Sunday, September 30, 2012

BATMAN INCORPORATED #0

STORY: Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham
ART: Frazer Irving

I've been pretty on-the-fence with Batman Incorporated since it started back in May. Before the 'New 52', the idea of soliciting out the Batman name seemed absolutely ridiculous - even Grant Morrison's name attached to it couldn't persuade me to believe that a character as dark, brooding, and shadowy as Batman would ever think about turning himself into a brand. The concept, to me, seemed like an idea that came from a lack of ideas. What else is there to do with Batman now except make him go global? I felt like it conveyed a lack of creativity and inability to make new stories for a character that literally died and came back to life just a year or two prior. Batman Incorporated - as I mentioned earlier, to me - represents the epitome of what DC was trying to change with the 'New 52' - overly complex stories, convoluted continuity, and a lack of direction. Sure, Grant Morrison is one of the industry's biggest and best writers, but even he is prone to slipping up every once in a while.

The clear exception to this trend is Batman Incorporated #0, an issue that lightly and interestingly gives readers the early days of Batman's quest to expand his brand across the entire planet. With the threat of the vague and seemingly omni-evil Leviathan  constantly looming, Batman is actually getting paranoid. In true Morrison style, the narrative flow for this issue is pretty frantic, jumping back and forth between locales, setting up multiple characters while giving more insight to Bruce Wayne's thought processes. We get to follow Squire and Knight, El Gaucho, Nightrunner, and others as they all vie for a spot on the most exclusive and prestigious club on the planet. And while I recognize how fun of an issue Morrison has crafted, Batman Incorporated #0 still feels a bit empty.

Morrison's grand plan for Batman has been nearly six years in the making. Starting with "Batman & Son", which introduced Damian Wayne into the fold, Morrison then moved on to launching Batman and Robin, which explored the father/son relationship between Batman and his new Robin. Eventually, Morrison moved on to the first (pre-'New 52') volume of Batman Incorporated, the third act whose name had a double meaning: 'Incorporated' because of the literal business venture's namesake, and also because the series begins to incorporate all the previous elements of story Morrison had spent years laying out. That's why the premise of BI is a bit flimsy, and that's why crafting an effective "Issue Zero" would have been damn near impossible. Had Morrison given up any more information than he did this month, major events would have been spoiled. Obviously, the threat of Leviathan is going to come directly to Batman, and maybe not so much to the Batman Inc members. If you need proof, Morrison is stepping off Batman Incorporated after issue 12, which means he'll have to wrap up the current arc with Leviathan, or DC will just cancel the title altogether.

It's becoming more and more clear that Batman's international army may not be essential to the story, acting more as lieutenants in this 'behind the scenes' war against the very essence of evil. In this sense, Batman Incorporated #0 is a letdown and a success. It let me down by offering very little in the way of story advancement - or even really any information about it at all - and with the staccato nature of the narrative. It was a success because Morrison does an amazing job focusing on the characters he's presenting, giving them developed, clear-cut personalities even if they only get a few panels of page time. So even though they probably aren't all that important in the grand scheme of Morrison's plans, the origins of Batman's soliders around the world is captivating, nuanced, and drawn incredibly well.

GRADE
B-

Thursday, September 27, 2012

SUPERMAN #0

STORY: Scott Lobdell
ART: Kenneth Rocafort

"What started out as mild scientific curiosity has become a matter of life and death!"

Oh my god, Scott Lobdell.

Scott Lobdell, oh my god.

The above quote might possibly be one of the absolute worst lines of dialogue I've ever read in a comic book. That's saying something with the sheer amount of content out there. Then again, Scott Lobdell is not one for subtlety. In fact, he seems stubbornly against the idea that he should write as if a normal person were speaking, instead content to pen words that feel like an old man - obviously out of his comfort zone - trying to be witty, retro, and modern all at the same time, only to come up short in every department...oh, wait.

Honestly, I don't know what Scott Lobdell should be writing. His penchant for writing inexplicably blunt and wooden doesn't seem to have a place in modern comic books outside throwback stories meant to resemble books from the 1950s and 60s. He certainly shouldn't be writing Teen Titans, Superboy, or Superman, the first two of which he helmed for the past year, and the latter of which he's just been given.

Superman #0 is painful. So painful, in fact, that I found it hard to actually read the entire issue. Lobdell had a chance with this prequel issue to start things off right with his run on Superman, and he squanders it just as badly as he did with Superboy and the Teen Titans (but, strangely enough, not like Red Hood and The Outlaws, which has been uncharacteristically good under Lobdell's watch). Superman's parents are part of the Kryptonian elite, a class that resembles our own humanly aristocracy from the Victorian era through the early 20th century. I get what Lobdell is trying to do, but in trying to write the citizens of Krypton like upper class snobs, he's made them all read like morons who just learned the finer points of diction and syntax and decided to have a field day. "So pensive you are tonight, Jor,", "...everyone within a three-arc radius of the CRC are, simply put, no more," and, "I would like to think that our days spent discussing continuum particle theory and our sweat-soaked nights spent on the magma cliffs of Corga had a...lasting impression," are just some of the outlandishly terrible lines littering these pages.

One of the biggest draws to Superman #0 was the supposed reintroduction of Oracle, the moniker taken by Barbara Gordon when she was paralyzed by the Joker and confined to a wheelchair. But of course, Lobdell makes readers froth at the mouth for nothing, and gives us some alien behemoth capable of blowing the weird extraterrestrial horn first seen in Superman #1. Sure, it gives a bit more credence to the horn's significance in the greater DC context, but as a 'cool twist' at the end of this terrible, terrible issue, it's so much more of a letdown than anything else. The only saving grace for this issue - and I'm assuming subsequent issues - is Kenneth Rocafort's art, which has always been good in Red Hood and The Outlaws, and continues to be quality work here in Superman.

I don't even want to keep writing about this issue. Such a fail.

GRADE
F

TEEN TITANS #0

STORY: Scott Lobdell
ART: Tyler Kirkham and Batt

Just like with Superboy #10, Scott Lobdell proves with Teen Titans #0 that he's not completely inept at writing the characters he's been given. For this "Zero Month" issue, Lobdell gives us the origin of Tim Drake, better known as Red Robin: former protege of Batman. A few months ago, Lobdell shocked the fan base at San Diego ComicCon by announcing that Tim Drake was never an official 'Robin' of Batman's. Instead, Tim's been Red Robin since he became a caped crusader. In essence, Lobdell majorly altered the character history of arguably the most iconic Robin of them all (at least, on par with Dick Grayson) - this was a big pill for fans of the third Robin to swallow. But putting aside comic book fanaticism, it really doesn't make that much of a difference - Tim still fills the 'Robin' roll at Batman's side, his costume is basically an all-red Robin get-up, and he eventually moves on to let another youngster take the sidekick roll. The truly interesting thing about Teen Titans #0 is how well Lobdell reinvigorates a character who was more or less a carbon copy of Bruce and Dick when he was originally introduced.

Tim Drake is now a prodigy in both the physical and mental arenas. He excels at all intellectual projects, has the potential to be on the US Olympic gymnastics team, enjoys a completely happy home life, and impresses everyone he meets...and that's the problem. After observing Tim in person, Bruce rightfully decides that Tim doesn't shouldn't be Robin. Dick Grayson and Jason Todd came into the roll of Batman's sidekick because their lives had been shattered and broken, same as Bruce years and years ago at the hands of Joe Chill. Tim Drake's life couldn't be better - he's got a bright future and his parents love him. There's literally no reason for him to be Robin. But of course, Tim has a secret obsession with Batman's secret identity.

This is where Tim goes from being a Golden Child to being a multi-faceted character who has a huge flaw: pride. After falling into Bruce's trap by following set-up clues, Tim gets scolded by the Batman who tells him to lay off and just enjoy his life. Unsatisfied with that response, Tim uses his exceptional hacking skills to steal the Penguin's fortune. If this behavior seems alarming and odd, well, it is. Tim's meeting with the Bat didn't discourage him so much as it validated his actions - Tim took the next step in his fight against crime without Batman's consent because Batman even bothered to meet him at all. Lobdell has done good work in making Tim fundamentally different from Dick and Jason before him. His pride in himself becomes his weakness. Now, this wouldn't be a Batman-related story without at least some tragedy. The hacking stunt causes the Penguin to put out a hit on Tim and his parents.

Tim's parents don't die. Lobdell avoids his pitfall and instead puts the Drakes into the witness protection program. The twist comes when Tim is left behind in Gotham - as a perceived orphan at this point - to have the chance at good and successful life he wouldn't get being forced to hide who he is in witness protection. The end result is that even though he's seen and treated as Bruce Wayne's orphaned son, Tim's parents are still alive. Somehow, this is going to tie into future stories, whether it be the upcoming "Death of the Family" crossover (which would make a lot of sense, considering the familial elements at play in this issue), or future arcs.

All in all, Teen Titans #0 is fantastic. Scott Lobdell's writing usually leaves a lot to be desired for me, as a reader and a critic. This month, though, he really stepped up his game and gave a solid origin story for Tim Drake that may not be what hardcore fans wanted, but manages to change the character enough to make him interesting again.

GRADE
B+

TALON #0

STORY: James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder
ART: Guillem March

It's got to be his costume. For a while now, I've been inexplicably averse to Talon, a series that spins out of Scott Snyder's "Court of Owls" arc on Batman that quickly turned a large part of the Batman mythos - Gotham City itself - onto it's head. The Court represented everything Bruce doesn't know about his hometown, and that's a frightening venture for the man labeled Gotham's Son. Honestly, I don't know why I was so skeptical about Talon. Perhaps it was the fact that another series had been cancelled to make way for one more Batman-related title. Maybe it was the relative freshness of the Court of Owls as a concept that made me question it's ability to act as a premise for a stand-alone series. But like I mentioned above, I think it's just his costume. Like the other three "Third Wave" titles beginning this month, it's difficult to gauge Talon's effectiveness as an ongoing title because this "Issue Zero" is technically the series' first, meaning there's no 'issue one' to base a prequel story upon. It's a bit wonky, but the system worked for The Phantom Stranger, so why can't it work here too?

Talon #0 introduces Calvin Rose, the only person to ever escape the Court of Owls (besides Batman, I'm assuming we're meant to know). Rose is an escape artists, able to free himself from even the most binding of situations, which is an interesting way to make his escape from the Court all the more believable. Though a lot of information is given in the pages of this prequel issue, it's obvious that this series is going to be well-paced, balancing Rose's personal journey to use his abilities to protect people with a focus on the Court and it's many facets throughout. At the end of the issue, it's evident how well James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder have crafted this story. Snyder is just co-plotting, so his influence is only slightly felt while Tynion's impressive writing style shines through from the first page.

Predictably, the story of Talon #0, "The Long Run", takes place five years in the past, when Calvin Rose first escapes the Court and strikes out on his own, always on the run. Tynion does an admirable job conveying Calvin's growing uncomfortableness over the Court's violent methods and murderous ways. Of course, there are some points that could have been slowed down/sped up, but in the end, Tynion gets his point across. Calvin's personal ethics get in the way of the Court's desires, and he ends of saving the lives of a mother and daughter he was specifically assigned to kill. Talk about walking off the job, huh?

Talon #0 does an adequate job introducing readers the Calvin Rose and the world we'll be following each month going forward, and while this series is technically tied to Batman (who I'm sure we'll be seeing at some point soon), it's already created it's own mood and tone that differs from the Dark Knight's - while Batman is about the pain and the fear, Talon seems to be about hope and moving forward. Calvin Rose is already interesting and already has my sympathies. With a traumatic (but not too traumatic) childhood, a similar training regiment to Batman, and a conscience that beats out any Court of Owls brainwashing, Calvin might just be one of the more interesting characters in the 'New 52' so far.

GRADE
A

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

UPCOMING REVIEWS (SEP 26 - OCT 2)

Aquaman #0
(Johns, Reis)
- In Aquaman's "Issue Zero", Arthur goes to Atlantis for the first time! Knowing Geoff Johns, this issue, while set in the past, will most likely connect to the upcoming "Throne of Atlantis" crossover between Aquaman and Justice League.

Batman Incorporated #0

(Morrison, Burnham)
- Honestly, I'm not sure how this issue will pan out. Grant Morrison tends to have a pretty set path when it comes to his intricate narratives, so this prequel issue might throw a wrench into the gears. Then again, since Batman Incorporated #0 is all about Batman recruiting his soldiers around the world, it could have no effect at all. Them's the breaks.

The Flash #0
(Manapul, Buccellato)
- See Barry Allen get his powers! I'll assume he also gets into his first bout after receiving said powers. This issue would be pretty boring, otherwise. Fortunately, that won't happen with Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato at the helm, both of whom have guided The Flash over the past year and done a dynamite job doing so.

Justice League Dark #0

(Lemire, Janin)
- I'm skeptical about Justice League Dark, a team-based title that's only focusing on one character. I had the same skepticism about Green Lantern Corps #0, and that issue was a total bust. Hopefully, Jeff Lemire can keep the magic going with JLD #0 (pun definitely intended) as he looks into the life of young John Constantine.

Superman #0
(Lobdell, Rocafort)
- Well, one of my least favorite creative writers is moving in on Superman. Scott Lobdell has decided that tainting Teen Titans and Superboy wasn't enough, and now he wants to muck up the Man of Steel. Rumors have been flying about a Scott Snyder-helmed Man of Steel title coming out soon, which I hope is the case because with Grant Morrison leaving Action Comics, and Lobdell taking over Superman with this "Issue Zero", Superman's adventures are about to be lacking.


Talon #0

(Tynion IV, Snyder, March)
- I really, really have to stop second guessing Talon. I keep telling myself I won't enjoy it, that it's too narrow a premise to justify it's ongoing status. Then I remember that Scott Snyder is co-plotting this series with one of his favorite students, James Tynion IV. Snyder has done phenomenal work on Batman over the past year, and now the super-popular Court of Owls has a series all to itself.

Teen Titans #0
(Lobdell, Kirkham)
- With Superboy, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash's histories (somewhat) already explained, it's time to focus on Red Robin, Skitter, and Bunker! I'll give credit to Lobdell for actually focusing on more than one (or two, in the case of The Ravagers) character in a prequel for a TEAM-BASED series. I'm not expecting much, as I never much do with Lobdell, but I'm still excited to see how Tim Drake came to be Red Robin without ever being an official 'Robin.'


4-Sentence Reviews

* Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #3 of 6
* Captain Marvel #4
* I, Vampire #0
* National Comics: Rose & Thorn

Saturday, September 22, 2012

BLUE BEETLE #0

STORY: Tony Bedard and Keith Giffen
ART: Ig Guara and JP Mayer

NOOOO!!!! TED KORD!!!!!! At least, I think that's how I should be reacting to Blue Beetle #0, which delves into the history of the plucky scarab, Khaji-Da with literally no reference to the original Blue Beetle. Of course, the scarab's time on Earth after separating from it's first host is somewhat glossed over, left to the readers' imagination as to where Khaji-Da travelled in the years before meeting Jaime Reyes. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Tony Bedard is joined by Keith Giffen for Blue Beetle #0, a (mostly) straightforward origins issue for the Reach scarab currently connected to Jaime's spine. We already know that Khaji-Da is a sentient scarab symbiote that latches onto a host to carry out the will of the Reach, a clandestine alien race that has millions of scarab soldiers at it's control across the universe. We also already know that Ol' Da can't control Jaime like the other scarabs can control their hosts' minds, but we don't know why. Beyond this basic information, not a whole lot has been unveiled concerning the scarab, until now.

"Sky Witness" provides a full character history for Khaji-Da, from the days before his creation, to his first unsuccessful mission, and through his time on Earth up until meeting Jaime. While the textbook-style narrative isn't exactly invigorating or engaging in any particular way, it serves to develop Khaji-Da beyond being the loony voice inside Jaime's head telling him to kill people and destroy the planet. And it does a good job! One of the most important aspects of the scarab - that Bedard makes sure is clear and understandable - is that they are actual sentient beings. It's easy to slip into thinking of these little blue bugs are simply just pieces of a larger technological goal, but they each have a voice, they each have a personality. I was hoping to meet another scarab this month, maybe one that's got an extreme personality to show the diversity of the scarabs.

The first half of the issue explores the origin of the scarab, followed by his very first test mission, wherein he finds a suitable host in the Stygian Expanse. Upon attempting to fuse with his new host - a small, blue/black skinned girl with four eyes - the scarab is rebuffed by a sudden explosion of psionic energy. Turns out that energy is coming from the child, who has tapped into her latent abilities to control antimatter. After being damaged, Khaji-Da recognizes his slim chances of survival, and escapes the girl who controls dark energy. Turns out she goes on to become Lady Styx, a villain on the same level as Darkseid before the 'New 52' relaunch. The scarab's first mission is important because it gives a possible explanation for Khaji-Da's inability to fully control Jaime - due to dark matter interference? - as well as sets up Lady Styx to be featured throughout the DCnU in the future.

The latter half of the book focuses on Sky Witness, a Mayan chieftain who descends into the wreckage of Khaji-Da's crash landing onto Earth's surface. The scarab was shot down by an unnamed Green Lantern, providing a second possible reason for the malfunction concerning total mind control. It's odd to feel sympathy for a robot bug whose sole purpose is to take total control of a host being and cause unspeakable destruction to worlds around the universe. But there it is: Khaji-Da is a good, good character.

Sky Witness uses the scarab to defend his home from the violent Nahua Tribe. The Nahua go on to start the Aztec Empire, according to Bedard, and Sky - in his scarab armor, of course - becomes known as the vengeful god Quetzalcoatl. Sky Witness's story comes to an end when even the scarab's advanced systems can't prolong his life any further. This is how Khaji-Da gets trapped in the ruins of a Mayan temple, only to be found years later by archaeologists unfettered by ancient signs of death and destruction.

I'm not exactly sure where Blue Beetle #0 should fit in chronologically amongst other issues. Even though a majority of the story is dedicated to the years before Jaime bonds with the scarab, the final few pages recap Jaime's journey so far, and we eventually get to the current day with Jaime stuck in Reachworld space after being abruptly transported there by O.M.A.C. in the pages of Justice League International Annual #1. So, one could place it before issue one purely for it's historical content, or it could go right after Blue Beetle #12. It's a conundrum for chronological perfectionists like myself. That one nitpick-y criticism aside, Blue Beetle #0 does a fantastic job giving readers a fleshed out, meaningful history of the scarab Khaji-Da, as well as placing the building blocks for future stories. And really, what more could you ask for from this series?

GRADE
B+

4-SENTENCE REVIEWS (SEP 19-25) [update]

Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #3 of 4
(Straczynski, Kubert, Kubert)

Eh - that's about the best and worst description I can give Before Watchmen: Nite Owl at this point in it's run. J. Michael Straczynski hasn't penned a bad story, by any means, but it also doesn't have the same emotional or narrative weight as Minutemen, Silk Spectre, or Doctor Manhattan, relying mostly on it's fan-service tendencies that feature Rorschach quite a bit. Dan Dreiberg may be a bit less hard-nosed than the other members of the Watchmen, but nearly every issue of Nite Owl presents Dan as more pathetic than effective - even when he's got his costume on, Dan comes across as skittish and nervous, which isn't who he is. Overall, Nite Owl isn't the weakest series in the Before Watchmen gamut, but it's down there with Comedian and Ozymandias.

GRADE: C

Green Lantern: New Guardians #0

(Bedard, Kuder, Bressan, Adams)

As much as I love the Green Lantern character franchise as a whole, Tony Bedard's Green Lantern: New Guardians has been testing my patience, and GL:NG #0 is no exception. First off, this issue breaks a very basic "Issue Zero" rule and doesn't take place before the first issue, which would be acceptable if there was a reason (like the introduction of Simon Baz in Green Lantern #0). But the only real event in this issue is that Carol Ferris becomes the new Star Sapphire representative for Kyle Rayner's fading New Guardians, and that's not a good enough reason to bypass a Kyle Rayner origin, seeing as this series is all about him! Even beyond this hugely wasted potential, the story isn't even all that good, and really only serves to set up "Rise of the Third Army" just a little bit more - poor form, Tony Bedard.

GRADE: D


Nightwing #0
(DeFalco, Higgins, Barrows, Ferreira)

Another fantastic Bat Family "Issue Zero", Nightwing #0 delves (obviously) into Dick Grayson's past, giving readers a thorough new backstory for the original Robin, The Boy Wonder. While the death of his parent's remains the same, Dick's involvement with the Batman comes about in a new and different way courtesy of Tom DeFalco (scripting only) and Kyle Higgins - instead of immediately being taken in by Bruce Wayne, Dick strikes out on his own to hunt down his parent's killer, often running into Batman who continually looks the other way. Eventually, Bruce adopts Dick as his son and begins to raise him while keeping his superhero identity a secret, only to have Dick discover it's Bruce under the cowl after reading Batman's body language. At first, it's only a monitor duty gig, but in the face of death, Dick springs into action with a self-tailored Robin costume (which we get to see for the first time this issue) that brings about the first era of Batman's sidekick - it's a hugely satisfying issue that should be read by any Batman or Robin fan.

GRADE: A


Red Hood and The Outlaws #0
(Lobdell, Ferry, Guara, Booth)

Of all the series Scott Lobdell is currently at helm, Red Hood and The Outlaws has been the only one I've enjoyed on a regular basis - for some reason, the man seems to pour all of his relatable, grounded work into this title. I'm not complaining and in fact, Red Hood and The Outlaws #0 is one of the most satisfying issues of the run, offering the origin of Jason Todd: the second Robin and eventual Red Hood, thorn in Batman's side and anti-hero extraordinaire! It's hard not to root for Jason, a boy whose life went from bad, to worse, to a bit better, then ends in horrifying tragedy only to be resurrected and have the whole cycle start all over again. The final four pages illustrated by Brett Booth are the most revealing of the issue, pointing to the Joker as the mastermind behind Jason's misfortunes as a master plot to create and destroy one of Batman's Robins - it's sick, twisted, and utterly shocking.

GRADE: B


Wonder Woman #0
(Azzarello, Chiang)

Wonder Woman has already been praised up and down for it's dramatic and groundbreaking re-envisioning of the Diana, Princess of the Amazons, and Wonder Woman #0 takes things to the next level with Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang offering up an updated tale from Wonder Woman's adventures in the 1940s! Diana is approached by Aires (War) who wants to turn her into the greatest warrior the planet has ever seen, meeting under the full moon each month to train in the ways of battle. In the end, when forced to kill to complete her task, Diana refuses and goes from being War's star pupil to being his greatest failure, only now she's a fully-trained, battle-ready warrior. Wonder Woman #0 is not only one of the best issues of the series to date, it's one of the best issues from the 'New 52' so far - Azzarello and Chiang hit a brilliant chord with this innovative decision, it pays off in spades, and it shows how creators can tell interesting, meaningful stories without all the intricacies and complexities that are standard protocol in today's comic book industry (just look at the chaos that is Teen Titans and Superboy).

GRADE: A+


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

While the rest of the critical world lauds Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli for Spider-Men, I tend to still see it as a self-fulfilling project that didn't meet it's potential because it attempted to reach into too many wells at the same time, in a span of only five issues. I want to stress that for what it is, Spider-Men is great - Bendis' writing is spot-on, and Pichelli's artwork is perfectly suited for Ultimate Comics - but there's just so many instances where the story falls short and misses emotional marks. There's a lot of story that can be mined from Peter Parker travelling to a universe where his teenaged counterpart has already died, but Ultimate Nick Fury puts the kibosh on any inter-dimensional travel and no one stands up to him or questions his authority at all - um...what? Again, I stress that the missed opportunities for this 616/Ultimate crossover are so numbered, it's really hard to accept the fleeting nature of this series as meaningful or important at all (or course, Peter looks up Miles Morales in his world on the final page to which his reaction is, "Oh my god!")

GRADE: C

Friday, September 21, 2012

SWORD OF SORCERY #0

STORY: Christy Marx and Tony Bedard
ART: Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan

Okay, I'll admit it: I was seriously not ready to like Sword of Sorcery. The name alone kept it at a proverbial arm's length for the months leading up to this first zero issue. While I enjoy fantasy stories, I'm not into "hard fantasy", so I really just didn't pay this new series any mind. I offhandedly decided to review Sword of Sorcery #0 on "The Endless Reel" because I wanted to review all four of the "Third Wave" titles that DC is putting out this month, simply because there's a new one each week (unlike the "Second Wave" that dumped most of the new titles in the first week and left only two for the consecutive three weeks of the month).

I stand (or sit and writing, in this case) corrected. While the cohesiveness of the 'New 52' universe is nice, it's refreshing to see a series so far removed from the main line of books, similar to Dial H and Resurrection Man. I know, I know - a certain someone shows up in the final panels to put a slight damper on that notion, but "Amethyst" is such a cult favorite that I assumed it would be a total bust trying to interpret it for a modern audience, in a more modern comic book universe. It would seem like it's actually the perfect time for something like this.

Christy Marx does an excellent job setting up Amy Winston in the opening pages of Sword of Sorcery #0. The "cool kids" chatter in the halls of a high school is a passable way to introduce readers to Amy and her current situation, but it's also a little sappy. It really gets interesting when Amy's mom takes her out in the evening for what seems to be battle training. Why is she training? Why is her mother so adamant about it? Why does this training interfere with regular life? Marx skillfully navigates this narrative, revealing only small bits of information at a time, and switching focus from Amy and her mother to the Queen of GemWorld, a planet (I'm assuming) that doesn't get much of an explanation - it stands to reason that a bit more will be revealed in issue one. In this regard, Marx has succeeded in truly writing a worthwhile "Issue Zero". She's given us readers enough information about the beginning of this tale to keep us interested, knowing that Sword of Sorcery #1 will start to answer some of the questions brought up in these pages.

Similarly, I was originally put off by the prospect of the "Beowulf" back-up story. Why, for goodness sake, do we need another Beowulf story? Hasn't this tale been done to death already in every medium imaginable? Again, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Tony Bedard's first chapter of this epic. And really, all that interest comes from the fact that Beowulf apparently exists in an advanced cryogenics chamber within an abandoned laboratory, while the world outside is seemingly dated somewhere in the Dark Ages. It's utterly fascinating. Seriously. All the Beowulf/Grendel stuff aside for now, the dichotomy of technology in a pre-pre-pre-industrial civilization is just so cool, I'm going to keep buying Sword of Sorcery if only for this back-up.

GRADE
B+

SUPERGIRL #0

STORY: Michael Green and Mike Johnson
ART: Mahmud Asrar

For as good as Supergirl has been, it's starting to become a bit long in the tooth. I know that's a heavy accusation to make, but it comes after a few months of so-so issues, this entertaining yet oddly unsatisfying "Issue Zero", and the anticipation of the upcoming "H'el on Earth" crossover between Superman, Superboy, and Supergirl. It's an odd time for this series, and it shows. Last week's Superboy #0 was a steaming pile of crap that really wasn't worth the read. Supergirl #0 manages to one-up it's male equivalent in every possible aspect, even if it wasn't hard to accomplish in the first place. "The End of the Beginning" is a misnomer, somewhat, as it's a story about the 'end' of Krypton, as well as the 'beginning' of Kara's decades-long journey to become Supergirl of Earth. In reality, it's the 'beginning of the beginning' of Kara's new life, and (arguably) the 'beginning of the end' of Krypton. Oh, diction and syntax - you've reared your fascinating little heads yet again. But enough about the grammatical technicalities of the English language.

Supergirl #0 takes readers back to Argo City on Krypton - the most advanced and prosperous city on the planet, envied by all others. Part of the city's success is attributed to Zor-El's genius power generators that provide limitless energy to all peoples of the city. Though Michael Green and Mike Johnson don't just make him come out and say it, there are heavy implications that Zor-El's generators are responsible for causing the damage to the interior of the planet, resulting in a global increase of earthquake activity. As we all know, Superman's dad - Jor-El - was the one who discovered that Krypton was dying. At first, it seems like Zor-El is just clued-in, and simply wants to save his family. After a few pages and some shifty behavior, it becomes evident that Zor is to blame for the destruction of Krypton, hoping that the force field he built for Argo City would hold against the eruption of an entire planet and earn the errant scientist his presumed redemption. Of course, part of his delusional self-fulfilling prophecy concerns making sure his daughter gets out alive.

Similar to Jor-El's ship for his son, but a lot more eggy, Zor-El places his sleeping daughter into the pod in preparation to send her off-world to orbit a yellow sun until she could be retrieved. The situation becomes a questionable again when Zor is forced to drug his own daughter to see through his plan. Green and Johnson do an excellent job portraying the slowly unhinging Zor-El as he gets closer to his endgame and loses more of his grip on reality.

In a rather surprising twist, Kara's mother - Alura - is visited by none other than...Superboy? With no explanation whatsoever (not even an Editor's Note telling me to wait until next week or anything!), the person who looks exactly like Superboy warns Alura to seek out her daughter and say goodbye. Alura arrives at her husband's lab right as he's about to close the pod and launch Kara into space. Alura shoots Zor-El and attempts to retrieve her daughter before a dying Zor launched the pod. Honestly, this was the biggest letdown of the issue, and it's a big letdown because it's the climax of the entire issue. For the past twelve months, Green and Johnson have done a great job with emotional nuance. The entire scene between Zor-El and Alura is an emotional bombshell that acts as a catalyst for the entire Supergirl series. At least, it's supposed to be.

Green and Johnson drop the ball here, and the entire sequence comes across and hollow and meaningless, mostly because we only know Zor-El as a nutjob now, and we don't know Alura at all. Sure, there are universal human stories at play here, and sometimes that's enough. Unfortunately, Supergirl #0 needed a bit more detail and characterization for a scene like this to work, and it just didn't. It's a painful end to an otherwise solid issue. I'm still looking forward to Supergirl in the future because we'll likely never have to deal with either Zor-El or Alura directly ever again, so it's of no consequence, HAHA!

GRADE:
C+


Thursday, September 20, 2012

DC UNIVERSE PRESENTS #0

STORY: Keith Giffen, Dan Didio, James Robinson, Rob Liefeld, and Tony Bedard
ART: Keith Giffen, Dan Didio, Scott Koblish, Tom Derenick, Marat Mychaels,

In true form, DC Universe Presents #0 offers an anthology of stories within an issue of an anthology series. Last May, DC cancelled six series to make way for the "Second Wave" of 'New 52' titles that included Earth 2, Dial H, World's Finest, Batman Incorporated, G.I. Combat, and The Ravagers. Some of these cancellations actually made sense - when a series didn't look to be going in any concrete direction - but some were canned purely for fiscal reasons. Either way, many of these titles gained a fan base, and DC wanted to do the cool thing and feature these characters left in the proverbial rearview mirror. With December solicitations out, the recently cancelled Captain Atom is featured in The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men, meaning DC seems intent on keeping these characters around, even if they don't have their own solo ongoing.

The first story is O.M.A.C., written and illustrated by former series regulars Keith Giffen and Dan Didio. I absolutely loved the adventures of Kevin Kho and Brother Eye - each issue was an homage to quirky, sci-fi books from the 60s and 70s that were about action and supernatural boogeymen. While this prequel story - "Origins Matter After Cancelation" - doesn't feature Kevin or his O.M.A.C. persona, Giffen and Didio take us back to when Brother Eye worked for Maxwell Lord and Checkmate. Mostly, Brother Eye gives Max an expository dump about how the satellite came to be and why. Of course, Max knows all of this, and info overloads normally make me cringe, this is Giffen and Didio's style for O.M.A.C., especially since this is only a short story intended to give more backstory that offers foreshadowing to future events. In that regard, it succeeds in spades.

Second at bat is James Robinson and Tom Derenick's Mister Terrific prequel. In essence, this short story reads just like the MT series - full of scientific jargon, quantum mechanics, and a willingness to let those two amazing elements do the heavy lifting. Especially in this story, wherein Michael Holt basically learns everything about his life by jumping through an uncalibrated portal technically linked to the Ninth Dimension. Robinson is careful to remind readers that this is one of many possible outcomes, leaving the door open for Michael's future to deviate from the visions of latter days. Of course, Mister Terrific can't be running around knowing his entire life's path, and Michael's memory is purged once he steps out of the malfunctioning portal door. I wish there was more about Michael Holt as a person and less foreshadowing for the future that only really served to clue in us readers. But for what it is, this tale does the trick.

I've never liked Rob Liefeld. Even in the 90s, I couldn't stand his artwork or his writing. It's one of the reasons I stuck to DC mostly during that era, and it's the reason I never got beyond the first issue of Hawk and Dove last September. Hawk and Dove is an example of a series cancelled because it was bad, plain and simple. The characters weren't engaging, the stories weren't interesting, and the artwork was classic Liefeld, which meant over-exaggerated everything. Liefeld smartly abjures the pencilling duties for this origins story, but it just makes his uninspired narrative all the more obvious. "Balance of Power" focuses on an argument between the celestial gods of Peace and War (how DC justifies their existence against the Greek gods in Wonder Woman is anyones guess) over the newest avatar of Peace, Dawn Granger. Similar to how Scott Lobdell info dumps on a regular basis in the pages of Teen Titans, Liefeld uses this debate between the gods as a means to give a character history. It's so damn boring! And it really doesn't even matter because I can't imagine DC is planning on reintroducing Hawk and Dove to any other book any time soon.

Next up is "Mother Machine", the origins story of the title's namesake, and prequel tale to Blackhawks, a series that could have been DC's equivalent of S.H.I.E.L.D. if they had handled it better. Unfortunately, there's not much to talk about concerning this story - beyond revealing that the Blackhawks participated in the battle against Apokolips' armies, this is all about Mother Machine coming to be. Everything makes a bit more sense now, as it's obvious Mother Machine came from an Apokoliptan Mother Box. The ending tagline says we'll see more of Mother Machine in the future, which could spell the return of Darkseid.

The final story about Deadman comes from Tony Bedard and Scott McDaniel, both of whom do a fantastic job telling the tale of Boston Brand's first mission of possession. In a cruel twist of fate, the goddess Rama sends Boston to save the soul of the man who murdered him. Of course, Boston rejects his task until he's forced back into the situation and winds up saving the day anyway. It's a telling moment for Brand, the moment he recognizes that his actions have consequences, not only for his own well-being, but also for those he's charged with helping. Deadman doesn't get enough page time in Justice League Dark, though I supposed I should be thankful he's a recurring character at all. Bedard's "Instant Karma" reminds one of why the first five issues of DC Universe Presents are still the best.

As a whole, DC Universe Presents #0 is a good read. As individual stories, the tales about O.M.A.C., Mister Terrific, and Deadman are considerably better than those about the Blackhawks and Hawk and Dove. Read them all, or just read the ones you want. It's kind of up to you when it comes to an anthology format such as this. I only read one issue of the "Challengers of the Unknown" arc because it just wasn't my cup of tea. But I jumped right back in with "Savage", then regrettably "Kid Flash". DC Universe Presents #0 is definitely worth the buy, if only for the fact that you get five stories from five different creative teams at a whopping 48 pages.

GRADE
B-

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

JUSTICE LEAGUE #0

STORY: Geoff Johns
ART: Gary Frank

Before the reboot, Billy Batson was the world's most perfect kid - he listened to his parents, did his homework, was kind to everyone he met, and generally didn't have a bad thought in his head. It was for this sterling character that Billy was chosen to be Captain Marvel, the scion of the wizard Shazam. And even though the Captain saw his fair share of evil throughout his adventures, Billy never stopped being that perfect little boy. Now, in the 'New 52, he's a brat and a jerk - he can't seem to get along with anyone, and he actively works against others whenever he can. A lot (and I mean a lot) of comic book news outlets have painted the recent Shazam back-up stories in Justice League as a terrible reintroduction to one of DC's most iconic and long-lasting characters. On the contrary, I think it's one of the wisest and most interesting changes made yet.

The 'New 52' is supposed to be about making things new, and what better way than to make the most unrelatable character in the DC universe just a bit more realistic? While many long-time comic book fans want to hold their beloved characters in a time-lock - never allowing for them to grow or change - it's a pipe dream, and one that the hardcore crowd is going to have to get over as comic books continue to move into newer, bolder territories. Similarly, some Marvel fans are up in arms about a book with the title Uncanny Avengers that features Rogue and Thor on the same team. So what?

As you guessed, Justice League #0 focuses on Billy and his transformation into Captain Marvel Shazam. Yes, this is the second big change to the character: Captain Marvel is now called Shazam, and the wizard once called Shazam is now simply "The Wizard", as there don't seem to be too many of them running around. I guess DC just got tired of lording the trademark over Marvel's head. Either way, it makes a lot more sense to call the superhero Shazam - there wasn't any real reason for the name 'Captain Marvel' in the first place.

I really do love Billy's new personality. He's an orphan whose been forced to grow up much faster than he should have. It's a sad but real problem in the world, today, that more and more children are made to raise themselves. The silver lining, of course, is that Billy understands the world much more than most other 15 year olds, and he proves it. The Wizard has been searching for centuries to find a "purely good" person on which to bestow his powers, only to come up empty-handed. "No one is pure good," explains Billy to a baffled, millennia-old wizard. Billy sees the situation for what it is: an over-romanticism of a certain, unattainable goal that would solve every problem ever and bring peace to mankind. The Wizard wants so much to believe that there must be a person who is pure good, that he's wasted eons searching for it, even though it doesn't exist. Quite eloquently, Billy goes on about bad encompassing the good in the world, no matter what. And while it seems that young Batson might be without hope, the Wizard looks into his soul a second time and finds the good buried beneath layers and layers of bad. In the end, it is the potential for good that will defeat the evil.

Gary Frank's art is fantastic. His work in the "Shazam" back-ups was good, but it feels like he put extra time and effort into these pages, as they feel more emotional, more vibrant, and more expressive than ever. His facial expressions are pure genius - Billy's being the obvious best - but he also knows how to draw bodies to convey an idea. The Wizard's slouch gives you the feeling he has been burdened by so much for so long that his guilt is literally crushing him.

Justice League #0 was a gamble. For a general public that doesn't read a lot of comic books, making this "Issue Zero" a Shazam-only story could be bad for the bottom line. Literally nowhere in theses pages are the actual Leaguers featured. Johns and Frank dedicate this issue to Shazam, giving him a damn fine introduction as he gets ready to join the League proper starting in 2013. Before the reboot last year, Captain Marvel was always the boy scout, more so even than Superman. He never erred, rarely faltered, and was liked by all. He was a bit more sickeningly perfect than Superman, which was hard to do. Now, we have a dynamic character who actually has depth, who really does have a reason for acting beyond a surface-level desire to uphold truth, justice, and the American way. Now, we have a real Shazam.

GRADE
A

Monday, September 17, 2012

UPCOMING REVIEWS (SEP 19-25)

Blue Beetle #0
(Bedard, Guara)
- Jaime Reyes is the current host of the Reach scarab Khaji-Da, but who wore it before Jaime? This "Zero Issue" brings a tale of the Reach solider that made Jaime's scarab a household name.


Captain Marvel #4
(DeConnick, Soy)
- Kelly Sue DeConnick has given Carol Danvers a whole new voice, and it's been for the better. After years of playing pawn to Marvel's major events, Carol is now getting the quality treatment she deserves from a writer who knows this character inside and out. I mean, DeConnick was recently given Avengers Assemble, as well, proving she has what it takes in today's comic industry. If you aren't already reading this one, I suggest you start.

DC Universe Presents #0
(Bedard, Robinson, Liefeld, Didio, CAFU, Mychaels, Derenick, Battle)
- In homage to some of the titles cancelled back in April to make way for the "Second Wave" of 'New 52' titles, DC Universe Presents #0 brings five stories about Hawk and Dove, O.M.A.C., the Blackhawks, Mister Terrific, and a special story about Deadman. DCUP has been an excellent anthology series thus far, so I'm excited to see how these smaller stories will fare.


Justice League #0
(Johns, Frank)
- Billy Batson is the focus of this Justice League origin issue, leading in from the "Shazam" back-ups in the pages of JL over the past few months. Will Shazam join the Justice League? How will Billy balance his attitude with his new responsibilities? Find out this week!

Spider-Men #5 of 5
(Bendis, Pichelli)
- After an issue a bit too stuffed with big battles, I'm hopeful Brian Michael Bendis can pull Spider-Men out from just being another fan-service series and turn it into something that affects both Earth-616 and the Ultimate Marvel universe.


Supergirl #0
(Green, Johnson, Asrar)
- Questions will be answered! In a true "Zero Issue", we find out who sent Kara to Earth on the eve of Krypton's destruction. Also, Kara discovers who murdered her father! Supergirl has been one of the most consistently impressive series DC releases, so I have high hopes for this origins issue.

Sword of Sorcery #0
(Marx, Bedard, Lopresti, Ryan)
- To be honest, I'm seriously not very interested in this series, but I'm still willing to give it a chance to win me over. I've never been a huge "dragons and magic" fantasy buff, and it's looking more and more like that is what Sword of Sorcery is going to be, albeit with an alien world thrown into the mix. Plus, the "Beowulf" back-up just seems silly. But who knows - maybe I'll be wooed by Christy Marx's writing and Aaron Lopresti's artwork.


4-Sentence Reviews
* Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #3 of 4
* Green Lantern: New Guardians #0
* Nightwing #0
* Red Hood and The Outlaws #0
* Wonder Woman #0

4-SENTENCE REVIEWS (SEP. 12-18)

Batman and Robin #0
(Tomasi, Gleason, Gray)

If you have to ask yourself - in the middle of your first read through - what the point of this issue, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. Indeed, Peter J. Tomasi missteps with Batman and Robin #0, opting to give readers a completely unnecessary look at Damian's childhood amongst the League of Assassins. If DC is truly keeping with it's stance that Batman's history is intact, there should be no reason to explain Damian's origins yet again - there really is no inventiveness at all. And the real tragedy is, this could have been done extremely well, but Tomasi simply drops the ball and takes the easiest route possible. After a lackluster "Terminus" arc and now this, I'm starting to question whether or not I even want to keep following B&R.

GRADE: D




Green Lantern Corps #0

(Tomasi, Pasarin, Hanna)

Wowee did Peter J. Tomasi have a tough week, first with Batman and Robin #0, and now Green Lantern Corps #0, another unnecessary issue that doesn't give much in the way of interesting narrative. Sure, we get a good look at Guy Gardner before he gets his emerald ring, but this series is called Green Lantern CORPS for a reason, and Tomasi has not been honoring that title. For a series that's supposed to be about one of the most extensive, impressive, and powerful organizations in the universe, it's hard to justify an "Issue Zero" that only focuses on one single character, no matter if he's one of the protagonists or not. Seriously, I just felt let down the entire time, and that's not a good feeling to have in a month that's supposed to be about catching a similar spark that DC achieved last year.

GRADE: C-



Before Watchmen: Comedian #3 of 6

(Azzarello, Jones)

There really is no way to describe how little I care for the Comedian after reading Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones' Before Watchmen: Comedian - with each passing issue, Eddie Blake becomes more and more ridiculously vile and twisted in a way that doesn't create a "love to hate him" situation, but just a simple hatred. This month, instead of killing innocent civilians in Vietnam, Eddie is pissed because people are protesting that he was killing innocent people in Vietnam; it's totally hypocritical. Oh, and then he decides he'll just head on over to Los Angeles and just make the rioting all the worse by provoking people into looting and beating each other up. In what way, in what world does Brian Azzarello believe he's making Eddie Blake a relatable or even interesting character?

GRADE: F



The Ravagers #0

(Mackie, Churchill, Rapmund)

Garfield and Tara are kidnapped by Harvest and N.O.W.H.E.R.E., experimented on until they become paranoid and edgy, they rebel against Harvest, but still get stuck in the Crucible - THAT'S IT. Howard Mackie takes a full issue of The Ravagers to flesh out the prior sentence of storyline, something that could have easily been achieved in a fraction of the page space, leaving room to explain other characters associated with this series (not to mention Caitlin Fairchild, a main character with deep ties to Superboy as well) meaning this really isn't an origins issue for the team featured in this series at all. Sure, the fact that Beast Boy was relatively normal until N.O.W.H.E.R.E. got it's hands on him is a revelation that will bear consequences for the future, but the more stock put into the diabolical scheming of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and Harvest without an adequate reason just works to make readers all the more confused. The Ravagers is the weakest of the Young Justice titles DC is currently publishing, and it's a basic problem of indirection - Mackie doesn't seem to have any idea where he's going with these characters and it's painfully obvious.

GRADE: D


Team 7 #0
(Jordan, Merino)

While Team 7 #0 does an excellent job introducing the various members of the titles namesake, it very much feels like this should have been issue #1 - I know that's a nitpick-y issue with an otherwise solid issue, but it stayed with me the entire time I was reading. Because Team 7 starts five years in the past, this series is poised to give readers a great look into the years before the official beginning of the 'New 52', something fans have been clamoring for since the beginning. Of course, the inclusion of such characters as Deathstroke, Grifter, and Black Canary (before any of them took these monikers) helps give credence to the team's connection to the superhero world, while also including some new characters (like Alex Fairchild, father of Caitlin from Superboy and The Ravagers) means this isn't just a history class, but also a chance to expand this new universe with some cool new faces. While I will hold that this "Issue Zero" should have highlighted the team members before they were recruited, I'm still ready to keep up with this series going forward.

GRADE: B

X-Treme X-Men #3

(Pak, Segovia, Diaz, Crisostomo)

I really didn't give X-Treme X-Men a chance at first, unfairly assuming it would be one of the weaker X-books available, but still slightly intrigued by the Exiles-esque multidimensional adventuring. The premise itself was rather silly (ten evil Xaviers across dimensions who need to be put down), but this first arc that takes the team to a world where gods actually exist was absolutely engrossing - the betrayals, the twists, and the character development have all been excellently handled by Greg Pak, with amazing artwork from Stephen Segovia and Paco Diaz. While X-Treme X-Men may never be as good as Exiles, it's got a lot of good potential: Captain Howlett apparently was in a relationship with the Hercules from his dimension, a 14-year-old Kurt Waggoner just wants to make a difference after failing to save his family, and Dazzler from our world is out to prove herself when Cyclops talks down about her. If Pak keeps up the momentum, this series is set to be one of the best fringe series Marvel offers.

GRADE: B

Saturday, September 15, 2012

MORE MARVEL NOW

With the flood of new titles being revealed by Marvel this past week, I thought I'd update the NEW MONTHLY SCHEDULE to reflect the new series. Unfortunately, most of them are debuting in December, a month of which solicitations haven't yet been released. Thus, I'll list here the newly announced titles that will be covered in December.


Thunderbolts
Written by Daniel Way
Art by Steve Dillon

Honestly, I've never been a fan of Thunderbolts. I understand the concept, the characters used just didn't really appeal to me. Now, though, Daniel Way is introducing a whole new roster and idea for the team. No longer are the Thunderbolts connected to the government, so their actions are their own. Red Hulk (with obvious references to General "Thunderbolt" Ross) now leads the Punisher, Elektra, Venom, and Deadpool. All of these characters together feels like it's going to be amazing. I was especially intrigued when Way, in an interview, explained that he would have liked for the title to be Thunderbolt's in the possessive because Red Hulk is leading the team. "Thunderbolt" has been good in the pages of Avengers, but this move to make him leader of his own team is smart.



Avengers Arena
Written by Dennis Hopeless
Art by Kev Walker

Is in The Hunger Games or Battle Royale or a little bit of both? Let's hope it's just Battle Royale. Dennis Hopeless is set to pit a large group of teenaged mutants and metahumans against one another at the whim of classic Marvel villain Arcade...ON MURDERWORLD! If that doesn't sound awesome, I don't know what does. Characters from Avengers Academy - including X23, Hazmat, Reptil, and Mettle - as well as Chase Stein and Nico from Runaways. I was a huge fan of Runaways, and I'm still holding out for some Young Avengers thrown into the fold. I mean, Wiccan is on the cover of Marvel NOW! Point One, so I'm banking on this possibly being the title.





Cable and X-Force
Written by Dennis Hopeless
Art by Salvador Larroca and Frank D'Armata

Dennis Hopeless will give Cable his old team back, but only in name. Along with their fearless, futuristic leader, Cable and X-Force will feature a recently villainized Colossus, Forge, Domino, and a much more bad-ass looking Dr. Nemesis. Similar to Thunderbolts, the new X-Force will be a shadow operation not answering to a higher-up. But while the Thunderbolts consist of those unfit to work in a group under normal circumstances, this new iteration of X-Force is a team of misfits and villains on the run from the rest of the Marvel universe, who view them as a squad of super villains. Again, I've never been a huge Cable fan, but I'm extremely interested in this title.



***



All in all, it very much feels like Marvel is endeavoring to make their universe more cohesive. In this post-Avengers vs. X-Men world, there are no more rules about 'Avengers' and 'X-Men'. And perhaps that's the real idea behind the event. The last eight years have been heavy on the definitions between the two entities, many books from each family never crossing over with the larger Marvel U. Now, mutants and metahumans enjoy membership on the same teams, new groups are being introduced to make the crossover more concrete, and the switch-ups to old teams are generally moving in a good direction. The days of Avengers and X-Men being separate are apparently at an end.

This is good.

Avengers vs. X-Men has literally proven that the two-party system has run out of steam and it's time to reach across the aisle to create new and interesting stories moving forward. If only our politicians could be as perceptive as Marvel.

Friday, September 14, 2012

RESURRECTION MAN #0

STORY: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
ART: Ramon Bachs and Jesus Saiz

Mitch Shelley is a huge ass. At least, the real Mitch Shelley. Not the Mitch Shelley we've been following over the past 13 months. Last month, it was revealed that the main character of Resurrection Man was actually a clone of the true Mitch Shelley, who it turns out is the evil mastermind behind the entire series' worth of criminal activities. It was an eloquent - if not slightly sadistic - way to technically end the series. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning were given this chance to explain things a bit more with Resurrection Man #0, and thus the issue gives readers a more comprehensive historical account of the real Mitch Shelley, as well as the events that led to the creation of "Resurrection Man" Mitch Shelley. The biggest shortcoming of this "Zero Issue" is that Abnett and Lanning seemed to have planned for Resurrection Man to continue, as foreshadowing and set-ups for future plot lines are littered throughout these pages.

For the same reason I've had a love/hate relationship with this series for the past few months, Resurrection Man #0 ups the ante by continuing to be one of the best titles from DC's 'New 52' even though this is the very seriously final issue. I tried to not get too attached to this series, as I knew the adventures of Mitch Shelley would soon be coming to an end. It didn't work, and just like the frustration of watching Firefly after it had been cancelled, I found myself upset that a series this good was so underrated. Honestly, I was holding out for a last-minute renewal, similar to Community's miraculous fourth season (SIX SEASONS AND A MOVIE!).

The plot of Resurrection Man #0 would seem straightforward enough. Fortunately, Abnett and Lanning don't take the easy way out, instead opting to make this origin story as wacky and sci-fi as possible. The first thing we're made to understand is that Resurrecting Mitch's memories were actually Proto-Mitch's memories. This means that it was the jerk-wad Mitch who was in the Middle East with Deathstroke and Hooker five years prior. This also accounts for all the other horrible flashbacks Living-and-Dying Mitch would have about his "past". At some point in Iraq, O.G. Mitch is badly wounded then attacked by some fish monster thing and injected with the tektite solution - a self-healing agent -  which becomes the catalyst that starts the proverbial ball rolling. To save the rest of his horribly wounded team, Mitch Sr. orders the tektite solution used to treat all of them. This is how Director Hooker receives his powers, as well as the Body Doubles.

In the hoopla of the explosions that cause all the harm, the Original Mitch Shelley loses his arm. Even with the tektites flowing through him, the reattachment is unsuccessful. Shelley orders his dead arm incinerated to keep the tektite solution out of enemy hands. But as Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, "Life finds a way." The tektites survive the incineration and escape through the smoke into nature where they instinctually sap all surrounding matter to 'resurrect' Mitch Shelley from the blueprint of his DNA grafted onto them. It's a bit complex, a bit high-concept, and is just plain cool. The tektites simply reconstitute Neu-Mitch whenever he dies in the same fashion, giving him a new power each time in the process.

Resurrection Man #0 also looks toward the (now nonexistent) future of the series. Who is the fishy-man who injects the first Mitch with tektites originally? How does Deathstroke's involvement with Mitch Shelley connect with his time with Team 7? How will Mitch make amends for the terrible crimes of his source material? Where does Kim Rebecki fit into all of this? And why is the Devil being set up to become a major character? Alas, it's highly unlikely any of these questions will ever be answered, unless Mitch joins the Justice League Dark or something. (Hint, hint, DC.)

GRADE
A

SERIES GRADE:
A+

Thursday, September 13, 2012

BATMAN #0

STORY: Scott Snyder
ART: Greg Capullo

It truly is astonishing how good Scott Snyder is on Batman. He has such an fantastic hold on the character - as both Batman and Bruce Wayne - that anything he writes seems so natural, so organic in it's flow and content. This is the 'New 52', and as such, it's not uncommon for things to feel awkward and out of place. Not Batman, though. While Snyder's epic "City of Owls" mega-arc spanned the first year of the title (not to mention most of the other Bat-books for a month in May), it was hard to gauge how this title could read on a less cerebral level. That is, could this Batman be personal, or would it continue to be Snyder's outlet for the more sensational Batman stories? While last month's "Bat Box" issue was incredibly satisfying, I truly missed Greg Capullo's artwork, which comes back this month, making Batman #0 the best of the two non-Owl themed issues yet.

I'd like to reiterate how great Scott Snyder is at writing this title because last week, I wrote in my review for Action Comics that there seems to be a few distinct types of "Zero Month" issues: the ones that gave a semi-comprehensive origin story (i.e. - Stormwatch, Animal Man, The Phantom Stranger, etc.), the ones that only focus on a particular episode from the past (i.e. - World's Finest, Earth 2, Action Comics), and the increasingly rare ones that find a way to balance both sides into a solid issue that offers some revelations into how things began, but don't resort to grand history lessons each page.

Batman #0 falls into this third category. Without an actual new origin, the writers of Batman books had to find new ways to exploit "Zero Month" - they don't get the luxury of rewriting history. In Detective Comics, we met Bruce's final teacher before he returned to Gotham. In Batman and Robin, we get a history of Damian's upbringing in the League of Assassins, and in Batman, we get Snyder's take on Bruce's earliest days fighting crime in his home city. He isn't Batman yet, and in fact, Bruce has moved him and Alfred from the mansion into Crime Alley because, "this is where I have to be, Alfred. This is where my war begins." It's a technically appropriate sentiment, but one that seems childish, even to Alfred at that moment. "And how is that war going so far, sir?"

In a surprising bit of fan service, Snyder has resurrected the original Red Hood! Yep, before Jason Todd took that moniker and built himself a cool looking red helmet, another villain had that name, albeit with a lot less swagger and talent. In Batman #0, the original Red Hood shows up with his gang to rob a bank and soon enough, he realizes that Red Hood Five is an impostor. In fact, it's Bruce Wayne trying to put a stop to criminal activity before taking on the cowl. Again, it seems childish and less thought out than we're used to from Bruce Wayne. But that's kind of the point of this issue, isn't it? Readers get a glimpse into how Bruce stumbled around before truly understanding who he was and how to fight the darkness spread throughout Gotham. This is an issue about uncertainties and how that leads to failure.

The only part of this issue that felt forced was the conversation between Bruce and Jim Gordon. After being back for three months, Bruce has moved himself into the most dangerous part of Gotham and hasn't been seen living the high life like all the other billionaires. Add to that sightings of a vigilante attempting to take the law into his own hands and Gordon begins to have a pretty good circumstantial case against the current Mr. Wayne. Of course, it's just that - circumstantial. In the end, Bruce denies everything and Gordon seemingly believes him without much of a huff. It feels like this is supposed to be Gordon eliminating Bruce Wayne as s suspect of being the vigilante (and eventually, Batman), but it feels cheap. If all these elements were adding up and equaling Bruce Wayne, what was stopping Gordon from looking into it further? The word of an insanely rich trust fund baby who just went missing for six years and now lives in Crime Alley? It all just seems a bit too much to suspend disbelief.  I understand that often, a comic book world is simply more fantastical than ours, but simple human deduction would have eventually led Gordon back to Bruce. Of course, there's always the possibility that Gordon just assumes Bruce is Batman without ever actually revealing his true thoughts.

Batman #0 does a fantastic job giving readers a history without being boring or unimportant. Batman-related books could have suffered terrible setbacks with these "Zero Month" issues. Instead, Snyder is leading the pack in terms of quality and type of story that should be told. Us readers already know how Bruce's parents died and how he becomes Batman, so these issues should be more about building up a world that leads into the present day, and Scott Snyder has done this in spades.

GRADE
A-

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

SUPERBOY #0

STORY: Tom DeFalco
ART: R.B. Silva and Rob Lean

I don't know what to think anymore. I know that's a pretty bold statement to make, but seriously, I'm all but out of reasons to continue reading Superboy. Since the beginning, the Boy of Steel's story has been one muddled, under-developed narrative after another with no discernable connecting factors. Superboy himself is a two-dimensional character whose only character development has come from sloppy inner monologue penned by a writer who doesn't know how to write as a teenager. Add to that plot lines riddled with obtuse, vague advancement, and a reliance on shock value to sell a complex story. Of course, there's always an exception to the rule, and Superboy #10, back in June, was a refreshing change of pace from the constant threat of N.O.W.H.E.R.E., the secretive criminal organization who manufactured Superboy, and acted as the 'big bad' for the first nine months of the title. Unfortunately, after that one month, Superboy descended back into mediocrity.

In Superboy #0, writer Tom DeFalco brings back N.O.W.H.E.R.E., for reasons that seem obvious at first, but slowly become incessantly annoying and unimportant. Harvest makes his unwanted return to the 'New 52' as he tells a story about the clone uprising on Krypton eons ago. Yes you read that right: this issue prominently features a villain telling a story.

It. is. so. boring.

Without any sort of backstory or identity, Harvest is already a boring villain because his motivations don't have meaning. Readers don't know why he's doing any of this, so it's not interesting. It's the same reason children's cartoons often feature mad villains who simply want to "take over the world." - they tend to not have a concrete reason for their actions, allowing for a range of stories. But they're intended for children. I expect a bit more from DeFalco and DC in general when it comes to one of their semi-flagship characters.

Harvest's tale is about Kon, the first clone on Krypton to rise up against his creators. Eventually, he starts a violent revolution against the Kryptonians, resulting in a defeat and the extermination of all clones planet-wide. It's an interesting enough story, but it's presentation is just so lazy it's hard to get past the fact that we're literally being read an alien fable. I can think of at least five different ways issue could have gone that would have effectively conveyed the ideas without stooping to the most basic and frustrating of storytelling styles.

In the end, not much is revealed in the way the origins of Superboy. Sure, the tale of Kon and his bloody rampage against his makers could foreshadow future events, but as a stand-alone issue, this one falls so short of good it's hard to put into words. As I flipped through the issue upon initial purchase, I pondered for a moment if perhaps Harvest was a Kryptonian clone looking to restart his revolution. It got me excited to read the issue, thinking DeFalco would actually make some connections and give me something to hold onto going forward. The opposite happened: I was so let down by this issue that I don't even know if I want to continue reading Superboy.

Good luck going forward, DeFalco.

GRADE
F

AVENGERS vs. X-MEN #11 of 12

STORY: Brian Michael Bendis
ART: Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales

It's emotional gut-punch time! Over the past eight years, Marvel has made it pretty standard to kill off a major character at the end of major events. For Avengers: Disassembled, it was Hawkeye and Ant-Man. During Civil War, it was Captain America, and for Avengers vs. X-Men...you didn't think I'd spoil it this early in the review, did you? No, I'll give that little gem a bit more time.

Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel helm Avengers vs. X-Men #11, bringing the event ever closer to it's conclusion and segue into 'Marvel NOW!' starting in October. Ever since Cyclops and the other four X-Men took control of the Phoenix Force, it's been an obvious downward spiral for the Children of the Atom, and in this issue, that fact becomes all the more apparent once Rogue seeks asylum amongst the Avengers along with the rest of the disenfranchised mutants once loyal to Cyclops. Oh, and Charles Xavier is now in the mix for good. This just got real.

This is an issue filled with emotional and physical confrontations. With a huge new contingent of mutants at their side, as well as Xavier - who explains that he knows "what must be done" - the Avengers lay siege to Utopia, all while Professor X keeps Cyclops occupied in his own head. It's harrowing to see Cyclops, a cosmic god, bending to the will of a mere mutant. Of course, it's not just any mutant, and we get to see Charles Xavier unleash the full extent of his power against Cyclops as a legion of X-Men and Avengers descend upon Emma Frost to keep her occupied. Hell, they even manage to get the Hulk to help out. A lot of these pages are dedicated to the big fight. But Bendis is such an adept writer, he organically balances the fighting with the intervention-style confessionals by the likes of Iceman, (somewhat) Storm, Magneto, and - obviously - Xavier himself. Each one of them has a special connection to Scott Summers, and each has some words for the leader of the X-Men who's become a megalomaniac.

The opening pages of Avengers vs. X-Men #11 show Cyclops and Emma arguing over the fate of the universe, something that doesn't carry a lot of weight at first, but soon becomes the catalyst for Scott's eventual betrayal of Emma and his subsequent power play. It's telling how these two characters can chat about rewriting the universe without questioning why they should. Sure, both want the best for mutantkind, but the strain of the Phoenix obviously has taken away perspective (as seen more eloquently in Avengers vs. X-Men #6 Infinite). By the time Cyclops attacks Emma so he can acquire her power, it's pretty much expected. Bendis foreshadows this inevitability, but then acts like it's a big surprise once it happens. We all knew it would come down to Scott, it just became a question of when.

Scott feels violated. He's moved mountains, saved countless lives, and changed the world for the better, and now all his friends and family stand against him. He is a leader without a nation, a shepherd with no flock. It's a tough position to be in, but with interstellar powers at your fingertips, that grief can turn into suffering pretty quickly. And so it goes, Scott and Charles duke it out. In the end, it's Xavier on the ground and Scott floating above the corpse in a perfectly haunting fashion.

A lot of this issue's merits come from the emotional ramifications of the one of Marvel's Golden Children falling into darkness. Cyclops has been a mainstay in the Marvel universe since he was introduced. He's been in a leadership position throughout most of it, and he's been at odds with Charles Xavier only a handful of times that didn't have nearly the same ramifications as this disagreement. The fact that Charles feels he must force Scott to stop means there could never have been a positive outcome for either party. Scott loses the strongest father in his life, and Charles loses the son he always wished he had. It's beginning to look like no one will win this war. Usually, these mega-events don't have meaningful boundaries (i.e. - death is meaningless, changing alliances, etc.), so I hope Marvel sticks to it's guns for a while and keeps Xavier down. It was a truly shocking moment (though it was expected), and I'd hate for that emotional nuance to be squandered by resurrecting the good Professor.

GRADE
B

Saturday, September 8, 2012

BIG CHANGES COMING


NEW REVIEW FORMAT

Since the beginning of 'The Endless Reel', I've kept a pretty strict review format, which I supplemented a few months ago with 4-Sentence Reviews to give some other titles I read a spotlight on top of the regularly covered titles.

Now, with DC entering Year Two of the 'New 52', and Marvel Comics soft-relaunching a majority of their line under the 'Marvel NOW!' moniker, I want to take 'The Endless Reel' to a new level. I want to branch out of the traditional review format and give readers a more comprehensive and complete comic book experience - at least from the major two companies. I'm only one man.

Starting in October, 'The Endless Reel's review format will change in a rather significant way. While there will still be standards REVIEWs, I've created some 'columns' that will focus on different parts of the DC universe - mostly categorized by title families - as well as a section for 'Marvel NOW!' titles, as well as 4-Sentence Reviews, which will be rebranded as EXTRA! EXTRA! Posts will include "The Dark Write", a Batman Family column covering two or more Batman titles each week. There will also be "Leagues Beyond" - focusing on Justice League books like JL, The Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and the upcoming JLA - "Marvel NOW!", which is pretty self-explanatory, as well as "Rotworld LIVE!" which will cover every issue of Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. relating to the crossover "Rotworld" event. And "Into the Night" will offer regular coverage of both I, Vampire and Justice League Dark.

One of the trade-offs of offering more title coverage on 'The Endless Reel', is that the amount of actual words dedicated to titles within these columns will be less than a full review. Not four sentences short, but not a full, six paragraph review. That being said, I will continue to bring comprehensive analysis to all the titles I cover, no matter the length of their reviews. Also, from time to time, I'll feature one of the column-related titles as a full-length review.

I'll update the MONTHLY SCHEDULE in the coming days as I get everything fine-tuned, and soon, 'The Endless Reel' will move on to it's next phase!

MARVEL NOW!
Now that Avengers vs. X-Men is winding down, Marvel is close to launching 'Marvel NOW!', their soft-reboot that will affect a great portion of the company's titles. While some new titles are being introduced, a whole slew of books are being relaunched with new #1's and new creative teams.

After eight years of major events that all supposedly led up to this, Marvel is mixing up it's long-established creative teams. These writer and artist changes promise cool new directions for characters that have honestly grown stale in these last few years. With new perspectives and new talent, I'm looking forward to not only the new titles, but also reading relaunched titles that I wouldn't have read before. Much like my rekindled interest in DC's line when the 'New 52' launched, 'Marvel NOW!' is getting me back into Marvel, post-AvX, and I want that experience to be part of 'The Endless Reel'.

Initially, all titles under the 'Marvel NOW!' name will be listed in the MONTHLY SCHEDULE section. I plan on reading all the #1's, then deciding which ones will be covered on a regular basis. Then again, I may just review all of them. We'll see.