Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza
(p) Ale Garza
“The Origin of Wonder Girl” has been my favorite arc of Teen Titans so far, mostly because it’s the first story to actually resemble a ‘putting the team together’ aesthetic. While this should have happened in the first…you know…arc…it didn’t because it was constantly being overshadowed by N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and the perceived deep integration with Superboy. Now, readers are finally getting some back story on the members of the Teen Titans, starting with Wonder Girl and the Silent Armor.
Last month, I explained how much I enjoyed Fabian Nicieza’s writing for Teen Titans #13 and that if things kept going the way they were, TT could really grow into one of DC’s best series. And while last issue took two steps forward, TT#14 takes one step back by moving Nicieza from sole scripting duties to being a co-writer with Scott Lobdell. It’s a little frustrating to see Lobdell’s spin on an arc that I’ve loved up to this point. Thankfully, it seems Nicieza put the nix on frequent thought balloons and stiff inner dialogue, though, so it’s not nearly as painful to read as some of Lobdell’s earlier issues.
A large chunk of Teen Titans #14 is focused on the team members themselves, which is a far cry from Lobdell’s plot-only writing style. Solstice gets a visit from a mysterious phantom-esque character named Lance who claims to be able to alter metagenes and help Kiran regain her human appearance. I found myself wondering if this was Kurt Lance from Team 7, then a small editors note mentioned I should check out Birds of Prey for some insight into Lance’s identity. Meanwhile, Red Robin and Superboy have to accept that Wonder Girl is going to live with the Silent Armor, something that casts a pall across the three of them, while the rest of the team jokes about their sour attitudes.
The final pages of the issue lead directly into next month’s “Death of the Family” tie-in issue. Teen Titans is slowly, but surely, getting better. N.O.W.H.E.R.E., Harvest, and “The Culling” were all meant to be factors that would add to the Teen Titans mythology and lend meaning to the creation of the team. Instead, Lobdell botched the entire storyline early on, never fixed it, and now has to dig his way up toward a better book. It’s working, but each month I find myself worrying that the title will dip back to it’s former platitudes.
(p) Graham Nolan and Vitor Drujiniu
Often, comic book writers will waste little time in moving from one story arc to the next. One of the best examples of this phenomenon was Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Ultimate Spider-Man, a series that saw a young Peter Parker battling one foe after the other for quite some time. Eventually, Bendis started to add side stories and smaller arcs, but for the most part, his structure of constant action stayed true. Jeff Lemire, on the other hand, seems to be taking the opposite approach to Justice League Dark, a series that he pulled up from being a rather weak ‘New 52’ title to being one of the best. Justice League Dark #14 is the interlude between the recently-completed “War for the Books of Magic” and the upcoming “The Death of Magic” that will find the JLD searching for Zatanna and Tim Hunter, as well as weathering a war between the Trinity of Sin….Trinity War, anybody?
Justice League Dark #14 is split into two narratives that each contain vital information going forward for the team and the series, et al. First, we focus on John Constantine, Deadman, and Steve Trevor as they attempt to understand how the Books of Magic aren’t magic-based at all. Meanwhile, Black Orchid has convinced both Amethyst and Frankenstein to explore the House of Mystery with her. The narrative of JLD#14 isn’t particularly amazing or outstanding, but it conveys what’s happening and for an issue that’s supposed to bridge to story arcs, that’s all it really needs to do. Yes, we do get some character development — Constantine’s anger at the prospect of not having Zatanna back for a long, long time — but that’s not the point of “Enter the House of Mystery”.
Rather, for Constantine, Deadman, and Trevor, the point is finding two missing people, while the reason for Black Orchid, Frankenstein, and Amethyst’s journey comes to a head near the end of the issue when Orchid finds a room filled with personal and private information about many of the world’s operating super-people. This is probably the best sequence of the issue, as Black Orchid scans over Constantine’s notes about the Justice League, Stormwatch, and various other heroes, revealing some information we already knew (“The Rot is Rising” and “New GL: Terrorist or worse?”) along with a lot we didn’t know (“Frankenstein: Connection to the Rot? Possible ‘cure’ for it?”, “Cyborg: Red Room!”, and “Adam One: Is he the Big M?”).
Overall, Justice League Dark #14 is a bridge issue that suffers only because it’s the starting point for a lot of plot going forward, meaning it’s an issue filled with questions with positively no answers. And even then, there’s something exciting about being given a whole load of new mysteries to ponder as we wait for the next issue. Jeff Lemire is writing one hell of a series and I’ll be sad to see him leave once he takes on Green Arrow in a few months.
(p) John Cassaday
Well it’s been long enough! Eight weeks after it’s debut, Uncanny Avengers is back with it’s second issue, and this one’s a doozie. Rick Remender and John Cassaday aren’t making any compromises with this series, as evidenced by the repeated delays for this issue so Cassaday could make sure the art was up to his high standards. Uncanny Avengers #2 is split into three ‘acts’ to better convey the large amount of new information being presented. And while this format can feel a tad disjointed from time to time, it all goes toward Remender’s bigger picture.
First up are Captain America, Wolverine, and Thor helping with the relief effort in Manhattan after the devastating attack by Avalanche in the first issue. While Avalanche’s attack wasn’t even close to being the real focal point of UA #1, the ramifications of a mutant attack resulting in hundreds of dead humans are terrifying. Basically, ‘Act I’ sets the stage for why Uncanny Avengers have come together — now that Charles Xavier is dead, it seems that his dream of peaceful co-habitation between humans and mutants is slowly dying as well. It’s a poignant scene that shows two sides of a desperate situation. Captain America sees this as crucial time frame for the human race to establish a better relationship with the mutant community. For Wolverine, Steve Rogers’ “mutant community” doesn’t exist and having Havok — a mutant and brother to international criminal Cyclops — lead an Avengers response to mutant attacks is a terrible idea. Both perspectives have their merits, but a small, two-panel sequence between a thankful man and Havok himself is enough to prove the Uncanny Avengers are needed now more than ever.
The second part of the issue focuses on Rogue and the Scarlet Witch being held prisoner by the maniacal Red Skull, while ‘Act III’ brings these two ladies together to close out the issue. While Red Skull did appear at the very end of Uncanny Avengers #1, there wasn’t much information regarding his motives or master plan. Here, we get a much more fleshed out Red Skull who explains himself without sounding like he’s lecturing 150 bored college freshmen in a beginner’s biology class. It’s simple, really. Red Skull had his consciousness preserved and downloaded into a cloned body — circa 1942 — so he could reawaken 70 years later when “the world had forgotten me and my perceived atrocities.” Now, seeing the state of the world with mutants running around, Red Skull has taken the Nazi idealism of purity and strength and applied it to humanity at large which means “mutants are the ultimate invading foreigners.” I’m actually surprised no one has ever taken this direction with the Red Skull, but that’s kind of what ‘Marvel NOW!’ is all about, right? Before, most of the dealings of the Avengers stayed relatively separate from the world of the X-Men. But now, classic Avengers villains are getting in on X-Men territory, and the results are bone-chillingly awesome.
In the end, Uncanny Avengers #2 is a more compelling issue than the first, and that’s extremely hard to do in the modern comic landscape. Red Skull has always been a rather menacing character, but it’s usually at arms length — he’s generally reserved for flashback issues or as a totem for other villains. Fortunately, Rick Remender takes Red Skull to frightening new heights, making him not only one of the most formidable villains in years, but also one of the most powerful in the Marvel Universe. The team itself is slow to actually getting together, but that’s what an opening arc is all about, right?
(p) Mike Allred
Basically, FF is the spiritual successor to Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Statix. So, if you’re a fan of meta-humor and satire, you’re going to love Matt Fraction’s quirky, off-handed take on the Future Foundation. As we learned a few weeks ago in Fantastic Four #1, Marvel’s First Family is taking a pan-dimensional vacation that will take them away from Earth (and our space-time continuum) for a year, though it will only really be about four minutes of real time. And, as Reed Richards says, the Fantastic Four “do[es] not leave the Earth unprotected,” so they decide to recruit temporary replacements. And thus, FF #1 is all about preparation — the Fantastic Four getting ready for their trip, the replacement heroes being briefed on their responsibilities, and the audience getting a first-person account of the Future Foundation and it’s members as an effective jumping-on point for new readers.
FF #1 is not a comic book that will WOW and AMAZE most. Though it’s quirky in setting, the story of the Fantastic Four finding their replacements is subtle and given depth by emotional ramifications. Scott Lang, the recently resurrected former Ant-Man, is the first to be scouted by Reed. Fraction doesn’t beat around the bush concerning the reason Lang was chosen to be the temporary head of the Future Foundation — he’s a father who lost his daughter and could probably use some direction. Scott sees it as somewhat presumptuous after the death of Cassie at the hands of Doctor Doom. “I don’t want anything to do with those kids Reed!” Scott explains to Reed in a rather kurt manner. “You need to respect that and open that door and let me go home!” For Scott, the pain is too fresh and being asked to be take responsibility for an whole group of kids is like a big slap in the face. Fraction does an amazing job conveying the intense conversation between the two men, and Mike Allred’s phenomenal artwork only helps to push the point across — when Scott is in utter anguish, the entire panel shifts perspective.
Of course, this series wouldn’t last long if the main character wasn’t on board, so Reed comes clean and admits that he chose Scott because it would be good for him. Ant-Man definitely hasn’t been seen much since Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, wherein Cassie Lang was murdered, so it’s not a far stretch to assume he’s been wasting away in grief and self-pity for a few months. Reed sees this and thinks being around kids will not only help Scott, but it will provide the members of the Future Foundation with a new role model and paternal figure. It’s a win-win situation in Reed’s mind.
Fraction and Allred have struck some gold with this series. Fraction’s relatable, grounded writing coupled with Allred’s signature art style is a match made in heaven and this first issue is the evidence. There’s a lot to love about FF #1, but unfortunately, a lot of that comes from knowing who these characters are and what’s happened to them. Fraction does an apt job covering his bases when it comes to integral backstory, but it’s still FF, which is named after the Future Foundation, which is an offshoot of the Fantastic Four, who wont actually be in the series at all in an issue or two — it’s a bit wonky. Other than that, FF #1 is a fantastic issue that has left me wanting more…now…seriously.
Iron Man #2
(p) Greg Land
I’m a bit less enamored with Iron Man #2 as I was with Kieron Gillen’s first issue, which looked at Tony Stark under a harsher light of reality and set up a potentially expansive storyline. Unfortunately, Gillen falters a bit this time with his overblown Arthurian references that had little to do with what was actually going on and proved more of a hindrance to the story. This new Extremis storyline, again, has the potential to take Iron Man to awesome new places as a character, but unless Gillen turns it back to the philosophical edge it had in the first issue, Iron Man is going to suffer. I’m hopeful, though, because Gillen has a history of building stories up to immense proportions.
(p) Mahmud Asrar
I was severely disappointed in last week’s Superboy #14 for providing literally no back story for the currently happening “H’el on Earth” crossover, though Mike Johnson’s second solo issue, Supergirl #14, adds a lot of exposition to a situation that was getting frustratingly thin. H’el seems to be a loyalist to the House of El of which Superman and Supergirl are members, though he believes that Earth is a hindrance to going back in time and saving Krypton from it’s demise. It’s a bit convoluted, but that’s alright at this point in the story — giving readers bits and pieces of the overall narrative works well as Johnson reveals H’el to be the creep he appears to be with the added twist of being surprisingly eloquent and empathetic. The other big bit of information involves Superboy himself, as H’el has deemed Kon an abomination worthy only of a swift death, something which Supergirl sympathizes, but can’t help but feel is wrong.
Wonder Woman #14
(p) Tony Akins
There’s a lot going on in Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman, and I’m loving ever minute of it — Wonder Woman is trying to convince her psychotic half-sister, Siracca, to become an ally in the fight against Apollo and Hermes, the children of Zeus are still bickering about how they should proceed in their era of rule, and the Big Bad Dad has managed to make it out of his 7,000 year-long purgatory. Azzarello obviously has big plans for Diana, and this issue feels like an organic shift into a new era for Wonder Woman that’s obviously going to include the gods of New Genesis weighing in on the current situation concerning Mt. Olympus. Wonder Woman #14 cements this series not only as one of the best ‘New 52’ titles published each month, but it also shows how much love Azzarello has for the characters he’s responsible for. Wonder Woman, as a character, has gone through a lot of controversy over the years in regards to the quality of her stories, the general mythology that surrounds the Amazonians, and her place as DC’s biggest female character, so it’s nice to see Azzarello really taking her seriously and turning Wonder Woman into one of DC’s most critically lauded series.
(p) Aaron Kuder
What a waste of an issue.
Tony Bedard’s plans for Green Lantern: New Guardians in this “Rise of the Third Army” crossover have, thus far, left this critic sorely disappointed. Kyle Rayner is on a quest to master all the colors of the emotional spectrum. It’s been a short voyage, one in which Bedard has been heavily compressing into one color per issue, and the result is a deeply fractured and undefined arc that doesn’t really force Kyle to grow as a character even though that’s what he’s doing month to month.
Green Lantern: New Guardians #14 features Arkillo as the last representative of the Sinestro Corps, the last being with a yellow power ring in all the universe. And he can’t get it to work. I know Arkillo’s inner demons have been a focus of Bedard’s story for quite some time now, but it’s beginning to be a drag on the overall narrative process — it’s pretty annoying when Bedard forces a sequence about Arkillo just to show how pathetic the Yellow Lantern has become.
This issue, as well as all the issues dealing with Kyle’s journey, have felt extremely rushed. Kyle mastered compassion seemingly before we even meet back up with him at the beginning of the issue, and finding his fear felt like it took no time at all, with absolutely no help from Arkillo. No, it is Kyle’s ring that tells him he’s got to give in and just accept the less desirable emotions as part of the spectrum and part of his journey, no matter what. Then, he’s a Yellow Lantern! What? What’s Kyle scared of? Sure, he gives some examples, but he’s always been concerned and afraid of these things, so they can’t really count if Bedard is talking about feeling more fear in order to break past Kyle’s natural GL training and turn him into a Yellow Lantern.
Tony Bedard is losing his grip on Green Lantern: New Guardians issue by issue. Maybe he’s putting more effort into his other series, but Kyle Rayner and his Rainbow Brigade have suffered for it exponentially. Each month now, I feel like the series is getting worse, and that’s upsetting. Kyle Rayner has always been my favorite Green Lantern. I’ve come to accept that fans and editors alike don’t seem to want Kyle in the spotlight, but to reduce him to some confused epic hero who’s journey isn’t all that hard is just depressing.