Howdy! Time for another comics reviews column, you know the deal here by now, click the links to go to the forum discussions and all that.
This is a pretty great week, there’s the penultimate Avengers Arena, some more of that oh-so controversial Superman/Wonder Woman series, new issues of Batman, All-New X-Men, Superior Foes Of Spider-Man, Three and even more than that, just read it already!
Superior Spider-Man #21– Just when you think everything is about to come crashing down upon the head of Otto Octavius, he manages to wriggle his way out of it yet again. But even with SpOck surviving the twin threats from his past of Stunner and Dr. Lamaze, Dan Slott makes sure to let us know that the endgame is still fast approaching, as the Green Goblin comes back into this title in a big, big way.
This was another excellent issue of this consistently great series, especially in how Spider-Man was both heroic and villainous, almost at the same time, basically, this issue encapsulated everything that’s great about this concept. The issue begins at The Daily Bugle, with Betty Brant returning to work there, and being shocked at how much things have changed. Luckily, not everything has changed, as she and Robbie are soon attacked by a villain looking for Spider-Man. That villain is of course Stunner, who commits a crime in front of a Spider-Bot in order to attract the attention of the man she thinks killed her boyfriend, but is actually her boyfriend. Oh man, it’s messed up.
Across town, Otto is dealing with the accusations from Dr. Lamaze that he has plagiarized… himself, and boy, he ain’t doing too well. I loved seeing his self-control drop here, and for him to go into full-on evil super-villain plot mode, thinking that he should use piranhas or build a robot double to take out Lamaze. Luckily, Anna Maria sees this is a joke, and it did work as both a funny scene, as well as a serious signifier that, no matter how far he has come, Doc Ock is still a villain. Spider-Man rushes off to fight Stunner, and they have a really entertaining, emotionally charged fight. I said it last time, and I’ll say it again, it’s amazing how many cool, new story ideas this change has wrought, and being able to bring back fucking Stunner, of all the Z-list villains, and have it feel important and worth it is among the best.
Stunner and Spidey’s fight culminates back at the University, with both Dr. Lamaze and Anna Maria put in danger by Stunner chucking a bus at them. Spider-Man saves them with his all-new, all-powerful webbing, and it’s here that Otto has a real ‘big hero’ moment, as he realises that he truly does love Anna Maria. It’s surprising to me how much I liked Otto in this scene, as I said, Slott has done a fantastic job at making the audience like SpOck in one scene, and then hate him in the next. He’s a true anti-hero in a world where that word is used way too much and way too inaccurately. Using his technology (something Peter Parker couldn’t have done), Spider-Man shuts down Stunner, and goes back to his lab to use the VR rig she was using to get himself out of his various pickles. He creates a VR version of Otto Octavius, pretending that he’s still alive, and uses it to first tell Stunner to move on and then to tell Dr. Lamaze that Peter Parker hasn’t plagiarized him, and that Parker was the true genius behind all of his work in the first place. It was amazing to see Otto sacrifice his ego like this, and perhaps it shows that he is starting to move on from viewing himself as Otto, and now he’s Peter? Now he wants Peter to be seen as the true genius and really put his past behind him, not just in terms of science, but in love.
Of course, there are people out there who aren’t willing to put the past in the past, and one of those is Carlie Cooper, who now knows the truth. She visits the grave of Otto Octavius, which we and she know is actually Peter Parker’s grave, apologizing to him in what is a really great, emotional scene, but then, just as she lays some flowers… the empty grave collapses and she is grabbed by a mysterious, green hand. This hand belongs to Menace, who takes her to the Green Goblin, and gives him Carlie’s journal detailing all she’s discovered about what’s been happening. So now, after a few issues of the Goblins being absent, they are back, and the Green Goblin knows that Doc Ock is Spider-Man. Oh man, this Goblin War story cannot come soon enough.
The art for this issue from Giuseppe Camuncoli was excellent as always, and basically, this was another top-notch issue. This is a complex book with a lot going on, but Slott is balancing everything masterfully, the past, the present, and the future all combining to screw with Spider-Man’s life, and up next… Venom, I can’t wait.
Thor: God Of Thunder #15– Thor’s D&D journey through the Nine Realms continues to be a hell of a lot of fun, even as it gets darker and darker.
This issue begins on Alfheim, the home of the Elves, which is a cheery, candycane kingdom full of fairies and gnomes and taverns made of gingerbread. Which is why it’s all the more awesome when the incongruously evil Dark Elves show up to cause trouble, and when Thor and his League Of Realms follow. Thor and Warizia the Dark Elf Witch defeat this group of Outriders, but the problems within the League are still there, they cannot stand each other, which is only natural for denizens of the different realms. Thor’s solution to this? Get fucking wasted.
The League head to the aforementioned Gingerbread Tavern, and get drunk as hell. With Thor having a drinking contest with Oggy the Giant… and winning. I love seeing Thor the bad-ass drinker, it’s a more comedic side to the character that has come to the fore since the movies, and it’s made me like the character a heck of a lot more. This epic bender serves as a bonding session for the various members of the League, with them ceasing to fight, and instead placing bets with each other about who will win the drinking contest, or who will be the first to sleep with Warizia. Having tenuous allies bond through partying is a fairly familiar trope, but it’s one that does ring true, and Aaron makes it all a heck of a lot of fun. After besting Oggy, Thor stumbles outside for a long, drunken soliloquy to his Hammer, about how the various lessons he’s learned from his father, his mother, Loki and from being the God Of Thunder are no real help to him at this time, and that he needs to think outside the box to stop Malekith. I really liked this scene, as it showed a lot of depth to Thor’s character, even though I just said I prefer him as a funny drunk, I do like that there are layers to him.
Warizia comes out to confront Thor about how they shouldn’t be wasting time drinking, but rather hunting Malekith. Thor explains his reasoning behind it, and then, oh yeah, he and Warizia get it on. I’m surprised Aaron did this, as he only just introduced a new, human love interest for Thor a few issues ago, but hey, Thor is a hound-dog and I suppose he can have a different woman in every port/realm. Actually, before the locking of lips, Thor says that their next destination frightens him, which clues in Malekith, who is hidden inside the body of a waitress, which explains how Malekith is always one step ahead of the League, he is shape-shifting and spying on them. He even watches Thor and Warizia as they… y’know.
The scary place turns out to be Jotunheim, home of the Giants, where a bunch of Dark Elves have been hiding out. Malekith arrives to kill them, but Thor and the rest are there to stop him. Given that this is the home of the Giants, it makes sense that this is where Oggy, the silent Giant of the League, finally comes into his own. Firing massive arrows at the Elves and generally being a total bad-ass. Unfortunately, this attacts the attention of Malekith, who is even more of a bad-ass, and he jumps inside Oggy’s mouth, hacks up his brain from within, and bursts out of his eye-socket. It is fucked up and awesome, Malekith is so great in this story, it just makes me even madder at how generic he was in Thor: The Dark World. Oggy finally says something, and it’s surprising to me how sad I was at his death, after only 3 issues of existence, great writing from Aaron there. Malekith brags to The League about what he’s done, and then reveals the ace up his sleeve, Thor may have had one Giant, but he has a whole army of ‘em, and they aren’t just any Giants, they are Frost Giants! The familiar, over-the-top, high fantasy narration did a fantastic job at getting across how scary the Frost Giants are, and really set things up fantastically for the next issue, as basically, the League are screwed.
I am just loving this arc, it’s got the same heavy-hitting action as the Godbutcher epic, but there is a bit more humour in there, and the new characters that Aaron has introduced are a lot of fun already. The art from Ron Garney is really strong as well, even as he’s asked to draw silly things like fairies, it still looks great.
Avengers Arena #17– It’s the penultimate issue of Avengers Arena, and things continue to go to shit for everyone involved, and that actually includes Arcade!
Yep, Arcade actually kind of loses here, as he starts out at the mercy of Deathlocket, Apex and Chris Powell. It looks like they’ve got him beat, but then Chris starts puking up a hell of a lot of water, and Arcade uses this opportunity to escape, teleporting to safety. This leaves Apex in charge of the computer that controls Murderworld, which is bad news, but more on that later.
Inside the Arena, the final battles are still raging fiercely. Hazmat is not dead yet, but she has burned X-23 to a horrible, fleshy skeleton monster, that is wonderfully drawn by Kev Walker. Anachronism sees X-23 is vulnerable, and he blames her for all the chaos that’s happened in the last few issues, in particular for Nara’s death, so he starts hacking at her with his axe, until Reptil barges in, Triceratops-style, and saves his Avengers Academy buds. Meanwhile, out at sea, Nico is trying to drown Cullen Bloodstone, but finding that, thanks to his ring, he’s harder to kill than she thought. These fights are very exciting, and even though the announcement of ‘Avengers Undercover’ has spoiled which characters survive, they are still very dramatic, and it’s hard to watch these heroes compromise themselves.
Cammi and ChaseHawk are watching the fight between Nico and Cullen, and Cammi tells Chase to go stop her from killing Cullen, he says no, saying that they need to leave them to it. Chase stupidly drops his Darkhawk form, allowing Cammi to take him down, steal the Gem and become… CammiHawk, which is awesome and totally unexpected. I love how the Darkhawk gem has become this wildcard in the game, and Hopeless has managed to make the goofy looking suit and concept actually feel important. Cammi flies over to stop Nico, and it’s here that we get the best scene of the issue, where Cammi says that Nico can’t kill, that she’s better than that, and that she has inspired her, the angry, cynical kid, to be a better person, and that they can’t kill each other as that’s how Arcade wins. Not only was this a great bit of character progression for Cammi, but it also showed the real point of this series, it’s not about just gleefully slaughtering characters, but about putting them in an impossible situation and seeing if their heroism shines through. If the haters of this book actually read it, they’d see it wasn’t really ‘grimdark’ or whatever, but actually a series about real heroes, and one that’s, ironic considering the name of the writer, hopeful. Of course, Cammi’s inspiring words don’t pay off, as Nico sees that she’s Darkhawk now, and wants to know what happened to Chase.
What’s definitely not full of hope is the situation with Apex, who is at the controls, and about to shut everything down and save everyone, when Arcade appears on screen and starts manipulating her. He says that, if she saves everyone, then once they get free, the truth about her villainous actions, killing Juston, trying to kill everyone else, etc, will come to ligh, and she’ll be hated. But if she lets everyone else die… they can manipulate the footage and her voice will be the only left. She can return to the world as either a hero, or a villain, and she has to choose. I really liked that Hopeless introduced this idea, as media manipulation is a big part of the Hunger Games, an obvious inspiration for this title, and hey, Arcade really does raise some good points, and it works, as the Katy side of Apex asserts control again, and goes full on villain, controlling Deathlocket to shoot poor old Chris Powell and allowing things to play out.
What plays out is Nico Vs CammiHawk, Reptil Vs Anachronism, and most dangerously of all, Hazmat, who at the end of the issue, appears to full on nuclear exposion, which is a fucking great cliffhanger. Kev Walker’s art was, as usual, fantastic, he’s the perfect artist for this title, cartoonish enough to work well with teen superheroes, but dark enough for when they have to kill each other.
This was a brilliant issue, and a fantastic set up for the finale, which I am expecting to blow me away, perhaps even literally, thanks to Hazmat. It says something about how good this book and Dennis Hopeless is that, as I said, even though we know that these characters are surviving in another book, I’m still caught up in the drama and violence.
Superior Foes Of Spider-Man #5– Man, I am just loving this book, you all need to read it, now. I’m normally pretty sanguine when a comic is cancelled, but if this ends before Spencer can tell all of his planned stories, I will rage against those of you who didn’t read it with the fire of a billion exploding suns. This issue was full of all the usual good stuff you’ve come to expect from Superior Foes, great character work, a lot of funny shit, leavened with some darkness, a surprising new take on the idea of super-villainy and plenty of twists. Oh boy, those twists.
Nick Spencer kicks things off with the villain of the story, even though this story is all about villains. Look, I mean he starts off with the guy Boomerang and the rest of the Sinister Six are ripping off, The Owl. This is a villain who, for a long time was incredibly lame, but Bendis managed to actually make him work during his run on Daredevil, and Spencer continues that here, making him truly menacing, and clearly one step above our goofball heroes. Owl is interrogating a member of his organisation who has been stealing from him, and he has him tied to a chair with a net full of hungry rats hanging over him. Owl’s man tries to worm his way out of being eaten alive, and he offers to help him steal money from other people. Owl tells a long, rambling, funny as heck story about how he and Man-Bull once tried to coerce a fellow criminal into helping him by threatening his wife, but the wife ended up just fucking Man-Bull of her own free will. I’m not sure if this story really links up with the lesson Owl is trying to teach, but it was entertaining as heck, and another example of this book’s skewed take on the world of super-crime. In the end, Owl unloads the bag of rats, who proceed to eat the guy, and then Owl eats one of the rats. This whole scene was basically saying… this is not a guy you want to fuck with.
So of course, Boomerang fucks with him, assaulting his compound to steal the head of Silvermane. At this point, Spencer has the banter between the 4 members of the Sinister Six down to a fine art, and the scenes of them talking before and during the attack are just perfect. I love Speed Demon in a roller-skate and not paying attention, and Beetle’s organisational dossiers were genius, especially when Boomerang actually did have to use them. But of course, it’s not just funny banter for the sake of it, as Boomerang needs to worm his way out of why Shocker isn’t there without revealing that he was tied up in the boot of a car and thrown into the river. There is a serious side to all this, and that’s also shown by Overdrive actually getting to use his powers to cause some serious damage.
Steve Lieber is the perfect artist for this series, and he showcases that here with a fantastic double-page spread showing the layout of Owl’s base in a diagram kind of style. It’s this kind of stuff that makes me love this book, and it’s great to see other titles take a cue from Hawkeye and get a bit more experimental, and have it be in service of the story, and not just for the sake of it.
It was great seeing the Secret Six fight through the obstacles, especially since the elevator actually did work and Boomerang used it to go straight down to get Silvermane’s head. Only… it’s not Silvermane’s head, the real target is… a portrait of Doctor Doom that shows his real face, which is, in the Marvel Universe, the most valuable painting in the world. I love this idea, it makes sense, but it does beg the question, why the Silvermane ruse, and where is his head? Well, do you remember that bullshit, Iron Giant story about a kid who worked in a junkyard found his head? It turns out that it’s actually true, and who should wind up in that junkyard but The Shocker, who has somehow survived. Shocker grabs the head, and runs for it.
So now Boomerang has even more problems, he’s got the Chameleon, the Shocker, and The Owl (who puts in a call to a ‘friend in Denver’) after him. Oh man, it’s going to be awesome to see how badly this all blows back.
This is just a fantastic comic, if you’re not reading it, you’re a blight on the comics industry, worse than sexism, worse than creator’s rights, worse than Before Watchmen, worse than JMS even! You need to be reading Superior Foes, it is the shit.
All-New X-Men #18– With ‘Battle Of The Atom’ over, it’s all change for the All-New X-Men in terms of living arrangements, costumes and allegiance, but Bendis and Immonen make sure that the usual blend of great dialogue, soap opera relationship stuff, new twists on X-History and whilst this issue is light on action, there is still a teensy bit.
So, the OG X-Men and Kitty Pryde (I love how she is now ‘Professor K’) have left Wolverine’s side and gone over to Cyclops’, and this issue begins with them settling in to life at The New Xavier School and discovering all about it’s former purpose as a Weapon X facility. All throughout the issue, the impact of the crossover is felt, as Iceman rambles to Eva about what he saw about his future, the Stepford Cuckoos try to intimidate Jean Grey and Kitty and Illyana reconnect. I’d actually forgotten that those two were best friends, so it was good to see them have a moment (Illyana trying to hug Kitty but Kitty not expecting it and phasing was great) as well as to have Colossus brought up again. He’s off with X-Force and has kind of been forgotten about, so I’m interested to see if he’ll return to the X-Men books when the X-Forces merge. I also really liked the short scene with Beast and Magneto, and how Bendis brought back up again how weird it must be for Beast to suddenly be on the same team as him.
The best stuff about this issue for me was the development of the love triangle between Jean, Cyclops and Beast. Jean tries to talk to Hank, but he’s angry at her for running off with Scott during Battle Of The Atom. I think Bendis really knows how to write teenage boys (well duh, he’s written two of the best in Ultimate Spider-Man for over a decade) and how they let their emotions override logic. Hank should know that Jean was right not to trust the Brotherhood, but he’s too busy thinking about her going back to Scott.
This continues inside his head during the scene after they are given their new costumes by Magik. I really like these new costumes, Immonen has done a bang-up job designing them, and as Kitty says, it is time for a change. During Kitty’s lecture about their future plans, both Beast and Cyclops are ignoring her and thinking about Jean. Cyclops is thinking about how they are supposedly destined to be together, and how they have a kid (Oh man, I can’t wait until OG Cyclops meets Cable, that will be mental) and why won’t Jean just accept that and go out with him? Hank is thinking the same stuff he said before, but also thinking about maybe asking out one of the Uncanny X-Men. As I said, this is all good stuff, these are horny teenage boys thinking solipsistic thoughts. Unfortunately, Jean can hear these thoughts and she bugs out, levitating herself into the air. Even more unfortunately, she is saved from falling by Angel, and uh-oh, it’s a goddamn love-square now, as both Cyclops and Beast look on jealously. Given the fact that Scott and Jean did get married, it’s easy to forget that the original team were pretty much all in love with her, so it’s cool to have that back.
But before they can dwell on this, an alarm goes off, calling the team away for a mutant emergency in Florida, which will be next issue. This was a great issue that delivered everything I want from the X-Men these days, which is character. All the scenes here were a joy to read, and Bendis has a knack of looking at the history of these characters and the time-travel insanity to make every conversation be worth it, even little stuff like Kitty being annoyed at Iceman because his older self broke up with her, and him knowing that contributes.
Yes, it’s talky, but these days, in an X-Franchise with so many fascinating characters, that’s what I want, to see the sparks fly between them in various combinations, and with the All-New team switching sides, there are now loads of new combinations. Throw in Stuart Immonen not only delivering his usual excellence, but also some new costumes, and this is what I want, I can read fights in a million other comics, Bendis’ X-Men is different, and all the better for it.
Cataclysm: Ultimate Spider-Man #1(of 3)– Given that Galactus doesn’t show up until the very last page of this issue, and that this is the exact same creative team, this is basically Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #29, and I could not be happier about it.
Bendis and Marquez pick up where they left off, with Spider-Man and his new allies trying to work out what to do after they attacked Roxxon. Spider-Woman is on the Heli-Carrier with the rest of The Ultimates, at first wondering if she’s fired, and then wanting to put together a permanent team. Monica Chang and Spider-Woman explain what went on to the rest of the team, and even reveal that she’s a clone of Peter Parker, and man, this was a great scene. Bendis writes The Ultimates really well here, and I loved seeing Thor eating Chinese and struggling to think of a profound maxim to say. It was also great that Cap and Iron Man and the rest were very pleased that Miles was back as Spidey, and that carried on into his scenes, as we see how well respected he has become.
Of course, he still has to go to school, and we see him fast asleep in class. Being Spider-Man again is great and all, but it will still have an adverse effect on the rest of Miles’ life. But hey, he does seem to be enjoying himself, which is awesome to see, and it put a smile on my face. This continues in the aftermath of his busting up a fight (without really doing anything), as the NYPD are actually glad he’s back, even giving him a hug. It’s always weird when the Police like Spider-Man, it can’t last, trouble has to be around the corner, and that trouble is big and purple.
Speaking of the NYPD, Bendis also checks up on Bombshell, who is banned from using her powers as part of her parole, and is called in by the Police for using them and is going to be sent to prison. Of course, this is entirely unfair, as Lana was using her powers alongside SHIELD and the Police. She blows up the cop’s phone, and runs away. I really liked this scene, and it’s great how far Bombshell has come, at first she was just a foul-mouthed Gilmore Girls reference, but now, she could become a real superhero, It’s one of the few subplots that has carried over from Peter Parker’s time as Spider-Man to Miles’, and it’s great stuff.
The final scene of the issue is focussed on Cloak and Dagger, who decide to go visit their parents and tell them they aren’t dead. Unfortunately, Dagger’s parents have moved away, so what can they do? They decide to become superheroes too, and find the biggest bad guy they can and hit him. That big guy? Galactus, who shows up right at the end here to do what he did in Cataclysm.
This was a really enjoyable issue, which makes sense as Ultimate Spider-Man is a great series and this is basically that. I really think that post-Cataclysm, Bendis is going to be writing some kind of Miles Morales-led team-book with these characters. Although, maybe he’s just going to kill them all off with a big Galactus boot? I doubt it though. It’s great to see that Bendis hasn’t forgotten about his subplots and supporting characters in amongst the cosmic destruction, and I’m definitely excited to see how the two mesh in the next 2 issues of this mini-series, and even more with how it will all turn out in the end.
Dave Marquez’s art was just as good as always, but I did detect a little bit more looseness and a bit more of a similarity to Sara Pichelli here, which is most welcome indeed. If you were reading USM and aren’t reading Cataclysm, pick this up, it’s much more related to the former than the latter.
Superman/Wonder Woman #2– This continues to be an enjoyable title that does a good job of exploring the romance between the two characters and showing how it actually does work. Now, if you’ve already made up your mind about this relationship and HATE IT, there’s nothing in here that’s going to change that, but if you’re a bit more open-minded, this is good stuff, and a nice blend of two different sides of the DC Universe.
Charles Soule begins the issue with Wonder Woman taking on Doomsday, and he totally kicks her ass, even going so far as to break her arms. But just as Superman arrives, he vanishes. This fight probably was a little too short, but I suppose that brevity was to show that Doomsday wasn’t really there permanently, but as a sign that the Phantom Zone is breaking, and a sign of things to come. Superman takes Wonder Woman to the Fortress Of Solitude to show her the Phantom Zone and explain who Doomsday is and why he’s such bad news. Clark is worried that if Doomsday comes back, he won’t be able to defeat him, but Wonder Woman reassures him, saying that he will win, not just because of his physical strength, but also because of who he is inside and because he won’t be alone, he’ll have Wonder Woman alongside him. I liked this scene a lot, and it showed how this book isn’t doing what many fans feared, and making Wonder Woman into Superman’s inferior, just his girlfriend, but instead showing how they are equals and true partners.
To help prepare for Doomsday, Wonder Woman takes Superman to see Hephaestus and get him to create a suit of armour that would protect Superman. Whilst I still find it weird to see Azzarello and Chiang’s reimaginings of the Greek Gods outside of the main Wonder Woman title, this was well-written, and it was cool to se Superman just grab Hephaestus’ hammer and showcase his strength. Superman gets another chance to show how tough he is when Apollo and Strife show up and act like tremendous douchebags, which is a lot of fun. Apollo doesn’t approve of Wonder Woman going out with Superman, and in fact, he thinks it’s even worse than when she was with Steve Trevor, that at least he was human, Superman is an alien, a thing! Superman obviously objects to this, as well as to Apollo implying his sister is ‘slutting’ around, and they get into a fight.
At first, it seems like Apollo is way too powerful for Supes, but Soule cleverly connects the fact that he’s a Sun God to Superman’s powers, and that means that whenever Apollo hits Superman… Superman gets stronger. I thought this was pretty damn cool, I suppose it is obvious in hindsight, but it was a great example of this title putting two elements of a shared universe together that had previously been disconnected, and making something new out of it. Plus, Apollo has been such a dick throughout Azzarello’s Wonder Woman, it was past time to see him get his due. Superman throws Apollo up out of the Volcano, which impresses Strife to no end. Crucially, Soule adds a line of dialogue where Superman tells Wonder Woman he knows she could have done the same, again, showing that they are equals.
Superman then thanks Hephaestus for the help, because he knows trouble is coming, and he is right, as the issue ends in the Sahara Desert, where none other than General Zod escapes from the Phantom Zone, killing a poor tribe of Nomads. It’s going to be a lot of fun seeing General Zod back in the mix, especially if Soule takes some cues from Man Of Steel. This issue was mostly set in the Wonder Woman milieu, but the big villains are all Superman, it’s a nice mix.
Tony Daniel’s art was excellent here, perhaps the best I’ve seen from him since his brief tenure on Teen Titans towards the end of Johns’ run, the action in this book looks fantastic, and whilst he doesn’t match up to Chiang in depicting the Wonder Woman villains, he’s pretty damn close. Other than the fact that the Cat Grant subplot didn’t really go anywhere, this was a very good superhero comic, and the fact that it’s focused on a couple, not a solo hero or a team, does make it feel unique. I really think people should try this out, give the relationship a chance, it won’t last forever, and at least it’s something new!
Batman #25– ‘Zero Year’ moves on to it’s second storyline, and much to my surprise it’s not all about The Riddler, instead, Snyder is introducing a different villain, Doctor Death. This makes sense, as, if I’m remembering my Bat-History correctly, Doctor Death was actually the first supervillain Batman ever fought, back in Detective Comics #29 (the third Batman story ever). It’s cool to see Snyder go right back to the start in this new origin, and it’s always cool to see one of the more minor Batman villains, rather than the same ol’, same ol’.
The story here begins and ends with strange scenes set in Nigeria, with a bunch of soldiers opening up a strange hatch, which explodes and kills them. It’s not clear whether this is related to Doctor Death or anything really, so it was confusing, but once the story moves back to Gotham, things get more interesting. Batman is being chased by the GCPD, who have got him caught in a tunnel. It’s here that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo into the new, first ever Batmobile, which, given I know next to nothing about cars, I can’t really describe, but it looks awesome to me.
The Cops think they’ve got Batman surrounded, but he’s able to push a button and have the Batmobile jump out of harm’s way. It turns out the reason the Police were after Batman was because he was seen at the scene of a murder, and they think he did it. Obviously he didn’t, because these are hideously warped skeletons, and the work of Doctor Death. Lieutenant Gordon is there and the crime scene with (a surprisingly non-dishevelled looking) Harvey Bullock, and he knows that Batman had nothing to do with this, and that the Police are wasting their time, that during this blackout, and with a Storm coming, they should be helping the people, not hunting the Batman, who is actually doing the helping. After this, we see Pamela Isley, before she became Poison Ivy, who, apart from caring more about the plants at the scene, but also points them in the direction of a ‘skeletal’ figure.
Meanwhile, in the Batcave, Bruce Wayne has figured out that the two warped skeletons are Wayne Enterprises employees, and that all the evidence points to a former employee, Dr. Karl Helfern, whose nickname was, duh Doctor Death. Alfred tells Bruce to leave this to the Cops, but he says nah, they are all corrupt assholes (or words to that effect), unfortunately, just in earshot of Jim Gordon, who is standing at the mouth of the Batcave. This conversation between Bruce and Gordon was the best scene in the issue, especially because of the hints about their being a new wrinkle in the death of Bruce’s parents involving Gordon, and also how Gordon came this close to seeing the Batcave. The fact that Gordon really should, and probably does, know who Batman is, is one of my favourite little bits in the lore, so I liked how Snyder played with it. In order to track down Helfern, Bruce goes to see Lucius Fox, who is now working at Gotham University. At first it seemed like Fox was going to help Bruce out, but then… he stabs him in the neck with a syringe and reveals he’s working with Doctor Death! What the fuck? This was a great scene, especially as it went against everything we know about Lucius Fox and in doing so, was genuinely surprising, which is hard to do in a retold origin story. So much of what’s happened in Zero Year so far has just been a retread, but this was new and exciting. Now, I’m guessing that Fox is being coerced and mind-controlled in some way, but still, it was a great ending.
The back-up story in this issue focuses on what a Harper Row was doing during Zero Year, which was arguing with her dad and comforting her younger brother. Am I the only person who kind of hates her brother? He’s the wimpiest wimp in the whole world! In the present day scenes he has an excuse, because he’s being gay-bashed, but here… he’s just such a one-dimensional crybaby! I suppose it’s to show how strong Harper is, but he’s such a wimp it’s ridiculous, next issue they’ll reveal he has avian bone syndrome or something. I did like the art from Andy Clarke however, and it was cool to get a little glimpse of the various tie-ins going on in other books.
This was a strong issue of Batman, and a positive step in the right direction for Zero Year, which after a shaky start is coming into it’s own and telling a new story. Greg Capullo’s artwork was excellent as always, I love the Batmobile, and I continue to be very surprised and impressed by FCO Plascencia’s colour choices. And hey, if that’s not all, it has a bad-ass embossed all-black cover! Buy 10 copies and become a billionaire!
Justice League Of America #9– Given that in Forever Evil #3 we discovered that the prison the Justice Leagues were trapped in was actually Firestorm, it’s a bit odd to read this issue and have the characters within it none the wiser, but this was still an enjoyable issue, that, whilst a bit repetitive of the last one, did a good job at exploring the characters of Stargirl and Martian Manhunter and making me care a bit more about them.
The issue begins with Martian Manhunter still making his way through the Prison, he starts off with Green Lantern, moves on to Madame Xanadu, then to Aquaman and then finally… himself. I liked seeing some more of the personal prisons each Justice Leaguer was trapped in, Madame Xanadu has been forced to turn to dark magic and become evil to fight evil, and in Aquaman’s, the surface world has killed all the fish and drained the ocean, which pisses him off. Martian Manhunter’s prison is a bit different, as it turns out that the mysterious figure he’s seen following him is him, is his guilt over failing to save the people of Mars, and his fear of not being able to save his new Earth-friends. J’Onn’s prison was to see all his friend’s prisons, to see them suffer, and not be able to help them, which is pretty clever of the CSA and Deathstorm, and a cool way of containing perhaps the most powerful Justice League member.
So, whilst Martian Manhunter is fighting himself, Stargirl is making her way through the prisons to try and rescue him. Throughout her trip through the scenes we say last time, Matt Kindt sprinkles some flashbacks to her origin story, which seems pretty much unchanged from before. She was an ordinary teenage girl who didn’t like her step-dad much, until she discovers he’s got a box with superhero stuff in it, including a costume and the Cosmic Staff from Starman, which she uses to become a superhero. Kindt keeps things pretty vague, we don’t see Stripesy or any of the various Starmen or Star-Spangled Kids, so continuity isn’t mangled too much, but it was effective. These flashbacks are mainly there to allow her to save J’Onn and explain why she isn’t in a prison that uses her fears and dark thoughts against her. It’s because she doesn’t have any fears or darkness, she’s just too optimistic for the CSA to trap her, and it’s that which allows her and Martian Manhunter to escape. I’m not sure how I feel about this plot-point, it’s cheesy for sure, but this is superhero comics, there’s ample room for cheese, and with a character like Stargirl, pure unbridled optimism makes sense and works. People’s big complaint about the New 52 is that everyone is a jerk, well here’s a character who most definitely isn’t.
Stargirl and J’Onn escape, but run right into the path of Deathstroke and a bunch of other villains, Copperhead, Giganta. Shadoe Thief etc. To make matters worse, J’Onn isn’t physically there, he’s only in Stargirl’s head. How the heck is she supposed to fight all these heavy-hitters alone? It’s going to be fun to find out.
This was a solid issue, and that extends to the art, where Tom Derenick fills in for Doug Mahnke. Derenick is a solid superhero artist who always delivers big, bold action, and that’s fine. His art doesn’t have the darker edge that Mahnke’s does, which added a real sense of unease to this setting last time, but since the focus is on the bright and cheerful Stargirl, that’s fine.
Green Lantern Corps #25– Rather than pick up the pieces and move forward from ‘Lights Out’, Green Lantern Corps instead moves back to the past for a tie-in with Batman: Zero Year, which is a weird choice, but it mostly works, showing us more of John Stewart’s back-story, and showing why he was a hero before he ever put on a ring.
During the events of Zero Year, John was a member of another Corps, the United States Marine Corps, and he and his fellow soldiers are tasked with helping to evacuate Gotham citizens who are holed up inside the Gotham NFL stadium before the storm hits. Unfortunately for John, the people inside the stadium have been riled up by Anarky, that Batman villain from the 90s. Anarky has been firing them up with rhetoric about how the man has taken everything away from them, and how historic neighbourhoods were destroyed to build this stadium and they should reclaim it. Anarky has the people seeing John and his fellow marines as enemies, not people there to help them, and that point of view is aided by some of the Marines’ trigger-happy nature. A brawl breaks out, and John and the rest of the Marines are imprisoned.
These events are interspersed throughout with flashbacks, with John Stewart’s mother, a Union Organiser, telling the young John all about the 1960s race-riots she and her parents were caught up in, and about how, in the end, both sides, the rioters and the police got caught up in the violence, and that in situations like that, and the one in the stadium both sides can be in the wrong.
John manages to get everyone free from the prison, as he remembers a Superbowl half-time show which involved a trap door in this location (I’m a big fan of stuff like this, the use of fake sports teams and such in the DCU, so I loved a lot of the little mentions of Gotham sports history) and getting into the tunnels below. In the end, it comes down to an armed confrontation between Anarky’s men and the Marines, which could turn into a bloodbath. John remembers his mother’s words and tries to make peace, and does so by throwing a flash-bomb into the middle and in the midst of the distraction, disarming Anarky. John tells the people that they aren’t tools of the Man, that they aren’t going to force anyone to do anything they don’t want, and that anyone is free to stay. This gets the evacuation under way, but pisses of John’s commanding officer, who wants to strand all the people who turned on him. He calls John ‘son’, which leads to John punching him out, and will, after this story ends, lead to him leaving the Marines and eventually becoming a Green Lantern. Batman shows up in the background, and that’s pretty much it.
This was a strange issue, especially for Green Lantern Corps, which is normally heavy sci-fi, whereas this was the total opposite. I did like it though, it gave me more insight into who John Stewart is away from the GL Corps, and that’s always been his weakest aspect compared to the other human Lanterns and it told an interesting story with lots of social and racial connotations to think on. It’s not what I expect from this book, and that’s a good thing.
The art here came from Victor Drujiniu, Ivan Fernandez and Allan Jefferson, all artists who are new to me, but it was decent, I especially like Jefferson’s flashback pages and panels, using a different artists for flashbacks is a basic, but always effective technique.
Three #2(of 5)– Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly’s historical tale gets a lot more interesting in this second issue as we learn more about the other side of the story. Not our three main Helot heroes, but the Spartans who will be chasing them.
The issue begins with some glorious slaughter, with the Spartans killing all the Helots thanks to their insolence last issue. Gillen wisely leaves this relatively dialogue-free, allowing Kelly’s excellent art to tell the story and show the blood-shed. Klaros, the taciturn Helot with a limp has ran outside to dig out his sword to fight back, but all throughout he is telling himself to just run away, to not be stupid. But in the end, he is stupid, going back to save his friends and kill some Spartans. He struggles against one warrior, but he and Terpander manage to work together to take him down. That leaves just the head Spartan, the old man, who yeah, they kill. His son bursts in, and, seeing what they’d done to his dad and the others, flees back to Sparta. What can the three Helots do now? The answer is simple… run.
Gillen then moves the story to Sparta, where we see a group of young boys being told a fable about Sparta, and about how just being born a Spartan doesn’t mean they will become great warriors, they still have to work for it. Kleomenes, the current King of Sparta (they have 2, it’s odd) overhears this, and notes that the fable has changed since he was a child, that back in his day, the story did not give being born Spartan as much importance. This is a clever way to show how, at this point in time, Sparta was not the force it once was. He talks with his friend Tyrtaios about it, and his life as a newly married man. It’s here that Gillen does a very good job at exploring the Spartan attitude towards sex, and in particular homosexuality, as Kleomenes and Tyrtaios are former lovers. In Spartan society, the woman strive to be as strong in battle as the men, and the men strive to be as good at fucking other men as the women. It’s a well-written scene that never gets too obvious, and it’s a nice retort to 300, which presented the Spartans as not being gay. I find Gillen’s depictions of gay characters in Young Avengers a bit lacking and heavy-handed, but this was much better.
The King is on his way to a meeting of The Ephors, the council that rules Sparta alongside him. It turns out that the old man the Helots killed was an Ephor, and that they are sending the King out to hunt them down in revenge. This scene was a little confusing, if he’s the King, why are these old dudes telling him what to do? And wait, they have 2 Kings? I recommend reading the back-matter interview between Gillen and Spartan expert Professor Stephen Hodgkinson, which explains a lot of the Spartan political system, and clears up these events. So, Kleomenes is sent off to track down 3 Helots… with 300 men. Hardly a fair fight is it?
This was a strong issue, it brought the violence thanks to Ryan Kelly’s wonderful art (he draws some awesome naked statues too!), and whilst the political stuff is a bit confusing, it doesn’t matter too much. We know the score now, 3 against 300, the rest of this mini-series is going to be insane.
Yes, yes oh yay. I think my favourite book this week was Superior Foes Of Spider-Man, that book is like, a highlight of my entire month. You should read it.
Next week brings more four-colour joys, such as Sex Criminals, The Wake, Daredevil, Batman ’66, Young Avengers and Animal Man.
See ya then!