March has a fifth week, making it a small week for new issues of monthly comics. DC’s four issues, however, are all quality, and every single series is worth picking up, from Aquaman‘s 50th issue to the finale of Batman & Robin Eternal, to the fascinating Omega Men, and the gorgeous Justice League of America by Bryan Hitch.
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW.
Aquaman #50 – Dan Abnett, writer, Brett Booth, guest penciller, Norm Rapmund, guest inker.
Ray – 8/10
Corrina: Like the New Status Quo
Ray: Aquaman hits #50 with the new creative team of Abnett and guest artist Booth, and this issue takes on a bit more significance because it’s been announced that Abnett will be sticking around on the book for Rebirth. Unlike Greg Pak, who didn’t even make it to the end of the current Teen Titan run, and Tim Seeley, who is stepping off the book with Rebirth, DC seems to have enough faith in Abnett’s current run to spin Aquaman’s next big step out of it. And I can sort of see why. This is a big, bold, exciting story that brings together a lot of what makes Aquaman work – the high-adventure vibe of the Johns and Parker runs with a bit more of a serious, political vibe. Brett Booth’s art is divisive, but I thought this was some of his best work – bright, not overly busy, and blessedly free of any terrible 90s designs.
As Aquaman and Mera – now calling herself Aquawoman – plan to open Atlantis’ embassy to the public, Arthur is called into action to deal with the series of mysterious murders committed by some entity coming out of bodies of water. He’s joined in the hunt by a pair of comic-relief FBI agents – one of which seems to have a massive crush on Mera, I should add. There’s a fun, light vibe to everything – until the villain, Dead Water, shows up. Then things turn deadly dark in a hurry, as the monster is the stuff of nightmares. There’s a little too much graphic violence in the comic for my tastes, including a graphic depiction of a hand being bitten off, but Dead Water is the latest monster to come out of the deep in the vein of the Trench, and that’s become a bit of a specialty for Aquaman in the New 52. There’s still a bit of mood whiplash, but overall Abnett is finding his footing on this title. He’s building up a good supporting cast for Aquaman and opening his world. Looking forward to seeing where this run goes with a fresh start in Rebirth.
This run got off to a bang, debuting with the top-tier creative team of Johns/Reis, and the title shot to the top of the sales charts. Johns did what he does best, expanding the character’s world and revealing new layers we didn’t know about, complete with shocking twists and new villains.
Jeff Parker continued in that vein, and I might actually like his run a bit more than Johns’. It had a great “Indiana Jones under the sea” vibe that perfectly suited Aquaman. Those two teams set the tone for Aquaman in the New 52, and successfully elevated the character to a DC mainstay again.
Cullen Bunn’s run got a LOT of flack, and I do think it was his weakest DC work, although not as bad as many of his detractors claimed. The entire run took Aquaman away from Atlantis and into a dense magic-based plotline that tied into the Azzarello WW run. Besides a very awkward rape-by-deception by Mera’s evil sister, the run didn’t bother me much, but it didn’t feel like Aquaman. Abnett seems to be going for a back-to-basics approach, and it’s promising so far. All in all, well done to DC for putting the talent into this property needed to make it one of only 12 titles to get to this mark.
Corrina: When I last sorted out my 25 longboxes of comics a few years ago, I found, to my surprise, that I had issues from every Aquaman run since the 1970s, and that included the issue where Arthur Jr. is murdered by Black Manta. (Classic Jim Aparo art.) Why do I mention that? Because I look at this particular Aquaman series through the lens of all the series that have come before.
Where does it fall? It’s not my favorite but it’s not a complete disaster, either. While Ray sees Johns’ run as finally making the character cool, I see the beginning of the series as trying too hard to make Aquaman relevant and telling us how cool Aquaman is, rather than showing us how cool Aquaman is. I don’t even remember much from the series save the repeated “Aquaman is powerful, yo!” revelations.
When I think of new layers, I think of Peter David’s run, which includes the criminally underrated The Atlantic Chronicles (still not available in trade, ARGH) which set up his speculator run on the title, adding new roles for Garth (Aqualad) as Tempest, a mysterious magical mentor in Aquaman’s ancestor, and basically used thousands of years of fake mythology as a starting point. Johns’ run, by comparison, uses some of those ideas but added little new and permanent to the mythos.
What I have liked is the prominence of Mera, though DC’s insistence for a while that Aquaman and Mera weren’t married, even thought they were King and Queen was ridiculous. (This was basically to cover the fact that DC at the time didn’t want a marriage between Kate (Batwoman) Kane and Maggie Sawyer. See, it wasn’t not allowing a gay marriage, it was not allowing any marriage!) Mera’s always been a fascinating figure, royalty from another dimension, with powers that equal Aquaman’s but too many times she’s been written as either a mopey wife or an underhanded, possible villain. In most of this series, she’s been a full partner in tackling problems. (Except for when she was a prisoner and her double raped Aquaman. Ugh.)
That looks to continue, given this issue. I guess it’s okay for her to have a matching look, especially given that it’s a full shirt, but I don’t know if the change was necessary. Mera’s complaints about branding almost seem meta-commentary to DC editorial on the matter. However, this new Dead Water villain is creepy and scary as all get out, and reminded me of Vertigo’s The Wake in spots. He/It should provide an excellent mirror to Aquaman and company. Those dark panels are Booth’s best of the book, otherwise, I find his work not to my taste.
Batman and Robin Eternal #26–James Tynion IV & Scott Snyder, story, James Tynion IV, script, Scot Eaton Carlo Pagulayan, Igor Vitorino, Geraldo Borges, pencils, Wayne Faucher, Jason Paz, Marc Deering, Geraldo Borges, inks.
Ray – 9.5/10 (Book of the Week)
Corrina: Robins Reborn, FTW!
Ray: We’re here at the conclusion of the second chapter of Batman Eternal, and it ends just as strongly as it started. Maybe stronger. There were so many ways this comic could have gone wrong – demonizing Batman and playing into the stereotype of Batman as a crazy loner, playing favorites among Robins, relying on people reacting badly to drive the plot. But it avoids almost every single one of those plots, giving satisfying wrap-ups to almost all these characters and setting them up for something new and better (well, besides Jason, who is still stuck in Lobdellville once this ends).
Last issue ended with Cassandra Cain at the mercy of Harper Row, who was being manipulated by Mother into killing the girl who murdered her mother (on Mother’s orders and due to the chain of events Batman set in motion). But Harper, strong and independent as always, was never one of Mother’s plans, and not only spares Cassandra but uses the opportunity to set in motion Mother’s defeat. Several characters get starring roles this issue, from Dick getting into a one-on-one fight with Mother, to Azrael destroying the antenna, to Cass and Harper reconciling and facing off against Mother’s forces together, to my personal favorite – Steph showing up with a big ol’ rocket launcher. Lord, these three are fun together and I can’t wait to see Tynion play with them again in Detective, as announced by DC last weekend at Wondercon. Even a presumed-dead character shows up in an incredibly dramatic moment (although his survival and actions this issue do slightly defy logic and character).
The final showdown is more than a bit over the top, but is that a bad thing? Mother’s defeat is extremely reminiscent of the best OTT James Bond movies. However, the real emotional punch of the issue comes as Bruce returns and has long-overdue meetings with Harper (who chooses to walk away from crimefighting for now, explaining her absence, but I hope she still shows up), Cass (who picks her new codename and officially joins Team Bat), and the Robins. This last scene was probably my favorite because it really drives home just how well Tynion gets the dynamic between Batman and his Robins. This comic leaves the whole franchise in a very good place, and I cannot wait for the next chapter. The series ends here, but Tynion’s story is just beginning.
Corrina: Stuck in Lobdellville. Hah. Ray, that might be my favorite line of yours, ever.
Before I start, look at those art credits. And, yes, despite the numerous people listed working on this issue, the art is remarkably consistent throughout, and has been that way for most of the series. Not an easy task with a weekly book. My favorite panel was a quiet one, the one with the hug between young Harper and her mother.
Onto the conclusion, which absolutely hit all the right notes, especially with Harper’s hesitation revealed as buying time to enact a plan to foil Mother, and Dick having a second plan that involved Azrael intervening at the last moment. Just about every core member of this title had a highlight this issue but the heroes were the oldest cast member, Dick, (both in inside and outside the comic years), and the newest, Harper Row.
None of the others were forgotten, including Steph with her rocket launcher, and Midnighter. Can we call him a member of Team Bat now or is he now Team Dick? (Yes, you can elaborate on that pun amongst yourselves.) I did love Cassandra taking the bullet for Harper, which basically nails everything essential about this formerly forgotten Batgirl.
Yay, Bat-Family together at the end! Make that a poster, DC.
I do have some quibbles. One, Mother is more of an idea than a person, and that remains frustrating. I hope we don’t see her again, as she’s served her purpose. Two, I could have wished for more Kate Kane in this series, though that seems churlish given how many characters were included. But good news on that front, as Kate will be front and center in one of the Rebirth books, Detective.
Was it worth the cost? 26 issues, almost $78 for the full reading experience. That’s a lot but not out of place among comics these days.
The Omega Men #10–Tom King, writer, art, Barnaby Bagenda
Ray – 9/10
This has always been a challenging book, and one of the reasons is that it doesn’t really play by standard rules of comic book storytelling. And that includes the passage of time and how plot points get resolved. It’s not uncommon for long periods of time to pass between issues, and that’s the case here. Last issue, we saw the comic’s bottle issue/summit come to an explosive end as one member of the team’s fate hung in the balance, a planet lay in ruins, and Kyle reclaimed the white lantern power and stood ready to lead the Omega Men in battle against his better instincts. This issue, we pick up a while later as the Omega Men are deep in battle against the forces of Citadel. The wounded character’s fate is resolved offhandedly by seeing them alongside the team in battle, and it’s clearly been a while since the stress of battle is wearing Kyle down quickly. It’s jarring, and you know what? It works.
This issue really gives us the feel of being thrown right into an ongoing war, with dense storytelling that’s more like the early issues but a bit more linear. Meanwhile, the Viceroy of the Citadel finds his rule threatened as the Omega Men sabotage his efforts to pay off his subject planets, and he begins to unravel more and more. The tension is high, and the lines between good and evil are just as blurred as ever when it comes to most of the heroes. It’s well too late to save this book, but it’s never too late to tell you to pick it up – let’s hope for high trade sales and a revival!
Corrina: This issue wasn’t in my review stack. ARGH. Now I have to find it at the comic shop. But what Ray says: brilliant overall series.
Justice League of America #8–by Bryan Hitch, inks by Daniel Henriques
Ray – 7.5/10
Corrina: My Current Favorite JL title
Ray: Feels like it’s been a while since an issue of JLA, probably because it has. This might explain why, though Hitch is continuing on JL into Rebirth (and his run’s certainly been entertaining enough to warrant it), he won’t be continuing as artist. His art is definitely good here, but if they want a biweekly book, well, that’s definitely not happening.
This issue is the big showdown issue, as Superman has exposed the truth behind Rao and sets out to free his “subjects”. After an extensive early battle that takes the two Kryptonians through mountains and into space, Rao reveals his trump card – any damage dealt to him is transferred to his followers, protecting him and making it impossible for Superman to beat him through sheer force. This leads Superman and the League to put into effect an elaborate plan involving Parasite, who drains Rao and the League to gain the power to stop him. This arc’s only two-thirds over, though, so of course it’s not as simple as that.
The story is fast-paced and entertaining, and Rao makes for a compelling villain. Most of the League doesn’t have all that much to do, though, and the cliffhanger? Very nicely timed, to be sure, but it lacks any impact – especially with the rumors of what’s coming in the Rebirth one-shot. Overall, a fun comic, but I think this would read better if there wasn’t such a wait between issues.
Corrina: Hitch has certainly proved he’s a fine storyteller, especially the way he weaves all the various plot elements together with this big confrontation issue, where all is revealed. I had my doubts about yet another god-like figure with the use of Rao but it’s turned out well. Hitch doing the art has been a plus, especially the first three basically wordless pages in this issue. That’s what is called getting one’s money’s worth out of a comic.
I’ve been bored silly by yet another Darkseid story in the regular JL title. I’ve been consistently entertained by this one.
Disclaimer: Corrina received these items for review purposes.