UPDATE - Added reviews for Captain Britain & MI13 and Secret Six
Written by Tony Daniel
Art by Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea
Ugh, this was a rough one. In all honesty, I thought I was reading some fan fiction off a random forum as opposed to a green lit, high profile event comic dealing with the aftermath of the death of Batman. Everything was just so over the top and lacked direction or consistency with anything that came before it. Almost like a child or overzealous fan going, "and then this and he'll have guns and then they fight and oh ya this guy did this and then he'll show up" and so on for every major plot point in the issue.
For those still wondering, the gun toting Batman is, indeed, Jason Todd. It never actually shows him with the mask off, but we do get his internal monologue throughout the issue, which was probably the only part of the issue I actually liked.
Speaking of gun toting, our new "Batman" does a lot of 90's extreme level killing in this issue. At least, I hope this is an attempt at a clever social commentary on 90's over the top extreme deaths and re-representations of characters. Unfortunately, I doubt there's any meta commentary intended here and we're supposed to be awed by how badass Todd is by killing random thugs and shooting everyone he sees.
If I had to pick the point where I realized this issue was going to be bad, it would have to be early on with the confrontation between Nightwing, Damian and Jason Todd. Todd easily takes it to both Nightwing and Damian. Damian goes so far as to get swatted away like some child that had no place tere and later stands flat footed and gets shot in the chest by Todd. Damian led the League of Assassins and took down Tim Drake without breaking a sweat. Yet, here, he's completely useless and a mere boy bunder to Dick's Nightwing.
Speaking of Tim Drake, he and Catwoman ended up at Todd's new batcave. While they're busy bungling around into traps like a couple of amateurs, Todd returns and, after a short fight, apparently kills Tim with a batarang plunged through his chest. Based on the final page, where half the oversized batarang is sticking out of his body, Tim is looking a lot like his father did back in Identity Crisis with the boomerang in his chest. I'm sure he'll somehow miraculously survive this, but based on the art, there's no way I can see how he lives after this.
Finally, the "gangwar", if you can call it that, between Black Mask, Two-Face and Penguin is overly simplistic and completely uninteresting. Black Mask is blowing up all of Gotham and there's not a single super hero (JLA? JSA? Anyone?) to be seen. Not even the National Guard or other government bodies are stepping in. And with how over the top this is, you can't help but wonder why the hell anyone in their right mind would want to live in Gotham.
As for the identity of Black Mask, no hints or clues given. My best guess is still Hush, who was solicited for this event, but mysteriously kicked out at the last minute. With a face like Bruce Wayne, he'd have reason to hide under the mask. Just not sure why he wouldn't stay as Hush with the bandages, but nothing else makes sense in this story, so why should Black Mask's identity?
Verdict - Avoid It. Series is confirmed as filler given to Daniel as a favour while DC awaits the return of Grant Morrison later this year.
CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI13 #12
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Leonard Kirk
I usually hate all things magic related, especially when we get into things like vampires and what not, but inexplicably find myself absolutely loving Captain Britain And MI13, a title steeped in magic related goodness and of which its current storyarc deals with the Marvel version of Dracula, who is a complete badass and is an early runner for a Best Villain candidate for the 2009 awards.
Just what do you need to know to get into this amazing comic? Nothing. I'm serious. Not a damn thing. I had no experience with any of these characters outside of random guest appearances and the one I know the best, Blade, I only really know from his movies, having never read or cared to read an actual Blade comic.
Despite this lack of knowledge on just about any of the characters, I still find myself connecting and identifying with everyone in the book and never feel like I'm missing crucial backstory or information. It's just obvious who's who, what their motivations are and feels like an original piece of work with no need to go routing through backissue bins or Wikipedia to figure out what's going on with such an eclectic cast of characters. And that's a good thing.
This particular storyline has featured Dracula forging alliances with Dr Doom and his cabal of villains, declaring war on England and attacking our heroes on all fronts, including killing of friends and kidnapping of family members and the enslaving of the vampire hero, Spitfire, who is now compelled to do Dracula's bidding due to his being the grand poobah of vampires. It's all very compelling and incredibly entertaining and has been unlike any other typical super hero book I've read in the way they react and deal with this unbelievable threat.
Speaking of declaring war on England, while it is true Dracula did do this, he reveals here that he did so only to draw out Blade, who knows the location of a sacred artifact that would prevent Dracula and his army of vampires from stepping foot on English soil, basically extending the vampire notion of requiring permission to enter a residence to extend to the entire country.
Suffice to say, things don't go well for our heroes, who rushed to get this article due to Dracula's chess-like maneuvering, as Dracula simply used them to find the actual location of said artifact and promptly sends his forces in to attack and successfully destroys it before it can be used to stop him. Again, even though there's a lot of magical and mystic craziness being thrown around, they never get too bogged down by it and it all flows naturally and just feels like it belongs; something every other magic story seems to get caught up on trying to explain or have come off as deus ex style hand waving solutions.
Verdict - Must Read. I really can't express how good this series has been since day one and it's only been getting better as it goes along. Do yourself a favour and either grab the first trade or jump in on this Dracula storyline. You won't regret it.
GREEN LANTERN #39
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Philip Tan and Jonathan Glapion
Green Lantern has been on a roll latey and I had high expectations going into this Agent Orange storyline. Thankfully, everything related to the Orange Lanterns was excellent and the appearances of Larfleeze and the Orange Lanterns were some of the best new additions to the Green Lantern mythos since the Sinestro Corps formation. Unfortunatey, everything else from the issue fell a little flat.
Let's start with the whole Agent Orange/Orange Lantern Corps. For the record, in case you haven't caught on yet, Agent Orange is in reference to Larfleeze. As for the Orange Lantern Corps, there is no Orange Lantern Corps. All those Philip Tan teaser images for various Orange Lanterns? Those aren't real. Well, technically, they're real. In a move many people predicted, the "Orange Lantern Corps", of which those designs represented, is actually made up of nothing but orange constructs created by Larfleeze. It makes perfect sense in context of orange light representing avarice or greed. Why would he share his light with anyone else or build a corps around it when he can use it all for himself?
As for why the Guardians ceded the entire Vega system to Larfleeze, it's immediately made apparent as he wipes out a contingent of Controllers, who are around the same level of cosmic power levels as the Guardians. It's hard to tell, but based on what little we've seen, it appears Larfleeze or the orange lantern may actually absorb the souls of those that come in contact with it or that he kills and adds them to the "corps" in the form of new constructs. I believe this is the only reason Stel, the robotic Green Lantern that was used as a message for the Guardians, was not absorbed like everyone else that Larfleeze came in contact with. Would also explain why he is so inherently dangerous and why the Guardians opted to give him a system all to himself.
However, as I said earlier, everything not pertaining directly to Larfleeze and the Orange Lanterns came off a bit weak this month. Hal Jordan, in particular, was quite brutal in his portrayal. As you know, he was given Saint Walker's Blue Lantern ring last month and was in a state of flux between Green and Blue Lantern. I can understand Hal's annoyance over having a blue ring forced onto him, but to outright decry all things hope related and throw out such clunkers as, "I'm not interested in hope", or "there's no point to hope", is a bit saddening, especially after seeing a star restarted and knowing the rings boost his power levels to 200+% of their normal charge and so on. There's one thing to want to remove the ring and stay loyal to the Green Lantern Corps and another to go off like a petulant child screaming he doesn't want it over and over.
The only other non-Agent Orange related part dealt with the Guardians' reaction to Hal's new blue ring and the fallout to knowing Larfleeze has left the Vega system. For the people in charge of policing the universe, they're the dumbest little blue midgets I know. Instead of studying the blue ring or trying to find out what happened to Hal or anything remotely intelligent, they simply all start shooting Hal with green beams and telling him to take the ring off without listening to a single word he has to say.
Then, after Larfleeze finishes up with his little ultimatum to the Guardians, Scar delivers the worst line of the issue with, "The Guardians do not negotiate with terrorists.". Really? Because I'm pretty sure you negotiated with him the last time and gave him a whole sector all to himself. And labelling him a terrorist? That just reeked of a real world mouthpiece / soapbox and didn't sound like anything the Guardians would ever say, especially in this situation when faced with someone they feared enough to give an entire sector to pacify the last time.
Verdict - Check It. Agent Orange = Great. Everything else = Average at best. Made for an up and down issue. Still looking forward to the rest of Agent Orange, but I'm getting the feeling Johns may be stretching himself a little thin lately.
SECRET SIX #8
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Carlos Rodriguez and Bitt
Along with Captain Britain & MI13, Secret Six is one of those titles that is so good yet, for whatever reason, I have the damnedest time expressing just what makes it so good.
Take this issue, for instance, the basic plot consists of Scandal, Deadshot, Jeannette and the Knockout lookalike stripper from a while back all going out together on a group date and the craziness that ensues as a result. There's no major plot or evil threat plotting their demise and it's really just a whole lot of downtime that would just kill almost any other book, but just may well be one of my favourite Secret Six issues to date.
Highlights of this issue include Deadshot's fear of Jeannette, who has told, not asked, him he's going on a date with her and his fear of being basically forced into some freaky sexcapades with the woman. These fears from Deadshot actually come after Scandal's grocery shopping trip, which saw her picking up random items for Jeannette, such as a whole grocery cart full of eggs (don't ask), ten dog collars (again, don't ask) and other various 'odds and ends'. So, Deadshot's fears are actually quite justified, and hilarious, even though he does eventually end up going out with the group later in the issue.
The actual date was just a "quiet" night out for the group with the promise of no killing under any circumstances, which results in Deadshot beating and maiming several white supremists he's had dealings with in the past and of which were following him with the intention of getting revenge for past transgressions. It was casually handled and more of a 'one sec, off to the bathroom' type of subplot that was intersperced between the fun dinner conversations. Just some fun action and comedy to liven up things.
Finally, I'd be remiss to talk about this issue and not mention the Tiny Titans/Mini Marvels-style Ragdoll Dreams at the end of the issue. Ragdoll actually tagged along on the date with everyone, but ended up locked in the trunk of the car. Seems no one else knew this and he was left in there for 3 days and began hallucinating, which was represented at the end of the issue with the Ragdoll Dreams short, which saw Ragdoll being the hero of the DCU, saving Superman, Wonder Woman, reciting his own Green Lantern oath and so on before the other Secret Six members found him in the trunk of the car. I know I'd be game for more of these shorts at the end of the issue in the future.
Verdict - Must Read. Just a fun, character relationship building and expanding type of issue, similar to how the X-Men used to have those baseball game done-in-ones back in the day. Of course, this being Secret Six and a team of villains, they had their own spin on fun activities.
SUPERMAN: WORLD OF NEW KRYPTON #2 (OF 12)
Written by James Robinson and Greg Rucka
Art by Pete Woods
Where the first issue grabbed me with its simplicity and excellent reveal twist of having Superman join the military guild, Superman: World of New Krypton #2 felt a lot like a world building issue. It simply spent too much time introducing people, such as Superman's new squad and subordinates, or trying to beat us over the head with the different culture inherent in the Kryptonian way of life. It's never outright bad and there are some good moments here, but it never actually thrills me or delivers on the unique promise of the first issue's reveal.
As I said, we're introduced to Kal's new squad that Zod has put him in charge of. I didn't recognize any names nor am I going to bother looking them up. The only thing you need to know is it's more of a 'police squad' than an actual military division, most likely designed to keep Clark out of Zod's hair.
One of the oddest things from the issue was the inclusion of the new 'red sunlight' guns. I'm not sure what the purpose of these really is. With so few Kryptonians left alive, wouldn't it be in their best interests to have non-lethal means of stopping potential criminals or dissidents without murdering a large percentage of their relatively few numbers? If they're meant as offensive military weaponry, why the red sunlight secondary fire? Why guns in the first place? They're an army of Supermen, just use heat vision or punch stuff!
In fact, I think the only reason the guns were included was to set up the main event of this issue - the labor guild gets a hold of a few guns and takes some people hostage. This would be more effective of a plot if the hostages couldn't move at the speed of light (or faster since Superman can obviously travel from planet to planet at faster than light speeds) and escape with relative ease. Hell, as Zod pointed out earlier in the issue, he can hear anything Superman says on New Krypton thanks to his powers. How the hell does no one notice an entire guild setting up something like this? In all honesty, this labor guild rebellion felt forced and unnecessary. We've seen maybe two panels of mild dissatisfaction about their current status over the past two issues and there's absolutely nothing to substantiate the conflict nor make us care about its outcome with so many contrived events building up to it.
Verdict - Check It. I'm still intrigued with Superman's life in the military guild, but there's only so much suspension of disbelief in regards to the forced labor guild hostage plot that makes up the latter half of this issue and its cliffhanger.
WAR OF KINGS: ASCENSION #1
Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Paolo Pantalena & Harvey Tolibao
War of Kings: Ascension is an entertaining, yet flawed comic. Abnett and Lanning do an excellent job of filling us in on who these two characters are and try their best to make us care about them or their mission, but they never really reach their goal.
If I had to pick the biggest flaw of the issue, it is that I still don't have a clue what the miniseries is about, who or what the Fraternity of Raptors are (or if they actually exist), why they're in the Negative Zone or even why they bothered to tell this story, the latter of which is one of my bigger pet peeves. If a book can't even justify its own existence through the actions of the characters, either progressing an event or story or by giving new insight or growth to a character, I end up feeling disappointed with the purchase.
That said, this issue wasn't a complete waste either. Most of it was dedicated to bringing people up to speed on the recent Darkhawk miniseries, answering basic questions like who Darkhawk is and what's he doing with this new Talon character off in the Negative Zone. Of note was the "origin" of Talon, which amounted to showing a Skrull survivor of Black Bolt's attack from the Secret Invasion: War of Kings one-shot floating in space and coming across the blue Darkhawk gem that Talon has on his chest.
When not recounting who people were, the issue revolved around Talon "teaching" Darkhawk how to use his powers. This involved fighting back against Annihilus' remaining forces stationed in the Negative Zone, which brought the two to one of Annihilus' lieutenant's, Catastrophus, base of operations. It was shown that Catastrophus somehow had Annihilus' Cosmic Control Rod and Talon wanted Darkhawk to help him liberate it, which I assumed would be the core plot of this first issue or miniseries.
However, after entering Catastrophus' base, Talon quickly abandoned Darkhawk in an attempt to make him call on higher functions of his Darkhawk armour and further bond with it. After bonding with it, Darkhawk saw the truth from the suit's databases that the Fraternity of Raptors were actually the badguys, responsibe for kidnappings and murders throughout the ages, and Talon revealed his true colours by somehow banishing Darkhawk's mind from the armour, replacing it with someone called Razer.
What's interesting about this final reveal requires a little knowledge of Darkhawk, which we weren't given. Previously, it was revealed that his body physically swapped locations with the armour and he controlled it remotely from what I believe is the null space they reference here. It could be just that Darkhawk's mind has been shunted off into null space along with his human body and that this Razer persona actually existed there previously. Also, it looks like the Skrull that was inhabiting the Talon armour was more than likely taken over in much the same way as Darkhawk was when Razer replaced him here. The only question remaining at the end of the issue is if Razer and Talon will remain in control for the duration or if it'll end up being some form of cliched mental battle for control of the Darkhawk persona over the course of this mini.
Verdict - Check It. I wasn't blown away by it, but I'm willing to give Abnett and Lanning the benefit of the doubt here. Talon revealed as a bad guy was fairly predictable, but I'm curious enough about the Darkhawk / Razer dichotomy to stick with this miniseries.
WOLVERINE: WEAPON X #1
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Ron Garney
With Wolverine appearing in roughly 32 different comics every month and already having two solo titles and a couple of team books to his name, you might be wondering just what reason could there be to justify the existence of yet another Wolverine book. Well, I have two very good reasons - Jason Aaron and Ron Garney.
Aaron and Garney were made for a Wolverine boook and both manage to channel everything I loved about their first run on Wolverine together in Get Mystique with this first issue of Wolverine: Weapon X. If you're upset with the Daniel Way written, nonsensical Origins or tired of ridiculous 'Wolverine is a werewolf' or whatever nonsense Loeb came up with from his other title and are just looking for a book that combines everything that makes Wolverine a good character (or gives you a reason to think he's actually a good character if you hate his over exposed, under written nature) into one spot.
The basic premise of this opening arc is that the data from the Weapon X program has filtered out into the world and a corporation has now acquired it and started putting together its own team of modified soldiers. Logan is having none of that and sets out to put an end to it.
It's a fairly simple plot, but it works. Aaron simply gets Wolverine as a character and knows how to maneuver him from scene to scene. My only complaint about the issue is that Aaron probably spends too much time lavishing in the smaller, more violent scenes, such as the opening section of the book.
The best part of this new series, though, is that it is not bogged down in everything else going on. It doesn't worry about Romulus or lycans or what's going on in X-Force or any other random title Wolverine is invovled with currently. Anyone can just pick up the book, see Wolverine doing what he does best with some great art and writing to back it up, put the book down when they're finished and say, "that was awesome". That's not to say these stories don't matter either, but there's definitely a freedom about the writing in this that is unrestricted by the more continuity heavy titles currently featuring him and it's definitely fitting for a first issue of a new title.
Verdict - Must Read. It's not the greatest issue or even the best this week, but it's great fun and Aaron's writing, combined with Garney's pencils, make you understand why Wolverine, as a character, has been so popular over the years. These two simply get the character and what makes him tick and I can't wait to read more from them both.