Wednesday, October 31, 2012

REVIEW: ACTION COMICS ANNUAL #1


(w) Sholly Fisch
(w) Max Landis (Back-Up)
(p) Cully Hammer
(p) Ryan Sook (Back-Up)

While reading this issue of Action Comics, I was reminded of the age-old question pondered by superheroes and frat boys the world 'round: if I went crazy then would you still call me Superman? It's a really, really bad song and the line itself is awful, but it actually has a meaning. It hearkens to the unyielding need to be loved no matter what and the subsequent madness that comes from trying to attain said love. In the case of Clay Ramsay, that need manifests itself as the Kryptonite Man, or K-Man. Action Comics Annual #1 is a full-out awesome comic book good time. That's right -- I used six adjectives in a row to describe a single issue. It's that good. I don't want to make it sound like I haven't been enjoying Grant Morrison's run on the series, but Sholly Fisch plays the story with flare instead of poignance. For a series heavily embroiled in mythology and thick narrative, Action Comics Annual #1 is lighter and more easily enjoyable, even considering the circumstances of the issue's events.

Clay Ramsay -- the man a young Supes stopped after years of beating his wife -- is still bitter with rage at the Man of Steel for destroying his life. Ramsay signs up for a "government" program that will give him powers beyond Superman's by way of kryptonite. This is the first time kryptonite has been used in the 'New 52', and Fisch does an amazing job introducing the xenomaterial (as an substance from outer space is to be known now, I guess) while not immediately making it evident that it can affect Superman so aversely. The battle between Superman and K-Man is a total page-turner, with each panel more engaging than the last. It's difficult to convey enlightenment, but the point when Ramsay recognizes that the kryptonite radiation is a force unto itself against Superman is so spot-on that I found myself literally smiling.

The inclusion of John Henry Irons and his extended tale is a major plus for Action Comics Annual #1. Irons was last seen helping out in Metropolis when Superman went off to battle the Collector of Worlds up in space. His return here is not only welcome, but completely organic and fluid -- in no way does his presence feel forced or stressed at all. Fisch uses Irons as a metaphor for how superheroes really affect humanity; they inspire hope in people, and for us to strive to be our best. After aiding in the clean-up of Metropolis, Irons decides to spread his knowledge across the globe in the form of a "socially responsible tech company" called SteelWorks. Fisch understands that in the modern day, a man like Irons wouldn't take a moniker and become a superhero in the same fashion as the Justice League (he even has Irons explain it to Superman).

Action Comics Annual #1 is an example of how 'Annual' issues should play out; a fun story, great character writing, and fantastic cultural insight. 

GRADE
9/10

REVIEW: WOLVERINE and THE X-MEN #19


(w) Jason Aaron
(p) Nick Bradshaw
(i) Walden Wong

I started reading Wolverine and The X-Men at issue nine when the series started it's "Avengers vs. X-Men" tie-in arc. At the time, I found the book to be inexplicably irritating. To this day, I can't explain (even to myself) why I was so averse to reading about the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning. After seeing Logan and his students through the events of "AvX", I've come to appreciate Jason Aaron's whimsical and off-the-wall take on a school for mutant children. Wolverine and The X-Men #19 is the first issue to be published under the 'Marvel NOW!' banner. One might assume this is only because "AvX" is over, and in that assumption, one would be wrong. Aaron goes to great lengths, this issue, to give readers a good jumping-off point for the series. 

The biggest result of "Avengers vs. X-Men" was the activation of new mutants across the globe. Since the JGSHL is the only school equipped to deal with such a situation, Kitty Pride is attempting to prepare for an onslaught of new students. Husk has been put on medical leave for psychological reasons, meaning Kitty's got potentially hundreds of new students to enroll with one less experienced teacher. Aaron has some fun with these pages, having random mutants and heroes from around the Marvel Universe applying for the job including Blade, Sasquatch and Puck (from Alpha Flight), Damian Hellstrom, Dr. Nemesis, Ghost Rider (???), and, of course, Deadpool.

The other half of the issue is dedicated to the attack on Broo at the end of last issue -- the under-18 version of the Hellfire Club shot the pacifist Brood child and left him for dead in a field. While Beast attempts to recruit the greatest scientific minds on the planet in efforts to restart Broo's damaged brain, Wolverine and Rachel Grey scour Westchester County for the assailant. Broo has been a fan favorite since he was introduced, and it's sad seeing him broken in a hospital bed, stuck in a coma. Jason Aaron is very good at tugging on heart-strings and it shows this issue.

I'm actually very much anticipating this coming year of Wolverine and The X-Men. The series only got eight issue under it's belt before being forced to connect to "AvX" events, so it will be fun and interesting to see how Aaron handles the series going forward.

GRADE
8/10

FEATURED REVIEW: AQUAMAN #13


(w) Geoff Johns
(p) Ivan Reis and Joe Prado

"The Others" concludes this issue after a six-month adventure featuring the rag-tag team of misfits that Arthur Curry once allied. Geoff Johns has done a stellar job going beyond a simple character reboot, and has made Aquaman one of the preeminent characters in the 'New 52'. While the first arc, "The Trench", did well to give readers a general structure for Arthur and the series in general, "The Others" has been all about character development and growth - Arthur's history with Black Manta isn't as black and white (eh? eh? Get it??) as it was pre-'New 52', and that's led Johns to make both characters more interesting and fun to read than they have in years. 

Don't get me wrong, "The Others" has it's fair share of faults -- Aquaman's constant violent bitterness, Mera's ineptitude when it comes to Arthur's feelings, a whole new cast of characters that only somewhat make an impression -- but these nitpick-y criticisms are part of a larger picture that Johns is drawing concerning the King of Atlantis. Obviously, this isn't the last time we'll be hearing from Arthur's old teammates, so it makes sense that Johns didn't want to reveal everything about these characters in their introductory arc. After learning that Arthur had a whole life before meeting her, Mera doesn't really know how to approach her husband, and that's exactly what the character needs at this point in her narrative.

The biggest problem I had with "The Others" was Arthur's irrational anger and 'Lone Ranger' attitude that continued to get him into trouble. It's becoming more and more clear that Johns is using 'mystery' as a story element that applies to Arthur on a variety of different levels -- his ancestry, this friends, his motivations, etc. Arthur is an introvert, and one that seemingly gets explosively angry when others impede on his isolation. I understand wanting to make Aquaman a little rougher around the edges, but making him a huge jerk to his longtime friends is not the way to do it, per se.

That being said, Aquaman #13 turns the entire story around for me in a positive light. Arthur is finally starting to understand that by pushing away those who love him the most, he was putting them in more danger than if he had just accepted their help. At the end of Aquaman #12, Others member Vostok was murdered by Black Manta. Vostok was the most secluded of the group, spending decades waiting for the team to come back together so he could have a purpose once more. Arthur doesn't handle Vostok's death well, but in a good way. Obviously, Arthur is heartbroken that one of his oldest allies is dead, but the half-Atlantean hero uses this horrific event to motivate himself to be better than he's been.

The message Johns tries to convey with Aquaman #13 and "The Others" as a complete arc, is that Arthur Curry used to be a different man, one that used violence and anger to solve all his problems until those same qualities became the source of all his problems. Black Manta's presence was the trigger that brought the old Arthur bubbling to the surface. It's a truly genius way to write a story, letting the tale almost tell itself as Arthur's past starts to make more and more sense in context with the rest of his team. Arthur even admits, "I didn't tell you...because I'm ashamed, Mera." Arthur understands that his past is just that -- the past. He wants to separate himself from the chaotic man he used to be, but the ghosts of former mistakes keep rearing their heads.

In the end, Johns reveals that Black Manta's entire mission was simply building up to the upcoming "Throne of Atlantis" crossover with Justice League. Manta answers to someone, but we don't yet know who. It's most likely Arthur's half-brother, Orm (more popularly known as Ocean Master), but knowing Geoff Johns and his penchant for throwing curve balls, it may be someone even more sinister. Aquaman #13 is as perfect a conclusion issue as one can get. It neatly (but not too easily) wraps up "The Others", shows how the protagonist has learned and grown because of the events that transpired, and it deftly makes readers excited for the next story.

GRADE
9.5/10

THE WEEK (OCT 31-NOV 6, 2012)

FEATURED REVIEW
Aquaman #13
(w) Geoff Johns
(p) Ivan Reis and Joe Prado
Even though this issue got pushed back a week, I won't hold that against it. Aquaman #13 finally wraps up "The Others" and starts on the path toward the "Throne of Atlantis" crossover with Justice League starting in December. While this arc has been fun and interesting, it's really time for it to be done, especially after having to wait an extra month due to "Zero Month".

A+X #1

(w) Jeph Loeb, Warren Ellis
(p) Dale Keown
I was planning on making this 'Marvel NOW!' title the FEATURED REVIEW of the week before I remembered how difficult it was to pump out five paragraphs of writing focused on two very short stories in the pages of AvX: VS. A+X is basically the same premise - two stories, ten pages each, one Avengers and one X-Man - except this time the Avengers and X-Men are teaming up instead of whooping each other til the cows come home.

Action Comics Annual #1

(w) Sholly Fisch
(p) Cully Hammer
Grant Morrison takes a break and let's Sholly Fisch - regular back-up story contributor - take a crack at the main tale of Action Comics in this Annual issue. This story apparently takes place directly after the Brainiac events and features a villain known as the Kryptonite Man. Maybe he has some connection to Metallo? Maybe it's just a completely new character. Only Fisch and DC editorial knows!

AvX: Consequences #2-4

(w) Kieron Gillen
(p) Steve Kurth
I've been only somewhat impressed by Kieron Gillen's AvX: Consequences, mostly because it very much feels like a lot of the happenings in these pages could have easily been integrated into other Marvel titles. Instead, we get a weird anthology series that throws us multiple stories whose only connection is their timeframe. If we connected things like that in the real world, there would be no organization. At all.

Justice League Dark Annual #1
(w) Jeff Lemire
(p) Mikel Janin
It's the explosive finale to "War for the Books of Magic"! And it guest-stars new JLD team member Frankenstein, as well as Princess Amethyst from Sword of Sorcery! Lemire is such a talent, and adding Frank and Amy into the mix is just a deft move. I love this series the more and more I read it each month.

Swamp Thing Annual #1

(w) Scott Snyder
(p) Becky Cloonan
While this issue doesn't fit directly into the current "Rotworld: The Green Kingdom" arc, Swamp Thing Annual #1 does give readers an in-depth look at the origin of the rivalry between Swamp Thing and Anton Arcane. Maybe it's just me, but it often feels like Scott Snyder is just constantly jumping back in time to explain current events. This isn't bad when done sparingly, but Snyder seems to be over-saturating Swamp Thing with ghosts of the past, as it were, instead of building the character as he is now.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

REVIEW: SUPERMAN #13



This review was originally published on PopMatters.com.

(w) Scott Lobdell
(p) Kenneth Rocafort


There’s something different about Superman in the ‘New 52’. I’m not just talking about the new costume or back-story, or the fact that Grant Morrison is handling his early days in Action Comics – DC has fundamentally shifted the Man of Steel’s position in their mindset, and it basically amounts to a downgrade for the Last Son of Krypton.

Hear me out.

In recent years, Batman has become not only DC’s most popular character, but also arguably the most popular comic book character, in general. Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy framed Batman for a modern generation and it became a huge success. Hence, DC has focused a lot more of its comic book efforts on Batman. The ‘New 52’ features 13 different Batman-related titles each month – five of which focus on Bats exclusively or with a partner – while there are only four dedicated to the Superman Family. For as long as Superman has been around, he’s been DC’s poster boy and, frankly, the most iconic superhero in the world – until now.

Of the Superman-related titles, two of them focus on Clark Kent’s alter-ego. Grant Morrison has been guiding Superman through his early years in Action Comics to varying degrees of success, while the character’s eponymous book has been caught in a flurry of creative switch-ups, editorial tightening, and overall dissonance concerning the direction the title should be moving. George Perez publically left the title after revealing a number of woes concerning management at DC dictating creative choices, leaving Superman to flounder for a bit. With no solid course or focus, the title has been lacking. Last month, Scott Lobdell was brought on board for Superman #0 to lead the series into the upcoming “H’el on Earth” crossover between Superman, Superboy, and Supergirl.

I have a rather tumultuous personal opinion concerning Scott Lobdell. While I absolutely hated his runs on both Superboy and Teen Titans, I find Red Hood and The Outlaws to be one of my favorite titles month to month. I can’t really explain it, and at this point, I don’t know that it much matters. Superman #13 affirms that Lobdell is bringing the best of what he brings to Red Hood and The Outlaws – including series artist Kenneth Rocafort – to his interpretation of the Man of Steel. All the stiff dialogue, convoluted plot, and unrealistic emotional drama that littered the pages of TT and Superboy are absent here, replaced by a surprisingly solid handle on Superman as a character with a clearly defined and structured narrative path.

Superman #13 almost acts as a reset button for the series. While events in previous issues are mentioned, it’s mostly to set the scene. The only real thing any new reader would need to know going into this issue is that Clark Kent has been frustrated working for the Daily Planet for some time. Clark’s grand Network­-style exit from the hallowed halls of journalism are quickly (and humorously) tamped when “fashion-obsessed, self-absorbed bobblehead” Cat – a fellow journalist – walks out after Clark and explains how she was inspired by his speech. While Cat wants Clark to feel better about what he’s done, the fact that she came and no one else did points to Clark’s all-around attitude concerning the money-grubbing entertainment conglomerate. It’s a sly move on Lobdell’s part, giving both Clark and Cat more depth as characters with little more than a tactical conversation.

The beginning of the issue heralds a new character, Dr. Veritas. She’s a rather utilitarian-looking figure with a lab coat draped over what looks like body armor. Of course, the more obvious explanation is that Kenneth Rocafort’s penciling style just makes everyone look badass like they’re wearing battle armor. If that’s the case, awesome, if not, then there’s got to be a reason for her unexplained militaristic get-up. Either way, Veritas is already an interesting character because Superman knows who she is and we don’t. Oh, and she has a lab with a machine that can exert the weight of the planet for Superman to bench-press. The machine’s amazing capabilities aside, the fact that it exists and that this woman owns it is incredibly fascinating. I found myself wanting to know more and more about Dr. Veritas and her relationship with Superman the entire time I was reading.

Scott Lobdell is a curious writer, for sure. Some of his work falls so terribly flat I want to go back and save the paper and ink used to make the issues he’s written, and some of goes on my “Must Buy” list for the month. Superman #13 reads fantastic and looks fantastic thanks to Kenneth Rocafort and his chiseled feature-heavy style that compliments Superman so well. I was starting to get annoyed by how frumpy Supes was looking as drawn by Jesus Merino and later Dan Jurgens. Not only does Lobdell start an excellent new chapter in Clark Kent’s life, but he also builds directly up to next month’s start of “H’el on Earth”, featuring the other last survivor of Krypton’s death. Basically, if you were reading Superman and got disappointed each month, stick with it. If you haven’t read this series up until now, start here.

GRADE
8/10

Monday, October 29, 2012

EXTRA! EXTRA! (OCT 24-30, 2012)

Batman: The Dark Knight #13
(w) Gregg Hurwitz
(p) David Finch

Batman: The Dark Knight #13 continues Gregg Hurwitz's phenomenal Scarecrow arc that reintroduces Doctor Jonathan Crane to the 'New 52' in a much more frightening scope than he's ever been before. Hurwitz has been parsing out Scarecrow's horrid past over each issue instead of dumping it on readers all at once, a decision that's been paying off in spades as Crane becomes more and more terrifying with each subsequent issue. On top of that, Scarecrow's new super toxin is forcing Bruce to face his actual fear - that of actually ascending into the light and being able to live a normal life. It's a poignant perspective to take on Batman, that he indeed had a choice about how to live his life and deliberately chose to chase after the darkness and envelop himself in shadows.

GRADE: 8.5/10  

I, Vampire #13
(w) Joshua Hale Fialkov
(p) Andrea Sorrentino

I, Vampire sits rather comfortably outside the main DC universe - though there are crossovers from time to time, a majority of what happens doesn't directly affect much of the other characters DC has at it's disposal. That being said, Joshua Hal Fialkov succeeds every month in bringing a new chapter to his fascinating story of Andrew Bennett, his rise into glory and his current fall into darkness. I, Vampire #13 sees Mary Seward - formerly 'Queen of Blood' - teaming up with Bennett's professor friend to find Andrew's maker, while Andrew and his new prodigy, Tig, track down Deborah Dancer - a woman from Andrew's past who is only half-vampire. Fialkov is taking big risks in sending his main character down such a twisted and violent path, but such risks can lead to daring results and amazing narratives - I, Vampire easily falls into that category month after month.

GRADE: 8/10

X-Treme X-Men #5
(w) Greg Pak
(p) Paco Diaz

X-Treme X-Men is the weird step-sibling of the X-Men canon of series Marvel produces - it's events are spun out of an arc from Uncanny X-Men by Kieron Gillen, only one character from Earth-616 is present, and the team travels across various dimensions hunting down evil versions of Charles Xavier. On one hand, it's a rather limiting premise -  one that doesn't allow for much diversion - while on the other hand, it has the potential for a literal infinite amount of stories due to the nature of the multiverse. So far, Greg Pak has done a great job bringing short, action-packed arcs that take advantage of a infinite multiverse with cool, alternate versions of the X-Men hanging around. X-Treme X-Men #5 finishes up a two-part tale of evil Xavier in the wild west.

GRADE: 8.3/10

Sunday, October 28, 2012

REVIEW: BATMAN, INCORPORATED #4

(w) Grant Morrison
(p) Chris Burnham

FINALLY -- an issue of Batman Incorporated that's not layered in 50,000 levels of misdirection, metaphorical symbolism, intricate backstory, or mind-bending espionage. And it's the best issue yet. Seriously. Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham's road has been a bit bumpy so far, with the third issue of Batman Incorporated being the first 'New 52' title delayed more than a few weeks, then an "Issue Zero" that took us out of the main story for another month. Batman Incorporated #4 feels like the series is gaining momentum for the first time, and it's incredible reading. Not to mention that most of Batman, Inc. shows up (including Nightwing and Red Robin) for a massive raid on the League of Assassins.

Grant Morrison announced a while back that he'll be leaving Batman Inc. after issue 12; an fact that doesn't bode well for the title, which has been Morrison's vehicle to bring a conclusion to his years-long, multi-title arc concerning Batman, Talia al Ghul, and Damian Wayne. I honestly thought we'd have to wait until at least issue seven or eight to get deep into plot advancement, but Morrison brings the thunder early this month. Chris Burnham beautifully illustrates Morrison's epic battle between Batman and his army and the waves upon waves of the deadliest killers in the entire world.

Batman Incorporated has been a victim of circumstance since it began, and though that was partly Morrison's own fault, it's now growing into it's own as a solid title in the 'New 52' lineup. I'm skeptical it'll continue after Morrison steps down, as that would open up a spot for a new title in the roster while also trimming down the already massive number of Batman-related titles. That being said, if DC were to get someone like China Mieville to take over, the series might just stand a chance of continuing.


GRADE
9/10

Friday, October 26, 2012

REVIEW: RED LANTERNS #13


(w) Peter Milligan
(p) Gabriel Sepulveda

Red Lanterns hasn't been the best book of the 'New 52', but neither is it the worst, or even close really. Giving Atrocitus and the Red Lantern Corps their own series was a risky move, but one that has paid off in terms of the world-building - the greater good, if you will. While they are indeed fueled by pure rage, and their methods absolutely include torture and murder, the Red Lanterns are still good guys, technically, out to right the wrongs in the universe. Actually, Atrocitus has been one of the more multi-faceted characters throughout the entire 'New 52'. Without any sort of focused mission or crisis to follow, the Red Lantern leader has had to deal with his personal demons throughout the series, and that's not something a lot of comic book writers get to try. Even though the results have been mixed, the fact that Peter Milligan is ready and willing to delve into the psyche of the universe's angriest living thing is impressive in it's own right.

Red Lanterns #13 brings Atrocitus and his crimson cronies into "Rise of the Third Army" in style with the best tie-in this month. It's crazy that of all the Green Lantern Family titles, it's Red Lanterns that gives readers the most information and the best story leading into the event. The issue focuses on a young inhabitant of planet Arhtky named Taya. Taya's parents are murdered by a vicious warlord named Cord who has apparently been laying waste to the planet town by town. Taya and her sister are taken prisoner, and Taya is forced to be a dancer for Cord and his men. Milligan does a fantastic job conveying Taya's growing rage through these pages, and he hits an issue high when Taya's sister is murdered simply for offering herself in exchange for Taya's innocence. These pages are simply brutal, and honestly hard to read at some points. This is all to Milligan's credit, who's been struggling to find the right niche when it comes to the essence of rage. 

Soon, the story integrates Atrocitus, Bleez, Rankorr, and new Red Lantern Skorch as they descend upon Arhtky to lay judgement upon Cord and his men. Taya is mortally wounded in the chaos, and Atrocitus explains that the Red Lantern central battery isn't yet at full enough capacity to create new rings. When the Red Lanterns 'feel' Taya's rage half a universe away, they understand that since she won't receive a ring, it's up to them to seek vengeance on her behalf. Up until this issue, Milligan was again having difficulty justifying the Red Lanterns' actions against their supposed morality. The fact that Atrocitus comes to Taya's aid is a solid example of how the Red Lanterns act as a force of justice, however ruthless it may be.

The Guardian Soldiers also happen to be on Arhtky, and Atrocitus soon learns that the eyes are the weakness. I won't go into this part of the issue any more because it's the first real introduction to the Third Army, and it's worth reading. 

If you can't tell, I was seriously and pleasantly surprised by Red Lanterns #13. The main reason I've kept up with the series is because Green Lantern is my favorite character franchise, and I just wanted to collect all the GL Family titles. Simple as that. Now, I'm truly invested in Red Lanterns.

GRADE
9/10

REVIEW: THE FLASH #13

(w) Francis Manapul and Buccellato
(a) Francis Manapul

I never thought I could be so terrified of Gorilla Grodd.

That sentence pretty much sums up my experience reading The Flash #13, the issue that begins "Gorilla Warfare" which pits Flash and the Central City's Rogues against Grodd and his invasion force of super-intelligent apes. Grodd, as a character, is an instance where non-comic book fans would have a difficult time understanding how a smart gorilla is in any way a dangerous threat to Flash. Of course, those who read know that Grodd is one of Barry Allen's most deadly enemies. In recent years (and before the 'New 52' relaunch) Grodd had become increasingly less viable as a villain, trading in his viciousness for higher intelligence and more scheme-centric plans. His animated self as seen in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited was also tempered for younger audiences as well as for the general feel of the shows. Fortunately, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato do Grodd a service in The Flash #13 by revitalizing the character and making his an ominous presence once again.

Grodd himself doesn't say a lot this month, but he doesn't have to - the slew of soliders rocketing to Earth in capsules says enough for him. The Rogues are still on-scene, trying to make their getaway to no avail because the apes attack. One of the best parts of The Flash thus far is how he villains of the story are written just as well as Barry. These aren't just enemies that show up for a few issues then disappear - these are Flash's Rogues! Each Rogue answers to his or her own moral code, and it starts showing once Flash becomes overwhelmed by the gorillas.

But how is Flash having difficulty fighting giant, slow gorillas, you ask? Well, Grodd truly believes it was he who was destined to be the scion of the Speed Force, not Barry. Based on this notion, Grodd is constantly attempting to access the Speed Force, and it seems as though he was able to use it as part of the invasion of Central City. Thus, Grodd's gorilla soliders have been affected by the Speed Force, allowing them to more easily combat Flash's supersonic speed. It's a bit flimsy, but I'm willing to let this pass because of how well Manapul and Buccellato frame the main story.

Grodd is insane, through and through. Trickster approaches the looming ape king and offers his services as a credible citizen of Central City, as well as a villain who knows how to find Flash. In the most graphic sequence of the issue, Grodd literally tears the Trickster's arm off before claiming that he needs no man's help in his conquest. It's a powerful scene and one that shows just how much for violent and ruthless Grodd is under Manapul and Buccellato's direction.


GRADE
9/10

Thursday, October 25, 2012

REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #13


(w) Jeff Lemire
(p) Mikel Janin


Last month's Justice League Dark #0 gave readers a look into the romantic history of John Constantine and Zatanna, which included a master mage named Nick Necro. In previous months, a mysterious man smoking a cigarette has been the guiding hand behind the JLD's troubles concerning the Books of Magic. How I did not infer that Nick Necro was the mysterious smoking figure from the last few issues is beyond me. But there you have it: sometimes you win, sometimes you totally miss the obvious clues.

The Justice League Dark seems to be getting smaller, with it's members either ditching the team altogether (see Andrew Bennet) or revealing themselves to be traitors (see Doctor Mist). With the coming cancellation of Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Jeff Lemire is planning on bringing Franky over to JLD bringing the roster back up to five including Constantine, Zatanna, Black Orchid, and Deadman. It's not a huge deal, but it's just interesting to see how many different characters have now been members of the JLD, and it's only issue 13.

Basically, Justice League Dark #13 is the prelude to the conclusion of "War for the Books of Magic". Nick Necro is putting his final plans together to find the Books, part of which includes Felix Faust retrieving Timothy Hunter, the boy who is supposedly the key to finding the books and unlocking their power. Fortunately, Madame Xanadu is on site and whisks Timothy away before Faust can take him. Meanwhile, the rest of the team takes on the combined power of Nick Necro - recently returned from Hell with a cadre of new powers and abilities - and Doctor Mist. This isn't the final battle. Mostly, Lemire uses this issue to put all the pieces into place for the coming showdown. Yes, there's a lot of magic being thrown around, but it's the personal relationships that take the heaviest beating this month. Constantine, Zatanna, and Necro have a past and it comes back to bite them. And we only have to wait one week for Justice League Dark Annual #1 for the final chapter!


GRADE
8/10

FEATURED REVIEW: TEEN TITANS #13


(w) Scott Lobdell with Fabian Nicieza
(p) Ale Garza

Now that Scott Lobdell has duties elsewhere (come back soon for my Superman #13 review), he's leaving Teen Titans in the hands of Fabian Nicieza, whose most recent work with Kid Flash in DC Universe Presents #12 was completely sub-par. Now, I assumed, going into this issue, that I would not be impressed. I figured that Lobdell's plot coupled with Nicieza's scripts would just be too much for my brain to handle, causing me to shut down mid-issue. To my surprise, Teen Titans #13 surpassed all my low expectations and made the title viable as a 'top tier' book once again. Nicieza brings a sensibility to the general plotting that makes it far less campy and stylized that most of what Lobdell writes directly.

"The Origin of Wonder Girl" continues this month and still stands as my favorite Teen Titans arc thus far. Not only do we get the more comprehensive story behind Cassie and Diesel's relationship, but we get more development from Superboy and Red Robin, though more indirectly by their responses. Before this arc, Cassie Sandsmark was little more than a girl with mystical armor - no real personality or depth beyond her fierce and aggressive attitude. Last month's Teen Titans #0 was great for fleshing out Tim Drake as Red Robin, but Drake's a character who generally wasn't altered much beyond some minute details. Cassie, on the other hand, seems to have no connection to Wonder Woman or the Greek gods at all.

Previous issues of Teen Titans have brought information dumps, but never have they been enjoyable or subtle in their context. For some reason, Lobdell always figured it would be best to just give readers all the information at once, leaving reactions and discussion until the end when we (and the characters in the book) could take a moment to reflect on what was revealed and/or explained. This was a big mistake because this isn't how people operate! We interact with each other while storytelling, especially when the story is interesting and the listener wants to know more. It might seem like a small bit of technique, but the fact that Nicieza has Superboy and Red Robin interjecting from time to time with offhanded comments and observations makes a world of difference when it comes to making a story more believable. Add to that a reduced use of the inner monologue Lobdell is so fond of, and Teen Titans #13 might just take the cake for my favorite single issue of the series so far.

It's unfortunate, but a lot of Scott Lobdell's missteps are not a result of the title he's working on, but rather a fundamental misunderstanding of how people read comics and how they stay interested and compelled in the contemporary marketplace. For Lobdell - a writer who came to prominence in the adjective-soaked weirdness of the 1990s - trying to write the Teen Titans effectively was not working. His tailored style didn't fit with today's teenagers, and it was systematically pulling the series into the dirt. I'm glad Fabian Nicieza is getting a chance to make the series good. Hopefully, he can keep this trend going and make Teen Titans one of the 'must have' titles of the 'New 52'.

GRADE
8/10

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

THE WEEK (OCT 24-30, 2012)


FEATURED REVIEW

Teen Titans #13
(w) Scott Lobdell
(p) Ale Garza
Wonder Girl is forced to fight her ex-boyfriend for control of the Silent Armor! It's time to get back to Cassie Sandsmark's origin and her connection to the Greek gods, which has been my most favorite arc of the series thus far. 

The Flash #13
(w/p) Francis Manapul and Buccellato
After a lengthy bout against the various members of the Rogues, Flash must face Gorilla Grodd and his plans to steal the Speed Force from Flash! "Gorilla Warfare" promises to be an awesome arc in Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato's already amazing run with the character.

Justice League Dark #13
(w) Jeff Lemire
(p) Mikel Janin
It's the penultimate chapter in the "War for the Books of Magic" arc that will conclude later this month in Justice League Dark Annual #1. Remember a few months ago when that mystery man took control of the House of Secrets? Well now it's House of Mystery vs. House of Secrets!

Red Lanterns #13
(w) Peter Milligan
(p) Gabriel Sepulveda
"Rise of the Third Army" continues this week as one of the Red Lanterns gets taken by the Army! Atrocitus literally just finished up saving his Corps from the darkened soul of Abysmus, and now he's got to stave off a hive-mind army guided by the Guardians of the Universe? This guy has his work cut out for him.

Extra! Extra!
A-Babies vs. X-Babies
(w/p) Various

Batman Incorporated #4
(w) Grant Morrison
(p) Chris Burnham

Batman: The Dark Knight #13
(w) Gregg Hurwitz
(p) David Finch


Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #4 of 4
(w) Darwyn Cooke
(p) Amanda Conner

Bravest Warriors #1
(w) Joey Comeau
(p) Mike Holmes

I, Vampire #13
(w) Joshua Hale Fialkov
(p) Andrea Sorrentino

X-Treme X-Men #5
(w) Greg Pak
(p)

EXTRA! EXTRA! (OCT 17-23, 2012)


Before Watchmen: Minutemen #4 of 6
(w/p) Cooke

Minutemen #4 continues Darwyn Cooke's absolutely phenomenal take on the group that fought crime before the Watchmen formed by way of two stories - one focused on Comedian's time on a Japanese island during World War II, the other about the death of Silhouette. While Brian Azzarello tries in vain in Comedian to make Eddie Blake a relatable character, Cooke manages to do so with ease by placing the Comedian in one of his first morally ambiguous situations that changes the way he views war and the world. Silhouette's part of the issue is really more about Nite Owl Hollis Mason's relationship with Silhouette and how her death affects him and the rest of the Minutemen. This is truly the best title of Before Watchmen, and honestly, one of the best titles of 2012 - while I'm still generally skeptical of the entire prequel notion (see every other BW series besides Ozymandias and Silk Spectre), Minutemen directed by Darwyn Cooke has the potential to be an ongoing series...if only.

GRADE: 9.5/10

Blue Beetle #13
(w) Tony Bedard
(p) Ig Guara
(i) JP Mayer

Blue Beetle #13 picks up after the events of Justice League International Annual #1 wherein Brother Eye forced O.M.A.C. to transport Jaime Reyes to home planet of the aliens behind the scarab technology, Reachworld. Similarly, it's best to have read Blue Beetle #0 as well, seeing as the central antagonist is none other than the mysteriously resurrected corpse of Sky Witness, the man who wore the Khaji-Da armor before Jaime. And instead of finding an all-out brawl between Jaime and the Reach as expected, I found something even better - a Reach solider who desires autonomy after achieving self-thought for only a moment while fighting Blue Lanterns on Odym. Not only does this plot promote inter-title cohesion in creating a more complete DCnU, but it shows that the universe is not a static place that doesn't change - even alien cults like the Reach have mutiny within their ranks, and change doesn't always have to happen only for the good guys.

GRADE: 8/10

Catwoman #13
(w) Ann Nocenti
(p) Rafa Sandoval
(i) Jordi Tarragona

While this issue might be fashioned as a "Death of the Family Prelude", it's really not that at all, which means that I basically read an issue of Catwoman for no other reason that to read an issue of Catwoman, and in the 'New 52', that's kind of lame. Don't get me wrong; I'm sure there's an avid fan base for a Selina Kyle who over-sexualizes everything, looks like her skin fuses with her leather jumpsuit, and who can't seem to grow as a character. Unfortunately, I am not part of that fan base, nor have I ever really thought that Catwoman was a strong enough character to warrant so much focus. Anyhow, Catwoman fights (another) rich kid from Gotham who thinks the city belongs to them - it's not inventive, there's no 'twist' anywhere, and the connection to Scott Snyder's Joker-centric event is virtually non-existent (you wouldn't see it if you weren't looking).

GRADE: 5/10

Nightwing #13
(w) Tom DeFalco
(p) Andres Guinaldo
(i) Mark Irwin and Raul Fernandez

Nightwing doesn't cross over with "Death of the Family" for a few more months, so for the time being, Tom DeFalco is taking over with art by Andres Guinaldo to tell a tale about Nightwing and Lady Shiva - one of the most lethal assassins in the entire world. Nightwing #13 makes as much of a reference to the Joker as Catwoman #13 does, yet Dick Grayson's title get's no "Prelude" kind of treatment - who knows what goes on in the minds of DC editors. Dick is forced to track down Shiva on his own since the rest of the Bat Family is otherwise occupied, and it doesn't seem to go so well. By the end, Dick realizes he's been played in a game of bait-and-switch, surely leading to a more vengeful tone for Nightwing in coming issues.

GRADE: 7.8/10

Red Hood and The Outlaws #13
(w) Scott Lobdell
(p/i) Timothy Green II

The Outlaws wrap up their cosmic adventure as Starfire and her sister, Blackfire, take on the invading Blight and drive them away from Tamaran. In all honesty, Red Hood and Arsenal don't do a whole lot this month besides get in the way of Kori and Kom's fight with the Blight leader. Red Hood and The Outlaws #13 is mostly about tying up all the loose ends from this arc - Kori and her sister make amends for past sins, Jason Todd manages to keep his date alive despite getting caught in an alien war, and Roy Harper lives to narrate another day. It's the final page that holds omens for the coming months, ones that connect to RHatO #0 released last month.

GRADE: 7/10

Supergirl #13
(w) Mike Johnson
(p/i) Sami Basri

This might be the most disappointing issue of Supergirl to date - there's a lot of talking, some one-sided fighting, and a coincidental conclusion that isn't very satisfying at all. This is the first issue without Michael Green co-writing with Mike Johnson, and it shows; the fight between Supergirl and Tycho (the multi-billionaire from the first issue, only now with shape-shifting superpowers) really feels quite meaningless, as Tycho hasn't been seen or heard from since the debut issue, and because he doesn't seem to have any purpose in taking Supergirl, especially since he can speak Kryptonian now (somehow) and can communicate with her. The whole "story" feels like a big letdown, the only upside to which is a revelation about Kara's space-pod at the bottom of the sea. Beyond that, this issue really isn't worth reading - best wait for "H'el on Earth" to start next month.

GRADE: 5/10

Wonder Woman #13
(w) Brian Azzarello
(p) Tony Akins
(i) Dan Green

While the past two months of Wonder Woman have brought a lot of shock and awe - first with the tease of the New Gods in WW #12, then with a classic tale re-envisioned in WW #0 - this month's issue focuses on bringing some new conflicts into the lives of Diana and her companions. The goddess Hera has been made mortal, so she's hanging with the posse now, the gods on Olympus have to figure out who is going to usurp them all, and Diana's next step is finding another of Zeus' children to aid in the quest to restore Olympus to it's former glory. Brian Azzarello has such a distinct trajectory for Wonder Woman that this issue doesn't feel like filler, even though that's what it mostly consists of. Obviously, we're all waiting for the New Gods to show up because it's the New Gods and that's just freaking amazing - however long it takes Azzarello to get there will be agonizing, but it will be fun nonetheless.

GRADE: 8/10

Friday, October 19, 2012

DC UNIVERSE PRESENTS #13


(w) Marc Andreyko
(p) Robson Rocha

This is what DC Universe Presents is all about - reintroducing characters into the DCnU in fun and inventive ways. The "Kid Flash" issue two months ago was an agonizing display of unnecessary excess, and last month's "Issue Zero" was fun, but it was about characters we already knew. DCUP #13 starts a four-part story featuring both Blue Devil and Black Lightning, two characters who never had any connection in the pre-"Flashpoint". While the idea came from the concept of 'black and blue' - an admittedly silly reason to pair these two characters - the end result is actually really great. 

What we get from Marc Andreyko is two subtly interwoven stories that don't seem so at first, but slowly come together to the surprise of even the two protagonists. The most interesting part of "The Devil Made Me Do It" is that Blue Devil and Black Lighting are just as mystified and nonchalant about their meeting as the reader before finishing this issue. While the story's not metafictional, per se, it straddles the fence by playing the uncommon situation of the editorial decisions into the literal narrative. Fascinating.

Daniel wants nothing more than to make a name for himself using his grandfather's mystical blue demon suit. He has all the passion but none of the discipline or experience. On the other hand, Jefferson's black electricity powers give him the opportunity to watch over the Los Angeles and, more specifically, his father. Black Lightning is a like a military call sign than a superhero moniker - Jefferson is all about getting the job done as quickly and quietly as possible. On the surface, these two characters have nothing in common. Andreyko begs to differ, as Blue Devil's protectiveness over his grandfather, and Black Lightning's 'guardian angel' role watching his detective father both show that these men act out of great respect and admiration for their father figures.

With DC's January solicits out, we learned that Andreyko's take on Blue Devil and Black Lightning was cut from five down to four issues for some reason. It could mean that Andreyko overextended his outline, it could be that DC has something planned for the title in February, or it could mean, unfortunately, that DC Universe Presents might get cancelled. I don't want to wildly speculate, but this new arc might just be what the series needs to pull itself out of the low rankings if it is indeed on the chopping block.

GRADE
8/10

Thursday, October 18, 2012

HAWKEYE #3

(w) Matt Fraction
(p) David Aja

Matt Fraction might be at a career high point right now. He's finishing up his amazing run on Invincible Iron Man, he's taking over Fantastic Four and FF starting in November, and he's still got time to craft one of the best comic stories I've ever read. Hawkeye isn't about being Hawkeye at all. It's meant to be an homage to everything Clint Barton is or can be when he doesn't wear the proverbial mask. And it's not restricted to Clint Barton, as Young Avengers Kate Bishop (a.k.a. Hawkeye II) has appeared in two of the three current issues, making her a main character more or less. Superheroes are just people with powers and masks - Matt Fraction takes this credo to heart in his writing and it shows through his manipulation of everyday human behavior to better convey his stories.

Hawkeye #3 is not about the Vagabond code, as Marvel so ceremoniously trumpeted for weeks leading up to it's release. Just like most ridiculous events or situations that happen in our everyday lives, the Hawkeyes' life gets turned upside down when a simple trip to the store for tape turns into a high-speed car chase between a 1970 Charger and a phalanx of Mini Coopers. Somehow, Fraction and David Aja are able to convey the pacing and context of an movie-style chase, retaining all the elements that make them exciting while eliminating the huge explosions and impossible stunts.

Fraction's take on Clint and Kate put them in a more casual role. Maybe when one's in the presence of Captain America, Thor, and the like, it's harder to be loose and natural. Maybe that's why the Avengers tend to sound like they're always getting ready for a funeral or talking about expired 401-K plans. Not in Hawkeye, where Clint often screws up and Kate is there to clean it up. Of course, the relationship isn't always one-sided, but Kate definitely has herself together a lot more than Clint, even though he's far older than Kate.

This is a comic book. This is one of the more polished, meaningful examples of good comics I've read in a while. Matt Fraction has a complete understanding of his intentions and how he wants to write Hawkeye. This is a Marvel ongoing series that doesn't feature alien invasions, mutant menaces, evil masterminds, or brainwashed superheroes - this is a series about life's real problems being dealt with in way less based in reality. Acid-tipped arrows? We're not supposed to believe it's real, just that it could be, and that's awesome.

GRADE
9.7/10

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS #13


(w) Tony Bedard
(p) Andrei Bressan and Amilcar Pinna

What a game changer! Seriously, I was on the brink of letting Green Lanterns: New Guardians go after the overall low quality of the past few months. Even though Kyle Rayner is my favorite Green Lantern and always will be, Ton Bedard was struggling to find his footing with a team of multi-colored lanterns on a mysterious quest. It was far too chaotic for too long. Now, Kyle's quest to master all colors of the emotional spectrum has given Bedard some direction of his own, and Green Lantern: New Guardians #13 is the prime example of a how a little focus can reap amazing rewards.

Kyle Rayner's been an anomaly since the moment he was given the last Green Lantern ring by Ganthet as Hal Jordan, possessed by Parallax, literally decimated the Green Lantern Corps. In the years since that fateful night, Kyle kept the green light aflame when no one else could, helped rebuild Oa, siphoned the power of a god as Ion, traveled across the universe when Earth disappointed him too much, helped resurrect Hal Jordan, became Parallax himself for a time, and at the onset of the 'New 52', he was somehow able to wield one of every colored ring in the spectrum. It comes as no surprise that he's destined to master all six emotions and ascend into something greater to stave off the "Rise of the Third Army". Much like Green Lantern #13, the Guardian Soldiers only show up for a few panels near the end to make sure we remember that's going on elsewhere.

This month, Kyle is training with Atrocitus to master rage. It's odd how a character driven by absolute rage finds clemency enough to bother with beings he deigns to be lesser than. But, this is the 'New 52', so it's all about change. Hard as he might, Atrocitus cannot seem to drive Kyle to a rage-filled fury, even going so far as to throw Alex DeWitt's grave in Kyle's face as proof of his prior weakness. The revelation that Alex DeWitt still exists in the 'New 52' is a big deal, seeing as the compression of time could have cut that part of Kyle's life out completely. I'm glad Bedard is keeping Ron Marz's legacy alive. Eventually, Kyle is driven literally mad when he's made to watch - but not interfere with - a brutal execution while Atrocitus holds him back.

I have to say, Kyle's Red Lantern getup is probably the coolest costume he's worn in his many years wielding a green ring - it's that helmet that really dredges up thoughts of horror movies, y'know? Tony Bedard, in one single issue, has managed to reel me back in and take Green Lantern: New Guardians seriously again. I'm a bit miffed that Carol Ferris is taking Fatality's place as the team's Star Sapphire, but it makes sense in terms of GL family cohesion. Other than that, I really don't have a lot bad to say about this issue. Bedard knocks it out of the park, Andrei Bressan and Amilcar Pinna have a refreshing art style, and the new, clear direction for the book makes me want to continue reading it even more.

GRADE
7.8/10