Animated Universe! Immediately upon arriving in Neo-Gotham, Bats, WW, and GL are joined by the Justice League Unlimited, the future version of the Justice League, and a version with only four remaining members: Batman, Warhawk, Barda, and Static. The old Leaguers commiserate with Static about their adventures in the past (from various episodes of Static Shock!) and Warhawk is revealed to be the son of John Stewart and Shayera Hall, the Hawkgirl.

It's a pretty awesome twist in the DCAU, but one that makes total sense. I'm sure the original writers for Batman Beyond didn't ever plan for this when they created Warhawk, but if it ain't broke, why fix it? Instead, Justice League Unlimited just made it better. While all previous DCAU series were mostly autonomous, they had multiple connections, and this connection really marks a point where a full continuity begins to come into play.

Most of the episode focuses on finding and stopping Chronos (obviously), but David Clinton can jump anywhere in space and time that he wants, so it's a bit of a challenge. And like any time travelling-based story, the repercussions of messing with the time stream too much culminates in time itself devolving and twisting itself up, which is exactly what happens here in "Time, Warped". At one point, Wonder Woman disappears, then John Stewart morphs into Hal Jordan, who's already "up to speed" on the time craziness. This is all, of course, side note to Bruce Wayne meeting Bruce Wayne.

I'll say it again, fan service is the name of the game in "Time, Warped", paying homage to the comics, to the past of the DCAU, and to where the series could go from there. Bruce and Diana's romantic relationship is hinted at more and more, while John and Shayera are all but guaranteed to get together for an extended amount of time, which we don't get to see during the run of the series. Fortunately, this years relaunch of the 'DC Beyond' universe has been giving us "Beyond Origins" in the pages of Justice League Beyond.


"The Once and Future Thing", for many, cemented the DCAU as a staple of DC's gamut of useable universes. Where once it may have been just a TV vestige for comic book fans, Justice League and the subsequent Unlimited continuation really made the animated world a successful one that had it's own nuances, unique attributes, villains, and storylines throughout each show that actually affected one another, much like a comic book universe. While Young Justice is currently doing a damn good job creating a new animated world, this was the first and (still) the coolest.

GRADE: A+

(MOVIE) SUPERMAN vs. THE ELITE

STORY: Joe Kelly
DIRECTION: Michael Chang

In DC's ongoing effort to convert popular comic stories into movies, it's had a pretty high success rate. While you can't make everyone happy all the time, DC seems to be making most of it's fans happy most of the time, which is pretty damn good. Movies like Superman: Doomsday and Justice League: The New Frontier set the standard for comic-to-movie translations done right, while more recent films like Batman: Under the Hood and All-Star Superman have actually improved upon the source material. Warner Bros.' newest release under the 'DC Universe Animated Original Movies' title is Superman vs. The Elite, based on Action Comics #775 titled "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" This issue was a metafictional response to years of ultra-violent titles in the vein of The Authority. Of course, the issue was more of a concept than an actual storyline - it's hard to tell a story over four or five issues let alone one. And while the boys over at DC animation sure do have a love for the source material, it's still hard to extend a single issue into a 76-minute feature film.

In a nutshell, Superman meets a new team of superheroes who call themselves the Elite. With members from England, China, Puerto Rico, and the USA, the Elite quickly gain popularity due to their international pedigree and their hard-lined stance against crime. At first, Supes teams up with them, but soon realizes that Manchester Black - the team's leader - will cross the lines Superman has never stepped over. Soon, Clark's nightmares come to life as the Elite begin executing super villains and terrorists. In the end, Superman appears to snap and get as violent as the Elite in an effort to bring them down. Manchester Black becomes increasingly terrified as Superman kills his teammates, one by one, with absolutely no regard for civilian life. By the time Clark reaches a sniveling, begging Black, he reveals that the entire thing was a ruse, a show to prove to the Elite - and their adoring public - how violence and fear were no way to win.

The main problem with Superman vs. The Elite is that the writers might like the story just a bit too much. It's weird to think that a comic book-inspired movie could be too good, but in this case, too much caring brought the entire film down.

Though there are action sequences - and they are done surprisingly well - most of the story is dedicated to monologues or dialogues that pad out a significant chunk of the film. I somewhat expected a bit of padding due to the simple fact that I felt a single issue providing content for a film was a bit much to expect. Either way, in the absence of more actual plot, Joe Kelly decided to throw in every conceivable speech - or rant, in some cases - about the duality of justice and how either way of thinking can be right in certain contexts. Superman talks about not falling to the same level as the villains, and Black explains how criminals will never change and how letting them live only perpetuates a cycle of violence.

The final battle between Superman and The Elite is definitely the highlight of the entire film. Big Boy Blue seems to snap, causing him to finally understand what the Elite have been talking about the entire time: violence gets results. To prove how much he recognizes this, Superman murders each member of the Elite, all with a growl in his voice an an insane-looking popped blood vessel in one of his eyes. The animation for this sequence is excellent and really conveys the idea of a deranged Superman who has been pushed too far. The use of shadows and the expressions of the Man of Steel's face are what really sell the ruse. You see, Superman wasn't actually killing the Elite, and he didn't really stop considering civilian casualties, he was just making it look that way with the use of a fleet of Superman-bots from the Fortress of Solitude. (Side note: How does Superman have all these robots? Is it ever explained in the comics? And how does he repair them when they break? Clark Kent doesn't have any scientific knowledge about robotics or advanced artificial intelligence. What gives?)

The climax comes when insane-Superman has a raised fist ready to pulverize Manchester Black and an unnamed civilian steps forward to plead with Supes to stop. Other join in and soon, the world begins to see that ultra-violence isn't the answer. It's only then that Superman ends the facade and reveals his Super-bots. I know this is supposed to be a "eureka!" moment, but unfortunately, it only comes off as a cheap joke. For the entire film, Superman tried to prove that violence wasn't necessary when it comes to fighting evil - lowering oneself to the level of the villain is no better than being a criminal oneself.

You see, though, Superman does use fear and violence to prove his point. While he's not killing villains and lobotomizing the Elite, per se, he does manipulate emotions and perspective on reality to strike fear into people's hearts. Sure, it turns out he was just faking, but the fear is still there that a day might come when the almighty Superman lays waste to humanity. The film doesn't see things this way, instead making Superman's re-adoring pubic swoon over his initiative and clever ruse. What Kelly and Chang don't convey is that the fear of ultra-violent super-cops has only been replaced by fear of an ultra-violent Superman, something that (from the events of this movie prove) would be near impossible to stop.

And it's this lack of insight to the true nature of the story (whether it was fleshed out in the comic or not) that brings down the film from being an excellent film to only an alright one. If all you care about is the action and seeing the Elite brought to life from the page, then you'll probably like this movie just fine. If you're wondering how DC and Warner Bros. might choose to convey an ethical dilemma that contains many, many layers, you might be out of luck.

GRADE
B-

Saturday, June 16, 2012

(COMIC) BATMAN AND ROBIN #10

STORY: Peter J. Tomasi
ART: Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray

In the month after "Night of the Owls", all the Batman-related books are starting new story arcs. Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Batman and Robin #10 might be simultaneously the most interesting and the most boring new story of the bunch. Since Big Ol' Bats already has three series dedicated to his solo outings, Tomasi has been focusing on Damian Wayne quite a bit, not only dealing with his daddy issues throughout the first arc, but also with Damian's talent for strategic battle during last month's Talon incursion. This has been a consistently smart move on Tomasi's part.

Batman and Robin #10 kicks off "Terminus", but you'd barely know it if you didn't want to. The so-called Terminus takes a far, far back seat to the issue's main events. All the same, this guy obviously has criminal intentions, and his body seems to be falling apart. Terminus spends the issue regenrating in some crazy regeneration machine. That's it. I'm sure there will be more to this, but it also doesn't seem very interesting. At this point, Terminus is just some dude who wants to kill Batman - hold the phone! No, the real meat in this issue comes from the 'War of the Robins' storyline.

Bruce has called all the Robins, former and current (except for Jason Todd, for obvious reasons), together for a family portrait at Wayne Manor. One of the best things about the Robin mantle is that there isn't one type of person who becomes Robin - they come in all shapes and sizes and personalities. Within minutes, Tim Drake and Damian are at each other's throat. Dick Grayson loftily sits above their squabble, as his position as Robin can never be questioned (he's the O.G., baby!)

The feud between Tim and Damian is interesting, mostly because it stems from simple disrespect. Whenever Batman and Superman had disagreements, they never lost respect for one another, but neither boy here regards the other in any good light. For Damian, Tim is stuck-up and looks down on Damian, while Tim feels that Damian is a psychopath and unworthy of a title he and Dick worked hard to maintain. That's pretty much the description you're going to get anywhere else. The truth of the matter is much deeper, even if Tomasi doesn't know it.

Tim Drake was the son Bruce never had. Sure, Dick was the first Robin and literally had no parents and was adopted by Bruce, but they've always had a stronger working relationship (at least in my memory. Maybe I need to go back and reread old Silver Age issues). Tim, on the other hand, was the one who figured out who Batman was, the one with the detective skills to rival Bruce's own, and the Robin that took the name from respectable to iconic. Like I said, Tim was the son Bruce never had. Until Damian. Tim's real beef is that Damian is a real Wayne and Bruce's actual son. Obviously, it's painful to see your mentor and father-figure move on to a new apprentice, a new disciple. And sure Tim left of his own accord, but he keeps the mantle Red Robin, an obvious homage to his former title which means he still has deep emotional ties to the name and the job. Dick, conversely, left and took the name Nightwing, moved to a new city and generally tried to distance himself from Batman for quite some time.

Damian, of course, lives in Tim's all-encompassing shadow. Tim held the mantle for so long and did so well, it's obvious to Damian that Bruce is looking to make Damian more like Tim. The entire first arc of Batman and Robin was about Damian's issues with his upbringing as a killer, and in a sense, he was able to make a good step forward in dealing with those issues. But Tim is always there - a constant reminder of how good a Robin can be and how lacking Damian is compared to Tim.

The night after their blow-up at Wayne Manor, Damian calls all the former Robins together, even extending an invitation to Jason Todd, the Red Hood! When they all show, Damian declares "war" on them. Damian explains that at some point, he will confront each of them and defeat them at something they consider themselves the best. Of course, they all immediately assume Damian means a fight, but the little Robin's much smarter than that! His only goal with Tim is to get Red Robin to admit he'd had homicidal thoughts. Tim rebuffs this by saying he's never acted on those thoughts, which is what separates them.

I really do tend to enjoy superhero stories where the heroes are in-fighting, and the "War of the Robins" portion of Batman and Robin #10 is totally awesome. My psychoanalytical critique aside, these characters are all awesome and now, they've got an arc slowly building that will pit them all against one another in a variety of circumstances. FANTASTIC. Terminus will probably continue to be a boring sub-plot that will eventually slip it's way into the main story, pulling the entire arc down as a result, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, awesomeness.

GRADE
A

Friday, June 15, 2012

(COMIC) GREEN LANTERN #10

STORY: Geoff Johns
ART: Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy

I've been holding off in admitting that Green Lantern is getting kind of boring. It's really unfortunate, seeing as the last few issues have been really action-packed and revelatory. Geoff Johns has taken four issues to give us the history of the Indigo Tribe, and even though it might sound weird, I wish it had only been three. Green Lantern #10 feels totally unnecessary. All the loose ends are wrapped up, and nothing really changes, which is really unsatisfying.

Last month, every Indigo Tribesman was set free from the control of their power battery, thereby releasing a legion of the worst criminals in the known universe against Hal and Sinestro, both of whom are running on fumes - both in spirit and in ring power. This sounds pretty awesome, right? Only thing; they never do any real fighting. Most of this issue is spent following Hal and Sinestro as they attempt to rebuild the shattered Indigo battery and quell the rise of violence. But like I said, there's not a whole lot of action in this issue, even though Doug Mahnke's artwork might make you believe otherwise.

At some point, Sinestro goes off to fight the horde of villains by himself to give Hal enough time to convince Natromo (Abin Sur's partner in founding the Indigo Tribe) to help rebuild the battery. But even then, we only get fragments of Sinestro's struggle, and they aren't even very good fragments. Most of this issue focuses on Hal Jordan and how he somehow has the ability to convince any alien to do what he wants. I mean, his speech wasn't even that good, and Natromo's all like, "Aight, yo - let's do dis."

The one "twist" in this issue happens when Iroque, the first to wear the ring of compassion, recognizes her crimes, even without the ring's power forcing her to feel for others. Sure, it's a nice twist, and one that actually gives Iroque some personal development beyond her role in the Tribe, but it's still a pretty flat scene.

By the end of the issue, Natromo has rebuilt the battery, all the Indigos are back under the control of compassion, and all's well that ends well. But a bow on it and call it a day. One of Johns' issues as a writer is awkward transitions between story arcs. Sure, he builds up certain elements to be used as he moves forward, but really, Hal and Sinestro finished up with the Indigos, and now they'll just head on back to Oa and go on with their lives. Maybe I'm just finding pins in stacks of hay, but Green Lantern #10 was sorely lacking.

Of course, the biggest news from this issue comes from Black Hand. Once the Indigo battery was destroyed, he was freed from their control and went off to search for an escape from planet Nok. Once Natromo gets the battery jiggy again, Hand's indigo ring goes after him. Panicked at the thought of being controlled by the Tribe once again, Hand throws himself off a cliff. Just like the spark of compassion from Iroque that was necessary to rebuild the Indigo battery, Hand's suicide is the spark needed for the creation of a new Black Lantern ring and his own dark resurrection.

But haven't we already done the whole Black Lantern thing? (Snore)

GRADE
C

Thursday, June 14, 2012

(COMIC) AvX: VS #3 of 6

STORY: Jeph Loeb and Christopher Yost
ART: Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, Terry Dodson, and Rachel Dodson

In the first totally enjoyable issue of AvX: VS, Colossus takes on the Thing while Black Widow and Magik take the fight to the demons in Limbo. While I previously lamented about how both Coloss-onaut and Thing have already been featured in VS, their fight was actually quite enjoyable. Similarly, Black Widow and Magik are generally evenly matched.

One cardinal sin of a comic book is not delivering on what it promises, and last issue's fight between Spider-Man and Colossus was totally boring because they didn't fight so much as Spider-Man quipped and quipped while Colossus destroyed a city while Spidey dodged until he ran away. This time, though, Colossus begins his fight with Red Hulk who knocks the new Juggernaut across the Blue Zone of the Moon to let the Thing take care of him. But unlike Red Hulk or Thing, Colossus' mind has been warped by Cytorak and the energy of the Juggernaut, making him unstoppable, not only in stature, but also in mind and spirit. While Thing tries to throw ol' Piotr off his game with verbal insults, Colossus just keeps going without distraction. Even though I've seen Colossus get into this mode before, he tends to go to the extreme and rage out - it's jarring to see him so focused.

It's interesting how little the major players from The Avengers have been used in Avengers vs. X-Men so far. Outside of Captain America and Iron Man, Earth's Mightiest have been represented by the likes of Red Hulk, Thing, Protector, Ms. Marvel, and Luke Cage. While all great characters in their own right (except Red Hulk - that shit still makes no sense to me), it's hard for new fans to relate to a team with the name they recognize with faces they don't. Fortunately, Black Widow is front and center in the second match of the issue against Colossus' sister, Illyana Rasputin, a.k.a. Magik. Illyana's mutant power allows her to teleport through a demon dimension known as Limbo, which is a great defensive power, but really puts her on the same offensive level (or under, arguably) as Natalia Romanova. Also, setting their fight in Limbo was a great decision, as it gives readers a new location to sink their eyes into. And it's about time the X-Men started winning matches! For real!

GRADE
B

(COMIC) SUPERBOY #10

STORY: Scott Lobdell
ART: Sebastian Fiumara

Either I'm just getting used to terrible writing, or Scott Lobdell is finally, finally, finally hitting the half-serious half-cheeky tone he's been searching for most of the last ten months. Or it could be that he's finished with that N.O.W.H.E.R.E. ridiculousness that literally went nowhere. Whatever the reason, Superboy #9 is my favorite issue of the series so far. I've also come to terms - at least a bit - with the fact that Lobdell is going to keep Superboy and Teen Titans interwoven for the foreseeable future. Wonder Girl 'guest stars' in this issue as she and Kon (thank Jeezus I don't keep having to call him Superboy every single time) search for the rest of the Titans on Mystery Island, which is shaped like question mark.

One of my biggest gripes with Lobdell's writing, thus far, is the shallow way he chooses to develop characterization. Inner monologue can be effective if done well, if it's believable and relatable to how normal people think and act thereon. Unfortunately, Lobdell's use of inner monologue is frighteningly hollow and redundant. Until now, it seems.

Granted, the first few pages are pretty cheesy (Kon refers to himself in the third person at some point), but otherwise, the minimal use ends up being effective. It seems that isolating Kon and Cassie has given Lobdell a bit more legroom to work with each character. Instead of juggling every Titan or the numerous N.O.W.H.E.R.E. cliche villains, playing these two juggernauts against each other actually works. I found myself, on multiple occasions, thinking, That ain't haflf-bad!

Even the part where Kon uses hi telekinetic powers to 'feel' the ground and see Cassie topless was kind of endearing in an awkward adolescence kind of way. Yeah, it's a pretty weird couple of panels, but they give both of these characters some much needed personality. Up to now, Cassie has been a total bitch and nothing else, while Superboy's entire existence has been focused on N.O.W.H.E.R.E. It's a whole lot easier to like these two when they have more layers like real people.

At the end of the issue, Superboy and Wonder Girl find a mysterious set of stairs leading into the earth, down below the surface. They end up coming out upside down? It's a pretty heady page and one that promises an awesome continuation in Teen Titans in a few weeks. Keep this up, Lobdell, for real. I was one more bad issue away from not reading Superboy anymore, but now I'm hooked. Kudos.

GRADE
B+