REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE #15

(w) Geoff Johns
(p) Ivan Reis
(i) Joe Prado

I’m torn in my feelings about “Throne of Atlantis”.

I really want to like the story, and I very much want to understand how this is a bold, new direction for both Aquaman and Justice League. This week saw the release of the first two parts of “Throne of Atlantis” within Aquaman #15 and Justice League #15 respectively. Since Geoff Johns is writing both titles, he’s not limited to cooperating with other writers to convey a singular tale. Instead, this is more like Johns featuring Johns–the characters feel fluid throughout the narrative because they’re being written the same way each time, and the story itself is strong because the whole thing is Johns’ brainchild. While this situation should have birthed some amazingly epic crossover, the whole idea kind of falls flat. We’ve seen Atlantis rise up before, and it’s kind of starting to get old. I know this is the first time it’s happened in the ‘New 52’, and for that reason, I’m willing to give Johns the benefit of the doubt when it comes to world-building (seeing as he’s DC’s Chief Creative Officer). And that’s why I’m torn over this crossover as a whole: Johns is doing the best he can to make a rather dated idea more appropriate for the modern age, and while it’s there are some general missteps made, there’s also a lot to like in these pages.

Let’s look at the missteps first. I’m worried “Throne of Atlantis” is getting dangerously close to Ultimatum territory in terms of needless death and unapologetic detriment to that universe at-large. In fact, the splash page of the tidal wave looming over Metropolis is eerily similar in look, tone, and feel to the wave Magneto sent to destroy New York City. Upon closer analysis, the similarities become even more apparent. Both Magneto and Ocean Master unleash a massive force of nature upon an unsuspecting human population in an effort to drastically alter the status quo. Both villains are purposefully left out of the issue wherein they cause the destruction, mostly as a means of making them more sinister and foreboding. Lastly, both Magneto and Orm lash out because someone or something is manipulating their emotions through death or destruction.

Now for the good. The fact that Geoff Johns has developed this entire crossover means he’s got a lot up his sleeve. There are bound to be plot twists, double-crossings, hidden agendas, and shocking fallouts. Even though the events depicted in Justice League #15 mirror other comic book stories, Johns writers some of the best interpersonal relationships around. For “Throne of Atlantis”, he’s included a number of plot elements that have been building in both Justice League and Aquaman since their respective beginnings. We see Batman and Aquaman putting aside their personal issues with each other and working together to stop some of Scarecrow’s henchmen. The normal, civilan dinner shared by Superman and Wonder Woman gives Diana perspective as to how Clark manages his life outside the League. And Cyborg’s slow-burning narrative with his father continues to spotlight Victor’s isolation and need to feel human.

The good outweighs the bad, in the end. Justice League #15 has some glaring weaknesses in terms of basic premise, but Geoff Johns’ solid character work makes up for it. Additionally, bringing on the stellar Aquaman artistic team of Ivan Reis and Joe Prado was a dynamite choice on DC’s part. While Jim Lee’s pencils are good, I’ve always liked Ivan Reis’ facial expressions and Joe Prado’s depth in shading. I’m excited for “Throne of Atlantis” because I really like stories like this, and I’m confident Johns will do it justice.

GRADE
8/10
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REVIEW: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700

(w) Dan Slott
(a) Humberto Ramos

*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!*


*SERIOUSLY. READ THE ISSUE FIRST!*



“Spider-Man is Doctor Octopus now.”

“What does that mean?”

“Doc Ock switched his mind with Peter Parker’s, Doc Ock’s body was about to shut down, and Peter had no way to escape. Now Peter Parker is dead and Doctor Octopus is running around in Spider-Man’s body.”

“So, Spider-Man’s going to be a villain now?”

“No. Doc Ock’s psychic ‘mind meld’ of sorts with Peter made him truly understand that with great power comes great responsibility. Since he’s Spider-Man now, Doc Ock wants to be a better Spider-Man than Peter ever was.”

“Sounds like Marvel’s kind of running out of ideas.”

This was the conversation I had with a friend of mine who doesn’t read comic books. Yes, when the news was leaked about the big twist of The Amazing Spider-Man #700, I read it. As a journalist (and of course, this is not true for all writers), I find that a ‘big reveal’ in and of itself isn’t the big news–everyone gets the same issue and sees the same twist happen. No, the most interesting part about a big twist in comic books is how much it affects the readers. I told my friend what was happening in The Amazing Spider-Man because whether you read comic books or not, you more than likely know who Spider-Man is and that he has an enemy named Doctor Octopus. Obviously, a non-reader is going to be bored by a plot summary of Siege or Blackest Night. But Spider-Man? It’s a character–and, quite frankly, a franchise–that enough people are familiar with, that a change in the title’s status quo actually gets mainstream media coverage. This doesn’t happen very often, but it’s always for something that changes the way we see classic characters that have been around for 40, 50, or 60 years.

In the case of The Amazing Spider-Man #700, that change comes with the apparent death of Peter Parker. My favorite glossed-over detail is that Brian Michael Bendis did this over a year ago in the Ultimate Marvel Universe. The timing of this is important for a number of reasons. The first is that Marvel very much hyped up Peter Parker’s death in 2011, making a huge spectacle of it by spreading it’s influence across most of the Ultimate comics at the time. The second is that, in a very real way, many Ultimate Spider-Man fans felt a personal connection to the loss of a character they followed for ten years as Marvel established and cultivated a brand new comic book universe. The third is that Bendis had a concrete plan for what was to come after Peter’s death. These reasons, and more, formed one of the most poignant and emotional deaths in Marvel’s history. Dan Slott has been writing The Amazing Spider-Man for a long time, and over the course of his run, he’s built up the relationship between Spidey and Doc Ock to a point where something like a brain switch between the two characters could be more likely than a number of other ways Peter Parker could meet his apparent demise. But this is precisely what makes The Amazing Spider-Man #700 such a failure as a Spider-Man comic book.

Metafiction is great when it’s applied correctly. In the case of NBC’s low-rated yet critically lauded Community, pop culture aficionado Abed Nadir acts as a bridge between our world and the kooky, slightly-warped universe of Greendale Community College. Here, the metafiction makes sense because Abed is obsessed with TV, movies, video games, social media, and pretty much everything else in our modern lives. His obsession contextualizes how often the show brushes up against surreality. 


The concept of Doc Ock as the new Spider-Man is, in and of itself, a huge act of metafiction simply for metafiction’s sake. Spider-Man’s crux, for most of his 50-year history, is that Peter Parker is a wonderful, caring, kind, thoughtful, brave individual that the world population regards with skepticism and distrust. The readers always knew Peter was a true hero, while the rest of the world saw him as a menace. Though, in recent years, being a member of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four (for a short time during Johnny Storm’s death) has done wonders for his reputation, meaning that slowly, the population of the Marvel universe has come to know and believe in New York’s wall-crawler as the hero he’s strived to be since his Uncle Ben was murdered. Now, the tables are literally turned. We the readers know that the menace known as Doctor Octopus is inhabiting Peter’s body, while the Marvel universe at-large still believes it’s business as usual under Spidey’s webbed mask.

As my friend so eloquently put it: Marvel is running out of ideas. Dan Slott, Joe Quesada, and Axel Alonso (along with whoever else at Marvel will talk about it) will go on record more than once to defend this massive change in status quo–Thou dost protest too much, methinks. Fans and critics will identify the ‘comic book cliche’ and insist that this change won’t be permanent. This is just background noise. What does it matter if it’s not permanent? What matters is how this comic book was written, why it was written so, how the issue pays homage/honors the past 50 years of Spider-Man comics, and how it affects readers. In all of these instances, Slott has come up short with The Amazing Spider-Man #700. Instead of feeling like the grandiose, epic issue this should have been, we got Doc Ock running around in Peter Parker’s body, a small cadre of C-list Spidey villains, and a half-hearted attempt to shake things up. 


This brain switch story should have been simply that: a story. In Slott’s hands, the idea grew from what could have easily and interestingly been a good mini-series or run on ASM, to a media stunt designed to sell books without thought to the consequences. And yes, I know that Marvel’s creative types probably had dozens of hours of meetings to discuss this whole situation, and I’m sure they went over it as many times as they could before agreeing it would work. Unfortunately, Stockholm syndrome is not a viable excuse for needlessly and meaninglessly get rid of one of the most popular comic book characters of all time.

All that being said, I’m excited for The Superior Spider-Man. After some frustrating hours after reading The Amazing Spider-Man #700, I eventually came to accept that this is what’s happening–Doc Ock is Spider-Man and that’s not going to change for the foreseeable future. So, in the spirit of diminished expectations, I read Avenging Spider-Man #15.1, an issue that’s almost necessary to see how Otto Octavius truly morphs into a superior Spider-Man. Then I realized that I shouldn’t need to have read Avenging Spider-Man to get the whole story, I shouldn’t be required to purchase yet another book that, arguably, has some of the most important sequences from this sprawling narrative. In the end, it became glaringly apparent that Dan Slott’s The Amazing Spider-Man #700 was a huge letdown. Slott’s literal words aren’t terrible, and the dialogue is usually organic and natural for whatever situation Spidey gets into. It’s the bigger picture that Slott misses, and it’s painfully obvious throughout the entire issue.

The forest is burning and Slott is only focused on one tree at a time.

GRADE
6/10

EXTRA! EXTRA! (DEC 19-25, 2012)

All-New X-Men #4
(Bendis, Immonen)

Brian Michael Bendis’ run on All-New X-Men marches on with the first meeting between 1960s Cyclops and current-day Cyclops, more insight into the paradox of having the original five X-Men in the present day, and some actual NEW X-Men! As anyone could have predicted, Cyclops and Cyclops have a big ol’ eyebeam tug-of-war before Magik teleports the Uncanny X-Men out, but it’s really the aftereffects of this standoff that fills this issue’s emotional quota. The new mutants are Eva Bell and Christopher Muse who can stop time and heal people respectively–introducing new mutants is one of the big advantages of the Phoenix Force repopulating the Marvel universe, and Brian Michael Bendis is making good use of this opportunity. Yet as enjoyable as All-New X-Men has been, I can’t help but feel it lacks a core purpose or idea that drives the series; since the original five X-Men can’t possibly just stay around forever, there’s got to be a bigger picture we’re just not seeing yet.

GRADE: 7.5/10

Indestructible Hulk #2
(Waid, Yu)

Mark Waid is working the same magic with Indestructible Hulk as he is with Matt Murdock over in Daredevil–taking a character that had previously been deeply embroiled with inner demons and dark narratives, then giving said character perspective on themselves and how they affect the world. In Bruce Banner’s case, that means shifting from obsessing over curing his Hulk affliction to becoming the scientific monolith he knows he can be. Bruce also recognizes that holding in his resentment and anger isn’t a good thing, so he confronts a battle-ready Tony Stark–a fellow genius who has never regarded Bruce as a true equal, for obvious reasons–and the two wrestle it out until they gain enough respect for one another to move forward as colleagues. Waid and Lenil Francis Yu are offering up a Hulk that’s completely different from anything we’ve seen before, taking Bruce Banner’s stunning intellect to new heights simply because it’s never really been done before.

GRADE: 8/10

Red Hood and The Outlaws #15
(Lobdell, Green II, Faucher)

Jason Todd is not aware that all of his messed up, terrible early years were a result of the Joker’s cruel intentions to create a new Robin for himself (as seen in Red Hood and The Outlaws #0). In this “Death of the Family” tie-in, Jason finally comes face to face with the man that beat him to death and who Jason now knows was responsible for all the bad things throughout his life. The problem with Red Hood and The Outlaws #15 is that not a whole lot actually happens by the end of the issue–Joker spends his time proving he knows who everyone actually is, Jason spends equal time feeling less and less confident that the Bat-Posse can defeat the Joker this time around, and Roy takes Kori to Gotham to find and help Jason. There’s nothing really inherently wrong with Red Hood and The Outlaws #15, I just felt like there could have been more than just enigmatic clue-hopping and set-up.

GRADE: 7.5/10

REVIEW: FF #2

(w) Matt Fraction
(a) Michael Allred

I’ve read both issues of Matt Fraction and Mike Allred’s FF, and after getting through each, I find myself taking a few moments to reflect on the sheer quality in this series. Fraction and Allred are crafting something extremely special, something that might well be remembered in the same way as Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men in the 1980s, Grant Morrison’s JLA run in the mid-90s, or Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. FF #2 gets the ball rolling by finally bidding farewell to the Fantastic Four and getting the new team into action with one of Marvel’s First Family’s oldest villains, Mole Man.

Much like John Romita Jr. or Lenil Francis Yu, Mike Allred produces artwork you either love or you hate–in my experience, there isn’t much middle ground. I happen to think Allred’s work is fascinating and hearkens back to the 1960s in terms of tone, yet manages to keep a modern style and sensibility. She-Hulk’s eyebrow raise is a testament to Allred’s ability to completely convey an emotion without having to rely on words. Fraction’s laid back, relaxed dialogue fits perfectly with Allred’s art because both are rooted in minimalism.

As predicted, the Fantastic Four end up not returning at the four minute mark as promised. But who didn’t see that coming? So it’s up to Ant-Man and his team to make sure the Earth is safe and the Future Foundation keeps operating. And just like any new job, the replacements are taking a little time to get used to the new office. Scott Lang is forced to explain the meaning of ‘ex-con’ to the students when a rather unflattering article about the temporary Fantastic Four surfaces describing him as unfit to lead the Fantastic Four, let alone run a school. She-Hulk has to figure out a way to keep a wardrobe without destroying all her clothes each time the team gets into a kerfuffle. Medusa doesn’t have servants waiting on her hand and foot like in her kingdom of the Inhumans. And Darla Deering–Johnny Storm’s celebrity girlfriend who possesses no superpowers of her own–simply can’t wrap her head around what’s been asked of her. Somehow, Fraction manages to fit character development for four main characters into a single issue and it’s, quite honestly, brilliant.

The choice to use Mole Man as this issue’s villain carries a lot more weight than it would seem after a first read. Mole Man’s repugnance at the idea of “impostors” calling themselves the Fantastic Four prompts his attack on the Future Foundation, but the encounter really shows how Fraction and Allred are turning the tables on traditional comic book tropes. In almost every subset of mainstream, superhero comics, villains are attached to certain heroes, even if they branch out and come into conflict with other heroes. Joker has terrorized most of the DC universe at one point or another, but he’s a Batman villain through and through. Darkseid threatens Earth as a whole, but he’s designated a Superman baddy, and the actions of the Guardians of the Universe affect the Earth on a daily basis, but they’re rarely seen outside Green Lantern comics. With a new roster of heroes populating the Fantastic Four, traditional villains of Marvel’s First Family have a whole new set of powers to contend with. Mole Man’s been fighting Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and the Thing for decades, so he doesn’t really know what to do when he’s confronted with a shrinking man, a woman with tentacle hair, a super-strong berserker, and a pink-haired girl that kind of looks like the Thing. And that’s not even mentioning the gamut of villains the Fantastic Four have racked up through the years. If Superman suddenly woke up with a totally new power set, his enemies wouldn’t know how to fight him.

If you’re not reading FF, you should. Fraction and Allred have crafted a series with a near-perfect balance of plot-based, superhero action and organic, character-driven story. Potential is the name of the game here because a new Fantastic Four means a whole new way to tell Fantastic Four stories. 

GRADE
9.7/10

REVIEW: NIGHTWING #15

(w) Kyle Higgins
(p) Eddy Barrows
(i) Eber Ferreira

Dick Grayson’s adventures in the ‘New 52’, as a whole so far, have been somewhat up and down in terms of quality and content. After an initial arc dealing with Haly’s Circus, Kyle Higgins has had trouble finding his footing with Nightwing, including an underdeveloped arc about a cult of anarchists looking to ‘take back’ Gotham, and a short story about Lady Shiva, probably one of the most uninteresting villains ever. Nightwing #15, however, swings into action and utilizes it’s “Death of the Family” tag to it’s fullest. In other Bat-books, the Joker’s methodology has been somewhat hazy–while everyone has theories about what’s going on, Scott Snyder isn’t letting the cat out of the bag, and there’s only so much that can be said before a big reveal–this issue sees a very fleshed out attempt to break Dick Grayson. Not Nightwing, but Dick Grayson. This month’s Batman #15 included Bruce’s assurance that the Joker does not know the Bat family’s identities, but it’s pretty obvious he does.

Dick is under a lot of pressure. He’s the owner and operator of Haly’s Circus and he’s trying to keep his newfound entertainment business in Gotham City permanently so as to build up the city’s profile while also establishing more structured lives for his performers. It’s a noble task, and one that Dick’s impassioned about, but it’s also a project that keeps getting sidelined for Nightwing-related activities. This month, Dick’s heroic life meets his personal for the second time in the ‘New 52’ as Joker frees Raya from Blackgate Prison to make everything even more personal. Joker’s shtick for Nightwing is the idea of being a ‘knock-off’, a pale comparison to the almighty Batman. Higgins employs a classic Batman trope by having Nightwing find Joker in a warehouse that used to make knock-off Wayne Enterprises products. It’s poetic justice, and something only Scott Snyder has really been utilizing recently.

Nightwing #15 is one of the strongest tie-in issues for “Death of the Family” yet. Unlike the other Bat-allies, Dick’s life is literally crumbling right before his eyes: everything he’s spent the last year building is being destroyed in a succinct and straightforward way. This is what Joker’s reign of terror needs to feel like across the board, in all the Bat-titles tying into “DotF”–full of terror, death, and lots of Joker’s insanity.

GRADE
8/10

REVIEW: GREEN LANTERN #15

(w) Geoff Johns
(a) Doug Mahnke
(i) Keith Champagne, Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin, Tom Nguyen

For the first time in three months and eleven issues (including this week’s Green Lantern: New Guardians #15), “Rise of the Third Army” feels really grave. So far, the new army created by the Guardians of the Universe has been more theoretical in it’s horror and scope, mostly growing in the background and scattered panels throughout Green Lantern Family titles. In Green Lantern #15, Geoff Johns brings the Third Army to a horrifying forefront, as well as continuing Simon Baz’s journey as the most grounded and believable superhero in a long time.

Even before this issue, Simon Baz rebuffed most superhero cliches. Sure, he’s a nobody from some city in Michigan, but Kyle Rayner was also a nobody in an alley. No, Baz stands apart because his journey didn’t start with a power ring. Most any other hero you can think of (besides characters like Wonder Woman) begins their story with a mask, with the desire to do good in a world gone bad. Baz is simply trying to clear his name of terrorism charges for something he didn’t do. Geoff Johns recognized how normalized the process of character introduction had become in the mainstream superhero world, and how the community at-large had just come to accept it. Sure, there’s a whole world of independent comics that explore alternative origin concepts, but applying less conventional character development to a hero as popular as Green Lantern is admirable. (For the record, I love independent comics and the previous statement is in no way meant to undermine the quality or caliber of independent comics or publishers.)

The Third Army is so f*cking scary. I couldn’t say that before reading Green Lantern #15. Geoff Johns managed, in two sequences, to achieve what Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, and Red Lanterns have failed to convey, and that’s the pure breadth of this parasitic legion spreading across the universe. Maybe it was an editorial decision, but it seems like Johns simply had to punch things up a bit in order to get a little momentum with “Rise of the Third Army” going. And while the ‘crossover’ event has been enjoyable, it mirrors Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire’s “Rotworld” crossover in that they both seem to be floundering a bit, offering stories with little advancement or affect on the greater tale. Either way, seeing a planet-sized swarm of grey monsters made my stomach drop.

Green Lantern #15 is simply exceptional. Geoff Johns is literally building Simon Baz’s character–his moral, his ethics, his personality–from the ground up as he deals with his personal issues while simultaneously trying to learn why he’s received a Green Lantern ring and is being approached by a talking squirrel (for those who watched Robot Chicken: DC Comics Special, B’dg’s inclusion in this storyline is just awesome.) “Rise of the Third Army” finally feels real, like something ominous and terrible is getting ready to devastate the entire universe.

GRADE
9/10

REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN #15

(w) Brian Azzarello
(a) Cliff Chiang

With Wonder Woman #15, Brian Azzarello heralds the introduction of the New Gods to DCn52 continuity. The age-old stand-off between New Genesis and Apokolips has been hinted at and mentioned a few times so far in the ‘New 52’ (see Justice League‘s first arc, and the conclusion to Justice League Dark‘s “War for the Books og Magic”), but not yet have the New Gods made any sort of appearance beyond Darkseid’s villainy. Azzarello has spent 14 issues (and a zero issue) focusing on Greek gods and goddesses and immersing readers in that world, and now he’s introducing a whole new aspect of divinity that’s just come tumbling out of the sky, literally. It makes sense that various pantheons of gods would interact on the mortal plane, and it’s even more exciting because Azzarello reveals almost nothing about Orion beyond his godliness.

“The Burden of God” is a misleading title because it’s supposed to be about one, monotheistic god. Here, though, Azzarello applies the phrase to each and every deity he writes. Diana has to protect her family, Lennox has to find some way to stick it to Zeus, and Hera must figure out how to become a god once more. Since each of these characters has their own agenda, different obstacles present themselves. For dear, sweet Milan, that obstacle is his friend, Orion. 

If you were at all inclined to listen to experimental or avant garde music in the late 1990s and early 00s, you might have possibly maybe heard of Wesley Willis. He was a schizophrenic man who wrote some of the crudest, most simplistic, cheapest, most incredible, mindblowing music I’ve ever heard. Willis’ music was indebted to The Shaggs who pioneered “music so bad it’s good” as a genre. Willis wrote songs like “Rock and Roll McDonald’s” about going to a fast food restaurant, and “I Whooped Batman’s Ass” that pretty much explains itself. Willis was quoted on many occasions claiming that the only way to suppress his inner demons and the voices inside was to create music. It may not have been the most complex or technical, but Willis’ music is a testament to creativity as a medium of healing and growth.

Milan is Wesley Willis. Down to the “Rock On!” he spouts when Orion gives him a “joyride” on the New Genesis skiff thingy. Milan has the same body type, hair style, and wacky personality that Willis possessed before his death in 2003. And it’s a trip to read.

Milan is a soothsayer, for lack of better words. He obviously has some sort of psychic sense or future sight that causes him great anguish, and he lives in perpetual grunge because of it. There’s a theory in psychology called the “Supersanity Theory” that suggests that people with mental disabilities–those we’ve deemed to have different brain functions than ‘normal’ people–actually think on a level us normies could only ever dream of. It’s like our thoughts exist on an outer ring of consciousness, and people mental disabilities think on an inner ring, something closer to actuality. Milan obviously sees and feels more than most, and a ‘normal life’ is that cost of that sight and feeling.

Of course, Orion’s arrival and Diana’s quest to collect all of Zeus’ children on Earth come to pass when Lennox confronts Milan about joining the cause to get back Zola’s kid from Hades. Milan is hesitant, and Orion stands up to defend that indecision. At this point, it’s pretty obvious that Zeus is coming back with a vengeance, and it seems like Orion knows this too because he wastes no time in interrogating Lennox about the final child of Zeus. And in true superhero fashion, they all get into a fight by issue’s end.

Wonder Woman is consistently one of DC’s best titles each month. Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang are a shining example of what the ‘New 52’ is (partly) supposed to be about–reintroducing characters by using elements from their previous incarnations and twisting them enough to make them fresh and interesting. Outside of her eponymous title, Diana is oddly written and often comes across as too naive or too brutish. It’s really Azzarello’s interpretation that makes this character now, and the deep mythology surrounding divinity is great. It very much feels like Jason Aaron took a cue from Azzarello when relaunching Thor: God of Thunder for ‘Marvel NOW!’ which also features cross-pantheon entrapments. Wonder Woman #15 is a great issue because not only does it completely move the story forward, but it also provides some great character growth for Hera, Zola, and the newly introduced Milan. It’s also a great issue for new readers, as you wouldn’t need to know too much about what’s happened before this to enjoy the events of the issue. DC has a gem with Wonder Woman, and they’re Azzarello and Chiang go crazy with the series just to see how fantastical they can get, and the results are amazing.

GRADE
9/10