Waiting for the Trade – Harley Quinn

Batman: Harley Quinn

by Paul Dini, Yvel Guichet, Aaron Sowd, Don Kramer, Wayne Faucher, Joe Quinones and Neil Googe.

Collects Batman: Harley Quinn #1, Batman Gotham Knights #14 and 30, Detective Comics # 831 and 837, Joker’s Asylum II: Harley Quinn, Batman: Black and White #1 and 3, Legends of the Dark Knight 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 and Detective Comics (vol 2) #23.2

 

Why I Bought This: Because as mentioned before Harley is my favorite Batman villain and this is an anthology of stories about her. With the Suicide Squad film out this seemed like a good choice to review now.

The Plot: Key stories of Harley Quinn as a villain before she became an anti-hero.

(spoilers below)

Read moreWaiting for the Trade – Harley Quinn

Waiting for the Trade: Batman & Harley Quinn

Waiting for the Trade 

Batman: Mad Love and other stories.

by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

collects The Batman Adventures: Mad Love, The Batman Adventures Annual #s 1 & 2, The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1, Adventures in the DC Universe #3, Batman Black and White #1, The Batman Adventures: Dangerous Dames and Demons, The Batman Chronicles Gallery #1, Batgirl Adventures #1, and Batman Gotham Adventures #10.

 Why I Bought This: Harley Quinn is my favorite thing about the 90s Batman Animated Series and this book recollects her famous, award-winning origin story so it was always on my list to buy and this past FCBD I picked it up during my local comic store’s sale.

The Plot: Mad Love is the origin of Harley Quinn by her creator Paul Dini (who wrote for the animated series). The “other stores” collected here represent all the other times Dini and Timm worked together on Batman comics—some are full length stories, while others are tiny little back up features from the annuals.

(Spoilers Below)

Read moreWaiting for the Trade: Batman & Harley Quinn

Extant’s Pull List – 2015 Year In Review Part 1

I’ve been reading comic books in one form or another most of my life. I started collecting (mostly DC) comics just after the Death/Return of Superman storyline. In more than 20 years of spending money on Wednesdays, I have bought thousands of books. Several times in 2015, much like with pro wrestling, I considered giving it up entirely.

It wasn’t an altogether bad year. I’m going to try and focus on some of the high spots of the year here, but the lows have been frustrating, especially when it comes to DC Comics. Now several years into the most recent reboot, several of the characters I grew to care about are unrecognizable from their former incarnations.

Most disappointing to me has been the company’s treatment of Superman. In the second half of the year, DC Comics revealed his secret identity to the world, depowered him back to 1938 levels and has its entire world doubting him. That’s… not how Superman should be treated.

Of course, with all the complaints about what they’ve done to Superman, DC has introduced the pre-Flashpoint Superman and Lois – fresh from the waste of time that was the Convergence crossover – into the new universe, hiding under new identities with their son and trying to save the world in secret. So, at least there’s that.

Yes, there was a lot to complain about in the comics world throughout 2015, but there was a lot to like, too. So let’s forget the bad and focus on some of the better things I’ve read over the last 12 months.

Read moreExtant’s Pull List – 2015 Year In Review Part 1

Waiting for the Trade – Wonder Woman

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

Wonder Woman:
Contagion

by Gail Simone, Nicola
Scott & Fernando Dagnino

collects Wonder Woman
40-44

 

Why I Bought This: A
couple years ago I was having a really bad day and went to my favorite comic
book store. This was in the discount bin and had a neat cover. Sometimes it is
just that simple.

 

The Plot: Two
separate stories here. First demon children are creating mischief in Washington DC.
Then an alien invasion is led by Wonder Woman’s long lost aunt. It falls to Wonder
Woman to deal with both threats.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Quetzalcoatl’s son eats a train but Wonder Woman
gets him to cough it up. As he departs he revels he’d been lured to DC by an
unseen force that drove him to insatiable hunger. In the aftermath a flock of
male children in suits and construction hats strike up a conversation with the
passengers in the train and get them to doubt Wonder Woman’s motives. Diana
visits her friend Etta (who apparently married Diana’s old love interest Steve
Trevor, and is herself a government agent) in the hospital as Etta was injured
by a super-villain last issue. Meanwhile the demon children talk some dude into
setting fire to a synagogue and then killing himself, after which they plant
evidence of the crime on a black church. Power Girl arrives to put out the fire
and the children hit her up for a chat as well. Diana’s hospital visit is
interrupted by news reports of a full on race riot that is burning the city.
When she goes to investigate she is attacked by Power Girl.

Chapter 2 – Achilles enters the real world, apparently at
Diana’s earlier invitation in a prior trade. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman and Power
Girl fight a lot while Simone gives both women a very well written internal
monologue. Wonder Woman becomes aware of the demon children during the fight.
She eventually takes Power Girl down using technique rather than strength and
then helps free her mind. Meanwhile, one of the demon children tries to get
Steve to shoot his wife but some white gorilla from Grood’s city saves Steve
and Etta. Diana sends Power Girl to deal with the mob violence while she sees
to the kids. Diana wraps herself in her magic lasso thus making her immune to
mind control. She identifies them as the children of Ares and gives them a good
spanking to end the threat.

Chapter 3 – A trio of Green Lanterns go to what is usually a
primitive utopia planet only to find it turned into a wasteland. They find a
child who tells of little worms that fell through the skies and devoured
everyone as they grew into snakes. The snake swarm finds the Lanterns and eats
through their force fields, though one Lantern escapes with the child. Later
the snakes are gathered up by a space ship and the energy they have eaten is
put into storage with GL Lantern energy particularly treasured. WW is cleaning
up debris from a prior fight when the space ships arrive over DC. They begin
indiscriminate bombing as WW takes up an air defense. We learn they have
erected a GL force field over DC so the rest of the JLA cannot get in to help.
This same energy protects their ship from WW’s attack. The head alien chick
breeches the White House. She explains their fleet consumes the entire
resources of a world when it encounters it. Any technology is assimilated into
the fleet. In addition if the invading world surrenders it may send 20 citizens
to the alien ship to become members of the collective (the rest of the
population is food). Diana is making some headway until the aliens fire their
primary laser cannon at her. As Diana crawls from the crater she is met by the
head alien chick who reveals she is her maternal aunt.

Chapter 4 – A flashback shows how Queen Hippolyta (WW’s mom)
designed her costume, before we rejoin the present wherein WW’s newly revealed
Aunt remarks on Diana’s resemblance to her mother. She reiterates her Borg-like
plans for the Earth and offers Diana a chance to be one of the 20 chosen. WW
refuses the offer and goes to war using her headband as a boomerang. WW has the
rank and file troops on the defensive so the invaders drop a giant metal snake
on DC. WW realizes she can’t penetrate the troops GL-derived defenses so she
wrests one of their weapons from them to turn against them. The white gorilla
from chapter 2 and some government agents arrive to help save civilians;
followed by Achilles on his flying elephant, who promptly destroys the robot
snake monster. WW manages to lasso the lead alien and learns the truth: she
really is her aunt, and her name is Astarte. Long ago the Citizenry (the name
of this alien armada) used to only restock the supplies it needed along with
100 tributes (members of the host culture to be assimilated) instead of razing
entire worlds. They were going to take baby Hippolyta but older sister Astarte
had a Hunger Games moment and took her place. That was 3,000 years ago—most of
the time since then was spent in barbaric slavery until Astarte rose to the top
of the Citizenry through rite of combat. Auntie is furious to have relived this
flashback and attacks Diana with all she has. It’s not enough to beat Diana’s
defenses but she returns to her ship vowing vengeance on the planet for what
Diana made her relive. She departs letting Diana know she is the one who set
the new world-razing protocols for the Citizenry and she will not be returning to
Paradise Island peacefully as Diana offers her. WW paid attention during the
whole Lasso reveal and challenges Astarte to trial by combat for the fate of
Earth. She agrees but WW must fight the Citizenry’s greatest warrior: Astarte’s
daughter: Princess Theana.

Chapter 5 – Diana’s aunt tells a terrible tale of how she
raised her daughter to kill other children if she wanted to be fed that day
from the time she was two. Furthermore that was just the beginning to make
Theana the Citizenry’s finest warrior. Diana chooses her Aunt’s lieutenant to
be her second under the rules of trial by combat. She offers her cousin peace
before the battle begins and receives a punch that sends her across the arena
in response. Diana is taking a beating in there. During a brief respite Diana
uses her lasso on her LT-second to get her to send a message to Achilles, whom
is wrecking havoc on the aliens. He is soon joined by Steve Trevor piloting the
Invisible Jet. Enter round 2 of the trail by combat and Wonder Woman uses her strength
to plow through the floor of the arena into the bowels of the ship. The entire
time she is talking to her cousin, trying to show her there is a better way to
live than how she has been raised. Theana hesitates for a second, causing her
mother to declare she must be killed. Meanwhile as Theana says she rejects
compassion, Diana has used the moment to deadlock one of the Citizenry laser
weapons into a sure kill shot. Diana asks Theana to surrender but before Theana
can respond she is gunned down by her mother’s guards. Theana dies in Diana’s
arms. Diana flies to in a rage and takes down Astarte’s guards. Meanwhile
Achilles comes to the conclusion the battle is hopeless until he gets the LT’s
message. He heads off on Diana’s mission. Unfortunately this leaves Steve
alone, and he narrowly ejects in time to clear the destruction of the Invisible
Jet. Astarte is running for her life but Diana is just tearing through all
obstacles to get to her. Meanwhile the battle for DC is going poorly when
suddenly the entire Amazon army materializes to help fight. Diana captures her
Aunt and based on the Citizenry law is now the new Captain of the race. She
then takes her aunt into custody, places the LT in charge and orders the Citizenry
to never kill again and depart the Earth. 
In the aftermath of the battle Diana celebrates with her sisters and the
white Gorilla character is allowed to go home from his exile.

 
Critical Thoughts:
I enjoyed the heck out of this book. Reading it at the time two years ago I
remember really enjoying it but that could have been the result of no expectations.
Rereading it for this review, this book absolutely holds up.

While I don’t have an extensive selection of Wonder Woman comics I can unequivocally
say Gail Simone writes the best Wonder Woman I’ve ever read. The opening
chapters with Wonder Woman fighting Power Girl show a real nuance for the
character and what she represents. Simone has become known as the foremost
writer of female superheroes and based just on this book you can see where that
reputation came from. (Her later work on Batgirl
in the New 52 also adds to her worthy reputation too).

While that first story is quite good, this trade really
shines with that second story. Alien invasions in comic books are a
dime-a-dozen but this alien invasion is one of the most compelling I’ve ever
read. Even before Wonder Woman shows up and we get the big family connection
reveal, this story really clicks. The opening episode on the utopia with the GL
Corps is very suspenseful in its execution. Theana’s dire back-story is also
effectively delivered to really pull at the imagination.

 

Grade A. While
this trade does not have much historical significance (I’m assuming Astarte and
Theana more or less ceased to exist after the back-to-back JMS and New 52
reboots that immediately followed Simone’s run) it does everything a comic book
needs to do in terms of being an entertaining read with vivid characterization
and intense action sequences.

Extant’s Comics Pull List

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s new comics day here in the U.S., with new books available in comic shops and online.

This month, DC Comics continues to wrap up storylines in advance of next month’s Convergence event and June’s mini-relaunch, while Marvel continues its March towards Battleworld.

My pull (and I’m admittedly a DC fanboy, so you won’t see too much Marvel on my lists) this week includes the three DC Comics weeklies – Future’s End, Earth 2: World’s End and Batman Eternal – along with the new issues of Action Comics, Constantine and Coffin Hill, a fun book from Vertigo that in my opinion needs some more love.

Other notable stuff coming out this week: new issues of Star Wars, Walking Dead, Spider-Gwen and Astro City, along with Bill & Ted’s Most Triumphant Return.

What does your pull list look like?

In other news, Powers debuted yesterday on PlayStation Plus and Flash and Arrow come back to TV next week.

Anyone else watch the first three episodes of Powers?

Waiting for the Trade = Batman * Judge Dredd

 
Batman & Judge
Dredd: Judgment on Gotham

writers Alan Grant
& John Wagner, artist Simon Bisley

This is an original
graphic novel from 1991

 

Why I Bought This: It
was in the $1 bin of a local comic store and I’m always a sucker for an
intercompany crossover. Even though my knowledge of Judge Dredd is limited to
that bad Stallone 90s movie and a Free Comic Book Day issue two years ago at
this price I figured it was worth a shot.

 

The Plot: Batman
& Judge Dredd are forced to team-up when Judge Death comes to Gotham and teams up with Scarecrow.

(spoilers below)

 
Judge Death (undead psycho-cop who seems to have powers of
rot touch, intangibility and razor sharp nails: his philosophy is only the
living commit crimes so life itself is a crime that should be punished by death)
kills some young lovers making out in an alley. The couples’ screams attract
Batman and two Gotham cops. The cops unload
their guns on Death to no effect and he kills one of them. Batman uses martial
arts and accidentally impales Death on a fence. Bats thinks its dead but Death
soon rises up to attack again. This time the cop’s bullets hit a gas tank and
the ensuing explosion burns Death to ash, though its spirit rises up and vows
vengeance.

Batman examines Death’s gear and when he touches its belt
buckle he is transported to Mega
City (Judge Dredd’s
fascist crime-ridden future). Batman encounters another Dredd villain: Mean
Machine—a big bruiser with a low IQ, a cyborg arm, a metal plate covering most
of his head and a dial that controls his aggression on the headpiece.
Apparently he stole the dimension travel belt for Judge Death and wants to know
where Death went and why Batman took his place. Batman outmaneuvers him and
throws M.M. from a building but then uses a cable to save him. Their fight
attracts Judge Dredd. Batman sees Dredd is the law on this world and is willing
to cooperate in order to get home and stop Death; however Dredd insists Batman
be cuffed leading to Dredd sucker punching Bats and arresting him.

Mean Machine arrives in Gotham
via the belt and head-butts the cop from earlier. Meanwhile a telepath in
Dredd’s unit named Anderson
is called in to talk with Batman after he claims Judge Death is alive and on
the loose.

Batman is appalled by what passes for law and justice in
Dredd’s world. Dredd meanwhile wants to jail Batman for 20 years for various unlicensed
weapons on his utility belt. Anderson’s
telepathy verifies Bruce is telling the truth but Dredd is not dissuaded that
Batman belongs in jail. He also feels if Death has gone to another world he is
no longer in their jurisdiction and has no interest in chasing him down. After
hearing that comment, Batman breaks free and pounds on Dredd a bit until the
rest of the Mega City police force subdues him.

Back in Gotham, Scarecrow
breaks into a morgue to get glands he uses to create his fear toxin. Judge
Death’s spirit also arrives at the morgue looking for a new body to inhabit. The
villains quickly hit it off so that Scarecrow helps Death with the reanimation
ritual. Of course when its done Death decides to double cross Scarecrow and
kill him but Scarecrow’s fear gas puts a stop to that (and in a funny page we
see Death’s worst fears are cute cartoon animals).

Anderson frees Batman from
the prison transport and takes him to a dimension door facility and from there
back to Gotham. Dredd hears about the break
out and follows. Back in Gotham, Mean Machine
is head-butting various people looking for Death and gets directed to a heavy
metal concert for a band called Living Death. This just so happens to be where
Scarecrow wants to take Death to see what kind of fear they can instill
together on a large crowd. Anderson’s
psychic powers also track Death to the concert.

At the concert Death kills the band in gory fashion and then
attacks the crowd. Mean Machine sees Death with a new partner and feels
double-crossed so he attacks the stage itself by head-butting the support
pilings. Batman and Anderson arrive. She shoots Scarecrow’s fear canister
exposing him to his own gas which takes him out of the fight. Batman is not
doing as well against Death but then Dredd arrives and shoots Judge Death a
lot. Just then the stage collapses burying Dredd in the rubble. Death is about
to use his rot touch on Dredd when Batman makes the save with an electric
batarang that fries this body. When Death’s spirit goes to escape Anderson pulls him into
her own mind to imprison him.

Dredd makes Mean Machine docile by shooting out his
aggression dial. He’s ready to fight Batman too but Anderson convinces Dredd they need to go
before she loses control of Judge Death. And with that everyone goes home while
Batman takes Scarecrow back to Arkham.

 
Critical Thoughts:
I liked this well enough. It certainly isn’t breaking new ground, but then most
intercompany crossovers don’t break new ground—they just follow the template
Gerry Conway established in the 70s with Super
Man vs. Spider-man
.

It comes off as more of Dredd story than a Batman story as
it has two of villains and one of his supporting characters it, whereas
Scarecrow’s involvement is minimal and non of Bruce’s supporting cast is
present. Yes, I’d have liked to see a little more of Batman in Mega City
or a longer fight between Batman and Dredd (even if we know these fights always
end inconclusively) but the story told here is a consistent narrative
throughout. As someone unfamiliar with Dredd’s world I had no problem follow it
(and I’d even seen Judge Death before in the Free Comic Book Day issue, and
he’s a strong villain for this world.)

The art is painted, which gives the book a unique look.
There are some real nice splash pages in here. Judge Death comes off very
creepy in this format. Overall the art is a definite highlight.

 

Grade: C+. For
what I paid this delivered more than enough entertainment, but even its
original cover price of $6 would be fine for this story. Again we’re not
reinventing the wheel but it is a better than average example of the
intercompany crossover genre.

Waiting for the Trade Aquaman & the JLA

 

Aquaman (vol. 3): Throne of
Atlantis

by Geoff Johns, Ivan
Reis, Paul Pelletier and Pete Woods

collects Aquaman 0,
14-16 and Justice League 15-17

Why I Bought This: I
liked the first volume of New 52 Aquaman quite a bit. While volume 2 was not
nearly as good, I still bought volume 3 on preorder from Amazon because of the
quality of the first one. But even if I hadn’t read the other volumes I likely
would have picked this up to see a JLA story with Aquaman in the lead.

The Plot: Atlantis
declares war on America
leaving Aquaman caught in the middle.

 (spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – In a flashback issue we see young Aquaman at his
father’s deathbed six years ago and he tells him his Atlantean heritage. In his
grief he dives into the ocean and gets into a fight with a shark. He rescues
two people on a boat, tells them his story and they just happen to know were
another Atlantean lives. This turns out to be Vulko, who informs Arthur that
his mother is dead. He also lets Aquaman know he has a younger brother Orm, who
may have murdered their mother and then exiled Vulko 10 years ago. Vulko takes
him to Atlantis.

Chapter 2 – In 1820 some sailors are torturing an Atlantean
until the Atlantean army surrounds their boat. In the present Aquaman sends his
fish to arrange a meeting with his brother Ocean Master. Meanwhile in jail the
government attempts to recruit Black Manta to the Suicide Squad but he turns
them down. Aquaman asks his brother if he was involved in the one-off Atlantean
attack in the first trade and with hiring Black Manta in the second trade and
he denies it. In Norway Vulko finds a dead Atlantean warrior and dives into the
ocean. Ocean Master tells Aquaman the story of the 1820 boat—it ends with all
the sailors drowning. His point Atlantis could sink every boat on the ocean if
it wanted to and yet they don’t. He says whoever hired Manta is trying to make
Aquaman think Atlantis is to blame. In the cliffhanger the Trench monsters from
volume one are freed by an unseen person.

Chapter 3 – A battleship is in the Atlantic
Ocean when its systems are taken over and it launches all of its
missiles on Atlantis. Cut to Smallville where Superman shows Wonder Woman how
to assume a secret identity. In Gotham Batman is fighting some of the
Scarecrow’s minions on a boat when Aquaman arrives to lend a hand. He is there
to warn Batman that he thinks the Trench monsters are heading to the East Coast
and he will need the League to stop them this time. Mera has come with him and
reports fish are fleeing from the area. In Metropolis Clark and Diana are on a
date until the city is hit by a tidal wave. They suit up and save those they
can as Lois gets herself in danger only to be saved by Vulko. We also learn Boston was hit with a tidal wave and another wave is heading
towards Gotham. Aquaman realizes these are the
Atlantean war plans to invade the surface world that he himself wrote when he
was king. 

Chapter 4 – Batman and Aquaman save who they can but a lot
of people die. Mera manages to push back some of the wave until she passes out.
Mera, Aquaman and Vulko are all concerned about what Atlantis does next if they
follow the plan but no one says it out loud. Aquaman tells Batman the Atlantean
army will hit whichever city was hit hardest. He also believes Atlantis would
not attack without provocation so the missiles must have detonated in the city.
Aquaman then recounts how he first claimed the Atlantean throne and accepted
their superstitions about the surface world until the Darkseid attack that
formed the League made him see things differently. Batman says there is no
justifying the attacks on the cities and the League has to bring Ocean Master
in. The Atlanteans shoot down the Batplane but the heroes are okay. Aquaman
says Dr. Shin will be targeted next. The League regroups at the watchtower with
Vulko. The Trench monsters are getting closer. Aquaman & Vulko want to
reason with Ocean Master, let him know the missile attack was a setup and avert
a war; but Superman says Ocean Master must answer for his crimes. Batman offers
Aquaman one chance to talk peace with his brother. Ocean Master emerges in Boston and demands two
civilians take him to their king. They wonder if he means the president, but
Ocean Master assumes Aquaman is king of the surface world. Aquaman shows up and
Ocean Master is agog that he does not rule the surface world if he gave up the Atlantean
throne. He tries to explain the surface world does not even know Atlantis
exists. Ocean Masters notes he has grieving Atlantean citizens to answer to and
refuses to stand down. He promises to sink Boston. The League teleports in on that line.
Aquaman asks for more time. They refuse so Aquaman attacks Superman.

 Chapter 5 – Cyborg is sent to protect to Dr. Shin. Aquaman
tries to get the league to back down before the Atlantean army arrives but the
big three won’t listen and so after a brief melee the Atlanteans emerge from
the ocean. Cyborg teleports Shin to the Watchtower. Back at the main event
where we see Ocean Master has magic weapons that let him live up to his name as
he controls the ocean water as a weapon. When Superman evaporates the water
with his heat vision Ocean Master also takes control of the weather and uses
lightening to KO Superman (???) and Wonder Woman. He then takes the captured
League including Aquaman below the ocean. Cyborg sees this and asks his father
to replace his lungs so he can breathe underwater. He also sends out a general
alert to recruit 10 new heroes to the League.

Chapter 6 – While Cyborg undergoes surgery he is also
running a program to find out who hacked the battleship’s missile system to
start all this. The four leaguers are locked in pods at the bottom of the
ocean. Aquaman breaks out of his and establishes contact with Batman, who is
awake and has a radio and sonar on him but can’t be freed since he would be
instantly crushed at this depth. Aquaman is attacked by two Trench monsters. He
slays them but realizes they don’t have much time before the entire horde
arrives. In Boston
we see Hawkman leading the new recruits against the Atlantean army. They
include Firestorm, Black Lightening, Vixen and Black Canary. The Atlanteans
meanwhile are detonating bombs in Boston
with the intent to sink the city. Cyborg is awake and Mera joins him in a
rescue mission. Aquaman and Batman are in the trench and find ancient ruins
showing an Atlantean king controlling the Trench monsters with a magic scepter.
They also find Superman and Wonder Woman held hostage by a giant jellyfish.
Aquaman attempts to free them only for the Trench monsters to attack. Mera and
Cyborg arrive just in time to save Batman. As the heroes regroup the Trench
monsters emerge in Boston
and attack the Atlanteans. In the cliffhanger we learn Vulko is controlling
them and orchestrated the attack on Atlantis.

Chapter 7 – The heroes learn the truth about Vulko. Everything
is chaos in Boston
as Orm assumes Aquaman is controlling the Trench monsters but he still manages
to defeat the League reserves (in part because they don’t work well together as
a team). The League’s A-team teleports in and begins disabling the bombs and
clear a path for Aquaman to take on his brother one-on-one. Orm is a given a
real nice monologue during the battle on how he loves Aquaman and why he hates
the surface world and then seems to win the fight. The League destroys the
bombs so Orm goes back to summoning tidal waves. Mera halts the wave long
enough for Firestorm and Element Girl to freeze it. Aquaman recovers, defeats
his brother and reclaims the Atlantean throne. Vulko surrenders without a
fight. The League and Atlantis unite to fight the Trench. Vulko tells Aquaman
he did all of this for him so he could be king again and Aquaman decks him.
With Vulko’s scepter he gets the Trench monsters to go home. Vulko is arrested
by Atlantis and Ocean Master is arrested by the League. Orm is stunned that
Aquaman would let this happen to him when he was acting to protect their
people; and because Arthur knows how much he hates and fears the surface world
but nevertheless we end on Orm alone in a cell. In the epilogue Mera tells
Aquaman she will not live with him in Atlantis but this time he will not
relinquish the throne. As Aquaman descends into the ocean we see the everyman’s
opinion of him has changed to fear. A final epilogue shows both the League and
Suicide Squad intending to use this event as a reason to increase their
membership.

 

Critical Thoughts: I
really liked Ocean Master’s characterization in this story and he’s not a
character I’ve cared about before so that is really well done. The rest of this
not so much.

First off the League comes off like A-holes in this story. Like
I get people died and their upset but they refuse to let Aquaman deal with his
brother and refuse to accept his explanation on how Atlantean politics and
culture work annoyed the heck out of me. Indeed the whole treatment of Ocean
Master in this story annoyed me. He’s not a super villain. He is the leader of
a sovereign nation and his nation was attacked first: his capital city in fact
and civilians died. So he’s perfectly entitled to go to war to defend his
country and that does not make a villain or a terrorist that belongs in prison.
Indeed the League members are having the exact same furious reaction for the
cities being attacked and people dying yet somehow they’re rage is justifiable
and Ocean Master’s is not. And Aquaman turning his brother over at the end to
sit alone in prison in a foreign land makes him a jerk. Especially since Orm
was following war plans the Aquaman wrote himself! So yea that whole dynamic
annoyed me.

Furthermore if the goal of this story is to make the general
public now hate and fear Aquaman moving forward wouldn’t that work better if he
grants his brother diplomatic immunity and takes him back into the ocean rather
than he turns him over for a prison sentence?

I hate that they made Vulko a villain. Why can’t
supporting characters just be supporting characters anymore? Why do they all
have to become heroes and villains themselves? This is sort of an industry-wide
problem but it does annoy me and I’m tired of perfectly good supporting
characters being altered for no particular reason.

On the other hand I will say Mera remains an interesting
supporting character. She’s consistently portrayed as strong with a unique perspective.
Her relationship with the lead adds to the title’s drama; while her powers also
compliment his without being redundant.

Also from chapter one I’m just not a big fan of Aquaman’s
New 52 origin. I much prefer the Peter David version from Time and Tide. The flashbacks here make no sense. Aquaman was
raised in America
in a lighthouse with no clue about his powers or heritage. Then after the death
of his father he finds Atlantis. And upon assuming the throne he just forgets
his entire childhood and fears the surface world and writes these plans of
destruction. But then fighting Darkseid makes him change his mind again. What a
ping pong of characterization.

Not a complaint I care much about, but why is Superman hurt
by lightening and a giant jellyfish? And why can Wonder Woman breathe underwater?
I know Superman is always problem of how do you find enough villains who can be
a threat to him but lightening, really? Because electricity is a fairly common
power in comic books so I feel like this is a big step down for Supes’
invulnerability. 

As for the Justice League portion of the story, I thought
the League calling in the reserves via a general SOS was a nice moment as was
the fact that the new members didn’t know how to work together. Hawkman’s New
52 interpretation is sort of interesting so I may grab one his trades if I can
find it on the cheap.

Finally I will say the art is pretty good, particularly the
splash pages.

 
Grade C+.  Ocean Master’s dialogue in the final
chapter and his sailor story in chapter 2 are pushing this up from C- to C+.
Otherwise the only other positives are Mera’s role, the Trench monsters are
still visually interesting and some of the mystic mythology could have
potential down the line. Beyond that I disliked most of this to the point that
I am now on the fence on whether to drop this title or not. Also as far as
being a crossover there is nothing here that makes me want to start picking up Justice League again.

Waiting for the Trade – Demon Knights

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 
Demon Knights: Seven
against the Dark.
by Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves and
Oclair Albert

Collects Demon Knights
1 – 7

Why I Bought This: This
has a Camelot connection which always peaks my interest; but I was wary of buying
it at first because I never cared for characters like Morbius or Ghost Rider in
Marvel and Demon (who has top billing) seems like he’s just DC’s version of
Ghost Rider (at least viewed superficially from the outside). Eventually my
curiosity led me to buy issue 1 in a $1 bin and it was quite good so on Free Comic
Book Day 2013 I bought the first trade at 25-percent off.

The Plot: In the
Dark Ages an unlikely group of characters with a connection to Camelot or who
happen to be immortal and that are still active in the current DCU find
themselves in a bar in a small town just as an unstoppable horde descends upon the
town forcing those characters to band together for survival.

Spoilers lurk below

 

Chapter 1 – We start at the fall of Camelot and death of
Arthur as he is whisked away by the sisterhood of Avalon. One of the sisters is
the future Madame Xanadu and she abandons her post in an unsuccessful attempt
to retrieve Excalibur when Arthur returns it to the Lady of the Lake. Next we see Merlin bond the Demon Etrigan to a
young knight in Arthur’s court named Jason Blood. Merlin teleports away and we
jump ahead to the Dark Ages where future JLA villain Mordu (an exceptionally
powerful wizard) is draining the life out of babies to tell the future of his
queen. The information gets them to set their sights on the town of Little Spring. Xanadu and
Blood are on their way to Little Spring. They stop into a bar where Vandal
Savage is also having a drink and we learn these three immortals previously met
90 years ago. Also in the bar is Sir Ystin aka the Shining Knight who claims he
too was at the Fall of Camelot, although the other three doubt that Ystin is in
fact a boy. Next to walk into the bar is Al Jabr, who is apparently an inventor
of some renown but whom the bartender refuses to serve because he is Muslim.
This offends a tall woman by the name Exoristos, who says she comes from a land
even further away–implied to be Paradise
Island–and so the
bartender reconsiders. Some Horde scouts are slaughtering shepherds outside the
town, when a Horsewoman arrives to save the last shepherd with her bow and
arrow. He begs her to bring warning to the town of the Horde’s approach. Other
Horde scouts are already at the bar and attack which unleashes Etrigan. He incinerates
them with ease but Mordu detects magic when Etrigan attacks. So the queen
announces she will use her default strategy when there is opposition: “Find the
source of the problem and throw dragons at them;” which she does in an
excellent splash page for the cliffhanger

Chapter 2 – The heroes rip the dragons apart much to the
shock of the Questing Queen. She decides she now needs to contain the
population of the village to prevent them from warning some army she plans to
attack. A new hero called the Horsewoman arrives and warns the village of the
impending Horde attack. The heroes on the bar try to get the villagers to
evacuate while the Demon takes Xanadu in his arms and flies away. However they
are attacked by archers riding pterodactyls. Horsewoman is in the process
attempting to ride ahead to warn said good army when three mechanical dragons
cut her off. Then the village itself is assaulted by mystic fireballs. Demon
retreats to the village, where Shining Knight jumps on a Pegasus and makes the save. Xanadu
attempts to erect a force field around the town but Mordu senses her magic and
throws an even bigger fireball at them.

Chapter 3 – Xanadu gets her shield up just in time but the
cost of deflecting Mordu’s magic ages her severely. The Demon then attacks a
local priest in his rage. Meanwhile the Horde approaches the town. Meanwhile
Horsewoman runs from the Mechanical Dragons. The Horde cannot penetrate Xanadu’s
force field, though Horsewoman manages to get back in. They have until sunset
before the field fails so the seven heroes try to come up with a plan to band
together and fight them off. Mordu meanwhile uses his magic to spy on the
village and recognizes Vandal Savage and Xanadu. The priest from chapter two
dies. The heroes try to join the villagers to fight and build barriers and
weapons, while Exoristos convinces some village girl to sneak out along a
forest path the girls knows of and get word to the good army. However the Horde
captures and then publically decapitates this young girl as a warning to the
village. 

Chapter 4 – We get Shining Knight’s origin: Merlin let him
(her?) drink from Holy Grail shortly after the fall of Camelot “9,000 years
ago” (???) to save his live from a spear wound. He’s been questing to find the
Grail again ever since with the occasional century long hibernation under a
tree. We also get glimpses of his future which may involve turning into a demon
and/or losing all his friends before recovering the Grail. We also see in
flashback how Merlin lost the Grail and tasked Shining Knight to recover it for
him centuries later. Meanwhile we learn the Horde’s Questing Queen is also
looking for the Grail (and sleeping with Mordru). Back in the present
Horsewoman kills the Horde member with the girl’s head via a bow & arrow.
She then turns and also shoots Exoristos point blank in the stomach.

Chapter 5 – Horsewoman chastises Exoristos for getting the
girl killed and noted her arrow shot was deliberately non-lethal as the
dissension among all the Knights continues to grow. Mordru and the Queen then
up the stakes by telepathically making offers to each of the Knights to betray
their comrades. All of them but Savage turn them down. Savage makes out with
the Queen much to her dismay and then leads a triceratops against the village.

Chapter 6 – Exoristos jumps down and kills the Triceratops
with a sledge hammer. Horsewoman pulls an Aquaman and summons nearby horses to
come help. Al Jabr uses arrow-catapults to kill an army of velociraptors.
Xanadu considers murdering a villager to recharge her power but is unable to do
it (and we learn her name comes from Merlin’s prophecy power). Exoristos is
wounded by one of the Raptors but the Demon saves her. The horse stampede
engages the three mechanical dragons (from chapter 2) as Horsewoman rides out to
warn the army in the next town. Little Spring is about to fall when Xanadu
realizes they need Jason to do something in Hell. Horsewoman is wounded and
many of her horses die but she makes it through. The Horde breaks into the
town.

Chapter 7 – In Hell Jason finds the Priest that Demon cursed
back in chapter 3. In the melee Savage turns some of the Horde barbarians
against their comrades to plunder the wagon carrying the wages of the entire
army. Jason returns with the tears of an innocent in Hell, which Xanadu drinks
to regain her full power. Demon returns in time to save Al Jabr from the Horde.
Next we get a pair of big one-on-one standoffs: The Queen vs. Shining Knight in
a sword duel; and Xanadu vs. Mordu in a wizard’s duel. Savage and The Demon
reunite with the Demon approving of Savage’s subterfuge. The villains win both
solo fights as the heroes fall and the village is burned to the ground. Shining
Knight is incapacitated by a wound from a poisoned blade and the Queen begins
to question her on the location of the Holy Grail. And then Exoristos emerges
from the rubble of the village and begins beheading every enemy she sees. Just
then the mechanical dragons fall from the sky and Horsewoman arrives with the cavalry.
The villains retreat. The heroes are congratulated for saving the land but the
words and art contrast as we see the ruins of Little Spring and crying peasants
amidst the words of victory.
Critical Thoughts:
I love chapter one. It is one of the finest set-up issues for a new team and
new concept I’ve ever read. Look how long that chapter recap is. They introduce
a lot of characters and a lot of new information and they do it in a way that
leaves you wanting to know more.

That brings me to the most important comment. I love this
concept and series as a whole. I love the mix of modern immortal characters
crossing paths in the past. I like the overall tone set for the Dark Ages. This
is not a superhero comic. Yet, it takes place in what will become a superhero
universe. Cornell has a come up with a unique take on the genre and he’s
executing it superbly.
 
Also I should say in general the cliffhangers are very good throughout. 

I will say the Demon is a surprise as a character. In that
he is not a good demonic entity like say Ghost Rider at all. What he does to the priest
in this story is horrible. And in the second volume we get a flashback that
shows other atrocities he has committed over the years. That Vandal Savage is
also unrepentantly selfish gives this book an anything can happen vibe that you
don’t see in many other team books. 

If I do have some criticisms I would as WTF is with the “9000
years ago” flashback to the fall of Camelot in chapter 4. I suppose that could
be a misprint for 900 years ago, but even then we’d be in the high middle ages.
I think 100 to 300 years ago would be a better setting if we assume Arthur was
active in the late sixth century. But clearly if the Holy Grail is a plot point
in Shining Knight’s origin then 9000 years just cannot be accurate given the
artifact traditionally gains its power from the life of Jesus.

Also why are the so many dinosaurs in the Middle Ages? Look
I can buy it is a fantasy comic with magic and dragons and what have you, so
one dinosaur showing up why not? But the Horde has at least three different
species of dinosaurs, some of them in large quantities. Still these are minor
quibbles that have no bearing on the excellence of concept, characterization or
storytelling found in this tome.

 

Grade A+
Clearly the best of the New 52 books I’ve read and possibly the best book of
this decade so far.

Waiting for the Trade – Final Night

 

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

The Final Night
by Karl Kessel and Ron
Marz

collects Final Night
1-4 and Parallax Emerald Night 1

 
Why I Bought This: As
someone who doesn’t read a lot of DC this was an event I was always curious
about and at a recent comic show I attended the trade was being sold for $5. At
that price why not?
The Plot: A
creature called the Sun Eater shows up attempts to eat the Earth’s sun causing
Earth’s heroes and a few villains to unite in an attempt to save the planet.


Chapter 0 – A mysterious alien girl arrives on Tamaria to
warn them of the Sun Eater. The Tamarians are a warlike race and don’t trust
her until its too late. Their sun and world dies but alien chick escapes and
heads to the next planet in the Sun Eater’s path: Earth.

Chapter 1 – Alien chick crashes in Metropolis where she is
greeted by Superman and the Legion of Super Heroes. Saturn Girl uses telepathy
to teach alien chick English and she warns them of the Sun Eater. Earth’s
heroes gather at Star Labs where scientists verify the threat will arrive at
the Sun in six hours. Big Barda suggests using a boom tube to teleport the
creature to the edge of the universe as plan A. Superman gather heroes with
heat-based powers together for Plan B. Batman is put in charge of the more
urban heroes in using them to keep order from the mass panic that will occur if
the other teams fail. Mr. Miracle’s team which includes Captain Atom and Dr.
Polaris along with some heroes I don’t recognize confront the Sun Eater (it
looks a living dark cloud/black hole) first and attempt to create a vortex to
pull it into a boom tube however the boom tube has no effect because the Sun
Eater exists on multiple dimensions. Next up Superman’s team (with Firestorm,
Ray, Fire and a few others) combine their powers to create a second sun that is
held in check by Green Lantern’s (Kyle Raner) power ring in order to decoy Sun
Eater away from the true sun. However it catches their mini-sun and eats it
completely nearly killing all of the heroes in the process. The Sun Eater
envelops the Sun causing the sky to turn black.

Chapter 2 – It’s been 27 hours since the sun went dark. Lex
Luthor arrives in Metropolis to try and save the day with science. Meanwhile
various heroes deal with fires burning out of control or criminals trying to
take advantage of the situation. Superman’s powers are fading without sunlight.
Luthor sends GL into the sun to get readings on what exactly the Sun Eater is
doing, after which he abruptly disappears. The alien who warned everyone, now
named Dusk, is attacked by an irate mob and decides humanity doesn’t deserved
to be saved. She is then saved from the mob by new hero Ferro.

Chapter 3 – Demons from Hell offer to save the Earth if
every inhabitant on the planet sells their souls but humanity turns them down.
Gaea and Spectre are doing their best to keep the planet warm from the inside.
The STAR Labs team realizes the Sun is about to go “hyper nova” in an effort to
ward off the Sun Eater. Phantom Stranger shows Dusk the good side of humanity.
Some of the heat-based heroes aid a village in Africa,
while other heroes like Superman and Alan Scott go home to visit loved ones.
Guy Gardner (currently in his Warrior cyborg identity) is getting drunk when he
is confronted by a green flash.

Chapter 4 – Cyborg (the Superman foe, not the Teen Titan) is
at the edge of the universe running from Parallax (Hal Jordan). Jordan kills him in vengeance for Coast City.
Current GL Kyle Raner arrives and asks Jordan to save the Earth from the
Sun Eater. Jordan
looks in at the situation and realizes it may be beyond even his power. He then
visits Gardener (hence the green flash from last issue) and Jon Stewart to make
amends as well as his civilian supporting cast. He then finds Kyle and agrees
to help.

Chapter 5 – With two hours before the Sun goes nova, Luthor
has a plan to place a field of gizmos around the Sun that will use the energy
of the nova to generate a force field that will contain the explosion and
hopefully kills the Sun Eater. Luthor assigns the task of erecting the force
field generators to Green Lantern but then GL gets teleported away in a green
flash. With GL gone someone will have to manually pilot a ship to place the
devices and that person will likely not come back. Superman volunteers with the
hope that the nova will jumpstart his powers rather than killing him. However
before Supes can leave Ferro steals the ship reasoning the world can’t lose
Superman. Parallax shows up and offers to help. He notes he could jumpstart the
Sun but the resulting melting of all the ice and snow will cause floods that
kill lots of people. Of course he can bend time to avoid those affects too.
This causes Batman to be a douche and accuse Hal of playing God again. So
Parallax instead agrees to just take care of the Sun Eater and restore the
planet’s natural equilibrium but not to save any lives already lost. Meanwhile
Ferro fails to deploy the force fields properly and is killed in a nova blast;
or at least he should be when Parallax freezes time and sends him back to
Earth. Hal then absorbs the Sun Eater into himself and changes the nova energy
into green light described as life force energy that heals the planet at the
cost of his own life. Afterwards Superman and Batman debate whether Hal was
really a hero.

 

Critical Thoughts:
This is a quick read, so even when parts of the story don’t work it never fully
spoils your enjoyment because you’re not investing a lot of time into it.  I like Hal Jordan a bit more than most of
DC’s A-list and this is a good story of him trying to redeem himself from the
events that preceded Zero Hour—probably
the only other major DC crossover I’ve read and one I always felt Hal was kind
of justified in to begin with, so in that sense I liked this story overall.

I like the idea of Lex Luthor being Earth’s best hope for
salvation before Jordan
shows up. It’s an interesting dynamic that you don’t get in Marvel: with Reed
around the heroes will never have to turn to Dr. Doom for science help, but as
near as I can tell as a casual fan of DC there is no heroic mind on a par with
Luthor’s. I would have liked to see a little more of Luthor’s plan in action
before Jordan
steps in to save the day but with the nature of the Sun Eater (despite its
sentience it is more or less presented as a natural phenomenon throughout the
story) that’s only a minor criticism.

The impersonal nature of the villain also makes this a
bizarre event story. On the one hand you don’t have the sort of big epic cosmic
evil plan you expect in this kind of story, on the other hand the stakes are
certainly high enough and the challenge facing the heroes unique enough to
qualify as a major threat. Still without true villainy this becomes more a tale
of how the heroes (and Luthor) react to a natural disaster than the kind back
and forth rising action you expect in an event story. The human touches with
Superman and the Green Lanterns play out well in this environment; while the
urban riots, African subplot and Dusk learning about humanity don’t ever
achieve what the author wants them to evoke.

I will say I don’t know who the hell Ferro is, or even if he
has super powers, but he seems way out of the place in this story. I assume he
was some new character they were pushing for a solo book at the time because
his debut gets the Chapter 2 cliffhanger spot (prompting an anti-climatic ‘who
the hell is this and why should I care?’ moment) and then of all the heroes on
Earth he’s the one who thinks Superman is too valuable to lose and is left to
deploy (and screw up) Luthor’s plan. If this story was supposed to be his big
push it fails, because after reading it I could care less if I ever saw him in
a comic book again.

 

Grade: C+. The
Sun Eater is an interesting concept in terms of a global threat for the heroes
to face but the action itself lacks dramatic tension. Still the character work
on Jordan and Luthor is interesting enough to earn this a slightly positive
grade.

Waiting for the Trade – Batgirl

Waiting for the Trade
by Bill Miller
 
Batgirl New 52 Vol. 1
– The Darkest Reflection
by Gail Simone, Ardian
Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes
collects Batgirl 1 – 6
 
Why I Bought This: I
always liked Batgirl best of the core Batman characters dating back to the Adam
West series. Since I mostly enjoyed the first three New 52 books I sampled, and
with Barbara Gordon finally returned to that role, this my next pick-up from
that line.
 
 
The Plot: Barbara
Gordon has regained the use of her legs and decides to resume her career as
Batgirl only to come across a new costumed serial killer known as Mirror.
 

Chapter 1 – A mystery man drowns an old guy with a garden
hose then scratches his victim’s name off a list that also includes the name of
“Barbara Gordon.” We see Batgirl on patrol and she comes across a home invasion
that she subsequently breaks up in a short but intense fight. We see Barbara
having nightmares of Joker shooting her and putting her in a wheelchair in The Killing Joke. When she wakes we get
a flashback of her recovery and moving out of her father’s house. This leads to
her getting an apartment with a new female roommate, who is something of a
political activist. At the hospital police are interrogating the gang leader
Batgirl took down the night before when the mysterious costumed man from the
opening arrives. He guns down some cops causing Barbara to head over there when
she hears about it through her police connections. Batgirl arrives just as our
killer storms the gang leader’s room but when he pulls a gun on her she again
flashes back to Killing Joke and
freezes. This allows the killer to dispose of the gang leader much to the
horror of the one surviving police officer in the room.
 
 
Chapter 2 – The
killer makes his escape and Barbara pursues him in a rooftop battle that she
ultimately loses (and barely survives from falling to her death). At the
hospital surviving cop Detective McKenna tells Comm. Gordon her belief that
Batgirl is partly responsible for the gang leader’s death. Batgirl tracks the
killer to a cemetery where he reveals his name as Mirror. He kicks her ass
again but she is able to steal his list off him during the fight before he
retreats because the entire Gotham PD are on the way. That night Barbara goes
home and her roommate sees her covered in bruises and assumes Barbara has domestic
violence victim problems, although Barbara is able to talk her out of it. The
next day Barabara goes on a date with her physical therapist. Then we get a
montage of Barbara doing detective work until she is able to piece together who
Mirror is and find his hideout. His story is he was a federal agent/war hero
whose family burned to death in a car accident while he watched. This has made
him conclude that “miracles are simply God laughing at us” and so he kills anyone
who has received a miracle, particularly surviving a near death experience by
killing them in the way they should have died the first time. He reveals to
Barbara he has planted a bomb on a train to get to his next victim who survived
falling on train tracks once.
 
 
Chapter 3 – Batgirl boards the train and tries to outthink
Mirror since by changing the circumstances of how his victim would die but he
still detonates the bomb. Later she liberates her bat-cycle from the police
impound (she had to leave it outside the hospital when she chased Mirror on the
rooftops) and encounters Nightwing. They flirt by fighting as she convinces him
she needs to prove herself that she can solve this case on her own.
 
 
Chapter 4 – Barbara is having nightmares about being back in
the wheelchair. Barbara and her roommate decorate for Christmas leading Barbara
to reveal her best and worst Christmas. The former is one year ago when her
father got an experimental clinic in South Africa to accept her which is what
got her out of the wheelchair, whereas the latter is when her mother walked on
her and Comm. Gordon when she was 12. On patrol Batgirl breaks up a mugging.
She then laves a noet for Mirror on the grave of his family. Needless to say he
is not pleased to receive it and accepts Batgirl’s invitation to go fight in an
abandoned hall of mirrors. There fight is pretty physical and it looks like
Mirror is going to win and until Barbara forces him to confront the loss of his
family giving her an opening to KO him and send him to Arkham. That night
Barbara’s mother shows up at her apartment.
 
 
Chapter 5 – Batgirl is on patrol when she stumbles across a
carjacking. What is weird is the carjackers are upper level mobsters who never
get their hands dirty in public. It gets even weirder when Barbara stops three
of them only for the head mobster to kill his three sons and the jump off a
bridge in a suicide attempt. Batgirl catches him on her bat-cable only for a girl
with green hair to show up and attack her. The villain seems to have low grade
invulnerability as none of Batgirl’s blows phase her. Eventually the villain
just wanders off claiming to be “out of time” and Batgirl has to let her go so
she can finish saving the mob boss who is now mumbling the numbers “338”
uncontrollably. We then get a flashback to last issue’s cliffhanger with
Barbara’s mom. They go for a walk with mom announcing her intention to move
back to Gotham and hoping to start anew but Barbara
isn’t very receptive to the idea. At Gotham PD Detective McKenna is reinstated
(she was on mandatory psychological bereavement leave due to the death of her
partner by Mirror) and is assigned the bridge case which opened this chapter;
she’s happy for the assignment since she’s been investigating Batgril on her
own time anyway. Batgirl is pondering the meaning of 338, and comes across a
news story on protests of a historical building that the Wayne Foundation plans
to demolish at that address number. As Bruce is on his way to the site his
chauffer gets possessed and deliberately crashes their car and our mystery
villainess again shows up. She now has pink hair and using the name Gretel.
Batgirl takes down the chauffer so Gretel possess Bruce instead.
 
 
Chapter 6 – Batgirl is forced to fight Bruce and this causes
her flashback to some her early days training with him and then him visiting
her in the hospital after Killing Joke as
she worries this fight might be a bit too much too soon after her recovery
considering who Bruce really is. The fight ends up in Crime Alley (the sight of
the murder of Bruce’s parents) and that enables Barbara talk him free of the
mind control. He gives her his approval as Batgirl and plans to hold a press
conference tomorrow. We get Gretel’s origin: she was an investigative
journalist who went digging into a connection between the mob and the wealthy
elite and got shot and left for dead for her troubles. The bullet she took to
the head both cut off her pain centers and gave telepathic powers that enable
her to get men to do what she suggests. Barbara is able to investigate based on
something Gretel said during the last fight and discovers her identity. Gretel
finishes off the mobster from chapter 5 (who is the same one that shot her way
back when) off panel, while Barbara and Bruce set a trap with Bruce to be a
decoy at the press conference so that Batgirl can take down Gretel. At the
press conference Gretel possesses all of the male cops and has them open fire
on Bruce. Batgirl takes down the cops long enough for Bruce to escape and
change clothes. Detective McKenna attempts to arrest Batgirl but Batman arrives
and is like ‘uh, no.’ The two heroes confront Gretel and Batgirl tries to talk
her into surrendering out of sympathy for her tragic origin. Gretel forces a
fight and when she loses wishes for suicide rather than being powerless at the
hands of men again but Batgirl saves her anyway then turns her over to McKenna
while pondering if she could have turned out the same as Gretel if not for the
love of her father and Batman.
 
 
Critical Thoughts: Good
stuff all around. Both new villains have great origins and make good foils for
Barbara. They are both victims of terrible events so that you have empathy for
them but yet the story never shies away from showing they are mass murders and
why the need to be stopped. Mirror in particular makes a great first foe as he
is physically superior to Barbara and his schtick gives her intellectual
openings to try to overcome that, while also playing against her own fears that
getting back into the costume is tempting fate after being in the wheelchair
for so long. Even the minor villains are well-written. That home invasion scene
has a terrifying subtext where they tell their victims what they plan to do to
them but the reader doesn’t hear it, we only see the victims’ horrified reaction
to their plan.
 
 
Reading
about Batgirl in general proves interesting because there aren’t a lot of
non-powered solo females out there. Marvel’s Silver Sable is the only other one
who come to mind of the top of my head and she uses guns, which is a short cut
Barbara doesn’t have. Even when fighting muggers and gangs we see Barbara has
to use leverage and tactics because she is not as strong as they are. Overall
this book has a nice sense of realism. Barbara  knows how dangerous boarding a train with a
bomb on it is. She struggles to save cilvilians. She worries about the strain
on her spine in the more physical scenes. Best of all is her interior
monologue: it’s really written, let’s us know what she’s thinking and feeling
both in the action scenes and the detective scenes. Which is another good
touch, we see Barbara do the work on panel to solve these crimes. It’s very
much a case of showing and not telling us that Barbara is smart, when they
could easily take the shortcut that she used to be Oracle and she had a big
database and bam the clue is solved.
 
 
This book also introduces a good, well-written supporting
cast. It’s a good mix of new characters like the roommate, Barbara’s mother and
Detective McKenna with established characters like her father and sticking the
other Bat-heroes on the periphery. There isn’t a civilian character here that I
wouldn’t mind seeing again in future volumes and how their stories intertwine
with Barbara’s character arc.
 
 
Grade A. Overall
this is a real solid book with good writing that extends to the hero, her
supporting cast and the villains. This is a series I will definitely continue
to buy in trade.
 

Waiting for the Trade – Aquaman

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Aquaman: The
Waterbearer

by Rick Veitch

collects Aquaman #1-4,
Aquaman Secret Files #1 and JLA/JSA Secret Files #1

 

Why I Bought This: I
came across this at a comic show two months going for $5. I love Aquaman enough
to probably buy any solo trade he was in at that price but the fact this one
involves him meeting the Lady of the Lake from
the King Arthur legend ensured I was buying it and jumping it to the top of my
reading pile.

 
The Plot: So this
is an early 2000s relaunch of the title after the 90’s title that started with
the Peter David run, which apparently ends with Aquaman presumed dead and
Atlantis presumed destroyed during the “Our Worlds at War” crossover. In truth
both were teleported into the distant past where the Atlantean citizens became
experts in sorcery, and where Aquaman had to resink Atlantis to get them back
into the present. (All this happens prior to this trade and is helpfully
explained in a precap page of text next to the credits). This story starts with
the Aquaman deposed from his throne and declared a traitor to Atlantis. The
Atlanteans mean to crucify him but fate has other plans in store.

 

Chapter 1 – The Atlanteans drag Arthur through the sea in
chains, stabbing in the side with a lance and then tying him in crucifix
position to a rocky reef in the sun to die of dehydration. Aquaman tries to
call for the fish to help but learns Atlantean magic has turned every fish in
the ocean against him. His JLA communicator has also been sabotaged. However
through effort he pulls himself free of the rock, yet when he tries to go back
into the water he blasted with guns that fire razor sharp coral by the
Atlantean guard.  Collapsing on the beach
he is attacked by a swarm of crabs and now he is both losing blood and dehydrated.
He goes into the interior of the island and finds a lake but collapses before
he can reach it. He tries to use his harpoon hand to pull himself into the lake
but that’s been sabotaged too. He tosses his hook away in rage and it lands in
the lake where it is caught by water nymphs. The nymphs take Aquaman into the
lake where he meets the Lady of the Lake and
is instantly healed. She then offers him even greater power if he will be her
champion, known as the Waterbearer–a role she notes was filled by a different
Arthur once before. Meanwhile Martian Manhunter is searching for Aquaman as the
JLA suspects he is in trouble. He finds Aquaman’s hook sticking out a stone and
then finds Aquaman with a new hand made entirely of water.

Chapter 2 – Aquaman’s new hand can function as a crystal
ball and turn solid enough to pickup objects. Aquaman notes to MM that while he
can survive in freshwater lakes he won’t thrive like he does in saltwater. He
then resigns his membership in the JLA to take time to find his new place in
the world. Back in Atlantis the Atlanteans are mutating sea life into monsters.
Arthur goes hiking in civilian clothes in Ireland and finds an old run down
lighthouse. He meets the lighthouse keeper; an old man named McCaffery and
decides to do some odd jobs for him since his own father was a lighthouse
keeper. McCaffrey goes out to sea, while Arthur works and he meets a local
female cop named Sweeney. Meanwhile the Atlanteans send mutant kelp after an
oil tanker. McCaffery tries to guide them safely to shore only to get electrocuted
by the Atlanteans in hopes of luring Aquaman into a trap. Aquaman hears the
mayday over the police radio and dives into the ocean to help. He has to fight
some sharks (since the sea creatures are still turned against him) and then the
Atlantean guards as well. Aquaman cuts the guards and lets the sharks’ nature
do the rest. Aquaman then touches the kelp monster with his water hand and
learns that it can short-circuit any magic spell (thus reducing the monster
back to ordinary kelp). Aquaman gets McCaffery’s boat to shore but the old man
has stopped breathing. However the Lady of the Lake
appears and teaches him to use his new water hand to heal others. As Arthur he
tells Sweeney who he really is but she doesn’t believe him, and he’s taken to
wearing gloves to preserve his secret identity.

Chapter 3 – The Atlanteans order one of their best warriors,
Rodunn to go to the surface to hunt Aquaman down and kill him. He is armed with
their most powerful lightening gun and a giant mutated sea lamprey. Arthur is pleased
to learn the lighthouse has a saltwater pump so he can shower in sea water.
Then he goes into town with Sweeney to get a haircut. On the way back Arthur
& Sweeney discover a civilian who has been bled by the lamprey. Arthur
tries to use his crystal ball power to find the culprit but is ambushed by
Rodunn. He’s able to short out Rodunn’a magic armor that lets him function on
land but then the lamprey grabs Aquaman, drains his blood and tosses him over
some trees. Aquaman is again on death’s door but he finds a portal to Annwn (an
Irish netherworld of natural magic prominent in druidic lore and other Celtic
texts) where he has another conversation with the Lady of the Lake.
Aquaman emerges back in the real world and takes the fight to Rodunn. Rodunn
gets bit by his own Lamprey but Aquaman saves him first by shorting out the
Lamprey spell and returning it to normal size and then by healing Rodunn with
his magic hand. Rodunn then swears loyalty to Aquaman as his true king. Aquaman
then reveals himself to Sweeney in his new costume, which looks good.

Chapter 3.5 – Tempest (the former Aqualad) and Dolphin have
a baby now. They are living in Atlantis but the new regime is watching them
closely. So Tempest leaves in the night to go find Aquaman.

Chapter 4 – Arthur tells Sweeney he has no interest in
reclaiming the Atlantean throne just in time for Tempest to arrive to ask him
to liberate Atlantis. When Aquaman tells Garth this, he doesn’t take it well
and uses a spell to astral project their spirits into small fish so Arthur can
see how bad it is in Atlantis for himself. He sees the mutations, citizens
under house arrest, and his wife Mera—who allegedly sits on the throne—being
drugged by the shadow government running things now. This enrages Arthur so
much he makes a move to intercede even though he’s just a fish causing the head
sorcerer to detect the truth and send mutated barracuda after the heroes. As
always with astral projection if the fish with their souls in them die Aquaman
& Aqualad die too. In addition Atlantean soldiers find Arthur and Garth’s
bodies on the beach and decide to stab them in their astral sleep. Sweeney
however intercedes and scares the Atlanteans off. The hero fish get eaten by a Barracuda
with Tempest bit in half and Aquaman swallowed whole and about to be digested,
when he uses the link with his new magic hand to reverse the crystal ball
effect, have the detach from his human body, crawl across the beach and touch
Tempest thus short-circuiting his spell and returning the heroes to their
bodies in the nick of time. However Garth is in system shock from having his
fish be eaten and is on the verge of death but Aquaman uses his healing hand. When
Garth recovers he is able to convince Aquaman to try to reclaim Atlantis but
then the Lady of the Lake shows up and forbids
him from using the magic hand she gave him to wage war.

Chapter 5 – The Atlanteans continue to mutate sea life in a
well written creepy scene. We also see they are using political prisoners in
the process and dumping them in mass graves. Meanwhile Vulko, longtime to
advisor to the king of Atlantis, is overseeing the forced march escort of
prisoners set for exile or execution. He becomes stunned to see first the
cruelty of the guards, and later to learn many of the prisoners have been condemned
for either political dissidence or because they know of the drugging of Mera
(which is the first Vulko is hearing of that as well). Vulko attempts to stand
up for the prisoners but the guards decide they are just going to execute him
too. And then the political prisoner being experimented on in the opening pages
climbs out of his grave as a Jelly-fish like meta-human and kills the guards.
Vulko thanks him and dubs him Man O’ War, then frees the other prisoners and
vows to restore justice to Atlantis.

 

Critical Thoughts: This
has some interesting ideas but it doesn’t really feel like an Aquaman comic.
Aquaman getting exiled from the ocean could be an interesting story idea.
Aquaman meeting the Lady of the Lake and
playing with the Arthurian parallels has a lot of potential. Even using Ireland as the
setting of a superhero comic is something new that could work out very well
given time. The problem is the whole water-hand thing. It just looks weird and
its powers are too far away from what makes Aquaman a fun hero. The healing
touch is ridiculously powerful—he brings two people back from the dead in this
story. The short circuiting of magic with just a touch and no heroic effort is
a pretty strong superpower also. Throw in clairvoyance and really it’s just a
weird mystical power set that isn’t Aquaman—who has also been stripped of his
signature power of talking to fish in this story. You could create a new hero
with these same powers and this same setting and it might make for an
interesting read but it’s not what I want to see when I buy an Aquaman comic.

While I’m not thrilled with the direction of the story, I
will say the story itself is well told. Aquaman’s desperation in chapter 1 and
his various tactics to save himself and call for help are well realized;
although the repeated Christ symbolism in that chapter is a bit much. I can
admire how this author gets Aquaman where he wants by slowly discarding all of
the elements of Peter David’s run. While I like the Peter David run quite a bit,
I can see why future authors wouldn’t want Aquaman to have a harpoon hand
forever or would want to give him a shave and change the grim and gritty 90s
look once it’s a new decade.

The mutation scenes throughout the story also work very well
both in making interesting monsters and echoing the darkness in Atlantis. The
Vulko chapter is quite good in this regard, and the new Man O’ War character is
interesting enough visually that I wouldn’t mind seeing him again—especially since
he is more fish-based and thus feels more natural in an Aquaman story that a
lot of the magic stuff. The chapter with Arthur and Tempest turned into fish is
also quite an intense bit of story-telling.

One other nitpick is I am not sure of the rationale behind
the Lady of the Lake  preventing Arthur from using her gift (the
water hand) for war. I mean I get the ultimate goal is probably to make Aquaman
a mystical protector of either Ireland or the environment in general and that latter
vibe doesn’t lend itself to being pro war. But traditionally the Lady of the Lake gave King Arthur Excalibur and he used that gift in
a bunch of wars, so it doesn’t completely jibe with the mythology they are
steeping this in.

I also want to say I like offering a precap page at the
start to recap the dense continuity that preceded this story. A lot more trades
in general could use that approach.

 
Grade: C+. While
the direction of Aquaman himself in this trade ultimately isn’t my cup of tea,
the writing itself deserves credit for exploring new ideas and having a sense
of how it wants to portray the central character and his supporting cast both
old and new.

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Batman

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Batman: Cacophony

By Kevin Smith and
Walt Flanagan

Collects Batman:
Cacophony 1-3

Why I Bought This: Actually
I didn’t buy this. It was a Christmas present from my lady, bought when we are
at Kevin Smith’s store. She chose it because it is not just Smith writing but
also art from Walt Flanagan of the Comic
Book Men
TV show, making it a fitting souvenir of our visit to the Stash.
The Plot: Batman
battles the Joker while new super-villain Cacophony arrives in Gotham. (Spoilers after the break)

 
Chapter 1 – Deadshot breaks into Arkham to confront the
Joker. Deadshot has been hired to kill Joker by the parent of a teen who
overdosed a drug called Chuckles, which is made from a low grade form of Joker
Venom. Joker is horrified that someone would take his trademark weapon and turn
into a recreational drug. Deadshot blows the cell open but before he can put a
bullet in Joker he is attacked by Cacophony: a hit man who never speaks except
to imitate sound effects. Cacophony fatally shoots Deadshot in the head and
frees Joker from Arkham. He then hands Joker a suitcase full of money and
disappears. Meanwhile serial killer Zsasz has just orphaned some kids when
Batman arrives in time to stop him from killing the children too. Comm. Gordon
calls Batman about the Joker escape. Bats goes to the morgue where he finds
Deadshot rising from the dead. Batman examines and admires Deadshot’s trick
helmet that not only blocks bullets but then explodes blood and locks down body
functions to simulate death. He also questions Deadshot on what went down at
Arkham but Deadshot has no details on who Cacophony is or what his agenda may
be. We meet Maxi Zeus, apparently a D-list Bat-foe who is now pretending to
have gone legit but is in fact selling the Chuckles drug. Joker takes a middle
school hostage where Zeus’s nephew attends. Zeus tries to first cut Joker in on
the profits and later threatens him. Joker is unimpressed and sets off a bomb;
killing all the children within the school as Cacophony watches from afar.

Chapter 2 – Joker murders a nightclub full of civilians
because the club is owned by Zeus. Batman arrives and has Joker on the
defensive until Cacophony arrives and shoots Batman in the shoulder from
behind. Batman takes the fight to Cacophony, but Cacophony responds by
connecting with a slashing knife wound across Batman’s torso, thus giving both
villains time to disappear. Batman does some research and learns Cacophony
previously fought Green Arrow v2.0 (I suspect in the Smith penned series that
resurrected the original that I’ve never read) as well as killed some minor
heroes that Smith most likely invented just to be his victims. Batman deduces
Cacophony considers himself a hero-killer but that he only targets human
superheroes. He also figures out Cacophony freed Joker as a hunting tactic to
draw Batman out and keep his attention divided. Meanwhile Zeus has lost his
mind and gone back to his super-villain identity, which involves pretending to
be a Greek god sans any actual powers. Batman finds Zeus romping with some
ladies. He snaps Zeus back to sanity and gets him to agree to turn himself in
and testify out of remorse for his nephew’s death. Joker makes a run at the
police station to get to Zeus where Batman is waiting for him. They fight on
the roof until Cacophony arrives as well.

Chapter 3 – Batman has managed to handcuff Joker to the Bat
Signal, but Joker uses a shard of glass to stab him in the leg, which gives
Cacophony an opening to shoot Batman in the head. The villains gloat over his
dead body until Batman pops up and breaks Cacophony’s wrist to disarm him, as
Batman’s interior monologue reveals he stole Deadshot’s trick helmet tech.
Batman pummels the wounded Cacophony so he stabs Joker in the heart as a
diversionary tactic. Batman is forced to choose whether to pursue Cacophony or
save the Joker and he chooses the latter much to Comm. Gordon’s disbelief. Five
months later Batman visits Joker in the hospital and they have a rather intense
conversation that ends with Joker claiming his desire to kill Batman is what
makes him as crazy as he is. Finally in the epilogue we see Cacophony go home
where he lives a normal middle class life with a wife and kids but in the
basement he has a trophy case for the masks of heroes he’s killed and he gazes
at the empty spot reserved for Batman’s cowl.

Critical Thoughts:
I enjoyed this story overall but it isn’t perfect. In fact I’d say it serves as
a microcosm for both the best and worst of Smith’s writing tendencies.

On the best front, as his films often show, Smith is one of
the best writers of dialogue in recent film history. Chapter 3 in particularly
is captivating and it’s all due to the dialogue scenes, first between Batman
and Gordon and then the big extended verbal confrontation between Batman and
Joker. The conversations feel important on a character level and each has their
own dramatic tension. It really is excellent writing.

On the flip side Smith has a tendency to wallow in bathroom
humor and vulgarity. We see that in his films; and while sometimes it works (I
would still to this day consider Clerks one
of the 10 best films of the 90s), other times it does not and comes across as
jarring and excessive to the point that it derails the entire story (The finale
of Clerks 2 being the most obvious
example in his films; although I HATED his Spider-man/Black Cat limited series
a few years back for the same reasons). In this story it’s not nearly as bad as
those other two examples in that it never derails the story because it is used
in minor asides and not major plot points; but it is present throughout and in
every case it’s jarring because it’s not adding anything to the story; it’s
just showing the Smith is too big a writer for DC editorial to reign in and
edit. If anything it’s similar to Dogma,
which as a film has a strong story and good dialogue about interesting issues,
but would be a stronger film with a few less forays into bathroom humor. Smith
has fairly intense Batman crime noir story here: he doesn’t need to have Joker
offering gay sex to Cacophony, Zsasz cutting his own penis with a knife and
Joker telling Batman he saw his testicles because none of these things further
the story or the characters in any way; and plenty of other writers, who don’t
have Smith’s pedigree, have managed to tell Batman-Joker stories for years
without resorting to cheap and tawdry writing.

As far as the art, I like what Flanagan does here a lot. I
again go to chapter three, and for as great as the dialogue scenes in the
finale are, those scenes are preceded by a hell of a fight scene on the roof in
the rain with some big shocking moments and his art is a big reason the scene
works as well as it does. He also gets some nice facial shots, particularly on
Joker, for the conversation between Joker and Batman that closes the story.

I will say Cacophony is not much of a villain conceptually.
His shtick of imitating sound effects is more odd than interesting; although
this is mitigated by even Batman noting the Gotham
villains are “running out of gimmicks and kinks” when he first meets him. We
also don’t really get an explanation of why he is such an adept fighter: he
wounds Batman in every fight they have, and practically kills both Joker and
Deadshot with little difficulty. These aren’t major criticisms because if this
was a start of a longer run on the title for Smith, I’d say this is a good way
to introduce a new major villain if you were setting up to answer those
questions over time; but for a three issue limited series it feels unresolved.
I will add I like the finale that shows he is a family man when he isn’t being
a super villain as that is not something we see very often. 

One other observation that Batman saving the Joker even
after he kills middle school students in this story makes clear is how much
comics in general have let their heroes creep ever more hardcore over moral
lines. Batman is such an icon in pop culture that his no killing code has
become untouchable, whereas less popular characters aren’t so lucky. So that
while 20 years ago Batman was the darkest of DC’s major heroes, now characters
like Aquaman and Wonder Woman (who no casual follower of superheroes would
consider darker than Batman) are much more ruthless than he is: they both
casually stab people with tridents and swords now and have no problem letting
enemies die. My point with this paragraph isn’t to criticize Smith’s story,
just to point out what I think is a fairly damning trend in 21st
century comics overall.

 

Grade A-. Yea,
there are some unnecessary moments but the core story is well told in both writing
and art. You have four villains working at cross-purposes with clearly defined
motivations leading to a finale that feels high stakes to the hero on a
personal level. If you are someone who only reads Batman occasionally this is a
fine self-contained story featuring him and his greatest foe, making it an easy
trade to recommend.

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – JLI

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Justice League
International: Volume 1 – The Signal Masters

by Dan Jurgens, Aaron
Lopresti and Matt Ryan

collects Justice
League International 1-6.

Why I Bought This: This
was the third of my first three New 52 samples on Cyber Monday. In this case
the original comedic JLI series is the only DC book I ever bought off the racks
on an issue by issue die-hard basis, so a relaunch of that title is something I
would of course be interested in.
The Plot: The
United Nations decides it needs a Justice League of its own that it can control
so they hand-pick a team of international heroes just in time for them to deal
with an emerging cosmic threat.

Chapter 1 – We see the UN select the team’s membership:
Booster Gold will be leader and classic JLI members Fire (of Brazil), Ice (of Norway),
Guy Gardner and Rocket Red (Russia)
are back along with Vixen (Zimbabwe),
August General in Iron (China)
and Godiva (United Kingdom).
Meanwhile in Peru
some UN scientists fall into a hole in the ground. Back in the U.S. the UN gives the JLI the Hall of Justice
(looking exactly as it did in Superfriends)
set in Washington DC. There are protestors against the
building being used by superheroes. The team meets for the first time inside.
Guy is his usual jerk-self and leaves in a huff over Booster being appointed
leader. Batman shows up and tries to talk sense into Guy as Bats believes
Booster can be a fine team leader, but Guy flies off anyway. The team gets the
distress call from Peru
and heads off in a UN provided jet that Batman sneaks aboard. Despite the UN
not approving Batman for the team, Bats says the real Justice League thinks
it’s a good idea for the two teams to have a connection. Back in DC some
protestors blow up the Hall of Justice. Back in Peru little rock people attack the
JLI. The team beats them back only for the ground to break open and reveal a
giant robot.

Chapter 2 – The heroes aren’t terribly effective against the
robot. When Ice gets injured Booster orders a retreat. While some of the team
doubts his leadership, Batman offers a pep talk. Guy sees Ice injured on the
news, and heads off to meet up with the team at the ruins of the Hall of
Justice. Intel shows three more robots have awoken around the world and they
are sending a signal into outer space, which is received by a villain who looks
like Galactus carrying an energized scythe.

Chapter 3 – The JLI splits into teams of two to deal with
the robots. All of them successfully distract the robots long enough to burrow
under them, where they all then meet a horde of the rock people and lose to
their numbers. Meanwhile Guy follows the robot transmission signal into space
and encounters Scythe Dude, who defeats Guy in one panel.

Chapter 4 – Guy recovers and fights the villain, whose name
is Peraxxus, and loses again. Peraxxus teleports the captured heroes to him and
reveals his plan, which is to break the Earth down to its component minerals
and the sell the minerals on the intergalactic market. He admits the robots
predate him, they were built by a long gone ancient alien civilization but he
has learned to trace the signal over the years and make use of them for his
profit scheme. Godiva, whose power is living hair ala Medusa of the Inhumans,
manages to get a laser scalpel off Batman’s utility belt and free everyone. The
heroes are mostly on the losing end again until Peraxxus teleports away and
activates the robots’ planet disintegration mode.

Chapter 5 – The government tries to nuke Peraxxus ship but
of course he has a force field. Guy whips up a space ship for the team with his
ring and they charge Peraxxus, who blasts them out of the sky. However it is a ruse
and JLI are able to sneak aboard his ship and split up with Batman, Rocket Red
and Ice in charge of disabling Peraxxus’s ship, while everyone else takes the
fight to him. Peraxxus again decimates the heroes, leaving only Godiva cowering
in a corner as she’s been having doubts that she belongs on a team that deals
with cosmic threats given her laughable powers. However when Booster is about
to be decapitated she steps up long enough to give the others a chance to
recover. This time the heroes manage to drive him off, while Red successfully
shuts off the ship’s power. Guy’s ring ensures the heroes survive the crash
landing. The heroes celebrate their victory as a new mystery foe electronically
spies on them.

Chapter 6 – Batman and Booster track down the Hall of
Justice bombers, after which Batman returns to the main JLA title. The
remaining heroes deal with clean-up from the last mission, while some of the
foreigners begin to adjust to life in America. Booster appears before the
UN as the team gets officially chartered. The mystery villain from last issue
blows something up.

 

Critical Thoughts: I’m
very much of a mixed opinion on this. On its own merits it is a fine little
superhero story. The team dynamic between these heroes is pretty good, and
grows organically throughout the story. There is lots of little character that
I didn’t mention in my recap whenever the team breaks into smaller groups. In a
lot of ways this book reminds me of West
Coast Avengers
, which to this day is one of my all time favorite titles (at
least the first 41-issues, once Englehart left that title was never the same).
Like that title, this one focuses on a bunch of second tier heroes being led by
an unproved leader and trying to live up to the name of their universe’s
premiere superhero team. I think this book shows a lot of potential to grow.

My two problems with the title have nothing to do with the
actual story Jurgerns is choosing to tell, but rather what this book doesn’t do
based on the expectation of the name. The original JLI title was far and away the funniest comic book I’ve ever read
but there isn’t a joke to be found in this volume. And it begs the question why
name this title after the other one, which I assume was pretty popular in its
day seeing as it ended up with two spin-off titles, if you aren’t go to try to
recapture what made that one popular? I’ll also say as a fan of the original series
the lack of Blue Beetle is a jarring absence. When I think of JLI the very first thing I think of is
the camaraderie between Booster and Beetle. I know DC killed the real Blue
Beetle off awhile ago, but seeing as you just relaunched your universe (in fact
this book implies the entire original JLI
series never happened with the exception of Guy and Ice briefly dating) then
there is no reason not to bring Ted Kord back and let the alien teenager from
the Brave and the Bold cartoon pick
another name.

Also that Chinese Superhero has the worst name ever.
Seriously couldn’t they just call him Iron General or really anything less
awkwardly worded?

On the positives I should also say the art looks very good
throughout.

 

Grade: B-. This
is a fine start to a new title, but if you are buying this based on memories of
the original series it is not that at all.

Waiting for the Trade – Superman

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 

Superman: Reign of
Doomsday

By Paul Cornell

Collects Action Comics
900-904

 

Why I Bought This: I
had read the previous trade (Return of
Doomsday
) in which Doomsday returned to take on all of the Reign of the
Superman characters and that one had ended on a cliffhanger with Doomsday
victorious. While that trade was only okay, I was still likely to pick up the
conclusion once the price dropped online sooner or later.

The Plot: the
Reign of Superman heroes awaken on a space station containing a pocket universe
and Doomsday. Supes goes to mount a rescue mission of the Reign characters only
to be waylaid by a newly omnipotent Lex Luthor.

Chapter 1 – Supes finds out about Doomsday defeating Steel
and heads off to find him. The Reign heroes wake up on a space station that
Steel’s scanners reveal is infinite in size with no escape because it loops in
on itself spatially. Doomsday arrives and attacks the heroes with Cyborg
deciding to work against the other four heroes. In space Luthor has obtained
infinite power and uses it teleport Superman to him. Lex obtained his power
from the Phantom Zone where a heretofore unknown entity has been suffering for
years because it is empathic and the Kryptonian criminals stored there only
have negative emotions. It was on its way to our universe to destroy the source
of negative emotions when Lex found and forcibly merged with it. He tries to
give Superman pain by forcing human emotions on him, which is just an excuse to
have a bunch of flashbacks to key events in the Superman mythos since this
chapter was originally Action Comics 900.
Lex doesn’t understand why his plan isn’t working as he refuses to believe
Superman already has human emotion until he mind-probes him and learns he’s
Clark Kent. Lex doesn’t take the news well, ranting about his own poor
childhood and how Supes being Clark makes a
fool out of him. He tries to kill Supes but the entity begins to exert
influence and holds back the power he needs to do the job. Back on the space
station Doomsday is mimicking Eradicator’s power when the heroes drop down into
a bottomless pit but he just reappears seconds later using Superboy’s powers.
Back with Lex and he merges with the entity more fully to gain access to its
full power and this causes him to unleash a wave of universal bliss. While Lex
is happy now and has plans to use this power to right all of the wrongs in the
universe, the catch is if he uses the power for a single negative act he will
lose it, which in his words means not only can he not kill Superman but
Superman gets to live out his life blissfully happy. Lex finds he can’t abide
that choice and attacks Supes. He immediately begins to power down but the
power lasts long enough for him to trade punches with Supes for a few pages.
Once all the power leaves him, Lex of course has instant amnesia and then gets
sucked into a black hole but not before mentioning that he’s behind the
Doomsday attacks on the Reign characters and letting Supes know where the space
station is. Supes arrives and sees the way in as a one-way event horizon but
dives in anyway to help his friends. Together they find Doomsday’s dead body in
a lab, where Lex has been performing experiments on him. The result of the
experiments is he has in fact cloned Doomsday into four separate entities, each
one mimicking the powers of one specific Reign character.

Chapter 2 – With three Doomsday’s attacking (the fourth is
still falling in the bottomless pit), Supes rips out Cyborg’s heart so they
concentrate on the main threat, which is not as hardcore as it sounds since
Cyborg will come back to life as soon as the heart is put back in his chest. The
heroes run away with the original Doomsday’s body, while a mystery villain
watches the proceedings and begins to pilot the space station. The heroes try
to come up with a plan, while Steel notes that detached from Luthor’s machines
the original Doomsday is beginning to resurrect. The three Doomsday clones
arrive and attack and generally have the heroes on the defensive. The space station
is on a collision course with Earth that if successful will destroy the planet,
and is just 10-minutes away to impact. The heroes become aware of the impending
collision and go looking for a control panel but instead the mystery villain—a
new character by the name of Doomslayer, who looks like Doomsday only with
bigger claws and a metal breastplate. Doomslayer then kills the Eradicator with
ease.

Chapter 3 – Doomslayer reveals he’s an evolved Doomsday with
intelligence and awareness of what his origins are. He says Doomsday has killed
millions and must be stopped. His plan therefore is to not only kill Doomsday
but also any world that has ever encountered him so as to erase all knowledge
of him from the universe. Steel hacks the door open and the supermen work on
stopping the space station. Their strength decelerates it enough so the threat
changes from planet-wide to continent-wide to city-wide (and of course it’s
heading for Metropolis), at which point Superman has the others clear out and
flies it into the ocean. It creates a massive tidal wave but the other three
stop that from hitting Metropolis. Doomslayer then unleashes plan B and sets
the Doomsday clones on the Earth.

Chapter 4 – The Reign heroes are making one-on-one stands
across the world while Supes takes the original Doomsday to Star-Labs. Doomsday
wakes up, but with Eradicator’s intelligence is in control of him. Doomslayer
is working on sending his pocket universe into the Earth’s Core as a plan C of
destruction. Meanwhile the Reign heroes have been joined by various Justice
League groupings to face the Doomsday clones while Superman takes the fight to
Doomslayer. We get big brawl of a fight scene and Eradicator kills one of the
Doomsdays but notes the original will soon reassert its intelligence. Superman
meanwhile has made way to the core of the space ship when Doomslayer powers it
up in hopes of killing him.

Chapter 5 – The second Doomsday clone is defeated in the
opening panel, leaving just one more to go. Meanwhile Supes learns the spaceship
is alive: it’s not happy about having been used by Lex and Doomslayer but Supes
gives a rah rah speech and it agrees to help him save the world. Supes now
takes on Doomslayer physically as the ship begins to depart. The JLA’s heavy
hitters put down the last Doomsday and the clones are disposed of in a space
warp by GL. Doomslayer is about to kill Supes when Eradicator arrives (still in
the original Doomsday’s body). Together their combined strength is too much for
Doomslayer. With his last though Eradicator tosses Superman from the space
station, which then seals up and self-destructs to end the threat of Doomsday
and Doomslayer. Afterwards Clark and Lois have dinner and reflect on what
Superman means to America.

Bonus Chapters – A story of how Jor-El sent Clark to Earth. Superman meets a Buddha Hippo Alien and
they compare notes on what it means to be human. Lois and Superman throw a
dinner party for the Legion of Super Heroes in four pages. Superman helps out
protestors in the Mid-East and almost creates an international incident. Plus
pin-ups and a partially illustrated script of Supes racing a former football
player wearing Iron Man style flight suit.

 

Critical Thoughts: I
have a mixed reaction to this. It’s not that it’s a bad story, it’s just not
the story I wanted. I bought this hoping for a slice of 90’s nostalgia; not
unreasonable when you consider it is playing off the history and characters of
the most famous story of the 90s. Whereas this story, for reasons I completely
understand, is also trying to be much bigger than that with the penultimate
Superman vs. Luthor fight and trying to give Superman and Lois some closure.
Again this is a logical creative choice since this trade encompasses both the
landmark 900th issue of Action Comics and I believe is the last
Superman story before the New 52 reboot; but the result is a jarring a mix of
things that don’t seem to fit together easily. There absolutely should be a
last Superman story focused on Luthor and Lois, but I don’t think that needs to
be in the same story with Doomsday and the Reign characters. As someone who
rarely reads Superman and picked this up because of the prior trade (which was
a crossover in a bunch of spinoff titles and not the main Superman titles) for
this to open with omnipotent Luthor is a really jarring beginning vs. what the
cover promises. That Luthor chapter feels like it needs to be the last chapter
of some other chapter and not the first chapter of this one.

As far as the Luthor stuff goes, I liked Luthor’s choice that
he can create or universal peace or try to kill Superman and being a villain he
gives up the former for the chance of the latter. I will say this is the first
comic I’ve ever read where the hero is okay with universal alteration as
Superman encourages Luthor to let the universal peace wave ride out. Usually
superheroes are a lot more concerned with free will or the integrity of the
timeline or not playing God or whatever. I always think of Zero Hour where the heroes insist Hal Jordan shouldn’t be allowed to
alter time even though his goal was to save millions of people who died in
Coast City and a help a few heroes who came to bad ends like Batgirl as a poor
example of that cliché where they against universal change on the basic
principal rather than the end goal.

I’m also not sure why Luthor is so pissed off when he learns
Superman is Clark Kent
unless the Smallville continuity is
in effect. Since from what I’ve seen of their adult personas Lex seems to be
barely know Clark, when he deals with the
Planet it always seems to be through Lois. That’s my biggest problem with DC.
They change their continuity so often it’s hard to keep track of which one is
in effect at any given moment/story.

As for the actual Doomsday story I bought this for, it’s
okay. I would have liked to have seen Cyborg have a bigger part since he really
is the ultimate big bad of that era. Doomslayer is pretty lame character with
overblown motivations, but in that sense he does fit the 90s nostalgia kick
perfectly: He’s just like Doomsday only bigger and with more metal and a
cheesier name. If he had an over-sized gun he’d hit the 90’s cliché trifecta.
There is a nice sense of action in the last two chapters, but overall the story
just feels like its missing something.

Also for someone who hasn’t seen Steel in decades when did
his tech get so good? In the Reign titles (and the Shaq movie) he had some low
level armor with construction-themed weapons like a sledge hammer and rivet
gun. Now he can instantly scan a universe sized spaceship in seconds, and
reprogram alien technology? I know all comic characters have a tendency to
enjoy power level creep over time but he seems to have gone from street level
to cosmic over the years.

 

Grade: D+. It’s
not terrible, but it still doesn’t feel coherent. It feels like two stories
crammed together because of an editorial deadline so that ultimately neither
story works as well as it should. I think as much as I bought this for the
Doomsday story, it’s actually the Lex story which suffers more as that some big
ideas that it doesn’t have the time to flesh out; and then the Doomsday stuff
can’t properly follow it.

Waiting for the Trade – Aquaman New 52

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 

Aquaman vol 1: The
Trench
By Geoff Johns, Ivan
Reis and Joe Prado

Collects Aquaman 1 – 6

 

Why I Bought This: As
I’ve said before Aquaman is my favorite DC character, so if I was going to
sample New 52 titles of course I’d pick this one up.

 

The Plot: Aquaman
and Mera try to start a new life for themselves in the small coastal New
England town of Amnesty Bay when a new species
of carnivorous humanoid creatures emerge from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

 
Chapter 1 – Fanged creatures emerge from a trench in the
bottom of the ocean discovering there is an “up” for the first time in their
existence. In Boston Aquaman helps police foil a bank robbery in a scene that
shows his power level has increased in this continuity as he effortlessly lifts
a truck with his trident and takes a bullet to the head with only minor
annoyance. Next Aquaman goes to a seafood restaurant and when he tries to order
fish everyone gets weirded out since he supposedly talks to fish; although
Aquaman corrects them as we’re back to his power being telepathically commands
fish rather than talks to them (with the possible exception of Dolphins). He
also reflects on his early family life and in this continuity Aquaman was
raised by a human father in this same area of New England.
Through his interaction with the restaurant’s patrons we also establish that
most people think Aquaman is a joke, and they specifically reference some of
the real world late night comedy sketches at his expense. Later Aquaman and
Mera are at the lighthouse Aquaman’s human father operated. Aquaman reveals to
her he didn’t know Atlantis existed or about his powers until age 13. We also
learn that while he tried to rule Atlantis as king, he never felt he fit in and
now he has forsaken his throne so he and Mera can have a new life together.
Back at sea a fishing boat hooks one of the humanoids, who pulls the fisherman
in the water and eats him. A swarm of them peer up at the boat and think
“There’s food up there.”

Chapter 2 – The fisherman on the boat get eaten as do any
trench creatures they shoot and kill. In the aftermath of the feeding frenzy
the trench creatures see the lights from the shore town and think “more food.” The
next morning Aquaman and Mera are looking over old photo albums and making
plans to go skiing, when police knock on the door and ask for assistance
investigating what happened at the docks last night. Aquaman and Mera (who has
the power to control water) arrive and learn from the Coast Guard half the town
is missing in addition to the dozens of bodies they have found. Aquaman tries
to summon fish and learns there are no fish at all in this part of the ocean,
which makes him fretful. The police find a cocoon and when they try to disturb
it the trench creatures attack en masse. We get a viscous fight as Aquaman has
no problem killing things with his trident in this continuity. This leads to
the alpha male of the creatures deciding it wants to take Aquaman back to the
trench.

Chapter 3 – Aquaman tries to use his fish telepathy to stop
the alpha male but it just shakes it off and bites him deep in the shoulder.
Mera is able to wash away most of the minions back into the sea; while
Aquaman’s solo battle is fairly even. The creature manages to toss Aquaman
aside before ordering its minions to gather up the food it has cocooned and
take it back to the trench. Aquaman deduces how the cocoons work: it allows breathing
underwater in hibernation, and he frees a dog from the one cocoon the
townspeople recovered prior to the attack. Aquaman takes one of the dead
creatures to scientist Stephen Shin, whom we learn helped teach Aquaman to use
his powers before they had a violent falling out when Aquaman wouldn’t take him
to Atlantis. While Shin examines the body, he also hints at a mystery foe whom
Aquaman obtained the trident from. Anyway, the creatures have similarities to
piranha and ants, and Shin hypothesizes they have to eat 20 to 30 times a day
as well as noting they are an entirely new species of evolution. Shin wants to
keep the body so he can publish in scientific journals but Aquaman refuses to
allow it and Shin gets very upset. As Aquaman and Mera head to the trench she
considers the creatures to be monsters that need to be exterminated while
Aquaman notes they are just another species out to survive.

Chapter 4 – Aquaman and Mera find an old UFO in the trench
of Atlantean origin from before the continent sank. Aquaman also notes the fish
he had accompanying them have just fled out of fear despite his telepathy,
which has never happened before. Eventually they find central hive of these
creatures and much like ants (or Aliens) they have a really big queen that
spawns for the entire race. Also out of Aliens
all of the captured people have been cocooned to the walls, so Aquaman takes
the entire wall with him as he attempts to save them. Of course the entire hive
gives chase, and while Aquaman wishes he could communicate with the creatures,
he is forced to use his trident to detonate a volcanic vent, which kills the
queen and seals the rest of the creatures in beneath an avalanche. Afterwards
when the townspeople are freed a little boy tells Aquaman he is his favorite
superhero, and Mera and he are given the dog from last chapter since its owner
did not survive the attack.

Chapter 5 – Aquaman falls from the sky into the desert. We
flashback to 12 hours earlier when the military called Aquaman for help because
an Atlantean artifact attached to the trench wall he brought up last issue has
begin emitting a high-pitched noise when the military began poking around with
it. Back in the desert Aquaman is bleeding and dehydrating. Back in the
flashback, Aquaman says the device is similar to an airplane’s black box when a
trio of armored soldiers attack and steal it. They attempt to fly off in a
futuristic plane and Aquaman grabs a wing as they leave. In the desert Aquaman
hallucinates about his dead father and then uses his telepathy to summon a
lizard. Back in the flashback Aquaman discovers the attackers are Atlantean
before they shoot him, accidentally blowing up their plane in the process. In
the present Aquaman finds the black box and turns it on revealing a hologram of
a man who talks of how Atlantis was sunk by beings that could use the ocean as
a weapon. He hints at more secrets but the Trench creatures killed him before
he could finish the recording. Aquaman is then rescued by military helicopters
but news of the military operation gets out, making him an even bigger late
night joke.

Chapter 6 – A flashback from four years ago, show us Mera’s
parents trained her to kill Aquaman. In the present Mera has gone to town to
buy dog-food. The salesman gets all sexual harassmenty so she breaks his wrist.
The police attempt to arrest her but she uses water from the store’s bottled
water inventory to put a stop to that. More cops arrive and the situation seems
poised to escalate when an A.P.B. call comes in about a domestic violence
situation prompting Mera to surrender so the cops can respond to it. Once at
the scene she easily breaks free of the cuffs and cop car. When domestic
violence dude pulls a gun on her and calls her “a fish out of water” she starts
draining the water out of his body. He’s about to die of dehydration when his
victim begs Mera to spare him. Mera states she doesn’t understand humans and
flies off. We get a flashback to Mera choosing Aquaman over her father and
being disowned (in fact he vows to kill her alongside Aquaman). The girl from
the grocery store tracks Mera down and brings her dog food to show “We’re not
all bad.” Aquaman comes home and tells Mera he wants to see Shin in order to
discover who sank Atlantis, as the narration implies it was Mera’s people
(after all who else can use the ocean i.e. water as a weapon?).

 
Critical Thoughts:
Holy cow! This is the right way to start a new series. Issue 1 is really an
absolutely perfect set-up issue telling a new the reader everything he needs to
know about the new Aquaman: from his powers to his back-story to his place in
the world.

The primary story of the monsters from the trench is really
good. The art is flat out excellent. The story is suspenseful. The thought
narration in particular is very well done, both in letting us see the different
perspectives of how the creatures and Aquaman see the same events; to using Aquaman’s
reactions to build the threat-level in moments when he telepathically finds no
fish in the ocean after their attack or when the fish he commands leaves his
side out of fear.

The desert story was also really good for a one-issue story
both in the parallel story telling between the flashback and the desert scenes
and for using the adversity to give us a glimpse into the hero’s psyche.

Johns is also building long-term subplots here, which you
don’t see as much of in the modern writing for the trade era. In terms of building
for the future look at the mysteries sets up in the background: we have who
sank Atlantis, who owns the trident, Dr Shin, and Mera’s past. We’re setting up
a lot of story threads and they are all introduced in a way that I want to see
them play out.

That said I do have some criticisms. Within the story, I
found this to be more violent than I think a mainstream superhero comic should
be, particularly the Mera chapter (which admittedly does its job of
differentiating her perspective and methods from Aquaman). There also doesn’t
seem to be any reason for Aquaman not to let Shin keep the body of the trench
creature. It’s not like Aquaman needs the body to track the creatures down or
to build a weapon to fight them, and since they eat their own dead it’d be hard
to argue it would be disrespectful to let scientists dissect and study it. I
get Shin is potentially dangerous (and will probably become a super villain
soon) but Aquaman really comes off as an A-hole in this scene, especially since
he’s the one who went to Shin for assistance in the first place.

Outside of the actual story my main criticism would be some
of the changes to Aquaman’s origin and powers. As I said in my review of Time and Tide I prefer an Aquaman that
talks to fish rather than telepathically commands them, so that change feels
like a step backwards to me. In general you can see this also knocks Time and Tide completely out of
continuity, which is something of a shame. (It has to be out of continuity now
since in that story Aquaman was born in the ocean and raised by dolphins, here
he was born on land and raised by a human unaware of his powers until his teen
years.) Again I probably prefer an Aquaman who has closer ties to the ocean;
however, it’s not a deal-breaker as it is only back-story at this point and
Johns’ clearly has a firm idea of where he wants to take the character. Since
the point of the New 52 is to give some of these characters fresh starts, I am
willing to let it play out, especially given the overall quality of this first
volume.

 

Grade A. While
there are some external choices I am not fond of, within the rules of its own
narrative this is excellent.

Waiting for the Trade – JLA New 52

Waiting for the Trade

 

by Bill Miller

Justice League vol.
1: Origin

by Geoff Johns, Jim
Lee and Scott Williams

collects Justice
League 1-6.

 

Why I Bought This: Even
though I’m primarily a Marvel reader, like most of the comic-buying public I
was pretty intrigued when DC launched its New 52. This being the flagship title
is the obvious one to sample. Plus Jim Lee’s art in the preview pages looked
fantastic. On Cyber Monday, Midtown Comics put all the volume 1 New 52 trades
on sale at 40-percent off so I finally picked this up (along with Aquaman and JLI).



The Plot: The
Justice League comes together for the first time to deal with the threat of
Darkseid. Your heroes are Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green
Lantern, Flash and Cyborg.

Chapter 1 – Gotham Police are chasing down Batman with a
helicopter as he runs across rooftops in pursuit of an unknown foe. Batman
catches it and finds a non-human cyborg. Batman is on the defensive when Green
Lantern arrives and he and Batman meet for the first time. Police open fire on
the heroes; and while GL’s force field keeps them safe it gives the cyborg time
to counterattack by breathing fire. This results in the heroes having to save
the cops while the cyborg escapes. GL informs Batman the foe is definitely extraterrestrial
as well as filling him in on the whole GL Corps shtick. GL is also agog when he
learns Batman has no powers. They trace their foe to the sewers where it seems
to be planting a bomb. When GL tries to intercede it blows itself up, shouting
“For Darkseid” as it does so. They discover the bomb is actually a Mother Box,
which Batman deduces is an alien computer. This causes GL to suspect Superman,
whom neither he nor Batman has met yet. While Batman advises caution given
Superman’s power levels, GL flies them both to Metropolis. Cut to an interlude
where African-American teen Vic Stone wins a high school football game while
college scouts are watching, but mopes because his dad doesn’t attend. GL and
Bats arrives in Metropolis where Superman has just finished a battle. GL
cockily confronts Supes only to be easily knocked across the city; leaving
Supes and Bats staring each other down.

Chapter 2 – In Central City, Flash is working at his day job
doing CSI stuff while other police officers talk about the need for an
anti-Flash taskforce. In Metropolis Batman is exhausting his utility belt on
Supes to no effect, as we learn Supes off-camera also battled one of the Mother
Box planting aliens. GL recovers and tries to contain Supes with his ring but
Superman is too strong. GL is desperately on the defensive so he uses his ring
to radio Flash for help, as apparently they’ve met, worked together before and
even shared secret identities. Flash arrives instantly and uses his speed to
confuse Superman for a bit, but ultimately Supes is able to move fast enough to
hit Flash with one finger and take the fight out of him. Batman then uses that
interlude to talk sense into everyone, and the heroes band together to
investigate the Mother Boxes. Cut to STAR Labs where they too have a Mother Box
and are trying to decipher what it does. Heading up the project is Vic Stone’s
father. Vic arrives and his dad blows him off, feeling human athletic prowess
is no longer relevant in a world of super-humans. Back with the heroes, who
even with Superman’s X-ray vision and Barry’s CSI background are finding it
difficult to get evidence from the Mother Box. Suddenly all the boxes activate,
opening Boom-tubes to let the Parademon (aka the fire-breathing cyborg alien)
army invade the Earth. At STAR Labs Vic Stone takes a bunch of shrapnel when
the portal opens.

Chapter 3 – in Washington
DC Col.
Steve Trevor is being debriefed about his first meeting with Wonder Woman and
the Amazons of Paradise Island, while Wonder Woman explores DC and has ice
cream for the first time. This new interpretation of Wonder Woman carries a
sword at all times (on her belt, opposite her magic lasso) and also seems to be
extra-eager for combat. When Parademons explode over DC she is happy to engage
them in battle. Back at STAR Labs Dr. Stone reveals he already lost Vic’s mom,
he won’t lose Victor too even though the shrapnel in the youth is emitting
weird energy. In Metropolis, Bats, GL and Flash are holding their own, while
Superman is taking entire squadrons of the Parademon army down with ease. Back
at STAR Labs Dr. Stone gets his son in their safe room where the other sci-fi
tech gizmos are stored and performs emergency surgery with them to save his
son. As more demons pour into Metropolis, Wonder Woman arrives to give Superman
a hand. The heroes drive the demons back as Vic Stone comes online as Cyborg
and is somehow patched into whatever background noise/orders the Mother Boxes
are giving the demons. The demons erect a tower in the ocean (but within sight of
the Metropolis docks/shoreline), which causes Aquaman to arrive on the scene as
well.

Chapter 4 – Cyborg is in a lot of pain, and is trying to
come to terms with what his father did to save his life when the demons break
down the wall to the safe room causing Cyborg’s arm to reform into a laser gun
which vaporizes the demons. (His powers in general seem to be like the villain
in Terminator 3 here). With the threat
at STAR Labs defeated Cyborg runs off into the night feeling his father made
him into a monster. In Metropolis Aquaman meets all the heroes for the first
time, and tries to take the leadership role claiming his experience as King of
Atlantis. GL mocks Aquaman and his powers just as the Parademons mount a new
attack from the ocean and Aquaman has an army of sharks jump out of the ocean
and eat the entire Parademon army, except for one whom Aquaman kills with his
tridents thus shutting GL up. The military arrives and fires on the heroes but
Wonder Woman uses her bracelets to protect everyone. Cut to Cyborg who is
getting flashes of Apokolips in his head. He takes out a few demons and manages
to activate one of their Boom Tubes to teleport to the other heroes in
Metropolis. He warns them of what is coming but it is too late as Darkseid
arrives via Boom Tube.

Chapter 5 – Darkseid takes out the military fighter jets
with one shot of his Omega Beams. Flash and Superman get his attention so he
shoots Omega Beams at them. The beams actually split as the heroes do and keep
pace with their speeds. Flash is able to avoid the beams by getting them to hit
some Parademons but Superman is overtaken, knocked unconscious and kidnapped by
the Parademons into their ocean tower. As the next most powerful hero (and
rashest) GL tries to fight Darkseid one-on-one next. Darkseid keeps breaking
his constructs and eventually grabs GL and breaks his ring hand. To his credit
GL attempts to keep fighting but Batman talks him down by unmasking and telling
him his origin. Batman tells GL to come up with a team-based attack using the
combined superpowers at hand to keep Darkseid busy long enough for Bats to
sneak into the tower and free Superman. Once Bats gets there he realizes it is
going to be tougher than he thought since the inside of the tower is a portal
to Apokolips.

Chapter 6 – Darkseid is incinerating civilians until the JLA
hits him with everything at once. Wonder Woman tries to use her lasso to get
info on why Darkseid is here on Earth, to which he just says “For her,” and
before WW can get him to clarify he decks her. Back on Apokolips Batman finds
Dessad torturing Superman, presumably as part of some brain-washing process. On
Earth Darkseid tries his Omega Beams but her bracelets deflect them and she
counters by stabbing him in the eye with her sword. As he reels from that
Aquaman stabs him in his other eye with his trident. The heroes are dismayed to
see Darkseid is still standing. Cyborg decides to try overriding the Mother
Boxes again to Boom Tube Darkseid back to Apokolips. The Boom Tubes powering up
gets Dessad’s attention on Apokolips thus giving Batman an opportunity to free
Superman. Superman returns to fight Darkseid, but Darkseid proves stronger than
him. The heroes combine to push Darkseid back into the Boom Tube as Cyborg uses
it to teleport Darkseid and his army away. In the aftermath the humans of
Metropolis/the world love the heroes. They then get invited to meet with the
President, who publically embraces them for saving the world, assuming they are
a team. The JLA go along with it for the greater good of human/super-human
relations. They receive their name from a reporter during a second mission,
which we see only in passing press coverage as they fight with Starro
recreating the famous cover of the original first JLA story. Finally we get two
epilogues: first in London
shadowy figures discuss the arrival of superheroes in the world and embrace the
super villain moniker; second Pandora of Greek myth fights with Phantom
Stranger before blackmailing him into leaving her alone while announcing plans
to use the JLA to end her curse.
Critical Thoughts: Let’s
start with the positives, which is the art is absolutely jump off the page
amazing. This is Jim Lee at his very best; reminiscent of the stuff he and
Liefeld were doing when they hit it big in the 90s on the X-books. Every hero
gets a stunning pin-up when they arrive in the story for the first time. I
really like Wonder Woman’s new costume. As an Aquaman fan I have to say he has
never looked cooler, or in the scene where shark army jumps out of the water more
badass, than he does in this book. Furthermore the art works beyond the pin-up
cool to enhance the story. For example, in the first meeting between Batman and
Green Lantern the art visually reinforces that these are two different types of
heroes. The Superman debut fight is rendered (and written) in such a way to
make Superman and his power levels feel fresh and new, which is no easy feet
considering how well we all know Superman. It’s really one of the best fight
scenes I’ve seen in some time, especially once Flash arrives. The sequence
where Superman and Flash try to outrace the Omega Beams is also drawn to really
give a sense momentum and wonder to the action.

In terms of plot and story elements there is both good and
bad here. The dynamic of the heroes’ first meetings and reactions to each other
is handled very well. It’s also interesting to see the heroes of the DC
Universe not being trusted by the public and law enforcement. While I don’t
read as much DC as Marvel, I’ve never seen that before in their
universe—usually each hero has their fictional city they watch over like a
guardian angel and everyone there loves them for it. Of course by the end of
the story the heroes have turned the corner to that more beloved status quo, so
I guess it’s not something they’re going to explore any further.

I thought Green Lantern’s reaction to Batman’s lack of
powers was just great. GL’s portrayal in general is interesting, as he’s
arrogant and rash but we still get to see the determination that powers his
ring and makes him a hero when he fights Darkseid. There’s a funny moment where
he brushes up against Wonder Woman’s lasso and reveals he’s going to be the one
save day because he likes to impress people. All that said I didn’t really buy
the scene where Batman supposedly turns it around for GL to be more of a team
player by unmasking. I think it’s something done more to be dramatic for the
reader than the characters. By which I means as readers we know Batman’s secret
identity is important so seeing him unmask is a big deal. But within the logic
of the story it feels out of characters for Batman to unmask to someone he just
met. More importantly why should GL care, who Batman is? It’s not like they’ve
been fighting alongside each for years and suddenly Batman trusts him with this
big thing. It’s more like, “So uh yea my parents were killed by a mugger when I
was a kid so we better stop this alien invasion, kay?” I think there are easier
ways within the story’s own logic to get to “We need to work as a team for this
one” than jumping to Batman unmasking.

Among the other heroes, I can’t say I like the new Wonder
Woman interpretation. I seem to recall her classical interpretation being that
she’s the emissary of peace into Man’s World. Now she’s the exact opposite of
that as this blood thirsty battle seeking sword wielding demigod. Hell, even
though I didn’t read it, I know I read online that there was a DC event story a
few years ago where the big three’s relationship fractured because Wonder Woman
used a sword to kill Maxwell Lord when he possessed Superman. It sounds like
the whole point of that story was Wonder Woman went too far, and that even she
knew stabbing someone is a big deal with consequences; and yet now we’re going
to make it that she casually stabs people all the time.

Which leads to my next point, I found the scene with Wonder
Woman and Aquaman stabbing Darkseid in eyes far more viscous than I prefer a
mainstream superhero comic to be. Admittedly it is good strategy giving
Darkseid’s eyes are his power source, but I think A-list heroes who appeal to
kids should be presented as morally above such tactics. Actually the eye
stabbing scene is another way this book reminds me of a 90s comic, as I
remember when X-Force launched they had Shatterstar stabbing people in the eyes
to show how grim and gritty they were. Objectively I can see that both Wonder
Woman and Aquaman have roots in Greek myth where viscous things, including
blindings, befall people all the time. So yes, an artistic argument can be made
to portray those two characters in this way; however, I’m not sure personally
it’s what I want to see. I had decided if I liked these first three New 52
trades I probably sample Wonder Woman
and Batgirl next and this
interpretation makes me less likely to buy Wonder Woman’s solo title.

This brings up the next question I can see both sides too,
which is what is Cyborg doing in this book? You have DC’s six most important
well known A-list heroes and then this random C-lister better associated with
the Teen Titans hanging out with them. It doesn’t help that his origin scenes
are probably the least interesting parts of this trade. That said if you are
rebooting your entire universe for the 21st century I can absolutely
see and respect the need include an African-American hero in your A-list
flagship title that younger readers are most likely to read. When you throw in
that this relaunch is also meant to reach out to lapsed comic fans, Cyborg is
probably a better choice than most other African-American heroes to fill thus
role since he was part of the final season of Super Friends that also heavily featured Darkseid. (And this story
even manages to work the “Super Friends” name into the final chapter when the
President introduces the heroes to the public). Then again if the goal is to
make Cyborg an equal of these other heroes, why is he a teenager just getting
his power when everyone else on the team are fully power adults? As I
understand it the next trade jumps ahead five years so by then Cyborg should be
about 23 years-old and on more equal footing with his teammates, so hopefully
that criticism works itself out.

My final criticism, and it’s a big one, is the ending of the
Darkseid fight both makes very little sense and falls flat on a dramatic level.
On the doesn’t make sense front, Cyborg uses the Boom Tubes to teleport
Darkseid back home. So why can’t Darkseid return again, if not immediately then
certainly in a couple of days at most if he wanted to? Didn’t he build these
things to begin with? He can’t fix and repair them on Apokolips, which is
galaxies away from whatever signal Cyborg is generating. It seems the heroes
were not terribly effective against him physically so there’s does not seem to
be a logical reason he wouldn’t return fairly soon once he got tech support on
the phone to fix his Mother Box problem. Fanboy logic nitpicks aside, on
narrative level it’s not a satisfying solution to the fight either, which is a
much bigger problem when your climax doesn’t work. The heroes entire plan is
keep Darkseid busy so Batman can free Superman so that Superman can then kick
some ass, but when Superman is free we don’t get to see any ass-kicking and
after two chapters of working towards that goal, it’s a letdown that Supes
doesn’t get the big cut loose moment at the end.

Grade: The art is an A+; the story is a B-. Story means more
to me than art so let’s call it a B+.

Waiting for the Trade – Superman

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 
Superman: Camelot
Falls – The Weight of the World

by Kurt Busiek, Carlos
Pacheco and Jesus Merino

collects Superman
662-664, 667 and Superman Annual 13

 

Why I Bought This: This
had been in the discount bin of my favorite local comic store for many months
and I kept considering picking it up because of the Camelot reference on the
cover and Kurt Busiek’s authorship. About two months after Busiek responded to
my Aquaman review on this site, I figured why not when the price dropped again
to $5.

 

The Plot: Prior
to this trade Superman was informed by an Atlantean sorcerer that the presence
of alien heroes on Earth is disrupting the natural cycle of good and evil that
guides human destiny. The sorcerer claims that when evil finally breaks through
it will be so pent up that it will lead to the extinction of humanity. Thus he
asks Superman to consider leaving the planet for the greater good. Now Superman
has two weeks to decide before the sorcerer returns.

Chapter 1 – An alien by the name of Subjekt 17 is in Tibet
pondering why some humans live in third world conditions while other have
advanced technology as he plots revenge on Superman. (His story seems to be
that like Superman he was an alien infant rocketed to Earth, but unlike him he
was found by evil government types to be experimented on and turned into a
weapon). Meanwhile Superman is at the Fortress of Solitude trying to determine
if Power Girl is a Krytponian since some other alien villain recently told him
there is a third Kryptonian on Earth but the scans are negative. In Metropolis
as Clark Kent, Superman discusses the sorcerer
Arion’s claims with Perry, Jimmy and Lois who apparently were brought with
Superman into the future by Arion to see the death of humanity. They mostly
bring up the good Supes has down while also doubting if the future is fated.
Supes then goes to Zatanna (The JLA’s resident mystic) for advice and she fills
him on Arion’s back-story: he dates back to 45,000 B.C., died at the hands of
Mordu recently then mysteriously returned from the grave for some mystic story
she was a part of. Next Supes flies to Iran since in the future Arion
showed Supes both human civilization and Superman himself were killed by a
villain called Khyber, who was then stopped by an Arab hero named Sirocco.
Based on Arion’s timeline, Sirocco should be active now in the present so
Superman decides to meet him to see if he exists. He does, although it’s in
early in his career and he was using a different codename but likes the one
Superman calls him better and changes his name to Sirocco right on the spot. He
also claims to have killed the man that is supposed to become Khyber already.
When Superman returns to Metropolis there’s a bunch of flying people in the
sky.

Chapter 2 – In some magic bar Arion, wearing the costume
Zatanna saw in her recent adventure with him, is getting drunk when he is
confronted by the Arion Superman met two weeks ago. Supes’ Arion claims the one
in the bar is an imposter and takes him prisoner. In Metropolis the flying
people are behaving like amok children causing lots of collateral damage.
Apparently they are members of the New Gods (a group of quasi-immortals who
have something or other to do with Darkseid that I’ve never sufficiently cared
enough to look into). Light Ray (apparently another New God) shows up and
apologizes to Superman as he gets the teens under control and we learn the
random amok flying people were influenced by one of Arion’s spells to show
Superman the dangers of aliens on Earth. Meanwhile fake Arion tries to
apologize to real Arion for impersonating him. The real Arion grills him about
the present since apparently he has traveled forward in time from the past.
Next Supes goes to Lana Lang for advice, who is now the CEO of Lexcorp. She
says even if Arion is right and Clark has to
give up being a superhero she says he could still stay on Earth and help people
in other ways by joining NASA as an example. Supes broods for a few pages until
a little girl falls off a building and he saves her, at which point he realizes
he could never stand back and let people die no matter the surrounding
circumstances. He tells Arion on deadline day and Arion casts a spell to
possess Superman saying he will use him to cause civilization’s downfall.

Chapter 3 – Superman attempts to fight off the mind control
(something he’s been practicing with Martian Manhunter and Zatanna) when he
gets attacked by hi-tech soldiers who have government built tech specifically
for facing Superman when he’s mind-controlled mostly using sonic weapons,
electricity and bright lights. Ironically while they intend for this to disrupt
the mind control it is actually disrupting Superman’s resistance to the spell
which was working. They also attack Arion and he teleports away. Supes scatters
the government agents and tries to fly away to clear his head only to be
attacked by Prankster. Then the JLA arrive but by now Supes is free of the
spell and so they leave. Supes and Lois meanwhile are disappointed that there
is an entire government agency dedicated to stopping him, but that doesn’t stop
Supes from rounding up Prankster and arresting him before vowing to find Arion.

Chapter 4 – Superman and Zatanna are battling Lovecraftian
creatures set upon them by Arion who sends them a telepathic warning that this
humanities future if Supes doesn’t leave. Arion has also taken his case to the
public but both people in the streets and the U.N. vow to support Superman.
Subjekt 17 finds Superman and for some reason knows where Arion is hiding but won’t
tell Superman unless Supes can beat him a fight. Superman tries to be
reasonable but when 17 won’t have it he beats the holy hell out of him until he
agrees to talk and we learn Arion has a castle at the bottom of the Ocean. So
Supes heads there accompanies by some Lex-Corp flying remote cameras Lana built
to show the world the big fight. Arion has a force field that Superman cannot
break on his own so he makes a massive whirlpool and drops the weight of the
ocean upon it and it breaks.

Chapter 5 – We get a flashback of a trip to the future
Superman took with Phantom Stranger to verify if the future Arion showed
Superman is indeed a probable future and the Stranger seems to confirm it;
although he notes the future is fluid as Superman’s adventures with the Legion
of Superheroes show. Back in the present Superman destroys Arion’s castle.
Arion counter attacks but the Stranger had given Supes an anti-magic aura in
preparation for this fight. Arion then sets two monsters on him and while Supes
fights them off he transforms into Chthulu. However even in that form Supes is
stronger than him and the fight proves pretty one-sided. Arion returns to human
form and Supes uses that moment to steal all his magic rings and amulets at
super speed. Without them Arion’s remaining spells collapse destroying what’s
left of his castle. Supes takes Arion to jail but we see the real Arion escaped
to 1659 and left the imposter behind to face the music. With Arion (seemingly)
defeated Superman once again vows to continue to strive to save people despite
the prophecy. Then in the epilogue we see Khyber come back from the dead.

Critical Thoughts
– This is an okay story. It has an intriguing premise and I liked that
Superman’s doesn’t just take Arion’s word on this prophecy but tries to
investigate by contacting other mystics, looking up people from this supposed
future in the present and even time traveling without Arion to verify for
himself. It always nice to see the protagonist written in an intelligent manner
and use some of the tools available to him in an interconnected universe.

That said the fight scenes are not dramatic at all, which is
often a problem in Superman’s comic more than any other hero. Among the
villains Subjekt 17 is not a compelling character with motivations that don’t
make sense; while Prankster’s involvement also feels both random and
unnecessary. Arion is interesting in the early chapters when his motivations
are ambiguous to both Supes and the reader but once the story devolves into
Lovecraftian horrors it loses a lot of steam–although perhaps I’m jaded on the
idea because Marvel’s mostly terrible Realm
of Kings
crossover was heavily influenced by Lovecraft as well. I did like
Arion’s little switcheroo at the end but at the same time I doubt I would bother
to pick up a future trade if he came back to bother Superman again.

 

Grade C. The
first chapter is very good and there are some interesting ideas here as Busiek
writes good dialogue and supporting characters but ultimately it turns into a
very run of the mill Superman story in the last two chapters.

Waiting for the Trade – Aquaman

Waiting for the Trade

Aquaman Time and Tide

By Peter David, Kirk
Jarvinen and Brad Vancata

Collects Aquaman Time
and Tide 1-4

 Why I Bought This: I’ve
mentioned before that Aquaman is my favorite of DC Heroes. I’m also a fan of
Peter David’s writing and many consider this to be the definitive take on
Aquaman.

 The Plot – It’s
an origin story covering Aquaman’s childhood, his entry into the world of super
heroics and his first meeting with Ocean Master.  Spoilers ahead.

Chapter 1 – The story is framed by Aquaman recalling in his
life for an Atlantean history book. A battle between Flash and Trickster causes
a disturbance in the sea leading to Aquaman’s involvement. This is his first
meeting with the surface world’s superhuman population. Flash convinces Aquaman
to visit Florida after Trickster’s defeat and he finds the hero worship
annoying.

Chapter 2 – Aquaman recalls being abandoned by his parents
at birth and being raised by dolphins before coming to terms with being a man.

Chapter 3 – As a young
man Aquaman saves an Eskimo girl from a polar bear, whom he soon begins his first
intimate relationship with. A jealous neighbor who will later become Ocean
Master stabs Aquaman’s girlfriend. As she hovers between life and death Aquaman
battles a mystical entity to save her life. He succeeds but her family believes
Aquaman has angered the gods in doing so and he never sees her again.

Chapter 4 – As the King of Atlantis, Aquaman and Mera celebrate
the birth of their son only for Ocean Master to interrupt the proceedings. He
is summarily humiliated by Aquaman but allowed to go free as Aquaman doesn’t
consider him a threat. He returns launching torpedoes at Atlantis, captures
Aquaman and gives his own origin. Aquaman is saved by Mera, but Ocean Master
escapes by killing the crew of his submarine. Recalling this story in the
present for his history book Aquaman realizes from something Ocean Master said
in his origin monologue that Ocean Master is actually his half-brother.

Critical Thoughts: As
someone whose primary familiarity with the DC characters is the Super Friends
and various movies and TV shows over the years, I liked this fine. It’s
certainly an accessible entrance into Aquaman’s origin made all the easier to
read thanks Peter David’s trademark humor: I particularly liked the way he
portrays Aquaman’s conversations with sharks, and in general I think having
Aquaman talk with the fish is a more interesting story-telling approach than
just having him telepathically command them. The second chapter with Aquaman’s
childhood among the fish was my favorite in the book.

I think the redefinition of Aquaman as completely outside human
civilization and the norms of the super hero fraternity is an interesting take on the character; as is the playing up of mystical elements that influence Atlantis.  I can also appreciate David’s ability to
change tone from humor to deadly serious with Ocean Master. Again not being
steeped in DC lore I don’t know if he was Aquaman’s brother before this story
but the realization by Aquaman at the end is a well done character moment. You
cans see David is clearly setting the table for his long-term interpretation of the
character, whom he would write for several years after this.

I also found the art to be quite good throughout in terms of
conveying the story David tells here. 

Grade: B. I won’t
pretend it’s an all-time great story; but it’s a sometimes funny, always
accessible story with a character I like for only a $10 cover price.  You can certainly do worse.

Waiting for the Trade – Aquaman

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Aquaman Sword of Atlantis: Once and Future
by Kurt Busiek and Butch Guice
Collects Aquaman Sword of Atlantis 40-45.
Why I bought this: I don’t recall whether I was looking up Aquaman or Kurt Busiek when I came across this—either is equally probable as Aquaman is my favorite of DC’s top tier heroes but I own little of his stuff as I own little DC relatively speaking; while Busiek is in my view the finest Avengers writer ever and thus I’d like to read more of his stuff. Regardless when I discovered there was an Aquaman series written by Busiek my interest was piqued. That it has a name straight out pulp serials like “Sword of Atlantis” attached to it only intrigued me more. And once I saw the name of the first volume was an Arthurian reference I knew had to own it as there a few things in the world that fascinate me more than Arthurian literature. A quick trip to Amazon later and it was mine.
The Plot: So apparently after another of DC’s aptly named Infinite Crises they yet again restarted their continuity-timeline. God only knows which one or why, I stopped keeping track after Zero Hour. But from the standpoint of a trade like this it actually makes things easier since hey it’s a whole new beginning so it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what came before. Anyway spoilers ahead.
Chapter 1 – A storm destroys what looks to be an oil-drilling platform knocking someone who looks an awful lot like Aquaman into the ocean, where he can breathe and is contacted telepathically by a mysterious voice. The voice leads him to a battle between King Shark (a humanoid shark, I’ve actually seen this character before as he was a villain in Superboy’s book post Reign of the Supermen) and a group of green-skinned Creature from the Black Lagoon-looking people called the Aurati. The voice directs our hero to aid King Shark and he does so and together the follow the voice to a squid-headed dude who looks like the villain in Pirates of the Caribbean 2. Squid-head dresses the young hero in Aquaman’s garb and tells him that is who he is. nu-Aquaman, whose name is Arthur Joseph Curry (traditional Aquaman’s name is Arthur Orin Curry and that is brought up), gives his version of his origin: that he was born premature on a sea lab away from medical help so his dad injected with an experimental drug that enabled him to breath underwater but now he can’t breathe air for more than an hour and has lived his life in an aquarium tank on the sea lab (called Avalon Cay) until the storm knocked him into the ocean. Squid-beard (who comes to be known as the Dweller or Depths so lets call him that from now on) gives a prophecy that gives us the traditional Aquaman origin including his marriage to Mera and death of his son at the hands of his brother Ocean Master until ultimately making a deal with dark-powers to save his people that will leave him transformed. Arthur doesn’t believe that he’s Aquaman and swims off, while King Shark notes most of the Dweller’s prophecy already happened years ago. Dweller finds the differences between this Arthur and traditional Aquaman odd; and as he muses on how well he remembers what he prophesized we get a close up on his hand which is made of water—which is meant to signal that the Dweller himself is the original Aquaman.
 (Don’t ask me why he has a water hand other than I know Peter David had Aquaman lose a hand and replace it with a harpoon in the early 90s, so at some point he replaced the harpoon with magic water I assume).
Chapter 2 – We begin with Arthur on the losing end of a sword fight with a green-skinned warrior (not an Aurati) as narration tells us three days have passed since chapter 1. We then flashback to Arthur and King Shark searching the sea lab wreckage for survivors and finding none, although Arthur’s father is not among the bodies they find. King Shark decides to go his own way, while Dweller agrees to accompany Arthur to Maine where he hopes his uncle will have heard from the missing father. Enroute they meet one of Mera’s warriors who requests their assistance in dealing with the Aurati. Dweller agrees for Arthur but when he learns Mera is there he bails so she doesn’t see him. Mera is looking over Atlantean refugees as Atlantis was destroyed in the latest Crisis crossover, and could use assistance although she questions why Arthur is dressed as her ex-husband. This leads to him offending one of her warriors and a challenge of honor and thus we return to the swordfight that opened the chapter. Arthur loses a lot before pulling the Hulk Hogan comeback and is debating whether to strike the killing blow when King Shark returns.
Chapter 3 – King Shark takes Arthur to a dive bar where he flashes around some gold Mera gave him to pay for drinks. This leads to some disreputable types trying to rob him and we get a demonstration of Arthur’s level of super-strength in a rather one-sided fight. King Shark and Arthur have a heart to heart about their upbringings, and we learn King Shark is the son of the God of Sharks. Arthur feels a buzzing in his head, which leads him and Shark to Windward Home: another sea lab of scientists with an adventure team (The Sea Devils) who I gather were supporting characters in prior Aquaman stories. They explain they were trying to summon Aquaman via mystic-telepathy (hence Arthur’s buzzing) because the ghost of Vulko (royal advisor to the king of Atlantis) is now residing on their lab.
Chapter 4 – Arthur and Vulko compare notes on Aquaman with Arthur saying he only knew him from the 60s cartoon show (which I own on DVD and is quite fun btw) and was never impressed with Aquaman compared to the other Justice Leaguers as Arthur has all of Aquaman’s powers except talking to fish which he doesn’t care to do. Anyway Vulko is a ghost now because of something Spectre did in whatever Crisis reset this reality and after comparing notes with Arthur, Vulko wants to meet the Dweller to discuss his prophecy. Meanwhile the sea lab people get word that Arthur’s father is indeed dead, it just took awhile to identify the body because of sharks; however they also note a lot of high-level types seem to be interested in what happened to Avalon Cay. Arthur is mourning his dad with King Shark and Vulko attempting to comfort him when Arthur receives a massive telepathic summons from the Dweller that Mera and her refugees are under attack by the Aurati.
Chapter 5 – Arthur, King Shark and the Sea Devils race to the rescue. They meet up with the Dweller and capture an Aurati scout, learning from him the Aurati are being forced to participate in these raids by surface men in armored dive suits who have taken their women and children hostage. The villains also have a female humanoid shark-crocodile hybrid working for them, who King Shark finds attractive. They sneak into the villain’s fort and rescue Mera and her guards. Despite the squid-face she recognizes the Dweller as her ex-husband. Then as they begin to mount their attack they discover the head villain is Ocean Master. Dweller warns Arthur not engage but he ignores him and is quickly out-fought by Ocean Master and stabbed in the stomach.
Chapter 6 – Ocean Master guts Arthur. Mera uses her full-power (she can create “hard water”– in this case she makes an explosive force field type effect) to allow the heroes to escape. Dweller uses his full mystic powers to heal Arthur, and in the process fully reveals himself (he’s been wearing Merlin-Obi Wan type robes all story) and we see half his body is made of water. Meanwhile the heroes’ army is losing badly to the villains’ army so Arthur comes up with a plan to lead the villains into a trench where the Sea Devils can blow it up and collapse it on them. However Ocean Master takes out the Sea Devil with the detonator. All seems to be lost when the trench collapses anyway and we learn from witnesses a pod of whales aided the heroes. It is implied Arthur summoned them and not Aquaman/Dweller whose powers were drained from the healing. Mera vows to investigate mystic sources as to whether Dweller’s condition of being half-water is potentially fatal (since it used to be just his hand was water and it’s spreading) and/or reversible. Dweller meanwhile knights Arthur and dubs him the new Aquaman. Finally we get a pair of reveals as the trade ends. First we see a flashback of why King Shark came back to Arthur’s side when he left in chapter 2; and it is because the God of Sharks senses Arthur has a great destiny and wants King Shark to stay close until the right moment when he will be tasked to kill him. Then we see Arthur’s father is alive and being held prisoner by a shadowy evil corporation.
Critical Thoughts: I liked this a lot. I can see how someone who is a longtime Aquaman fan could hate this story since it’s a new character barely out of his teens parading as Aquaman, while the original is both horribly mutated and mentally confused about his memories/identity. But taken in a vacuum its an interesting story, and clearly did no long-term damage to the character since DC reset their continuity again in the new 52 and while I haven’t read it yet I’m fairly the sure the original Aquaman is back to his status quo in that reality. For my first Aquaman trade (though in the 90s I did read some of the Peter David run plus I of course know from the various animated series over the years) it’s good jumping on point to his world and the different supporting characters in it as we see them all through Arthur’s fresh eyes.
The art is for the most part quite good. It doesn’t have that “wow” pin-up flare of a Jim Lee or Rob Liefeld, but it conveys the mood and action of the story well and that’s the primary job of comic art. Many of the underwater scenes have an interesting look to them, which again helps with the mood of the story since the whole underwater world is new to Arthur. When splash pages are used such as Arthur donning the Aquaman costume or King Shark’s father appearing they have the desired dramatic effect.
I enjoyed the parallels to Camelot with Arthur as King Arthur, and Aquaman/Dweller as Merlin. They’re not overdone (well the Avalon Cay name is a little obvious): meaning it’s not just a retelling of Arthurian myth underwater, which admittedly would still be kind of cool but other than the change of scene what would be the point? Instead the parallels are there, so that if you know Arthurian myth it provides a secondary level to enjoy the story on and it gives Arthur’s journey of self-discovery a more mythic quality that it probably wouldn’t have on its own. Busiek is clearly a big fan of the Arthurian legend as his very first Avengers story had them face Morgan Le Fay and travel to a Camelot-style alternate reality, while his first Aquaman tale is this story (and I keep being tempted by a Superman trade entitled “Camelot Falls” at my local comic store by him too).
My one criticism is the scene where Arthur mocks the 60s cartoon show/Aquaman’s powers to Vulko. I get there is this whole Comedy Central inspired riff on Aquaman having lame powers currently out there in pop culture; but if you’re reading an Aquaman comic you probably don’t feel that way about the character so why incorporate that into the story? Because it comes off as DC telling the reader they’re wasting their time and money reading books about this character. I like Aquaman best of DC’s heroes precisely because his powers and setting are so different than any other character. There are scores of characters in comics who can fly and throw cars, or shoot laser beams, or stop bank robberies. There’s only one who talks to fish and maybe it’s because I live within walking distance of the ocean but I think Aquaman’s power would be damn interesting to have in real life: more-so than 99-percent of the other comic characters out there. And from a potential plot perspective how many heroes can breathe underwater? Marvel has Namor, Sting Ray and Triton (who are B, C and D-list respectively) and DC has Aquaman’s supporting cast (like Aqualad). Thus Aquaman is the only A-list character who has the ocean to play with–which means he has a whole unique setting for stories that a good writer can exploit and tell creative stories that literally can’t be told with any other character. And his ability to talk to fish means you can occasionally allow some truly unique narration (as Peter David proved in his run) that even Aquaman’s undersea contemporaries like Namor will never offer. Throw in that you can use his ties to Atlantis to explore larger mythic themes or his link to the ocean to tell environmentally conscious stories and I just don’t see the need to belittle the protagonist when he has such a variety of unique story potential.
Grade: A-. Busiek is one of the finest writers in comics and he shows it again here. While this isn’t an Aquaman story in the traditional sense, when you have a character with a 70-year history it’s okay to break up the status quo once in awhile. Sure, Arthur’s tale does not vary too far from the usual heroic coming of age story, but it is written in an engaging way with a colorful supporting cast—King Shark in particular comes across as a much more nuanced character than the one I remember in Superboy. I’d be happy to read more of this run to see King Shark’s eventual heel turn on Arthur but alas it seems DC never printed any follow-up trades to this.

Waiting for the Trade – Doomsday, Avengers movie & FCBD

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Superman: Return of Doomsday
by James Robinson, Jeff Lemire, Dan Didio and Steve Lyons.
Collects Steel #1, Outsiders #37, JLA #55, Superman/Batman Annual #5 & Superboy #6.
Special Bonus Content: Avengers the movie – So before getting to the review I wanted to weigh in on the Avengers movie. The short review: it’s awesome in all the right ways paying off the anticipation of the five-year wait since Iron Man and Hulk came out in the same summer and we were promised a future Avengers film.
As a lifelong fan of the Avengers comics there was so much to love here. Yea there’s the obvious notes like Cap taking command of the battlefield or Black Widow’s scene with Loki (or really Loki’s entire performance) or the various Hulk jokes at the end—and those things are indeed all fabulous highlights. But I just love that this film exists. After years of super hero movies that had to explain every departure from the ordinary (and rightfully so when you are trying to appeal to a broader audience) you have this film that fully accepts the world these characters live in because it’s already had a five film build-up for audiences to get used to anything goes here. And so we have things I’d never thought I’d see in a movie like Project Pegasus and the Helicarrier and that wonderful post credit scene. And that makes me truly happy. The only thing that could have made me happier was if in Project Pegasus we had a five-second cameo by SHIELD Agent Wendell Vaughn.
If I had to make any type of criticism it’s that I don’t think the new Banner is as nearly as good as Edward Norton, but that’s a minor thing since Hulk isn’t the character I care about in an Avengers film anyway; as a comic fan when I hear Avengers I think Cap-Thor-Iron Man-Hawkeye in that order and those four characters are perfectly cast in this film and given plenty of moments to shine. I particularly loved Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who is my second favorite Avenger after Cap in the comics. He brings the awesome six ways from Sunday in this film, so much so that I’d love to see him get a spin-off movie.
Is it the best comic book movie ever made? Probably not. Spider-man 2 set that bar impossibly high to where I’d arguably consider it the best of movie of the last decade period. But Avengers is still amazing and worthy of being in the conversation. It works as both a big summer action film (particularly those alien invasion scenes at the end) and as a comic fanboy dream come true and I will be seeing it in theaters again.
Bonus Content 2 – Free Comic Book Day: So I’m lucky enough to live in an area where I have easy access to three different comic shops. I visited all of them Saturday, grabbing about five free books from each shop while also shopping local at each (grabbing trades on cosmic Marvel, Dr. Doom, Psylocke, the Avengers, Heroes for Hire and a Batman/Tarzan team-up so expect reviews on all of that in the next few months.) I’ve read about half the free stuff. Here’s quick one sentence reviews: The New 52 isn’t a comic book so much as a bunch of preview pages and nothing previewed here looks like something I’d want to buy. Finding Gossamyr I grabbed on a whim because of the gorgeous cover and I found I liked what was inside both visually and as set-up for a larger story—this has a good chance of being a future trade in my collection. The Image 20 sampler has the same problem as the DC one, you’re seeing too little of these stories to be grabbed or to feel like you read a story; there’s some more intriguing ideas here than in DC but it’s doubtful I’d follow-up with any of these titles. Hypernaturals was one of the first three books I grabbed because of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s names above the cover. The story was okay, it’s hard to get invested in a new universe off the bat but it’s a decent set-up issue. DnA are my favorite writers currently working in comics so there’s a decent chance I will buy a trade of anything they write eventually. Witchblade was one of my last pick-ups as I’ve never read the character at all before, but as I know she’s a cornerstone of the Image universe I figured why not give her a try. The story was well written and I can see why people would like her, but it’s just not by cup of tea. Voltron was a nice blast from the past. I really liked the art a lot. The story was a little on the simple-side but then again it is an adaptation of children’s cartoon. Still a decent enough set-up that I’ll probably pick-up a trade of this if it hits the discount bin. Avengers: Day of Ultron was also a good set-up story. Perhaps because I’m still high on the Avengers movie I found I didn’t hate Bendis’s writing as much as I usually do in this. If you’re going to insist on basically every active hero in the Marvel Universe being an Avenger, I liked that Cap picked out a specialized team for this mission. I thought the villains were treated shabbily but that happens in every Bendis story unless the villain is Osborn or the Hood. Ultron is a long-standing favorite of mine so there’s a decent chance I’ll grab this story in trade one day.
I still have to read Dinosaurs vs. Aliens, Spider-man Season One, Superman Family, Buffy, Serenity, Mega-Man and some random book with a robot and velociraptor on the cover.
And now without further ado, the Doomsday review
Why I bought this: I read the whole Reign of Superman arc in the 90s and found it to be quite enjoyable. This is a follow-up to that with a fun high-concept premise: Doomsday decides to track down the four imposter supermen from that arc and kill them.
The Plot: Like most Doomsday stories it’s basically just a series of fight scenes as Doomsday tracks down the four imposter supermen and Supergirl with little motivation given beyond his destructive tendencies and hatred of all things Kryptonian. Spoilers ahoy:
Chapter 1 – Doomsday returns to Metropolis and the site where he killed Superman years ago. Steel–the least of the four supermen as he has no powers, he’s just a construction worker with a suit of armor with construction-themed weapons like a sledgehammer and rivet gun—arrives and tries to occupy Doomsday while civilians in the area evacuate. In a twist Doomsday evolves and begins to fly in order to go after Steel, who was trying to keep his distance in the fight. Steel infects Doomsday with paralyzing nanobytes designed specifically to stop him but Doomsday evolves free of them in seconds and then pummels Steel nearly to death and flies off with his body leaving a tattered cape in the wind just like when Superman died at his hands.
Chapter 2 – The Eradicator—an artificial Kryptonian being that shoots have flame from his hands and has no qualms about killing in the fashion of many a grim & gritty 90s hero—has taken over some fictional country. His allies in the Outsiders, who I never seen in a comic before and know nothing about other than they once had a book with Batman, are talking to him about whatever he is doing in said fictional country when Doomsday attacks. Several Outsiders having energy project powers but they all bounce off Doomsday and he tears through them as well as some chick with a magic sword on their team. Then Achilles of Greek myth goes toe to toe with Doomsday and hurts him but ultimately Doomsday beats him down too. Finally Eradicator and some dude who can pull power from the Earth itself try to fight him but Doomsday evolves again so that he too has energy projection powers and he zaps earth dude and then impales Eradicator with his bone spikes and teleports away with the body, which is another new power for him.
Chapter 3 – Some members of the JLA who include Jade and a bunch of characters I don’t know are dealing with an invasion of some alien city by magical creatures, this part of the story doesn’t involve Doomsday so we’ll skip it. Meanwhile out in space Supergirl, who is apparently Superman’s Kryptonian cousin that died back in Crisis and not the alien that had the combined powers of Mystique and the Invisible Woman back in Reign of the Supermen, is out in space with a female Green Lantern and Nightwing in the role of Batman piloting the Bat-Wing when Doomsday attacks. He wounds the Lantern and destroys the Batwing in two panels. The JLA send Star-Man and a Blue Lantern as reinforcements but again energy projection powers have little effect on Doomsday so Grayson teleports the Lantern and Supergirl to the JLA Satellite and in a really cool scene Doomsday flies so fast he breaks through the wall just as they arrive in the teleporter, at which point Cyborg Superman emerges from the Lantern’s back-pack.
Chapter 4 – Cyborg—the most powerful of the imposters and a villain himself who can mentally control technology, evolve his own cyborg parts into weapons, and regenerate from surrounding metal plus has some Kryptonian DNA for strength, flight and invulnerability—takes control the JLA satellite locking Star-Man and the Blue Lantern out and turning its weapons against Doomsday, Supergirl and Grayson while also attacking Doomsday head-on. Suddenly Supergirl gets sick and Grayson takes her to the med-lab where she is dying from guilt based on some prior Superman New Krypton crossover. While she’s being treated, Grayson tries to lead the fight away from her and the two villains are causing a lot of destruction in their wake. Cyborg loses an arm but eventually uses tech-enhanced heat vision to kill Doomsday by disintegrating a third of his body. Then in the book’s best scene both in visuals and writing (this story is partially narrated by Cyborg) Doomsday evolves unexpectedly into a cyborg himself and returns from the dead. Things start going badly for Cyborg and Grayson, while Supergirl cures herself through forgiveness in a bit of heavy-handed melodrama. She arrives to save the day and is on the verge of defeating Doomsday when Cyborg attacks her from behind and then Doomsday uses the distraction to KO her. He finishes Cyborg and teleports away with both of them.   
Chapter 5 – Superboy is flying over Detroit when Doomsday attacks from above. It’s a pretty one-sided fight since Superboy’s strength levels are closer to Spider-man than Superman. Superboy tries to keep some distance using his limited telekinesis but Doomsday evolves that power too and drops a building on him. Out on his feet Superboy uses a full-power heat vision blast and it doesn’t even phase Doomsday who then pummels him, possibly to death, and takes the body leaving Superboy’s black S-Shield behind, which was the cover of the Death of Superman polybag 20-years ago.
And that’s the end, we’re told to read more in the Reign of Doomsday trade for the conclusion.
Critical Thoughts: Well it’s always weird to see a trade paperback with a to-be-continued ending. That aside I enjoyed this story for what it is. It is exactly what you’d expect from a story that’s plot is Doomsday tracks down the four imposter Supermen one at a time. These are not the characters you read about for emotional nuance; so in terms of 90s nostalgia with big fight scenes this book delivered.
The Superboy fight is probably the weakest chapter just because of the four fake supermen only Steel is weaker so he probably should have been chapter two and let the book end on Doomsday defeating Cyborg and Supergirl since that’s the real main event with the only characters that could be a threat to him (and plus the JLA are involved so really once they all lose what can Superboy possibly do). Both the Eradicator and Steel fights have cool moments, with the writing in Steel being strong as well in-terms of showing the protagonist’s bravery in a hopeless fight as he tries to protect civilians. I would say the Outsiders chapter is a little weak in that I still don’t know who half those people are or what their powers are even after reading them in a fight scene (conversely I’ve never seen Starman or Blue Lantern but after their chapter I know what their power are so it isn’t really that hard to make that clear to a new reader). It’s funny the best and worst writing is in the same chapter: as the stuff narrated by Cyborg in chapter four is fabulous and the fight is also really fantastic but Supergirl’s death angst is just ridiculously overwrought nonsense.
Grade B. I knew what kind of story I wanted this to be when I bought and for the most part it was exactly that. I fully intend to pick-up the sequel to see the conclusion one day.