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 – 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 – 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 – 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.