This week DC Comics rolled out its July solicitations. Because they mostly cover the second month of a relaunch whose first month is still six weeks away, they feel rather comment-proof. I mean, last month was the time for first impressions, so you can’t really comment further on storylines that haven’t started or creative teams whose first issues haven’t appeared. That said, July brings the first issue of the Cyborg solo series, as well as the return of Justice League United, so it’s not as if there’s nothing new.
HAIL TO THE VICTOR
As a longtime (i.e., aging) New Teen Titans fan, I’m a little torn about a Cyborg ongoing series. A spotlight on Victor Stone is long overdue, and I think the character is versatile enough to handle a wide range of adventures. (It’s also nice to note that with Starfire and Grayson, there will be three ongoing series based on ex-Titans.) However, I feel like Marv Wolfman and George Pérez established a lot of Vic’s backstory carefully and purposefully from 1980 through 1990, and then chucked it out the window when “Titans Hunt” blew up the Titans status quo. As the New 52 rebooted Vic (and since Forever Evil did it literally), he starts this ongoing with pretty much a blank slate. I’m looking forward to seeing what David Walker, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado have planned, but I hope that includes some of that forgotten history.
Jason Fabok’s cover for Justice League #42 is busy without feeling crowded, and I like its suggestion that the issue is overstuffed. A battle between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor will necessarily be big, but I’m glad that Geoff Johns and Fabok are finding room for more than just a cosmic slugfest.
Glad to see Jeff Parker and Travel Foreman coming aboard Justice League United. I was afraid Parker in particular wouldn’t have much to do once he left Aquaman, but this should be a good showcase for both him and Foreman, and he’s writing Mera for the near future as well. Although the rotating roster is a little ironic for a book called United (why not Unlimited?), it does distinguish the series from the big-gun members in JL and JLA.
Last month I noted that “Professor Zoom” isn’t exactly the same as “the Reverse-Flash.” Since then it’s been clarified that this version of Professor Zoom is a new character, different from the New 52 version of the Reverse-Flash. Traditionally, Professor Zoom has had a fairly complex relationship with the Flash, apart from simply trying to wreck his life.
Not only does the cover of JL 3001 #2 suggest that its Supergirl is closer to the “real steel deal” than, say, the JL3K1 Superman, it also includes something I might have missed last month. The group’s Green Lantern isn’t a tiny Hal Jordan anymore, and she’s wearing a version of Guy Gardner’s uniform to boot.
Whether by accident or design, most of this month’s Annuals (except Flash and Gotham By Midnight) feature team-ups: Superman and Wonder Woman in Deathstroke; the Sinestro Corps in Lobo; and Gotham Academy, Dick Grayson, and Helena Bertinelli in Batgirl. The regular monthly issues have ‘em too: Wonder Woman fights Deathstroke; Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad hassle the stars of Superman/Wonder Woman; Superman spars with Martian Manhunter; Green Lantern gets to know Section Eight; Hawkman stops by Bat-Mite; Stephanie Brown visits Catwoman; and Pop-- I mean, “Captain Strong” -- sails into Harley Quinn.
(And yes, Captain Strong is a real DC character. As you might have guessed, he’s a Popeye pastiche who was introduced in 1973's Action Comics #421. He appeared a handful of times thereafter, mostly in the Superman books.)
Sure, Prez is only a 12-issue miniseries, but you’d think someone in DC’s corporate hierarchy would have checked out the actual Twitter profile for @corndoggirl.
It still bothers me that Gene Luen Yang’s debut as Superman writer comes as part of an intertitle crossover. However, that crossover does sound intriguing in its vagueness: “Who will stand by Clark Kent? Is there truth in madness? Has Lois Lane betrayed Superman with the truth?” I suspect those cryptic questions are linked more thematically than narratively, so “Truth” may be more conceptual than, say, revealing Clark’s secret to the world. Still, for now it’s fun to speculate.
To me, “Hush” was a Batman storyline which never really justified its hype, but what do I know? Apparently it has sold well enough to inspire yet another edition (beyond the original two-volume set, the single-volume paperback, the Absolute Edition, and the pencils-only “Unwrapped”). This time it’s Batman Noir: Hush, “presented in stark black and white,” because apparently color is a luxury real urban avengers just can’t afford. Honestly, I think Jim Lee and Scott Williams’ work benefits from even a grayscale palette, because all that detail can be overwhelming without some kind of differentiation. That goes double for the handful of “watercolor”-style pages Lee and his colleagues used for flashbacks.
Conversely, I’m glad to see DC collecting The Dark Knight Returns and its sequel into one volume. Even at $50.00 retail, it’s a good option for people who’d like a nice coffee-table version and who might’ve been on the fence about buying Dark Knight Strikes Again. I don’t know if I’d binge-read the whole thing at once, though -- the tonal shift between the two is pretty drastic.
At $35.00 retail, the Godhead collection seems surprisingly affordable. It wasn’t that bad of a story, either -- the New Gods were convincing antagonists for the Green Lantern Corps, and the various creative teams blended together well. The main conflict -- emotional-spectrum energy indirectly threatens all creation -- was fairly reminiscent of the earlier “Lights Out” crossover, but I think it came off better here.
Speaking of GL, the 75th anniversary Green Lantern hardcover is 400 pages for $40.00, and will feature some big-name GL creative teams, but beyond that is still a mystery. Personally, it would be nice to see some lesser-known eras represented. Denny O’Neil and Mike Grell brought the Green Lantern book back from cancellation in the mid-‘70s, and Gerard Jones and Pat Broderick (and later, M.D. Bright) helped revive it in the ‘90s. A Marv Wolfman/Joe Staton arc from the early ‘80s would be good, and there are probably some hidden Kyle Rayner gems out there as well.
Although not quite a hidden gem, G.I. Zombie was pretty entertaining while it lasted. To call it “The Spy Who BRAAAAINED Me” would be to underestimate the intelligence of both the protagonist and the story. Being indestructible and able to unleash undead fury on the unsuspecting only gets you so far when you’re trying to infiltrate a group of homegrown terrorists, so writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Scott Hampton focused on the ticking-clock elements, producing a taut narrative with a grim sense of humor. Worth seeking out.
And here is this week’s installment of Converbiage.
WHAT I BOUGHT: All of them, Katie -- Convergence #3, plus Adventures of Superman, Batman and the Outsiders, Flash, Green Lantern Corps, Hawkman, Justice League of America, New Teen Titans, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman.
BEST OF THE WEEK: Hawkman, JLA, and Swamp Thing
NOTES: Overall, I thought this was a very strong week in terms of the individual titles. However, continuity issues kept me from enjoying them as a group. Sometimes these were anachronistic characterizations, like Lucius Fox as a movie-style gadget-master instead of his 1980s-era executive, Barry Allen’s mention of the “Speed Force,” or Leslie Thompkins running a trauma ward. In fact, Leslie was Guy Gardner’s therapist in GL Corps, but monitoring the comatose Halo in BATO. Moreover, this week really brought home the notion that these heroes should all be working together, particularly since Batman, Nightwing, and Elongated Man have each been coordinating their own super-teams. (Maybe that’s a subplot for Convergence proper, but given the main miniseries’ focus, I doubt it.)
Convergence #3 (written by Jeff King, penciled by Stephen Segovia, inked by Jason Paz, colored by Peter Steigerwald) did a fine job of using the Earth-2 characters to advance the plot by exploring Telos’ world. Their new friend Deimos was the main villain of Mike Grell’s soldier-in-a-fantasyland series The Warlord, so he’s probably up to no good; but the revelation that Telos has captured time travelers like Monarch and Chronos is a new wrinkle which might just pay off later. The issue’s other main event, the death of Thomas “Batman” Wayne, also seems likely to pay off with the Earth-2 Dick Grayson putting on the cape and cowl. Another “Batman” died this issue, in the form of Kandor’s Van-Zee/Nightwing; and I for one was sorry to see the Kandorians destroyed. In practical terms they couldn’t be allowed to live, because a little dose of yellow-sun rays would have made them a city of Supermen; but it was good to see them conscientiously objecting to Telos’ tournament. On the other hand, I was a little surprised that Telos killed the pre-Flashpoint Joker so casually. I’m not mourning -- this was the Joker who killed Jason Todd and shot Barbara Gordon -- but for a long time he was “the” Joker, and that makes it a little mind-blowing. Anyway, happy so far with how the main miniseries is going.
Probably the tie-in I liked least was Green Lantern Corps, and that’s because I got tired rather quickly of all the angst. I don’t know that it was entirely out of character, mind you. Back in the day these three each got help from someone or something not present here: Guy had his power ring back, John had Katma Tui, and Hal was on the road back to the Corps. Makes me hopeful for part two. The Flash issue was fine, although a bit too similar structurally to last week’s Aquaman. Wonder Woman was better than I expected, in that it seemed to be going for a bridge between traditional Bronze Age adventure and the “white-suit” period, and actually pulled off that transition pretty well. Joshua Middleton’s art was a big help in that regard.
While Adventures of Superman offered a nice spotlight on Supergirl, her main conflict -- that she would choose a path that led to her own death -- was somewhat predictable, and Superman’s inspirational words to her felt a little too on-the-nose for those of us who remember Crisis On Infinite Earths. However, AOS writer Marv Wolfman was much better on even more familiar ground in New Teen Titans, right down to the characters’ nervous “uhh”s. Trust me, that’s what they sounded like in the ‘80s, too. Nicola Scott and Brad Deering’s work was dynamic and expressive, even (if one wanted to compare) finding a middle ground between Pérez and his successor Eduardo Baretto. Nevertheless, this Titans was too concerned with Starfire’s willingness to kill wrongdoers outright, a subplot which I thought had been settled long ago.
As far as artistic homages go, I appreciated the very Jim Aparo-ness of Andy Kubert’s BATO cover. Carlos D’Anda’s interiors weren’t remotely like that, but they were consistently energetic, and helped drive the issue. While Marc Andreyko’s script relied on another predictable subplot (Rex Mason’s Ben Grimm-esque body image issue) and didn’t match up with Leslie Thompkins’ GLC portrayal, otherwise it was an enjoyable tale of B-list super-folk adapting to life without powers. I especially enjoyed Andreyko’s very Bronze Age Batman, someone who’s a little more sociable than the cold-eyed misanthrope who occasionally pops up in more modern books.
By stepping outside 1985-ish Gotham City, Superboy and the Legion expanded the scope of its characters’ alienation. As written by Stuart Moore, Superboy is separated not just from his friends but from his own time, Lightning Lass is reaching out in the absence of her boyfriend Timber Wolf, Brainiac 5 is frustrated, and Wildfire is apparently dead (again). All this issue needed was a traitor within the Legion’s ranks. However, I found the art -- by penciler Gus Storms, inker Mark Farmer, and colorist John Rauch -- to be striking in its departure. It’s very cartoony, which I know can sound perjorative, but in this case seemed eminently appropriate to a team of super-youngsters. Given that most of the issue involved the Legionnaires skulking around their own headquarters, it served the interpersonal dynamics very well.
Like Wolfman and the Titans, writer Len Wein returned to his co-creation with Swamp Thing. However, unlike Wolfman, Wein had to deal with the implications of his successor, Alan Moore. Fortunately, Swampy’s awareness of being “a plant who thought he was a man” reinforces the story’s own take on separation, when our hero and his pal Abby end up trapped in Gotham City and cut off from the Green. The issue then turns comedic, as Abby races around for plant food, fertilizer, and other mundane means of sustaining her friend. Cameos from Poison Ivy and Batgirl, and a need to find Batman, remind us we’re in a crossover, and the issue ends with a vampire attack. Good thing horror artist extraordinaire Kelley Jones is on hand ...
The JLA issue (written by Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Chriscross, colored by Snakebite) is probably the most straightforward: heroes adapt to powerless life, powers return, heroes start fighting interdimensional foes. However, by starting just after Telos’ announcement, the issue avoids a lot of mopery and can focus on building up one of the less well-remembered Leagues. In fact, this team ends up fighting the Tangent Universe’s version of the League. Called the Secret Six, they include an Atom, a Manhunter, a Flash, and a Spectre -- so our JLA actually does square off against some “big names.” The issue ends mid-fight on a relatively high note, and I’m eager to see part 2. This is the best the Detroit League has looked in a while, with Chriscross putting a lot of care into his pages and Snakebite providing additional mood and depth. Nicieza’s script also treats these characters like old friends, with little of the awkwardness which sometimes creeps into such retro exercises.
Finally, I have to congratulate writer Jeff Parker, penciller Tim Truman, inker Sam Alcatena, and colorist John Kalisz for getting me excited about Hawkman. Not since the Kyle Baker strip in Wednesday Comics have I enjoyed the Winged Wonders so much. It helps that their adventures weren’t really affected by having their powers cut off, because they rely pretty much on “gear and training”; but gear and training don’t mean much if snappy dialogue and self-assured art can’t back it up. I liked Parker’s take on Aquaman and Mera quite a bit, and his Hawks are right up there -- particularly Hawkwoman, who picks a suitably dramatic moment to don her wings and headgear. The issue combines hooligans, Thanagarian conspiracies, and the always-creepy Manhawks into something I’d be happy to read on a more permanent basis.