(COMIC) SUPERMAN #10

STORY: Dan Jurgens
ART: Dan Jurgens and Jesus Marino

Creating a cohesive, meaningful comic book universe isn’t always glamorous. Sure, DC and Marvel would have you believe that these superheroes literally spend 24/7 fending off aliens, mad scientists, or other world-conquering threats. And these days, it wouldn’t be a far reach to say that these heroes really are burning at both ends of the candle. But to really make a narrative world that readers can relate to and want to read about, un-amazing things must happen as well. Dan Jurgens understands the this basic ideal and works to make sure his stories are grounded in some sort of reality. Superman #10 finishes up the fight between Superman and Anguish while having that narrative intersect with Lois and Jimmy’s attempt to debunk the claim that Spence Becker is Superman’s alter-ego near the end.

Last month, I was sorely disappointed with Anguish as a Superman villain. She seemed, for lack of better words, weak. Her only characterization was her ability to shift the density of her own mass when necessary. It’s a cool ability, but Anguish didn’t have much else going on for her until this month. We come to find out that this woman is only really after a locket, nothing more. She’s made a mess out of buildings and cars nearby, but that seems more like a cry for help than a criminal mastermind executing a robbery. And while Jurgens usually does a great job telling stories without telling stories, he makes Anguish explain her own powers simply for the sake of describing them, which is a bit narrative “no no” for me. Then, we get a big expository dump about Anguish’s stepfather and how horrible he was. Yes, it’s less exciting than, say, a battle with Helspont, but using a minor, fairly low-powered character is a good thing: if ‘epic’ was the standard, all these heroes would be dead from exhaustion by 30. We need characters like Anguish to flesh out rogue galleries and give these heroes something to do when magic is going crazy or owls aren’t infesting cities.

Lois and Jimmy’s task involves proving that Spence Becker is not Superman. Last month, paranoid blogger Victor Barnes went on national television to claim he knew the true identity of the Man of Steel. As the fight between Superman and Anguish winds down, Anguish hears about the ‘true identity’ of Superman and takes off for the suburbs to kill (or at least hurt badly) the Becker family. Obviously, Supes shows up and saves the day, but Anguish escapes at the end, pointing to a future for the character, something writers of the ‘New 52’ haven’t been thinking about a whole lot as a lot of initial villains are getting taken out of the game pretty early.

Superman may not be the flashiest series, or the most interesting book in DC’s ‘New 52’ lineup, but it serves a greater purpose. While titles like Aquaman and Batman are creating major villains and story elements that will resonate for years, Jurgens is making sure Superman won’t burn out; there will always be someone for Big Boy Blue to fight, they just might not be cosmic-level threats every month.

GRADE
B-
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(COMIC) JUSTICE LEAGUE #10

STORY: Geoff Johns
ART: Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Mark Irwin, and Jonathan Glapion

We’re starting to get a little more of the bigger picture of the second major arc of Justice League. “The Villain’s Journey” continues this month with some revelations concerning the League’s outside lives and the origin of Graves.

A good portion of this month’s issue is dedicated to giving readers a bit more insight into the lives of each League member and who knows what about who. Like a what’s what of how their personal lives affect them professionally. Graves has been torturing and interrogating villains associated with each League member, learning more and more about them each time. Cyborg is forced to explain to Hal Jordan (who is still consistently thick-headed in Justice League) that the more Graves knows about them, the more he can exploit their weaknesses: Barry’s police-influenced desire to work within the boundaries of the law, Wonder Woman’s secret rendezvous to a Native American reserve, and that Batman doesn’t trust anyone on the team. These little call-outs from Cyborg not only add bricks to the ‘New 52’ universe, but they also give readers connections between books (Barry Allen is dating Patty Spivot in The Flash, and this relationship is mentioned during the briefing.) The notion that Batman doesn’t trust anyone also brings about the revelation that the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel work together outside of the League, something that hasn’t been seen or mentioned up until now.


More so than ever before, Justice League is beginning to feel like a launching point for much of what happens throughout the DC universe now. Steve Trevor’s consistent presence, Green Arrow’s recruitment to some “other team”, the Martian Manhunter’s apparent sort stint as a member, and the use of Apokolyptian boom tubes as means of teleporting all show potential to affect more than just the adventures of the Justice League. These are the story elements that will have long-term results, possibly years down the road.

By the end of their discussion, the question of trust has been raised between all of them – how can they trust one another while some know more about each other than others? In days long past, the League was a simpler entity that rarely asked questions of this nature, simply because the readership demanded nothing more than superheroes beating up super villains. Today, it’s important that a more realistic base be set for the characters we read about. Mistrust amongst a group of demi-gods who don’t know each others’ names is a very likely scenario.


Graves shows up on the Watchtower at the end of the issue to lay the smack down on the League. From the opening vignette, we gather that David Graves got his powers from some disgraced gods in Pamir Mountains. The closing pages tell us that these powers can somehow be used to harbor other souls and/or life-forces through emotional manipulation. With little more than a mention of her beloved Steve, Wonder Woman attacks Graves and quickly goes down, the life drained out of her both spiritually and physically as he body begins to wither. Soon, the entire League is down and Graves is in control of the Watchtower. A fantastic cliffhanger if I’ve ever read one.


The “Shazam!” back-up actually picks up a little bit this month as Billy sneaks out of the Vasquez’s house late at night. Freddy Freeman follows him to the zoo where Billy is telling a tiger that it’s the only real family he’s got left. Freddy interrupts and before Billy can blow up, Freddy suggests vandalizing the house of the boys who hassle the other foster kids at school each morning. This bit of bonding between Billy and Freddy provides the seeds to Freddy becoming Captain Marvel Jr., or maybe some new incarnation of hero associated with the wizard Shazam.


And speaking of the wizard, Doctor Sivana continues his archaeological dig, now complete with a fancy magic-seeing eye that helps him see the mystical spells placed on the door to a greater prize than any gold or gems. As he utters a single, “Shazam”, Black Adam emerges from the tomb demanding to see the wizard! The final, double-wide pullout pages of The New 52 #1 revealed what looked like Black Adam fighting Vibe, though many posited that it was just the ‘New 52’ version of Captain Marvel, as Billy Batson is much more mean-spirited than his former self. Obviously, Black Adam is here, which spells trouble for our little trouble maker.

GRADE
B

(COMIC) BATMAN INCORPORATED #2

STORY: Grant Morrison
ART: Chris Burnham

After last month’s twisting, turning first issue of Batman Incorporated, Grant Morrison takes a hard left turn and gives us the abridged history of Talia al Ghul and how her dysfunctional family dynamic with her father, Ra’s, and her son, Damian, leads to the forceful coupe of her father’s empire. While the story is well told, and Chris Burnham’s art continues to be one of the best reasons to read this book, Batman Incorporated #2 feels like Batman and Robin 1.5 instead of a series about Batman’s international operatives, who never show up in this issue at all.

Knowing Grant Morrison, Talia’s reinvention as the Gorgon (I assume) makes sense after a history lesson about Talia’s childhood living with Ra’s al Ghul, a life filled with sadness, terror, disappointment, and secrets. Morrison shows us how Talia never felt complete without a mother, leading to uncomfortable confrontations with her father throughout her young life, a time period reflected in Bruce and Damian’s relationship, trading the super-villain-ness with hero stuffs. Batman himself only appears in a few panels, and only in flashbacks to demonstrate Talia’s continued presence in the Dark Knight’s life and how Ra’s influenced the entire relationship.


As a competent Batman story incorporating multiple elements from the Caped Crusader’s past, Batman Incorporated is doing a fantastic job building up to a greater goal, but as a title aimed at making comic books easier to pick up for new readers, it fails. Giving character history isn’t a crime, but doing so in the second issue of an already complex series isn’t the right way to go about it. Granted, this issue as a history lesson does give readers some context as to who exactly Damian Wayne is, but I really feel like changing the tone and focus of the series so soon after beginning the series will throw new readers off before they’re willing to take the time to commit a rather obscure character’s history to their comic knowledge.

GRADE
C

(COMIC) AQUAMAN #10

STORY: Geoff Johns
ART: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Andy Lanning

Last month, the big reveal was that Aquaman killed Black Manta’s father when Arthur’s father had a heart attack shortly after Manta attacked them. It was a major twist in the Aquaman/Black Manta history, and one that changes their core relationship. Pride is something neither man is in short supply of, which means their feud is everlasting and intensely personal.

Aquaman #10 begins with The Operative trying to figure out how Black Manta knew where to find the other members of The Others. After infiltrating Manta’s headquarters, the Operative is revealed to be a fairly old man who works out of a giant military plane with his son who thinks his father needs to get out of the game before he gets himself killed. Geoff Johns has included a lot of diversity in Aquaman thus far (Shin, Manta, Ya’wara, etc.) and takes it one step further by including an old person. I hesitate to say ‘elderly’ because that sounds a bit more fraile, which the Operative definitely is not.

The rest of the issue features Shin’s recounting of the events surrounding Arthur and Manta’s feud to Mera, which also acts as the narration to the confrontation between the Others and Black Manta. Johns expertly weaves Shin’s tale into the scenes of Aquaman against Black Manta, moving between flashbacks and the present with a flow not unlike that seen in Green Lantern: Rebirth. Arthur’s rage is real, yet Ivan Reis’ artwork vividly conveys the obvious doubt Arthur has about the situation, however minute that feeling may be. When Aquaman rages out at Ya’wara about killing Black Manta, you can see the anger in Arthur’s eyes. The thing is, Arthur didn’t even mean to kill Manta’s father. Arthur goes after Black Manta, whom he believes to be alone on a fishing boat, and accidentally kills Manta’s father while Manta is diving.


Instead of a conflict of pure vengeance and rage, the relationship between Aquaman and Black Manta in the ‘New 52’ is based on deep-seeded emotional issues and the transfer of blame tied to the death of their respective fathers. Family stands as a core element of Aquaman, and Johns’ reimagining of the Aquaman/Black Manta feud is astonishingly good, especially when coupled with Arthur’s past secrets being unearthed one person at a time.

GRADE
A

(COMIC) JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #10

STORY: Jeff Lemire
ART: Mikel Janin

After a stellar reboot of the team in Justice League Dark #9, Jeff Lemire hits the brakes hard this month and brings readers an issue mostly full of technical details. The team has a new objective, which means they need to regroup and figure out a plan of action. Steve Trevor originally asked John Constantine to retrieve the map to the Books of Magic, but after discussing the Books’ power, the team rethinks handing over the source of all magic power to the US government. But where to go that’s hidden and safe? The House of Mystery, of course.

Constantine leads the group to the House of Mystery, which is situated at the crossroads of the mystical multiverse, to go off the grid while they figure out how to keep the location of the Books safe. A fun side story involves Deadman possessing Black Orchid, since Orchid’s only involvement with the group is via Steve Trevor, the man they’re now trying to avoid. Doctor Mist objects on the grounds that he too is an A.R.G.U.S. agent and a subordinate of Trevor, but he understands the importance of their new mission, and he’s sure Black Orchid will understand as well. Mist doesn’t have much of a personality beyond ‘mysterious new character’, but it’s still nice to see an old school character coming out of the woodwork.


Andrew Bennett leaves, but Constantine uses this exit to explain that by accepting his initial invitation into the House of Mystery – which he “owns” – every member of the team is now bound to the House and can be recalled to it whenever Constantine desires. Zatanna’s anger is exacerbated by the fact that the members of the team would have entered anyway, that deception wasn’t necessary. I’m a little worried that John Constantine is turning into a big douchebag. It’s one thing to be an asshole – apparently, people accept that some people just live their lives negatively. But it’s a whole other matter when Constantine starts blackmailing and taking advantage of his own teammates. I understand the desire to make old Johnny a badass – he’s a character that’s always been reliable in that role. It makes no sense, however, to use him as the universal scapegoat for heroism wrapped in deceptive means. Basically, Constantine shouldn’t always be the total anti-hero.


Madame Xanadu pops up to have another vision then whine about how no one listens to her. Xanadu really isn’t that interesting in Justice League Dark. It seems in the centuries separating her current person from her younger self – in the pages of Demon Knights – have turned her into something of a lump on a log with premonitions of the future. It’s unfortunate for characters who see into the future, but they rarely get developed beyond they gift of foresight. This is Xanadu’s problem as a narrative character: she’s solely based on her visions of apocalyptic futures.


The segue into the next issue begins when the team attempts to open the map to the Books of Magic, tripping a mystical lock on the map set by Felix Faust! Soon, the team is attacked by the Demons Three who are indentured slaves under Faust’s command. The demons attack quickly before teleporting into an A.R.G.U.S. facility where Steve Trevor is interrogating Faust. This ‘ah-ha’ moment comes when the team realizes that Faust wanted to be in A.R.G.U.S. so his demons could help him break into the Black Room, the warehouse filled with all the mystical artifacts collected by the US government over the years.

GRADE
B+

(COMIC) TEEN TITANS #10

STORY: Scott Lobdell
ART: Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund

And just like that, Scott Lobdell is getting it right! This month’s Superboy acted as part one of “The Mysterious Mystery of Mystery Island”, and Teen Titans #10 brings us the other half of the post-“Culling” aftermath with Red Robin, Kid Flash, Solstice, and Bunker.

Since Lobdell used the first nine months of the ‘New 52’ to tell his sprawling, epically nonsensical arc about N.O.W.H.E.R.E., it makes sense to break this “cool down” into two parts, allowing for each character to get a bit more panel time as a result. While the writing isn’t as personal as the scenes between Superboy and Wonder Girl, Lobdell still manages to give each character a lot more depth. For one, Kid Flash and Solstice have a thing. I’m sure Lobdell would argue that he planted the seeds for this relationship throughout the N.O.W.H.E.R.E. N.O.N.S.E.N.S.E., but he really didn’t. Either way, the scene doesn’t come off as forced or pandering – these kids actually seem like they enjoy each other’s company.

About seven pages in, we meet up with Superboy and Wonder Girl at the point where Superboy #10 ended, bringing them to the ‘other side’ of the island, which meant it literally flipped over. With the team reassembled, Kon-El and Cassie discuss telling the others about the crazy flipped island thingy they discovered, but ultimately decide to not say anything based on the fact that no one knows what it means, so why cause more anxiety. After that, the island’s nature isn’t touched on again. This would be one of my only criticisms of this issue – Lobdell totally drops the island story in favor of one-on-one character dialogues. Honestly, the character development is much better anyway (and very much needed), so it’s not even that big of a deal. It’s mostly annoying on principle.


Tim Drake has a major crisis of conscience this month as he fails to see his succes beyond the failures that that came with it. Artemis was murdered (still confused as to why such a minor character made such a big impact), Danny the Street was destroyed, and Skitter is still missing. Tim feels like he didn’t do enough, and decides to disband the Titans while chatting with Bunker. It’s a childish decision – one based on fear – and Bunker stops Tim to knock some sense into him. Like many other heroes before him, Tim gets the ‘responsibility’ from Bunker about being a leader, taking initiative, making the tough decisions, and pressing on even when the going gets tough.


This, of course, leads us into the most awkward one-on-one of the issue between Superboy and Red Robin where Kon-El asks Tim exactly why he came to rescue him in the first place. Like a pretentious middle-aged accountant talking to a child, Tim tells Superboy to wait six months and learn before asking that question again. I’m sure Lobdell didn’t intend for Tim to come worse than Bono, but it feels that way. Poor Kon-El – clones are sooooooo dumb, right?


I began reading this issue groaning each time N.O.W.H.E.R.E. or the Culling was mentioned. I wasn’t a fan of that storyline, and at first, it felt like Lobdell basically doesn’t have any other ideas, so he’s forced to keep reminding us about this big thing that happened in order to fill speech bubble space. After a while, though, I realized that this is Lobdell’s transition period – soon, new enemies will show up (like Amanda Waller – all around bad-ass) and the convoluted tale of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. can be relegated to the “early mistakes” pile.

GRADE
B

(COMIC) GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS #10

STORY: Tony Bedard
ART: Tyler Kirkham and Batt

I find myself finally admitting it to myself: Green Lantern: New Guardians is the best GL book in DC’s ‘New 52’. Hal Jordan and Sinestro’s troubles in Green Lantern are getting long in the tooth, and Green Lantern Corps is similarly going nowhere pretty slowly. Kyle Rayner, on the other hand, has had run-ins with an intergalactic angel, Blue Beetle in New York City, and now the Reach as they invade planet Odym, homeworld of the Blue Lantern Corps. Last month’s beginning saw one of the Blue Lanterns lose hope, falling to his death out of sheer despair.


Tont Bedard has done a fantastic job handling all the characters in the pages of Green Lantern: New Guardians. Not only does he have to juggle the seven members of the Rainbow Brigade (Kyle, Arkillo, Fatality, Munk, Glomulus, Bleez, and Saint Walker), but this issue throws in most of the Blue Lantern Corps, the various Reach soliders (some of which were featured in the pages of Blue Beetle), and now the Qwardian Weaponer. 


DC kind of misled readers a bit in their preview blurb about the issue stating that the ‘New Guardians reunite to save Odym!’ In fact, Bleez, Glomulus, and Munk are all absent. Bleez is dealing with her own drama in the pages of Red Lanterns, Glomulus was disintegrated in Blue Beetle #9, and Munk is standing with his tribe in Green Lantern. So, it’s a ‘reunion’ of Kyle, Arkillo, Fatality, and Saint Walker, which ain’t so bad – besides Arkillo, the other three are considered the “good” Lanterns of the New Guardians. Other than this misdirect, the issue is quite enjoyable.


The Reach has basically already won as this issue opens. Kyle Rayner sees that Odym is already halfway cocooned and tries to reason with Saint Walker to not sacrifice his Blue Lanterns to a lost cause. Of course, the Blue Lanterns of Hope don’t really understand the meaning of “lost cause”, and they show it by uniting their rings into a single wave that they use to free the Reach soldiers from the scarabs fused to their spines. Many of the Reach begin to see the horrors they’ve unleashed, while others resist and continue fighting.


I’m a little worried about the direction Bedard is taking Green Lantern: New Guardians. The invasion of planet Odym feels like it should have warranted something like four or five issues, but alas, Bedard only gives it two. And while NG is definitely the best Green Lantern title currently running, it still feels broken and fragmented – not necessarily within individual issues, but in the overall narrative flow and how each story segues into another. It rarely feels natural and often happens suddenly, without much explanation until much, much later.


By the end, Saint Walker recognizes the source of all the New Guardians’ troubles; the person who led the Reach to Odym, a world that’s virtually undetectable; the one whose actions have ripple awful consequences for the entire universe: Larfleeze. Agent Orange went from being a monster to comic relief, and now – it seems – criminal mastermind, manipulating those around him to get what he wants.

GRADE
B