Thursday, August 30, 2012

JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL ANNUAL #1

STORY: Geoff Johns and Dan Didio
ART: Jason Fabok

It really is the end for the Justice League International. After a year of amazing stories, a slowly-expanding roster, and a death in the family, the JLI all but disintegrates before our eyes as Geoff Johns and Dan Didio bid farewell to one of DC's quirkiest titles. It came as a bit of a surprise when DC announced it would cancel Justice League International after it's Annual issue, especially since it wasn't a low performer like other cancelled series such as Mister Fantastic, Men of War, or Resurrection Man. For months, fans and critics have been speculating as to reasons why; was it to set-up a bigger event? Was JLI going to be relaunched under a different name? Was DC planning on revising it's number of monthly titles? We didn't have a lot to go on, and the editorial executives were staying tight-lipped. And this week, DC announced that Geoff Johns and David Finch would be starting a new series, Justice League of America. After I read the initial press release concerning JLA, I immediately knew why JLI was cancelled. It makes sense, on a certain level, to want to expand the 'Justice League' franchise without diluting the name itself. Justice League and Justice League Dark both have clear-cut plot-centric premises, while JLI told more character-driven stories. It really is a shame to see the series go, but Justice League International Annual #1 goes the book justice and sends the team off in an appropriately dour - yet potentially promising - way.

Annual #1 picks up a few weeks after the events of JLI #12, wherein Batwing resigned, the team fought the late Lightweaver's delusional brother, and the future of these characters rested in Batman's capable hands. Bringing the series full-circle, Booster's primary concern is now increasing the team's visibility and public image by way of impressing the United Nations by taking on dangerous missions around the globe. We drop in with our lovable band of misfits in Central Africa, where Guy Gardner is leading a squad against a vicious warlord named Aki Mukassa. As Batwing flies the violent revolutionary away from the riot below, the warlord activates a bomb and kills himself mid-air. The entire situation is symbolic of the JLI's status quo as the team that gets it done, but not very well. While the rest of the team is satisfied with saving numerous innocent lives, Booster is upset that the JLI couldn't hand Mukassa over to the UN.

The breaking point comes later, when Booster informs the team that he's expanded the roster by recruiting Olympian and Blue Beetle. "Where are Superman and Wonder Woman?" asks Beetle, which sends Guy Gardner into a rage that results in his resignation from the JLI. With Rocket Red already dead, as well as Vixen, Fire, and Ice in the hospital, it's as though Booster takes one step forward for every two steps back. He sees that their numbers are dwindling, and he does whatever it takes (a la lying to Beetle about the JLI's roster) to make his team better.

And while the first half of the book is really all about Booster and his insecurities, the latter half focuses on O.M.A.C., who becomes possessed by Brother Eye, the sentient satellite and computer program designed and built by Batman to observe and analyze every metahuman on Earth in order to develop defenses against them if necessary. Since the 'New 52' relaunch, it's been interesting to see what has survived the editorial culling and now exists in the ner universe - the events of Infinite Crisis aren't mentioned anywhere else in the 'New 52' (that I know of), so it could stand to reason the whole thing never happened, but that Brother Eye was still created. And just like in Infinite Crisis, Brother Eye's been hijacked! With a new 'programmer' calling the shots, Brother Eye takes complete control of Kevin Kho's body and mind as it attempts to destroy the JLI and re-upload himself to the satellite orbiting Earth. During the confrontation, O.M.A.C. (apparently) kills Olympian, then uses his overwhelming technology to send Blue Beetle back to the Reach, the alien society where Jaime's scarab originated.

There's a lot of action going on during the finale, but in the end, Booster Gold is the only one who's able to stand up to the brutish, unstoppable O.M.A.C. Using 25th century anti-virus protection, (easter-eggedly called the 'Skeets Protocols') Booster is able to stop Brother Eye's uplink to the satellite and separate Kevin from the O.M.A.C. programming that was making his life a living hell. Of course, this victory is short-lived as Booster Gold from the future-future comes back to warn our Booster of horrible things to come before he simply disappears, as if he never existed. Then suddenly, the same thing happens to our Booster Gold!

By the time we reach the final pages, the team is technically down to just Godiva and a heavily-injured August General in Iron. Rocket Red and Olympian are dead, Batwing and Guy Gardner have resigned Blue Beetle is on the other side of the galaxy, and Booster is deleted from time and space. Justice League International Annual #1 is not only the JLI's most exciting issue, but it sets up the next chapter of the collective 'Justice League' story very well. At the very end, Batman has a chilling conversation with his creation, Brother Eye: "Eye am home and eye will be waiting for my new programmer's signal. He is coming, Batman. And you will join him or die." recites Brother Eye as if from a script. The emotionless, yet highly sophisticated, Brother Eye looks to be the focal point of things to come. Perhaps in the same vein as Infinite Crisis, Batman's presumptuousness concerning other heroes became paranoia, resulting in some of the darkest days in DCU history.

GRADE
A+

GREEN LANTERN ANNUAL #1

STORY: Geoff Johns
ART: Ethan Van Sciver

There's a lot going on in Green Lantern Annual #1. There's so much happening, in fact, that the amount of information is almost too much. This over-sized issue has two goals: to finish up "The Revenge of Black Hand" as well as preluding "Rise of the Third Army", the Green Lantern Family-wide crossover starting in October that will see the Guardians of the Universe's new legion of soldiers attempt to eradicate the Green Lantern Corps as well as the rest of the multicolored Corps littered throughout the universe. While Geoff Johns has been slowly dragging the Guardians into madness over the past few years, this singular issue really drives the point home, showing just how ruthless these little blue guys can be.

Johns does an apt job flowing from one focus to the next. The beginning of the issue is all about Hal Jordan, Sinestro, and Black Hand. Slowly, scenes of the Guardians start to trickle in before their crazy crusade against emotion takes center stage. It's an interesting way to segue from one plot point to the next, and Johns knows these characters so well, he can interweave the stories without actually having them connect. Amid major revelations every few pages, Johns manages to keep things light and well-paced throughout the issue, taking time to make emotional jabs when can, and relying on readers' visceral connection to the story to keep the momentum going.

As a whole, Green Lantern Annual #1 is really all about the Guardians and their descent into madness. After millennia of attempting and failing to squelch chaos across the universe, the Guardians have obviously started to show the cracks in their armor. Starting back in Green Lantern: Rebirth when it was revealed that the Blue Ones had imprisoned a 'fear entity' within the Green Lantern Central Battery, causing the yellow impurity that had plagued the rings for eons. The list of their grievances goes on and on, but now, with a universe more chaotic than ever, the Guardians have reached the end of their rope. Plagued by insubordination within their ranks and throughout the cosmos, the Guardians turn to their last hope (if you can call it 'hope'), the First Lantern. While there is virtually still nothing known about the individual encased within a shimmering crystal lantern, it stands to reason that he/she is the origin of the emotional entities that power the seven differently colored lanterns (not counting the Black Lanterns because death isn't an emotion).

One of the best parts of the issue is the meeting between the Guardians and the Hidden Guardians. Billions of years prior, the Guardians decided to leave half of their people behind in the Chamber of Shadows to guard the First Lantern from any who would attempt to steal his power, while the other half would venture out into the universe to create peace in place of the chaos. The Hidden Ones immediately question the Guardians' motives when they demand the First Lantern and his awesome power. The fight that ensues is not only cool for the simple comic-bookiness of it (little blue aliens fighting each other with sci-fi energy ball beams!), but also because it really gives a visual interpretation of the Guardian's insanity as Ganthet kills the Hidden Ones' leader with a knife to the throat. It's chilling, watching a Guardians murder in cold blood. It's the kind of thing Geoff Johns is known for: emotional backhanding that takes you by surprise through shock and awe.

After the Guardians defeat the Hidden Ones and take the First Lantern, the crap really hits the fan. Ganthet uses the First Lantern's power to step through time and space into the cemetery where Hal and Sinestro are facing Black Hand. With his fellow brain-addled Guardians, Ganthet soaks Black Hand in energy, charging up the lone Black Lantern to become their tool against Hal, Sinestro, and the rest of the Green Lantern Corps. After the dust settles, the Guardians throw Hand into the Chamber of Shadows with the surviving Hidden Ones before locking them all up for future use. It's small, but sick detail that reinforces the Guardians' cruelty.

And then there's the Third Army. The Guardians - in their infinite madness - use their own genetic material to create a new creature. I hesitate to call it a 'life'-form because the Guardians make sure it doesn't have a heart or soul, just a direct connection to the Guardians' hive mind. Basically, the little blue guys are waging a war on free will, a frightening endgame if there ever was one.

Next month's Green Lantern #0 focuses on new GL, Baz. Up until now, I'd been confused as to how DC was going to shoehorn a new Green Lantern into the mythos, but after reader Green Lantern Annual #1, things are starting to make a lot more sense. Already, some have criticized this issue - and Johns' direction with the GLU in general - for being a rehash of previously tread ground. To that, I say what isn't? This year's amazing "Court of Owls" is based on any secret society trope, but that doesn't mean it can't be interesting and fresh. "Rise of the Third Army" promises to be a huge (if not long) event that will change the landscape of the Green Lantern books and the DCU at-large for a long time to come.

GRADE
A

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

JUSTICE LEAGUE #12

STORY: Geoff Johns
ART: Jim Lee and Scott Williams (et al)

I'm going to start this review off by saying that the kiss between Superman and Wonder Woman is a lot less 'awe-inspiring' than DC let on. In fact, one could argue that the reasons behind the titular tongue-tying should have been raised years ago, even decades. But more on that later. Justice League #12 wraps up not only the first year of the title, but also "The Villain's Journey", the second arc for the series that dealt with new villain Graves who was out to destroy the League and remake the world in his own way. The thing is, that phrase holds a significantly different meaning for Graves in the pages of Justice League than it normally ever does. While even I'll admit that using spectres of long-lost loved ones is a bit cliche, Johns employs this narrative strategy to get to the heart of the main issue with the team as a whole: the Justice League is not and cannot be held accountable for their actions.

The fight with climactic battle that opens the issue is only significant for Graves' vocalized thoughts. While having the team come face-to-face with dead loved ones sounds emotionally relevant, the whole ordeal comes off as trite after Graves weighs in. "I've destroyed the Justice League, but I'm not here to destroy each one of you," laments Graves as he watches them, a twinkle of glee in his eyes. The whole point of the League was for the sum to be greater than it's individual parts. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. When you gather seven god-like beings together, it's a good idea to have someone around to ground them once in a while. While Steve Trevor was supposed to fill this void, his prior relationship with Wonder Woman hindered his ability to see the unbiased truths when it came to the League. However twisted and painful, Graves assumes the role of 'moral conscience', making the team question themselves for the first time since they banded together.

And that, dear readers, is where the real meat of this issue lies. The truth of the matter is, superheroes are not held accountable for their actions - they can't be if they hope to do their jobs well. The Justice League is an organization unlike any other on the planet, especially now that the 'New 52' rebooted most of the fringe teams out of existence. And while it might be cool to see costumed heroes battling aliens for a while, eventually, the novelty wears off and people want the truth over everything else.

They're not wrong for wanting it.

Johns does a fantastic job, this month, delving into philosophically-charged territory. And with the 'New 52' freedom under his belt, the characters get an interesting take on the subject - Flash insists that the League has to be better, while Batman sees the subjectivity of their situation. Green Lantern is the one who gets to the answer first: even though the League might not be perfect, it still has to try because the world needs the League. Because bad news always accompanies deed of sacrifice such as these, Hal Jordan resigns from the League. Citing his instigation of the fight between the Leaguers that aired across the world, Hal offers himself up as a scapegoat. The people of Earth get someone to blame, while the League gets to continue doing what they do, even though they know that the world could turn on them at any moment if they slip up again, even a little bit.

Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor (technically) break up again, sending Steve into fits of angry muttering and a final demand for Diana to leave, and a preview for the next year of stories looks like the League will have their hands full with Steve Trevor's A.R.G.U.S.-operated Justice League of America, a team that looks to be in direct conflict with the League proper, for more reasons than one.

Justice League #12 does an excellent job capping off a first year that saw the team come together and face more than just villains. Geoff Johns is slowly figuring out the team's voice and how they honestly fit into the greater DC universe. It's a difficult task, no doubt, but Johns has a long history with Teen Titans, and his pre-'New 52' work on Green Lantern included some of the characters best stories in years. Now, after taking the time to give us readers the basic stuff, it's time to go into new territory. Obviously, Superman and Wonder Woman's relationship is leading this trend, and coupled with Hal Jordan's resignation, we're sure to be in for an exciting 2013.

GRADE
A-

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

UPCOMING REVIEWS (AUG 29 - SEP 4)

Aquaman #12
(Johns, Reis)
- It's the end of the line for "The Others" as Geoff Johns finishes up his stellar first year with the King of Atlantis. The traitor in the team is revealed, and Black Manta's endgame comes to light!

Before Watchmen: Minutemen #3 of 6
(Cooke, Cooke)
- Per usual, there's not a whole lot of preview for this entry of Before Watchmen. Seeing as a lot of information was revealed last issue, one could surmise that this time through, we'll get to see some of the ramifications of those reveals.

Captain Marvel #3
(DeConnick, Soy)
- Carol Danvers is a woman after my own heart. With only two issues under her belt, the new Captain Marvel is dominating Marvel's lineup, not only in story quality, but also in sales. This month, Carol's gone back in time to take on the Banshee Squadron!

The Flash Annual #1
(Manapul, Buccaletto)
- The Rogues are assembled, they've double-crossed a pissed-off Captain Cold, and Flash arrived just in time to get in on the mayhem. It's time for an all-out war.

Green Lantern Annual #1
(Johns, Van Sciver)
- Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver join forces once again to bring the prelude to "Rise of the Third Army", the Green Lantern event coming in October and November that will change the landscape for Hal Jordan, Sinestro, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and the rest.

Justice League #12
(Johns, Lee)
- Everyone's been talking about it, and it's finally here! The relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman that will set the status quo for the foreseeable future begins with a single kiss. "The Villain's Journey" wraps up this week, too. As if anyone cared at this point.

Justice League International Annual #1
(Johns, Didio, Fabok)
- Read this one after Justice League #12 as the final mission of the JLI begins! Truths will be revealed, new characters will make appearances, and more than likely, we'll get some set-up for next year's upcoming Justice League of America written by Geoff Johns.

4-Sentence Reviews, Part 1
- AvX: VS #5 of 6
- Detective Comics Annual #1
- Gambit #2
- Superman Annual #1

4-Sentence Reviews, Part 2
- National Comics: Looker
- Phantom Lady #1
- Wolverine and The X-Men #15
- X-Treme X-Men #2

4-SENTENCE REVIEWS (AUG 22-28)

Batman Incorporated #3
(Morrison, Burnham)



While last month's Bat-outing from Grant Morrison was interesting for it's historical context, an issue dedicated to Talia al Ghul was the wrong choice for a second issue in an already over-complex and intricate title, and after being pushed back due to the events in Aurora, Colorado last month, Batman Incorporated #3 finally gets its day in the sun. Grant Morrison pens the return of Matches Malone - Bruce's gangster alter-ego that hasn't been seen/used for years - in Batman's ongoing investigation into Leviathan and it's growing stranglehold on Gotham City. After a debut issue that only raised questions about everything, and last month's Talia-centricness, it's nice to see an actual plot emerging from this series. Oh, and Damian has a new alter-ego: Redbird.

GRADE: A



Before Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan #1 of 4
(Straczynski, Hughes)

If you have been following Before Watchmen at all, it's quite possible you understand the black-and-white situation being presented to us readers: each mini-series has it's own chance to succeed, but unless it blows our socks off (like Minutemen), it's not really worth the time or effort. Watchmen is such a mainstay, and so many people know the story that these prequels are having a hard time giving readers any new information worth giving. Doctor Manhattan #1 sits in this category as a series too mired in it's own bombast and philosophical mumbo-jumbo to really be engaging or interesting for a broader audience - unless you understand time travel mechanics and quantum theory, you're mostly just reading about a big blue guy who's having an identity crisis. I understand what J. Michael Straczynski was going for - a sort-of 'larger than life' take on some of humanity's most basic questions - but it comes off as sappy and derivative.

GRADE: C



Captain America and Namor #635.1
(Bunn, Conrad)

Though Captain America and... just finished up it's arc with Iron Man, Cullen Bunn throws us WWII-era Captain America fans a bone with Captain America and Namor #635.1, a 'point one' issue that details Cap and Namor facing the Kraken, an ancient weapon tied to the history of Atlantis that can unleash unspeakable power and destruction. The Thule society takes center stage in an episode that's meant to hearken back to those days - the days when Captain America and Namor fought side by side instead of standing against one another, when the bigger picture was more important than petty arguments. Overall, I really enjoy this look back on  Cap and Namor's WWII days - it's a time period that's often referenced and flashed-back to, but rarely used in actual arcs. I'm a big nerd for Namor, so seeing him at a time when he wasn't so completely "holier than thou" is a refreshing treat. (BONUS SENTENCE) The only thing that irked me was how Cap explains that he'll be fighting right beside his men the entire time they're engaging enemy forces, then he just runs off to help Namor without so much as a "Thank you, Sally."

GRADE: B



Superman #12
(Jurgens, McCarthy)

While Grant Morrison takes Superman to the weirdest corners of the character's world over in Action Comics, Dan Jurgens has been slowly getting Superman back on track after George Perez's abysmal opening arc. Splitting up the Man of Steel's adventures into two-issue, easier-to-swallow stories has be excellent for the character and his growth - though some of these minor baddies might seem redundant or uninspired (our inter-dimensional friend this month looks like a poor man's Predator), they serve to build Superman's 'Rogues Gallery'. Without a lineup of adversaries, what would our Big Blue Boy Scout do all day? One of my only real complaints (and this is really for the 'New 52' as a whole, not just this issue) is that Superman doesn't look young at all; instead, he actually looks far older than he should, like he's just about to celebrate his 40th birthday. Overall, Superman is slowly transforming from one of DC's most forgettable series into a high-quality title that does it's job: telling stories about Superman.

GRADE: B-

Thursday, August 23, 2012

THE FLASH #12

STORY: Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelatto
ART: Francis Manapul

A few months back, I was all in a tiff about The Flash. I finally decided I should start reviewing the series here on "The Endless Reel", and the first issue that comes around is nonstop speech bubbles about Weather Wizard's past. It was excruciating and I honestly almost stopped reading the book. Fortunately, July's excellent Captain Cold vs. Heat Wave was amazing, especially since it was precipitated by Barry giving himself a new identity and conversing with Cold in an old Rogues bar. The Flash #12 is like a flash of genius. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelatto have finally found a pacing that works for Flash and his villains. Up through last month, there was always a bit of indecision when it came to the speed of the plot. Now, we're beginning to see the reshaping of the Rogues under Captain Cold's sister, Glider, and a massive conflict between the Rogues, Cold, and Flash.

Manapul and Buccelatto have developed such a tight grasp of the Flash that it's uncanny how well they tell his stories. Barry Allen is mild-mannered, yes, but only to a certain point - in this issue, we see how Barry gets when he's pushed past his comfort zone. There's never any moments of doubt when it comes to how Manapul and Buccelatto write Barry; they understand his nuances and why the Flash can do and say so much more than Barry ever can. Before the 'New 52' relaunch, Barry was very much the same person in and out of costume - his sense of morality and his personality didn't flinch. It was something that honestly held the Flash back from being a true A-Lister getting his own movies and the such. These days, there's a clear distinction between the two sides of this man's life and it makes his character all the better for it.

Captain Cold deserves mention as well. His radical revamp in his new universe suits him well. Like many reimagined characters, getting an age makeover does wonders for Captain Cold's persona. It was always weird to see such an old, crotchety man on the streets battling a hero half his age for no other reason than to be bad. Cold has been reworked as a 'rebel without a cause' type who once had a purpose, but now lives life to the wind. It's a dilemma many 20-somethings face, making Cold all the more relatable and grounded, despite the fact that he can create walls of ice in mere seconds.

Manapul and Buccelatto's frantic script this month feels clustered at first, but eventually straightens out and packs about four big punches in a row before moving directly into the 'reeling in awe' stage. Rogues start coming out of the woodwork left and right, Glider takes steps to murder her brother and steal a monorail full of civilians, Flash confronts Dr. Darwin Elias about his accusations and slandering against the Scarlet Speedster, while Cold seeks revenge against his mutinous sister. There's a lot more to everything than what I just outlined, but that's the gist of things. Really, The Flash comes down to the details. Manapul and Buccelatto have mastered the art of subtle development and are now ready to tackle a full-scale super war starting in October, and I couldn't be more excited.

GRADE
A

TEEN TITANS #12

STORY: Scott Lobdell
ART: Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund

Whenever I review Teen Titans, I find my thoughts tend to devolve into "Scott Lobdell can't write." That's a harsh accusation and one that's barely accurate. Scott Lobdell does indeed have a lot of good ideas - he thinks big and writes even bigger. Too often, unfortunately, those thoughts are simply too big, causing Lobdell's entire structure to fall apart. This was the case for "The Culling", which was rooted in interesting causes, but was conveyed in such disarray, that it ended up being one of the weakest story arcs of 2012. On the flip side, Teen Titans #12 points out another monthly problem with Lobdell's writing: the inability to accurately express teenage dialogue.

Just like in the real world, each character in DC's universe has their own voice. One of the chief goals of a comic book writer is to convey said voice effectively while simultaneously injecting their own narrative flair. Writers like Geoff Johns and Scott Snyder understand this concept - one doesn't change so much as bend a character in an effort to develop something new. Pushing these heroes to their limits is acceptable, but Bruce Wayne's favorite band or hairstyle doesn't change from creative team to creative team.

One of the reasons Teen Titans feels so half-baked is because there hasn't been any effective character development. Basically, he's so wrapped up in his plot to pay any close attention to smaller details that build a character from the ground up. I've spent paragraphs outlining Lobdell's missteps, so I'll spare those of you who follow my coverage of TT. But this lack of development is really only the beginning of the problem.

Having cardboard cutouts as your main characters in issue 12 is a huge fault with Teen Titans #12. Without more concrete personalities, each member of the Titans ends up sounding like an uptight, 30-something rather than adventurous teenagers who have already seen more horrible things than most of us will ever see in our entire lives. "I'm sorry...but the longer I am fully covered in the Silent Armor, the less control I have over my actions," is about the blandest way this concept can be conveyed. Seriously, what kid talks like that? A much more believable sentence might read, "This armor...the more I wear it, the more I lose control" - it get's the same point across without sounding cold and clinical, like reading from a script or cue cards. Later, Red Robin chimes in with this gem, in reference to Cassie's soul becoming engulfed by the mystic armor: "I know that is you inside that armor!" A sentence so awkwardly structured that I had to read it again just to make sense of it in my head.

This strained, clumsy working of the English language isn't even normal for refined adults, let alone superpowered teenagers. In a motel off the Jersey Turnpike, Bunker, Kid Flash, and Solstice are holed up while Miguel recovers. As the ever-tenacious Bunker attempts to go help Superboy and Red Robin, only to fall to the floor in pain, Solstice analyze's the team's situation in yet another terribly awkward sentence: "Miguel, if we're going to be a team, which you have been such a strident proponent of, then we have to take our leader's orders seriously." (Aside from the atrocious substitution of commas in place of hyphens) When writing, it's a general rule of thumb to use the least amount of words possible while still effectively conveying your idea. The revised version of the above sentence could easily read, "If you want this team to work - something you've been fighting for quite adamantly - then you've got to follow Red Robin's orders." While not wildly different, the latter sentence flows so much more easily and naturally.

But enough of Jay's English Class.

Teen Titans #12 continues to look at the origin of Wonder Girl. And honestly, this arc has been far more interesting than anything so far - I really enjoyed the mythology and mystery surrounding the Silen Armor. Last month, we found out the Silent Armor was forged in the center of the sun and somehow causes Cassie pain and cuts years off her life. Now, things are getting harry as Cassie loses control to the armor more and more, harming her teammates in the process. Red Robin and Superboy hatch a plan to give Kon-El a sliver of separation between Cassie and the armor so he can use his telekinesis to separate them, thereby destroying the armor.

That's when homeboy Diesel shows up. Honestly, he's not that important yet. After taking the essence of the armor from Cassie while ripping her a new one for leaving him for dead, Diesel doesn't even try and fight Cassie - he just flies away. Cassie's remarks about the situation on the last page help make things interesting as far as cliffhangers go, but nonetheless, Diesel is still a pretty big enigma.

I spent a lot of time on this post, mostly because I feel that in the past, I may have lambasted Scott Lobdell without anything to back it up. Sure, I explained my general misgivings with his style, but I really wanted to find examples, evidence to my claims that the man just keeps tripping over one of the easiest character archetypes in the literary world: the awkward teenager. So while I'm admittedly impressed with this arc's mythological aspects, the Teen Titans themselves are still about as interesting as a plank of wood.

Also, where's Skitter?

GRADE
C+

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #12

STORY: Gregg Hurwitz
ART: David Finch

Batman: The Dark Knight started out as the weakest Batman title in DC's arsenal. Detective Comics explored the more emotional aspects of Bruce Wayne's life, Batman was all about the psychological, and Batman and Robin provided the familial themes so important to Batman's characterization. The Dark Knight didn't really have much to explore that the other three titles weren't already delving into, and it showed. It didn't help that David Finch - the acclaimed artist - was attempting scripting duties. Now that Gregg Hurwitz has taken over the writing duties, things have started to pick up with the debut of the 'New 52' Scarecrow.

Hurwtiz's Scarecrow is far more visceral than previous incarnations as the son to a mentally unbalanced psychologist (how ironically fun is that?), Crane has a disturbing connection to fear that makes a lot more sense with his inclinations to toy with fear on the molecular and chemical level. "Well, Dad...Take a look at me now!" hearkens to universal paternal issues that trigger deep-seeded rage. More interestingly, Hurwitz has made Crane's fear toxin a viable threat once again - it goes deeper and coaxes the subconscious fears that are usually blocked out.

"You see, that's why I understand you, Batman. You fear nothing. Except fear itself," pretty much sums up Batman as a whole. Bruce fights every day of his life to stave off the fear that criminals use to subdue their victims, but in the end, it's Batman himself who uses fear the most. He uses that fear to "prove yourself, over and over." - Scarecrow claims he's mastered fear while Bruce runs from it. On a psychological level, Bruce fills the void in his life with the fight against fear. On the emotional side, Batman uses fear as a crutch more often than not, and that's why Scarecrow can win, why he continues to be a thorn in Batman's side.

And that's the real tragedy: that Batman's void can really never be filled because he will never be able to conquer his own fear and ascend to a greater cause.

GRADE
A

GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS #12

STORY: Tony Bedard
ART: Tyler Kirkham and Batt

In college, there were many times when I would listen to an entire lecture and find that, even though I had taken notes, I really couldn't remember what was said. I get a similar sensation from Green Lantern: New Guardians, a series that has thrown a lot at readers, none of which seems to result in anything truly meaningful. The first arc was about finding out who brought the team together, but instead led into the "Invictus" arc dealing with the Angel of Vega's Orrery, the solar system-sized space station intended to replace the Vega System, which Invictus believed to be corrupted by Larfleeze. Unfortunately, there wasn't any real conclusion to that arc either. Now, in it's 12th issue, New Guardians needs to be making more strides than it has. It's time Tony Bedard started connecting all the dots and revealing the bigger picture. What we get instead is a meaningless showdown with Invictus, fluffed up revelations about Sayd the Guardian's intentions with the various rings, and the team members all going their separate way. I give Bedard points for effort; he has a lot of ideas that could indeed lead to something more in the future. But I was expecting answers this month and none came.

There's been an alarming amount of indirection in the pages of Green Lantern Family books since the 'New 52' relaunch last September. And really, New Guardians now leads the pack with a "conclusion" issue with no resolutions at all. Continued from last month, Kyle confronts Sayd about killing various colored Lanterns to secure rings in her efforts to create the "New Guardians". In true comic book style, Saint Walker and Fatality force Kyle to back off until the ever-looming Invictus can be dealt with. Most of the issue is spent on the fight with Invictus, who seems to be a lot less powerful than he was four issues ago. Seriously, that's a huge oversight in this arc - Invictus' power fluxes from godly down to 'easy enough to beat in ten pages' very abruptly. The Weaponer's move this issue - that's sure to have ramifications in coming issues - causes Invictus' downfall, so it wasn't even really a victory for the Rainbow Brigade.

New Guardians has been lauded as one of the most underrated team books in DC's current lineup. It's surprising, really, when you've got amazing books like Demon Knights and Red Hood and The Outlaws that really do reinvent the team dynamic for a new age. New Guardians, on the other hand, tends to drift toward the cliche more than the innovative. Sure, Invictus is a cool villain, but he's done now, without ever really fleshing out his potential as an ongoing villain. It's frustrating, as the 'New 52' is supposed to be about bringing new ideas into the fold. Kyle's pep talk is a high point of this issue, but it's definitely not enough to be emotionally impactful, and the fact that the other members leave the team anyway is evidence to that fact.

These days, Green Lantern books are all about the future, which makes sense with "Rise of the Third Army" coming in October and November, but it can be off-putting to continually buy issues that are only leading to something else. I'm all for proper build-up and development, but when actual plot is sacrificed to create a trumped-up prelude, things start getting annoying.

GRADE
C

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

UPCOMING REVIEWS (AUG 22-28)

Batman: The Dark Knight #12
(Hurwitz, Finch)
- Gregg Hurwitz's fantastic arc featuring the 'New 52' revamped Scarecrow continues this month with Batman in the clutches of Jonathan Crane! Will the Dark Knight be Scarecrow's guinea pig? Plus, more is revealed about Crane's disturbed past.

Before Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan #1 of 4

(Straczynski, Wein)
- Cryptic as ever, the most I can say about DC's promos for this is that it features the most emo of the Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan. I'll be interested to see what's covered in this series, as the original Watchmen covered Doc's past pretty well.


The Flash #12
(Manapul, Buccelatto)
- Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelatto continue to assemble Flash's Rogues as they set up the next major arc for the series that will start in October. Honestly, I'm just in it for Manapul's artwork right now.

Green Lantern: New Guardians #12
(Bedard, Kirkham)
- This month, revelations are abound as the ring stealer is unveiled, Larfleeze gets his due, and there should be some showdown with Invictus, I'd assume.

Superman #12
(Jurgens, Merino)
- So, the big ugly from the bottom of the sea in issue nine is back? Alright. And Superman is going to stop him! Superman really should be getting much better than it's been. It's a flagship title (technically), and with the high level of quality in Batman, the Man of Steel is getting left in the dust.


Teen Titans #12

(Lobdell, Booth)
- The mystery surrounding Wonder Girl's armor continues with the introduction of Diesel, someone with connections to Cassie's past. Also, Fabian Nicieza finishes up his Kid Flash back-up. Not so much looking forward to that.

4-Sentence Reviews
- Batman Incorporated #3
- Captain America & Namor #635.1
- I, Vampire #12
- Justice League Dark #12   

4-SENTENCE REVIEWS (AUG 15-21)

Avengers #29
(Bendis, Simonson)

Now in it's fifth month, Avengers vs. X-Men is beginning to become a little tiresome, and the evidence doesn't come quite as perfectly as in Avengers #29, an issue that focuses on Rachel Grey and the Avengers' attempt to sway her loyalties in efforts to retain a powerful psychic soldier of their own. If that sentence wasn't enough evidence that writers are now grasping for straws when it comes to AvX side-stories, I don't know what will. Seriously, Avengers #29 is so bland and full of unnecessary plot that even the die-hard event readers will have a tough time justifying this issue's existence; I understand this event is supposed to be affecting the Marvel universe on a grand scale, but where are the random bar brawls, or the anonymous vandalism directed at each team? Marvel could have made this whole crossover far more visceral and impactful, and Avengers #29 is the exact opposite of these ideals: it's long, boring, and useless.

GRADE: C


Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1 of 4

(Azzarello, Bermejo)

Rorschach is Brian Azzarello's second attempt at bringing readers a decent Before Watchmen series that isn't stuck in 1960s stereotypes and thought processes. Rorschach's adventures are far more interesting than those of Eddie Blake, but unfortunately, Azzarello simply can't seem to write an impactful story set in this universe. Rorschach is about our titular 'hero' going after a serial killer murdering whores throughout the city - instead of attempting to give Rorschach more characterization, Azzarello is content with simply giving readers more of the same. We already know that Rorschach doesn't like whores or killers, so why do I need to read a series that just reiterates these facts over and over again? (Here's a hint: I don't).

GRADE: C


Captain Marvel #2
(DeConnick, Soy)

One big problem with characters that are anything other than white American males is that they're expected to be ambassadors for their respective 'minority' group - African-American heroes tend to have race-related story arcs, teenagers get stories that emulate their awkward emotions, and women have to feminists, fighting for the greater good of women everywhere. There's nothing wrong with these practices, per se (diversity is usually a great thing), but they limit the scope and potential these characters have by forcing them to tackle such specific issues. Hence, my major problem with Captain Marvel so far has been Kelly Sue DeConnick's insatiable need to connect Carol Danvers to heroic women from the past, something that really isn't necessary for such an already-strong character. I want to go on record saying I really, really, really enjoy Captain Marvel - the art is fantastic and the narrative pacing is great - but it's still finding it's wings, searching for a voice for Carol that's not simply "strong female" and "girl power."

GRADE: B-


Green Lantern Corps #12

(Tomasi, Gleason)

After four rocky issues, Green Lantern Corps comes around with the conclusion to "Alpha War", an arc that saw the trial of John Stewart for the murder of a fellow Lantern, a lot of Guardian vagueness concerning the Third Army, Guy Gardner being Guy Gardner, and now, the end of the Alpha Lanterns. Green Lantern Corps #12 picks up from last issue with the Alphas facing a massive reprogrammed Manhunter golem, but slowly turns its attention to the emotional aspects of being an Alpha, and where those who investigate their peers stand when it comes down to what is right and what is wrong. While the rest of the Alphas are dedicated to their fight, Alpha Varix starts questioning their actions and soon becomes an ally for the Corps, sacrificing himself in the end to save the brotherhood he loved so much. While I wasn't impressed with most of this arc, Peter J. Tomasi really stepped up his game this month and brought a great conclusion that actually achieved emotional resonance and made me excited for upcoming issues.

GRADE: A


Red Hood and The Outlaws #12
(Lobdell, Green II)

Focusing all of his plotting efforts on Superboy and Teen Titans has made Red Hood and The Outlaws Scott Lobdell's best current series by far, where instead of worrying about cryptic, grand enemies, Jason Todd, Roy Harper and Starfire are involved in more character-driven stories that have built them up as people instead of a group of faceless masks. We're right in the middle of the current arc - where Starfire drags the boys into outer space to answer the call of duty from her home world of Tamaran - as the gang prepares for an assault on the surface of the planet to confront the Blithe, the alien species responsible for Tamaran's enslavement. The story itself is minimalistic and fun, but Jason Todd is starting to lose his personality; while the first eight issues highlighted Jason's fractured mental state and how he interacted with the rest of the world, he's becoming just another Batman ally, one who talks about "innocents" and "duty" a bit too much for my taste, especially after being a fan of his more dour behavior for the past year. Fortunately, Blackfire - Starfire's sister - is introduced in these pages, showing that the Tamaranian sisters have a solid relationship unhindered by past transgressions or rumors from across the galaxy.

GRADE: B+


Saga #6
(Vaughan, Staples)

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have been banging out a new issue of Saga every month since February, and the quality, scope, and grandeur of the series is palpable. As the end of the sort-of 'Act I', Saga #6 doesn't really answer so many questions as much as it brings closure to Marco and Alana's first major hurdle: escaping the surface into outer space. Prince Robot IV's future is alluded to, as he informs a high-ranking government agent that the Wreath high command is aware of the half-breed baby, leading to the agent informing IV that he's got to complete his mission before coming home - a goal IV has had since the first issue. Now that Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are taking a much-deserved two month break, it's time to start rereading all six current issues all over again!

GRADE: A



Supergirl #12
(Green, Johnson, Asrar)

The initial six issues of Supergirl threw a lot of plot at readers - Michael Green and Mike Johnson did a adequate job mixing the Worldkillers story in with Kara Zor-El's personal conflict against herself and the alien world she finds herself in. Now- after beating the Worldkillers at their own game, finding a new Irish friend, and warding off the evil presence of Black Banshee - Supergirl takes some time to revisit Kal-El, who approached her and was rebuffed way back in issue two. In extended scenes fleshing out Kara's trip to Supes' new 'ice fortress', then down into the depths of the oceans, Green and Johnson do an incredible job with inner monologue, something many creative teams for the 'New 52' have tried and failed at producing effectively. Simon Tycho makes his second appearance (his first was back in Supergirl #3, when he attempted to convince Kara to be a lab rat) as someone doing anything and everything in his power to get to Kara, and it's amazingly creepy.

GRADE: A

Monday, August 20, 2012

DC UNIVERSE PRESENTS #12

STORY: Fabian Nicieza
ART: Jorge Jimenez

Thus far, DC Universe Presents has done a grand job reintroducing DC characters into the 'New 52' universe. The first five issues revamped Deadman with a grander scope and better development than years of pre-'New 52' stories did. And while "Challengers of the Unknown" was a bit out there, "Savage" brought James Robinson's visceral interpretation of Vandal Savage and the relationship he shares with his estranged daughter. This month, Fabian Nicieza and Jorge Jimenez bring a single issue dedicated to Kid Flash, a fan-favorite whose 'New 52' retool has been sparse, to put it lightly. Up to now, Bart Allen has existed to provide Teen Titans with some much needed (yet frustratingly bad) comic relief. When the announcement went out that DC Universe Presents #12 would focus on the youngest speedster in the DCU, I got pretty excited at the prospect of learning more about Kid Flash. Unfortunately, all that Nicieza and Jimenez accomplished was introducing some lame new villains. What started out as a promised look into the origins of Bart Allen turned into a by-the-books solo adventure for Bart that puts him at odds with the Dinosoids...or the Saurians...the cover says one thing while the story says another.

Sure, 'Dinosaurs in Manhattan!' is an astounding prospect, but Nicieza manages to find the lamest way to present the idea. After breaking the fourth wall for a moment - something that would be far more effective if Kid Flash did that...ever - Bart takes us to New York City, where he's in hot pursuit of the flying Dinosoid. It's a real tragedy that the faintly developed Kid Flash's only real characterization has been his lust for girls. Sure, it's a tried and true teenage stereotype that's used to convey a variety of different stories, but isn't Bart dating Solstice? Did they break up? On top of that, Bart goes on a tangent about Mystery Island, claiming that it "bisects time and space and is a sinkhole for the impossible". In what issue was any of that explained? I went back and reread the Superboy-Teen Titans two-parter and found no mention of any of this. If the intention was for this issue to continue the mystery surrounding the island filled with dinosaurs, it does so in the most blunt and frustrating way possible. But back to the Dinosoids (I feel so silly every time I type that.)

The three rogue Dinosoids go by the mega-cliched Dac, Teryx, and Steg. In a bout of utter mediocrity and laziness, Dac is a Pterodactyl-like dino-kid, Teryx is your run-of-the-mill variety just so he can look the coolest (basically a human with a tail and red skin); and Steg, with a bardb-lined tail akin to those of a Stegosaurus. They hoped a ride on Danny the Street to Earth from their dimension that's somehow connected to Mystery Island, and what starts out as seemingly innocent fun in a new dimension turns into a Dinosoid Power convention when Steg and Dac reveal that they'd like to turn all of humanity into Dinosoids and build a Dinosoid empire on Earth. If I never have to write the word 'Dinosoid' again after this review, I'll be happy. Oh, and the story isn't over. You have to read the ending in Teen Titans #12. So, yeah.

In interviews, Nicieza outlined his idea for this Kid Flash story, how it would begin as a back-up story in Teen Titans #11, continue on into DC Universe Presents #12 with a bulk of the story and a lot more revealed about Kid Flash's origins, and end in a back-up in Teen Titans #12. While in theory this sounds interesting, in reality, it's utter silliness. The five-page 'opening act' is so bare-bones on story that it's completely not worth reading, and the fact that you're forced to buy Teen Titans #12 just to get the finale is money-grubbing. I really was looking forward to this odd little three-part experiment. And perhaps in better hands, it could have been pulled off. But trying to convey a story in such odd increments seems almost backwards, so unconventional that it actually doesn't work. If this story is the model for the technique, it will be quite some time before anyone tries it a second time.

GRADE
D

AVENGERS vs. X-MEN #10 of 12

STORY: Ed Brubaker
ART: Adam Kubert and John Dell

For the last five months, Avengers vs. X-Men has broken the Marvel universe into two factions (not dissimilar from 2007's Civil War), pitting friends against one another, driving wedges through once-solid relationships, and generally airing dirty laundry from years of rising mutual resentment. In many ways, AvX lives up to it's goal of bookending eight years of stories that started with House of M: it includes all five of Marvel's biggest creators, it focuses on some of the company's most popular franchises, and it's the culmination of a near-decade's worth of events that have compounded upon one another to create the high levels of tension, envy, and mistrust necessary for a major crossover event such as this. Unfortunately, we're getting to the end of the road for Avengers vs. X-Men. As we hit this issue ten, Marvel has already been spilling details for weeks about the upcoming 'Marvel NOW!' initiative that hopes to start a fire under the House of Ideas by bringing fresh voices to accomplished series to not only attract new readers, but also to see how various creators handle different characters and what that means for the future of the Marvel universe. More and more, the focus is shifting away from the fight between Earth's Mightiest Heroes and the Children of the Atom because we know it has to end. It would be silly for Marvel to not plan for the future, but the barrage of advertisements for it's post-AvX world feels like they're leaving their current event behind...the one that's happening right now.

Avengers vs. X-Men is a fun story. It's just that simple. No matter how much nitpicking I do as a journalist, or how much complaining about exact chronological continuity a comic book fan does, crossover events are meant to be fun and at the end of the day, comic book companies sell fun. With that being said, Marvel has it's five biggest writers and some of it's best artists working on this series, so I'm going to fine-tooth-comb this issue. I'll start with the easier stuff.

One of the major problems with a rotating crew of creators is that each of these writers has their own style and voice, and a change of voice from issue to issue can be at best disconcerting and at worst frustrating and unjustifiable. This happens because with unique voice also comes a certain mood and feel of the story, which in turn can affect the pencilling and shading. Ed Brubaker has been writing Captain America in one form or another for the last 10 years. In that time, Steve Rogers has become somewhat reclusive, opting to grimace instead of smile, and undertaking secret assignments more akin to black ops than the battlefront he was used to. And while this worked well for the Sentinel of Liberty, Brubaker's understated style doesn't quite fit with the grand scope of Avengers vs. X-Men. At many points throughout the issue, I found myself somewhat bored, uninterested in why things were happening. It has to do with Brubaker's pacing, more than anything, as this series is meant to be high-speed, or at least quick-moving, yet there's no sense of that in Avengers vs. X-Men #10.

Similarly, a constantly changing creative voice can warp characterization quite quickly if not kept in check. Take Magneto as an example in this issue. Erik Lehnsherr is one of the most brilliant, innovative, driven, motivated, intelligent, powerful mutants on the entire planet, and Brubaker tries to tell us readers that he can't escape Emma Frost. I'm sure some may say he doesn't want to leave Utopia, this series is about fun, but having the Master of Magnetism - no matter how 'good' he's become - bend over for the likes of Frost flies in the face of his years of history. Of course, the absolute power being wielded by Cyclops and Emma Frost has struck fear into the hearts of humans and mutants everywhere, even subduing the most brash of X-Men, such as Cannonball, in a scene that shows how the power of the Phoenix amplifies the host's natural tendencies. Scott's uses his power to bring about peace, not matter what the cost - it's a perverted interpretation of the lessons Charles Xavier taught Scott years ago. Likewise, Emma Frost is vain and egotistical, leading to her monarchial stance and holier-than-thou attitude when it comes to everyone that isn't her (including, I'm gathering from issue 11 promos, Scott). She uses her power less to hurt people and do physical damage, and more to make those she deems lesser-than know their place.

As much as I've enjoyed Adam Kubert's pencilling and John Dell's inking over the past five three issues, Kubert's pencils are starting to show their age. He's been drawing Phoenix Nightwing for a least the past 90 days, and still Scott looks like an old man from time to time due to the overuse of facial lines. Really, I love the Kuberts and their work. Joe Kubert passed this week (R.I.P.), and it was a great loss for the entire comic book community. His sons have done an excellent job over the years maintaining their father's quality, and they look to continue to do so going forward. So it's a little disappointing that this issue feels rushed.

At the end of the day, this is issue ten. It's not the first issue, and it's not the halfway point. It's not even an act change. Very much so, Avengers vs. X-Men #10 is like the prelude to the end. With only two issues left, we know there's got to be a big reveal, a big death, and some choice words for a few of our favorite characters that will leave them reeling in disbelief. Unfortunately, none of those things happened this week.

GRADE
B

Sunday, August 19, 2012

BLUE BEETLE #12

STORY: Tony Bedard
ART: Ig Guara and JP Mayer

Blue Beetle #12 is the culmination of a year's worth of stories. Sure, this might sound familiar to the likes of Batman and Action Comics, but for a smaller title such as Tony Bedard's about a teenager who suddenly inherits seemingly unending power, taking the longer, better developed path can be a risky endeavor. Fortunately for Jaime Reyes and his scarab, this gamble has paid off and Blue Beetle is one of the most solid, well rounded titles that DC offers every month. While the first few months felt a bit rushed and convoluted, it soon became clear that Bedard was emulating the adolescent experience - that of misunderstanding, universal awkwardness, and coping with change. Unlike Teen Titans or Superboy - both of which have spent their entire runs steeped in heavy superhero mythos - Tony Bedard has only lightly touched on grander plot points with Blue Beetle, opting instead to develop Jaime as a person, as opposed to simply another hero like, say, Bart Allen thus far,

 And really, the use of universal teenage emotions is only one of of the ways Bedard keeps Blue Beetle grounded, while also making sure that the armor gets a good workout each issue. I'm not a religious person, but I appreciate religious symbolism and it's inclusion in art when it's done with integrity and without bias. Simply put, Tony Bedard understands the that a lesson from religion doesn't translate into dogmatic belief. The issue's opening scene involves the scarab scanning Jaime's grandmother's apartment and focusing on the crucifixion hanging on the wall, and it's confusion over an idea like self-sacrifice for the good of others. It's a short scene, but one that resonates throughout the issue, then more specifically when Jaime goes up against the 'Blood Beetle'.

Probably the weakest part of the issue is the actual 'moral of the story'. In the middle of the final fight, Jaime wishes he could find a way to remove the armor's medical implant without killing Paco in the process. Contrary to it's explanation during the Beetles' first bout some issues back, the scarab is able to remove the 'med-tick' only by cloning part of Jaime's heart to replace the implant. It's a risky procedure, apparently, but it pays off; Paco is safe, the med-tick is safely back within the scarab armor, and Jaime is reunited with his friends. Jaime asks the scarab why it didn't just save Paco in this fashion the first time around, to which the scarab replies, "Because victory through self-sacrifice was an alien concept. Until today." It's because Bedard is so good at subtly conveying ideas and emotions that it's jarring when he changes pace and writes more frankly.

The ability to make a generally lesser-known character more popular is an under-appreciated skill these days. Characters like Wolverine, Batman, and Superman have a built-in fan base. Now, that's not to say that writing these characters doesn't present their own challenges, but starting from scratch can be a daunting task for any writer. Tony Bedard aptly handles the teenaged Blue Beetle, offering up a narrative flow that keeps the series grounded enough to be relatable, but includes enough weirdness to keep it interesting. If you haven't read Blue Beetle, you should.

GRADE
A

Thursday, August 16, 2012

GREEN LANTERN #12

STORY: Geoff Johns
ART: Renato Guedes and Jim Calafiore

With a workload as big as Geoff Johns', it's not surprising that some of his work would fall behind the others, even if it's just a little bit. In the initial months of the 'New 52', many agreed that Justice League took the title of the 'less good' Geoff Johns series. Green Lantern is beginning to show signs that Johns has turned his focus elsewhere, which is unfortunate as he really brought the Emerald Warriors back into the limelight with Green Lantern: Rebirth, which reintroduced Hal Jordan back into the world of the living and altered the stats quo for GL forever. Then he took his initial ideas even further, spurring a war between the Green Lanterns and Sinestro's fear-mongering yellow Corps, the revelation of the existence seven colored Corps, the great war against the Black Lanterns, and the subsequent fallout that resulted in the first White Lantern. Really, Geoff Johns has plotted Green Lantern's trajectory for the past eight years. It's this fact that makes the 'New 52' Green Lantern just so disappointing.

Because GL history wasn't rebooted - allowing the past five reals years of comic books to still matter - the three arcs of Green Lantern since last September have all been direct continuations of the events preceding the relaunch. But while Johns' pre-'New 52' arcs seemed filled with action, adventure, and mystery, these new arcs feel bogged down under their own weight. Too often in the past year, I've found myself wondering why so much time is being given to so little plot or characterization. Sure, the Indigo Tribe was a thorn in everybody's side, but their story probably shouldn't have been condensed to a four-issue arc that basically mirrored Hal's earlier encounter with Larfleeze.

And now, "The Revenge of Black Hand"; yet another dredging-up of an old story element that has me (and I'm guessing a bunch of other readers) saying "This again?" Green Lantern #12 is a typical filler issue. Hot off the end of "Indigo", William Hand escaped and killed himself, thereby producing a brand spanking new Black Lantern and ring. Last month's cliffhanger led me to believe a showdown was coming this month between Hal and Will, something that actually could have been interesting. Instead, we're treated to an issue of rhetoric, more of the Guardian's being Guardians, and generally no plot advancement at all.

GL #12 starts off with Black Hand's confusion over the Book of Black - an ancient tome containing Black Lantern prophecies - and it's newly cast claim that "Hal Jordan is NOT your enemy." Before anything is allowed to develop, Hal uses his ring to "fried every synapse in his brain", a torturous technique that's apparently acceptable when the man you're fighting isn't technically alive. Hand is out for the rest of the issue, leaving Hal and Sinestro to talk amongst themselves - a back-and-forth that is becoming increasingly less witty and special when it happens every other issue - and the Guardians to wax poetic about how much they've screwed up and how everybody else is going to pay for it.

Oh, and there are zombies. Because we don't have enough zombies in every inch of media these days.

Then, seven pages are dedicated to a short fight ended by a four-year-old battle tactic against a five-year-old enemy. Hal and Sinestro need a second colored Lantern to make their green constructs lethal to Black Lantern connections. We've known this for years. A bunch of fighting happens, and then Sinestro grabs his Yellow Lantern from a pocket dimension and they destroy it, thereby unleashing the yellow energy and severing Black Hand's connection to his zombie army. And it only succeeded in slowing down the Black Lantern, not destroying him. With a plot so full of cliches from so many sources, it's a wonder anyone is taking Green Lantern seriously right now. Black Hand is back? Boring. Zombies? Just like everywhere else. Multi-colored assault? You mean like the entirety of Blackest Night and Brightest Day??? It's all so mundane at this point that it's hard to even like Hal Jordan anymore. While he's pretty egotistical and vain in Justice League, at least he has personality, unlike the wooden plank he's become in Green Lantern.

The big reveal at the end of the issue leads up to the new Green Lantern, the Islamic one we've been seeing in promo shots and that appeared on the final page spread of The New 52 #1 this year for 'Free Comic Book Day'. A few months ago, nobody understood how this new GL fit into things, but as we get closer to October's "Rise of the Third Army", everything is starting to become clearer. Hopefully, this crossover can inject some life into this series, which has slowly been on the decline since last September.

GRADE
C+

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

4-SENTENCE REVIEWS (AUG 8-13)

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #2 of 4
(Wein, Lee)


Part of being an effective storyteller is knowing when to leverage 'showing' as opposed to 'telling', how to portray a character in the best way, and figuring out the best way to keep your audience interested. In the case of Ozymandias, Len Wein has found a nigh-perfect balance with Adrien Veidt, a man who takes the time to dictate his own autobiography because he's exactly the kind of person who would do something like that. While other characters like Comedian and (most of) the Minutemen weren't heavily characterized, even in the original Watchmen, Ozymandias has always had a god complex, a feeling that is thrilling to watch evolve as Adrien discovers more and more about how to be the hero he wants to be. I went into this series expecting it to be one of my least favorite of this whole Before Watchmen experiment, but I've found that it's pleasantly enjoyable and actually adds information that's worth reading (instead of, say, showing Eddie Blake killing Vietnamese soldiers).

GRADE: B



The Ravagers #4

(Mackie, Sampere, Martino, Rapmund)

The Ravagers has been anything but consistent so far in it's run that started back in May as part of DC's 'New 52: Second Wave' - it started as a spin-off to an already convoluted storyline, and since then hasn't really been able to pull itself up above being a series about a bunch of troubled kids who are angst-ridden. Now, this might be tolerable if the plot was strong, but Howard Mackie has really struggled to characterize and develop any of the main players of this series: Caitlin Fairchild is almost exclusively a worry machine, Thunder and Lightning have a stereotypical brother and sister relationship, I still really have no idea who Ridge is, while Beast Boy and Terra exhibit super-cliched "us vs. them" isolationist behavior. And they aren't actually even 'Ravagers' at all, in the strictest sense, meaning that this series' title is a total mislead. I have to hope for something better in the future, as all of these characters could be connected to other teenage series down the road - something I hope will inject something interesting into this lackluster series.

GRADE: C-

Spider-Men #4 of 5
(Bendis, Pichelli)

One my biggest pet peeves about comic books is misleading covers, and Spider-Men #4 commits a capitol sin in this regard, showing a broken and beaten Miles Morales in the arms of a distressed Peter Parker - a powerful image that never, irritatingly, ever happens in this issue, or even comes close to happening. In fact, this entire issue is about relationships, foregoing most if not all fighting in exchange for Peter connecting with people he's lost in his own universe, as well as meeting alternate versions of some of his closest allies. There's nothing wrong with this issue, per se - the emotional impact of Peter being in the Ultimate universe are palpable at Brian Michael Bendis' hand, and Sara Pichelli's artwork is stunning as ever - but the fact that the image on the cover was decided upon purely to sell more issues is truly frustrating. It's frustrating when such a good issue from such a good series and such good creators has such a big flub.

GRADE: B-

Monday, August 13, 2012

RICHARD STARK'S PARKER: THE SCORE


Story: Darwyn Cooke
Art: Darwyn Cooke

Period pieces are a tricky business. Even if the author lived through it, the ability to bring the cultural and emotional nuances of a given era into written form for a new generation can be challenging. Not unlike how those born after 1985 never had the same emotional connection to Michael Jackson as the prior generation, attempting to immerse oneself in a specific time period can be a detaching experience by it’s very nature. Mostly, the problem comes down to details. Anyone can write a sweeping epic dated in the early 17th century when pirates roamed the seven seas and empires were quickly gaining momentum around the globe. Not everyone can create effective narratives through subtle minutiae and analytical insights into things like wealth and power, class inequality, or universal human nature. Similar to how Mad Men became a sensation for it’s dour – yet hauntingly accurate – depictions of the same era, Darwyn Cooke’s Parker series has consistently brought readers an excitingly bleak, rapturously dark stories that effectively use the time period to bring meaning to the story, instead of resting on the fact. The first in the series, The Hunter, set a bar for 1960s period pieces in comic books, mostly because of Cooke’s uncanny ability to convey that time in America’s history, not only through his narrative skills, but also because of his amazingly appropriate neo-retro art style that’s made him famous in recent years. After finishing up Parker’s situation with a nationwide criminal syndicate in The Outfit, Cooke returns this summer with The Score, the third in his Parker adaptations of seminal author Richard Stark’s novels of the same name. While the plot of this original graphic novel isn’t directly connected to the first two books, The Score stands as the best Parker story yet.

A cardinal sin of storytelling is to tell the audience something rather than show them; it’s far more effective to describe a character’s insane actions than to simply explain that the character is mentally unstable. One of the best parts of the Parker series has been how much Cooke lets his art do the talking. As writer and artist, Cooke has the ability to more precisely leverage the words he writers with the pictures he draws, playing one off the other for more dramatic nuance. The opening scene of The Score illustrates this fact perfectly. Parker is being followed by a rather ordinary looking fellow through the streets of Jersey City for six pages before any words appear on the page. We get too watch as Parker evades his stalker, little by little, until the master thief makes his move. Cooke’s ability to show rather than tell is even stronger in The Score, which features much more dialogue than either The Hunter or The Outfit. With less space to stretch his legs artistically, Cooke succeeds in continuing to utilize his art just as much as his words.

The Score is about the biggest heist of Parker’s life. After an exhausting series of events with the Outfit, Parker is content to stay out of the limelight (so to speak) for a while. Only when he is presented with a job so big he wouldn’t have to work for years does he raise an eyebrow and agree to hear the plan out. Parker is such an exceptional character because he’s pragmatic. Too often, logical reasoning gets pushed to the wayside to make way for a scintillating story or plot twist that doesn’t pay off as much as the author would like to believe. Richard Stark’s characterization of Parker makes him as stoic a man as one can be, trading in all forms of emotional attachment for peace of mind. (Of course, if you read The Hunter, you know what happened when Parker did have an emotional connection and how badly it ended.) He never lets his guard down, and never makes stupid mistakes. Some may argue this point would be a flaw in the character, akin to how Superman barely has any weaknesses. In fact, Parker’s strengths become his weaknesses as he cuts out more and more people he considers untrustworthy.

The plan involves robbing an entire town in six hours. The mining town is isolated, located miles away from the any other city and built within a canyon resulting in a single route in or out of the town. Because of its unique location, all the calls are routed through the small phone company, any alarm simply notifies the police, and everyone uses the same bank. The job is complicated, including tasks such as securing the entire police station, monitoring all calls in and out of the town, breaking into safes, avoiding the state trooper barracks six miles down the road, finding and securing a safe location for the days after the heist, and keeping the public none the wiser throughout it all. Imagine Oceans Eleven except way, way less self-obsessed and flashy.

In any other plot-driven narrative, character development would get lost in the meticulous story planning and advancement. Fortunately, Cooke masterfully conveys the minor quirks and intricacies of even minor characters like Cho, Grofield, Wycza, Wiss, Palm, Elkins, Chambers, “Pop”, and Salsa. Yes, none of these men get first names, but why would they? In Parker’s world of secrets and shadow operations, knowing someone’s real identity is as much of a liability as not trusting them at all. We don’t need to know their real names to form emotional connections with these characters. Where Parker provides the cold, steely logic in the group, the supporting cast brings humanity and diversity. In The Hunter and The Outfit, there were good guys (more or less) and bad guys. This time, Parker and his friends are less noble in their causes, leading to moments of ethical relativism.

Throughout it all, Cooke keeps things simple. Much like Parker, Cooke only uses the words he absolutely needs to, and only when it’s necessary. And while the artwork is full, rich, and textured, it only shows us what we need to see. The tale unfolds in a fairly predictable way, so it becomes the detail and the style that really make The Score so fantastic. The twists and turns in the plan offer some interesting narrative mechanics, but even then, the focus stays on Parker and his interactions with those around him. There is no “MAJOR DEATH!” or “HUGE SHAKE-UP!” at the end. There are no scenes of decadent parties or celebrations in honor of a job well done. These men understand their place in the world, a world where what they do is illegal and how they accomplish what they do can sometimes become violent and deadly. They don’t vilify themselves or each other, but they also don’t fool themselves into thinking that what they do is good, in the strictest sense of the word.

The Score succeeds on every front: as a solid period piece, as an excellent adaptation of a fantastic book, and as a solid graphic experience of the 1960s through the lens of a quiet, unyielding thief with nothing to lose. Richard Stark’s source material provides the content, and Darwyn Cooke’s nigh perfect handling of said material is breathtaking in the way he mirrors the minimalism of the era through controlled and paced dialogue, monochrome panels that somehow have more life than most color-filled pages these days, and overall mood and style. This original graphic novel stands on it’s own as a monumental achievement, even if you haven’t read the first two books. A library of Parker novels means that Cooke has plenty of material to play with. Hopefully, he’ll continue this excellent series that continues to set the example for how comic books can be done right.

SCORE: 9/10

Friday, August 10, 2012

BATMAN AND ROBIN #12

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

After a pretty awesome first arc and a better-than-average contribution to "Night of the Owls", Batman and Robin has really found a place as a title focused on the relationship between these two characters and how it differs from former Robins because Damian is Bruce's son. Damian is a very complex character that Grant Morrison created (kind of), built up quite a bit, then just left for everyone else to clean up. In many ways, it would be like having divorced parents with passionate political beliefs that were polar opposite from one another. Damian was raised a loyal Libertarian, and has been thrust into the world of Democrats that he's only now beginning to understand, though he still feels inclined to prove his self worth by any means necessary. Unfortunately, all of these excellent elements surrounding Damian's characterization only show up sparingly throughout this current arc, and not at all in this issue.

"Terminus Maximus" has been billed as the 'main arc' of the past three issues, yet until Batman and Robin #12, you could have fooled me and said the big story was "War of the Robins", a side story concerning Damian's desire to defeat each of the former Robins in an effort to prove himself the best of Batman's sidekicks. Indeed, the "Robins" arc is far more insightful and interesting, as it has to do with emotional ramifications instead of blind villainy. Damian is a 10 year old assassin child challenging much older, stronger men to bouts of strength and wits - tell me that's not more awesome than a plot about yet another psychotic villain who wants to kill Batman and give Gotham the "truth". However I feel about the quality of each story, "Terminus" takes the spotlight this issue, as DC billed the issue as "The Final fight with Terminus!" Though, this is the one and only meeting, let alone fight, that Batman and Terminus have had. I don't know why Peter J. Tomasi wanted to crush a six-issue story into three, but he does so here with as much grace as a Juggernaut in a china shop.

Terminus himself is a pretty by-the-books villain, one who believes that Batman has made the city worse through his actions. Now, Termy wants to make the city fear Batman by sending out an army of lunatics to brand civilians with a bat symbol. While that particular part of the arc is cool, the entirety of the attack on Gotham lasted less than one issue. This month, it's all about Batman vs. Terminus, though there's really not a lot of logic to it. Terminus takes his name because he's terminal, and also because he wants to terminate Batman, I'm going to assume. Beyond that, we don't know anything about this guy. He doesn't have a proper name, his sickness is never given adequate explanation, and his hatred for Batman never evolves past vague "your actions affected me negatively" emotions that aren't based in anything real.

It's a real shame that "War of the Robins" not only ends this issue, but also gets pushed to the severe edges of the narrative. As Bats and Robin take on Terminus and this thugs, Nightwing, Red Robin, and Red Hood show up to lend a hand to save their city from this villain-of-the-week. The panels featuring all the former (and current) Robins together are filled with witty banter and snaps at each other much like brothers in the backyard. It's really at this point, nearly 2/3 of the way through the issue, that things start getting interesting, and it's because Tomasi finally starts focusing on relationships for a moment.

Now that "Terminus" is in the past, we have Batman and Robin #0 to look forward to next month, hopefully shedding some light onto the formative years of Damian's life in the League of Assassins. Because really, I just want to forget Terminus was even a villain. Tomasi even had to throw in a biochemical warhead for Batman to stop to make Termy more that just another faceless threat. But even that didn't work.

GRADE
B