Welcome to our weekly recap of DC Comic’s new releases. Ray is the long-time DC reader, a prototypical DC fan, while I’m the lapsed and more cynical type. But when we agree something is good, that means it’s darn good.
Which brings us to Batman #44, which Ray and I recognize as something special. There’s also great fun to be had in the latest issue of Starfire, and a road trip with Harley Quinn this week. Overall, an excellent batch of stories, and Ray is particularly high on the Green Lantern/Star Trek crossover that’s being published by IDW. (See end of post.)
If only this week was the last issue of Section Eight, an experiment that has failed spectacularly.
Batman #44 – Story by Scott Snyder, written by Scott Snyder and Brian Azzarello, art by Jock.
Ray: 10/10 (Book of the Week)
Corrina: Buy This Masterpiece.
Ray: Fill-in issues and done-in-ones in the middle of an arc are often throwaways, but that’s the furthest thing from the case here with this breather issue. Obviously, Snyder and Jock have worked together before, so it’s not a surprise that they’d do something special here, but I was really surprised how this story worked so well as both a small-scale, affecting story about Batman’s past and a piece of the puzzle in the ongoing superheavy story.
One of the biggest complaints about Batman from certain corners is that he’s “a rich guy beating up the poor and mentally ill,” but that’s always been a stereotype that doesn’t really work given all the work Bruce does for Gotham and its citizens. In many ways, this story shows how he got there.
It opens right after Zero Year, with two Batmen, present and future – Bruce and Jim – meeting to discuss a mysterious case of a teenage boy dead in a field. He has bullet holes in him, but Batman’s investigation reveals he actually died from a massive fall from the middle of nowhere. With the issue narrated seemingly by Gotham itself, Batman’s investigations lead him to a dark, twisty, and emotionally powerful tale that involves the boy’s run-ins with local gangs, rising Supervillains like Penguin, and a trigger-happy cop whose duty in the Corner (Gotham’s worst area) has left him brittle and paranoid. The issue takes on a lot of timely topics, like police brutality and gentrification, but it avoids easy answers and leaves a lot of shades of grey in every reveal.
In the end, it’s the story of a boy with very few choices who made a deal with the devil that led him to that field, and the reveal of just how he fell from a thousand feet up from the middle of nowhere is incredibly clever. Mr. Bloom factors into this issue, but I was a bit surprised that he was just a bit player (albeit a key one) and we know just as little about him as we did before. Jock’s version of him is fabulously creepy, though.
This is an incredibly strong issue, setting the stage for the man Bruce Wayne became as Batman and the man he is now, as well as a near-perfect stand-alone story of Gotham. If only all fill-ins and break issues could be this strong.
Corrina: Fill in? No, this is a masterpiece, a story so strong that if someone asks me why I love Batman comics, I could hand them this issue to explain why. The title is a ‘A Simple Case,’ and so it seems at first, the story of a boy trying to be a man caught in the middle of a gang war.
But, as Ray said, it’s about all of Gotham, it’s about why Batman does what he does, and why it sometimes works and why the job of cleaning up the city for good citizens is never easy. This reminded me of the classic Denny O’Neil/Dick Giordano story, “There is No Hope in Crime Alley.”
It’s time for another addition to The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told.
Gotham Academy #10 -Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher, writers, Karl Kerschl with Msassyk, art
Corrina: Buy It.
Ray: I’ve always been a huge sucker for coming-of-age stories surrounded by creepy mysteries, so Gotham Academy is right up my alley. I’m loving the way Cloonan and Fletcher are keeping the focus on their core cast of teens while also bringing in more and more elements from around Gotham. The mystery surrounding Olive’s mother continues to deepen, as Olive is certain she saw her ghost hovering around the stage before a fire. When the fire scares off most of the players in the Drama teacher’s production of Macbeth, Olive and her friends seize the opportunity and take the roles, allowing them to investigate up close. Olive’s shy, nervous friend Katherine also takes a role, but as they get deeper into the play, she starts acting more and more oddly until the truth about her nature is revealed.
Just how many kids in this school have ties to supervillains, anyway? Is that what this school actually is – a school designed to keep them from following in their parents’ footsteps? One of the things I love about this book is how honest the interactions feel, with little details like Maps being hurt when she finds out that Pomeline knew about Olive’s mother before she did. As a former drama geek and a huge fan of this genre, I continue to see this as the big winner in the boom of title focusing on out-of-costume characters. I will say I’m ready for Olive to solve the mystery of her mother, so we can start focusing on the mysteries surrounding some of her friends! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this book, it’s that everyone here has a secret or ten.
Corrina: For me, the appeal of this book is the unique, painted look of the story by Kerschl with an assist from colorists Serge Lapointe and Msassyk (who also contributed to the art.) It makes this book more than just another story about Gotham, albeit one set in a boarding school, and creates an atmosphere that tells the tale in a way that creates an entirely separate world, though the lushness of the art forces the reader to pay close attention to every single panel.
Younger readers, however, are only going to notice that it looks amazing and, as Ray said, features a whole cast of relatable characters struggling with the unique problems of Gotham.
Starfire #4 – Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, writers, Emanuela Lupacchino, pencils, Mirco Pierfederici, pencils assists, Ray McCarthy and Trevor Scott, inks.
Corrina: Buy It.
This issue even hints that it may still be in continuity to some degree, because Atlee’s friendship with Power Girl seems to be canon here. Maybe Atlee’s one of the anomalies brought back via Convergence? Either way, good news. This issue thankfully lightens up on the violence and brings it back to big superhero action as the two bubbly super-women team up to stop the giant lava monster that is pursuing Atlee. It turns out that the monster is essentially the dog of an evil warlord who is still furious that Atlee rejected their arranged marriage.
I’m not sure how longtime Starfire fans will feel about this series, because the Starfire here is definitely a different creature – she loses track of a mission because she can’t help but gush over how romantic Atlee’s story is, she has cute Impulse-like thought balloons – but for me it’s easily the most enjoyable the character’s been in a long time. The action is fun, the way the monster is defeated is clever, and the more character-driven moments afterwards are a blast to read. My only real hesitation is the appearance of the villain Soren at the end. This is the guy who massacred a whole boat of people last issue, so next issue will probably get more dark and serious. Still, based on this issue, I’m hoping this series has a nice long run.
Corrina: As someone who bought Starfire’s first appearance in the classic Teen Titans off the spinner rack, I can say I thoroughly enjoy this Starfire. No, she’s not quite the intense warrior princess from the alien world from that series but that Kory always had an innocence and sweetness that showed through even in her more serious moments. I far prefer this sunnier character to the grim avenging Starfire that I’ve seen here and there. This series would be perfect for fans of the animated Teen Titans series. (My son tapped me on the shoulder to tell me that he means Teen Titans, not Teen Titans Go, which he hates.)
What I haven’t read is the Power Girl series that Ray loves but Atlee’s appearance and the recap of her origin was slipped into this story without slowing it down. As with Ray, I’m hoping this book has a long run.
Harley Quinn Road Trip Special #1 – Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, writers, Bret Blevins, Maritat, Flaviano Armentaro, Pasquale Qualano, Jed Dougherty, artists, Mike Manley, inks.
Corrina: Buy It.
Ray: There’s been a surprising pattern lately of these one-off Harley Quinn specials being better than the main series, and this continues with this oversized issue reuniting the Gotham City Sirens. Harley gets a call from her mother that an uncle she was close to as a child passed away, and her mother asks her to take his ashes cross-country to be buried next to his wife. Harley agrees, and recruits Ivy and Selina to join her on the trip. The recruitment segments are hilarious, and Selina sets the main plot in motion by stealing a jewel from a dog-themed z-list super villain right before heading off, leading to the weirdo following them cross-country. The issue is mostly thin on plot, featuring a series of funny vignettes ranging from Harley trying to keep quiet for 15 minutes to an epic bender in Vegas, and including a bizarre hallucination scene after they drink Native home-brew.
These acid trips seem to be becoming regular features in this title, and this is one of the better ones. Surprisingly, though, the end of the issue packs a real emotional punch and speaks to the depth Conner and Palmiotti have given Harley in their run. Probably the best Harley Quinn issue in a while.
Corrina: Ray’s still smarting over including Popeye in the regular Harley Quinn series, which I enjoyed. But he’s right that this road trip manages to be both darkly funny and poignant. It’s hard to make readers care for a super-villain and even harder to write comedy well, and this road trip includes both and with that underlying sadness that underlines the best comedy work.
I was worried about the inclusion of Catwoman, given how dark and stylish her current title has been, but I shouldn’t have. She remains in character, if a little more mellow, and still manages to stay aloof while her friends go more than a bit over the edge.
Justice League United #13 – Jeff Parker, riters, Paul Pelletier, penciller, Rob Hunter, inker.
Corrina: Buy It.
Ray: This book has turned into a sort of oddball anthology title, featuring different teams of heroes in vastly different situations. I enjoyed the first arc’s freaky weird science plotline on a living island, but I think this arc’s time travel theme could be even more promising. The issue opens with Sgt. Rock and Vandal Savage exchanging words in the middle of WW2 France, with Savage giving Rock time to escape after he betrayed him, and Rock vowing to kill him if they ever meet again. In the present day, Alanna strange has recruited a mission team of Stargirl, Batgirl, Robotman, and Steel for a tech-based mission, along with one more temporary member – Vandal Savage, whose knowledge of time leads them to kidnap him.
They’re investigating an anomaly in France – a chrono-sphere that is pulling people from different eras to fight in an endless war inside. I’m a big fan of time travel and cross-timeline wars, so the reappearance of characters like Rock and Enemy Ace (who rescues Stargirl after she’s shot down, in a cameo) makes me very happy. I was afraid that DC’s WW2 past was going to be forgotten after we lost Joe Kubert. The reunion between Rock and Savage in the chrono-sphere should be good next issue as well. Definitely intrigued by this arc.
Corrina: Enemy Ace shot down and then saved Stargirl. Your argument is invalid.
Sorry, geeking out a bit. After last issue’s confusion, I was ready to give up on this series but I was hooked again with the first page appearance of Sgt. Rock, one of my classic favorites. This is a throwback “time moshed together story” that the 1970s Brave and the Bold series used to do so well, and with a collection of heroes who shouldn’t work well together but manage it anyway. Vandal Savage wasn’t someone I expected to see in this series. I’m still not sure where they’re going with it but I want more, please.
Also, I can’t write this review and not mention Pelletier’s pencils. He does a fine job of channelling Joe Kubert in the Sgt. Rock sequences, and conveys the weirdness of the ‘not quite there’ where Adam Strange is trapped, and then swaps to the gritty war sequences without missing a beat.
Catwoman #44 – Genevieve Valentine, writer, David Messina, pencils, Gaetano Carlucci, inks.
Corrina: Buy It.
Ray: Things are heating up in a major way this issue, as the crime families start to make big power plays and the war goes from cold to hot. At the beginning of the issue, Selina goes to pick up Eiko, who was rescued by Killer Croc after being injured by Black Mask and falling to the city streets last issue. Valentine has done a great job of covering the odd relationship between Selina and Eiko, and she manages to make it hurt with relatively few words as it ends this issue. Also really enjoy the way she writes Killer Croc. With the losses and dangers weighing on her, Selina makes the critical decision to cede control of the Calabrese crime family to her right-hand woman, Antonia.
This has been a long time coming, as Antonia is clearly the more capable mob queen than Selina, but it’s clear it’s going to cause some rifts within the family. Stephanie Brown continues to build her skills, training with the injured Eiko and getting tasked with a mission from Selina. However, things go south in a hurry when Black Mask shows up at the Hasigawa compound, confronting Eiko’s father with info that he’s in league with Catwoman. Realizing that it’s his daughter in the pictures, he refuses to deny it and Black Mask shoots him, leaving Eiko mourning her father – and the new head of the family. This title’s a slow burn, but it’s hitting it’s stride in a major way right now.
Corrina: I’ve been growing impatient as the storyline seemed to be churning rather than moving forward but this issue is a turning point, and creates something of a Greek tragedy for Eiko with her father’s death. It’s made even more poignant that her father realizes what his daughter’s been doing, and yet her protects her anyway, sacrificing his life for hers.
This is not going to end well for Selina. She knows it and she’s always known it but I suspect, somewhere, she hoped she’d finally found a family. Killer Croc makes a perfect supporting character for Selina, another loner with a specific set of morals.
Superman: Action Comics #44 – written by Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder. Words, Pak, art, Kuder and Howard Porter.
Corrina: On the Fence.
Ray: I consider this book and Batman/Superman essentially tied in quality this week, but I’m tackling this one first because a plot point teased here is revealed in Batman/Superman, so be warned! This issue wraps up the story of Superman’s return to Metropolis, as he finds himself under attack by an army of shadow-beings targeting the Mayor’s office. It doesn’t take long for the mastermind, a new woman named Wrath, to emerge and take control of the rampaging shadow beasts.
There’s been a lot of characters named Wrath or Wraith lately, haven’t there?
Either way, not much is revealed about her besides the fact that she and her shadows feed on rage and she hates Superman, but that’s fine. She’s really more of a plot point in an issue that focuses on Superman and his relationships with the people around him. From a policewoman who was just attacking Superman turning around and joining him in battle, to the residents of Kentville standing up against a horde of shadow-possessed people, this issue makes the subtext of “everyone can be Superman” very clear.
For one woman, that’s more than abstract – Vee, who was stabbed by a shadow last issue, gains shadow powers and after a brief rampage, takes control back and helps to turn the tide. A new black female hero for DC, it seems! Wondering if she’ll show up anywhere else soon. The ending makes clear that Superman still has a long way to go to win everyone’s trust back, but there’s still enough people who believe in him. And Wrath heads off to meet her mysterious partner in crime to discuss their plans. More on that in a bit. Strong issue all around, and Pak and Kuder have done a great job of vindicating this controversial status quo.
Corrina: I want to like this series and there’s much to like. Superman works best when he has a supporting cast around him and Pak and Kuder have developed Clark’s neighborhood of Metropolis into just that, a support system for Clark and for each other, even against attack by the police and super villains. I love that.
Why am I on the fence? I’m still not enthused about this angry Superman with only half of his powers. Superman to me means wondrous and unusual things, not an angry guy punching things that he can’t control. Still, this is the best this series has been in years, so Superman fans might want to check it out.
Batman/Superman #24 – Greg Pak, writer, pencils, Ardian Syaf, Yildiray Cinar, Howard Porter, inks, Vicente Cifuentes, Cinar, Porter.
Corrina: For Justice League Fans
Ray: A strong, action-packed issue as no less than three a-list heroes find themselves on opposite sides. Superman and the new Batman have forged a tentative truce as they attempt to get the artificial sun back from Ukur and the subterraneans, but that’s complicated by the arrival of Aquaman, who Ukur has recruited to help his people gain their power source. The sun is getting less and less stable and causing damage to the water and the life in it, which makes Arthur more and more determined to settle the issue quickly.
The fight between Aquaman and Superman is the highlight here, as Pak does a great job with both heroes’ characterization and handles the whole thing in a smarter way than just having them swing at each other out of a misunderstanding. I must say, I am getting a bit tired of Ukur and his aggro posturing. Not everything is about revenge and honor, helmet-head.
Thankfully, Aquaman is able to calm him down and Batman and Superman are able to keep the bomb from detonating, but not before the mysterious terror group Dawn Command swoops in and steals the sun for their own purpose. And the man behind Dawn Command? None other than Wrath’s mysterious partner – Vandal Savage. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him, and the character’s intrigued me a lot since his revamp in Demon Knights. As for Batman and Superman, this issue makes clear that they’re two decent, heroic men whose approach is like oil and water. I’m curious how this title will proceed, given that this issue makes very clear that Clark and Jim will not be working together by choice.
Corrina: Vandal Savage is clearly the mastermind behind the entire arc that Pak has been creating over several books. That’s an excellent thing, as the Ukur as the villain leaves something to be desired. As Ray said, Aquaman and Superman fight but it’s more interesting than punching, and it seems at a certain point that Aquaman is trying to protect the lightly-powered Superman. (Incidentally, why do I see the artificial sun as the upcoming solution to Superman’s erratic powers? It seems too perfect not to use.)
However, the story overall isn’t compelling because of Ukur being one-note, and clearly being in the wrong. What I did love is that both Gordon/Batman and Superman arrive at the same conclusion (self-sacrifice) from completely different directions.
If anyone could make me buy Superman books again, it would be Pak.
Red Hood/Arsenal #4 – Scott Lobdell, writer, Denis Meori, artist.
Corrina: Don’t Buy It.
Ray: A surprisingly strong issue, as Lobdell dials back the action and shows that he actually has a pretty strong grasp on the characterization of Jason Todd and Roy Harper. The two heroes are back in Gotham for the first time to chase the mystery of the mobster Underbelly, and it may all tie back to a gruesome murder of a security guard that Jason witnessed as Robin years ago. How? Not sure, the plot stuff is a little bit vague in this issue, but it’s more than made up for by scenes like Jason meeting up with a fellow former street kid at a diner, or Roy paying a visit to Killer Croc to discuss his recovery process.
That latter friendship sounds ridiculous, but it’s always been one of my favorite parts of this title since it was introduced a few issues into the original run. Naturally, coming to Gotham, Red Hood and Arsenal have their first encounter with the new Batman, and Jason’s insight is actually the first we’ve gotten from inside the Bat-family kids. I was amused by just how blasé he was about Bruce supposedly being dead. Again. This issue isn’t breaking any new ground, but it’s probably the best we’ve gotten out of Lobdell in a long time.
Corrina: I’ve come to recognize that anything Ray gives a ‘7’ is usually something I’m designed to find kinda ‘meh.’ It’s nice to see Killer Croc making another appearance but I hope that this story doesn’t use Robot Batman do something dumb to make these two semi-bumbling former sidekicks look good.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with this story, it’s just a standard macho superhero title with a lot of fights and some male-bonding.If that’s your thing, you might like this. If you’re looking for something more than than, pass.
New Suicide Squad #12 – Sean Ryan, writer, Philippe Briones, artist
Corrina: For Harley Quinn fans
Ray: This arc started out fairly interesting, but has gone on a bit too long to really maintain its momentum. The B-team, stationed outside the terror camp waiting to take action, has been captured, and Harley Quinn has been thrown in a cell with all the child captives of the terror group. This leads to the only really strong scene of the issue as she amuses the children to keep their spirits up while they wait for an opportunity to escape – and then bloodily kills a guard in front of them, very confused by why the children are now horrified by her.
Other than that, Black Manta continues to go native, spouting the group’s propaganda, gaining access to the “chrono-bomb” that the terrorist Saladin plans to use to literally return Earth to the stone age. He then confesses his role as a double agent and begs for mercy, because he’s crazy. I must say, though, I was amused by Reverse Flash listening in on his broken communicator and finding out that everyone hates him. He’s been a useless character since the start, so it’s good the writer is aware of this. This story concludes in the annual in three weeks, and this is a title that would be well-served by going to shorter stories.
Corrina: The Harley Quinn sequences are indeed the highlight of the issue. Some writers lately have written Harley as angry, and here she shows off her charm, especially to children, and when she finally unleashes her anger, she realizes just how much she’s hurt the kids that she likes.
While Ray didn’t like the political discussion, I did, with it being pointed out that there are always groups like this who want to clean up the world and they’re usually far more about power than anything else. But Black Manta has been searching for a purpose for a long time, so it makes sense he’d falter.
This is not an earth-shaking title but it’s enjoyable.
Earth 2: Society #4 – Daniel H. Wilson, writer, Jorge Jimenez, artist
Corrina: Don’t Buy It.
Ray: I don’t think there’s a single title coming out of DC right now that’s more disappointing to me than this one. What started as a fascinating alternate world has become a depressing slog through a world where everyone is a jerk to each other for no good reason. We know Power Girl and Val-Zod now hate each other, and this issue we find out why – while Val-Zod was a prisoner of Terry Sloane for over a decade, he was forced to work on technology for Sloane. Unbeknownst to him, Sloane was using him to activate the fire pits, something he was unaware of until Sloane’s plan took effect. For this, Power Girl considers him just as guilty as Sloane and hates him now. That’s completely rational.
Also, Batman repeatedly calls Flash a coward because he ran off to find his mother instead of staying with the rest of the heroes. This version of Dick Grayson has quickly become just as much of a dick (heh) as Bruce at his worst, but I suppose it makes sense given all he’s lost recently. That still doesn’t make this title any easier to read, nor does it make me care about the latest world-destroying threat coming their way at the end of the issue.
Corrina: I need to say something about the art, which is beautiful, especially in how it portrays Val-Zod and his hidden city. Too bad it’s in the service of a story that’s depressing and not completely rational, as Ray said.
I was so excited several years ago for an Earth-2 series, and it lived up to my hope for a little while, and then it fell into gloom and doom. After Convergence, what I didn’t expect was more gloom, doom and depression. Pass.
All-Star Section Eight #4 – Garth Ennis, writer, John McCrea, artist.
Corrina: Don’t Buy It.
Ray: It’s like every issue of this miniseries is in a contest to be more distasteful and disgusting than the last.
It opens with the team trying to recruit Wonder Woman, and she tells them off and states that no one in their right mind would join them. So the Nazi mouth-demon Baytor hits her with a giant mallet, leaving her with roughly the mind of a six-year-old. She’s suddenly super-excited to join them, and bounces around like a ditzy little girl holding tea parties with Dogwelder while the rest of the team has distasteful conversations about feminism and mental disabilities, complete with slurs. When she finds out that Guts and Bueno are dating, she decides to hold a wedding, which leads to many jokes about how disgusting it is to see Guts and Bueno kiss. Then Baytor hits Diana with a hammer again and she regains her memories, flying off and dropping a hint as to Six-Pack’s real identity. With every issue that passes of this book, I become more and more puzzled about how this passed DC editorial’s gatekeepers.
Corrina: I can’t decide if Ennis is mocking the devolution of Wonder Woman and other female heroes, or just identifying with his other, vile characters. I suspect this is some sort of meta-commentary on heroism but its’ not funny, it’s, well, what Ray said, distasteful and disgusting.
I suspect it was given the green light because, hey, Garth Ennis.
Out of continuity and commericial tie-ins, by Ray:
Star Trek/Green Lantern #3 – creative team: Angel Hernandez, Mike Johnson, Tony Shasteen
Most crossovers fall into one of two categories. They either spend way too much time setting it up, or they throw their hands up in the air and pretend they were always in the same universe. This is the rare crossover that definitely sets it up properly, but doesn’t let that stop it from delivering a mile-a-minute event. Much as the three “good” rings are now in the hands of Starfleet crew members, each of the “Evil” rings has found a suitable host.
As Sinestro trains General Chang in the ways of the Sinestro Corps and they destroy a Starfleet ship to send a message, Glocon does battle with Atrocitus for his red ring and the mad Vulcan Decius is interrupted in his rampage by Larfleeze, we find out from Hal just how this happened. It turns out that there was a second battle with Nekron, one that was lost by the Corps as the universe was consumed by the dead. That’s right, this is a stealth Blackest Night sequel!
Ganthet’s last burst of energy allowed for other survivors, including Carol Ferris and Saint Walker, but the end of the issue makes clear there was another survivor as well – Nekron. And he’s set his sights on the ruins of Vulcan. Easily the most enjoyable cross-company crossover in years, although you’re going to enjoy this much more if you’re a GL fan.
Arrow Season 2.5 #12 – written by Mark Guggenheim, art by Craig Yeung, Joe Bennett
The main plot is resolved fairly quickly, with Caleb Green dying in the explosion of Queen Manor and taunting Ollie that he’ll never be clean of his father’s sins before he goes. After that, the issue is mainly devoted to clean-up, as Ollie makes plans to win back the company and confesses his hesitancy about slipping back into old habits to his father.
Meanwhile, we get some really heavy-handed foreshadowing about what’s going to happen to Sara. This would be more affecting if it wasn’t for the fact that she’s already back from the dead for the second time. Overall, it’s readable enough, but this title covers so much well-trod ground that it’s hard to recommend to anyone but die-hard Arrow fans. I think the Flash tie-in title benefited from being an anthology of sorts, where side stories could be told. This title had a very straight-forward narrative, and it just left it feeling like an inferior clone of the series.
Can’t wait for season four, though!
Disclaimer: Corrina received the DC Comics for review purposes.
Ray Goldfield is a writer/editor for Grayhaven Comics, as well as the author of two novels currently in editing. He’s a comic fan for over 20 years, particularly of DC and Superman, Batman, and the Teen Titans in particular. Now that Cassandra Cain is coming back, he will not rest until DC greenlights a Young Justice: Season Three comic.