Superman/Wonder Woman #1 Review

(w) Charles Soule

(a) Tony Daniel

Superman/Wonder Woman hasn’t had a positive reception. Months before this debut issue hit stands, comic book fans complained about the over-saturation of the Superman and Wonder Woman’s romantic relationship. The couple’s intimacy has been a lightning rod for debate since it was introduced in Justice League #12, and DC hit the nail on the head by hiring rising star Charles Soule to pen the story. Artist Tony Daniel did not help the case for Superman/Wonder Woman when he compared it’s projected fan base to that of the Twilight movie series. While he didn’t come out and say it would actually be like Twilight, the damage was done for many, many readers. It’s unfortunate because those readers are missing out on one of the best ‘New 52’ titles of 2013.

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Whether it’s Soule’s appropriate balance of romantic drama and superhero action, or Daniel’s impeccable artwork, Superman/Wonder Woman #1 immediately shows how much potential a series like this has in the ‘New 52’. An anthology DC Team Up-type title might have been the better route to go instead of creating ongoing duo titles like Batman/Superman and Superman/Wonder Woman, but DC clearly wants this to be a thing. From the opening pages, it’s quite evident Soule has a grasp on these characters in their new incarnations. He understands that Clark Kent isn’t a born fighter, and therefore relies primarily on his powers while simultaneously using them as a crutch. Soule sees in Diana a fierce, warrior woman who can’t seem to break down the emotional barriers of the only other being on the planet with whom she should be able to relate.

The story is captivating because, for the first time really, Superman and Wonder Woman’s relationship is front and center. Not just their romantic relationship, but also their working relationship as heroes. In the past, Clark and Diana’s actions have always reflected on the Justice League in some form or another. Whether or not their heroics in Superman/Wonder Woman will have greater ramifications through the ‘New 52’ is yet to be seen, but for the time being, it’s nice to read a story about these two titans working together without worrying about how the League will react on the next page.

 

GRADE

8/10

Review: Batman #23.2 – The Riddler

(w) Ray Fawkes and Scott Snyder

STK625226(a) Jeremy Haun

After a disappointing first issue for Villains Month, Batman #23.2: The Riddler is a huge step up from Andy Kubert’s whiffed attempt at giving the Joker depth. The years before the ‘New 52’ had not been kind to Riddler, as he was somewhat pigeonholed as the villain who gives away his plan through riddles. Two years into the line-wide relaunch and it’s clear that this is not the same Edward Nigma we knew from before. This Riddler is much more vicious, more cunning, with more drive than I’ve ever read the character before.

Riddler is an extremely intelligent man. He finds his own clarity where others only see complexity. His riddles aren’t meant to be a plot device to clue Batman into whatever’s going on anymore. No — now Nigma’s wordplay is a bi-product of the pressure and pain of his mental acuity mixed with a few too many dashes of insanity. The only way Riddler resembles his pre-reboot counterpart (aside from the green and purple suit) is that Nigma’s riddles are for his own entertainment. Joker acts out to affect others while Riddler only works to serve himself. He doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone because he’s proved to himself — time and time again — that he is the most intelligent man he knows. It’s egotistical, yes, but not inaccurate. But just because someone is intelligent doesn’t make them perfect, and that is the root of Riddler’s psychosis

Fawkes’ framework for the issue is also incredible. Nigma wants to break into the most secure area of Wayne Tower by beating the nigh-impregnable security measures installed throughout the building. It’s a perfect way to showcase Riddler’s talents as a criminal mastermind. One of the scariest elements of this new Riddler is that you don’t know what’s coming next. His obsessive nature pushes him to demand nothing less than perfection from himself. When an unexpected guard throws off the rhythm of his riddles, Nigma gets noticeably bent out of shape, if only for a few moments.

Batman #23.2: The Riddler ties for my favorite Villains Month title so far (next to Green Lantern #23.1: Relic). Scott Snyder’s story written out by Ray Fawkes is surprisingly minimal with a big punch at the end that actually gives the Riddler more depth.

 

GRADE

8.5/10

Spotlight: Mighty Avengers #1

(w) Al Ewingdetail

(a) Greg Land

** MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD **

In the ‘Marvel NOW!’ era, Mighty Avengers is the weakest Avengers title on the roster, and that’s including Avengers Arena — a series I was incredibly critical of because of it’s apparent reliance on the same general premise as Battle Royale and The Hunger Games  — and Avengers Assemble, which started it’s ‘Marvel NOW!’ run with issue nine and had a few good, small arcs before getting roped into the perpetual crossover game. For a while, it seemed like Mighty Avengers wouldn’t receive a reboot treatment. But to be quite honest, there probably wasn’t a need for one. Marvel already has eight ongoing Avengers titles, and this is the first one to feel completely superfluous. I have a few theories as to why.

First, Mighty Avengers has launched in the middle of Infinity, Jonathan Hickman’s sprawling epic about the Avengers heading off into space to battle the Universal Builders, while Thanos takes the opportunity to attack an Earth without it’s heroes. I don’t tend to like series that begin during an event as much as those that launch more organically. It could be argued that certain events offer a lead-in to new series’, but more often than not, the act of launching a new title during a big crossover event feels manipulative. Beyond a few panels at the beginning of the issue and quick appearances by Proxima Midnight and Ebony Maw at the end, the events of Infinity are barely touched upon. Yet Mighty Avengers #1 has INFINITY scrawled across the top of the cover as if it’s integral to what’s going on. It’s not. In actuality, the attack on New York City could have been from anyone or anything. This title could have launched without the Infinity branding and would have been stronger for it.

Second, Al Ewing doesn’t seem to know how to write this book. I’ve not read any of Ewing’s work in the past — that I know of — but I’m already averse to his clunky, unnatural dialogue and weird pacing. The first red flag for me was when Spider-Man says, “I got a very bright young lady to reconsider a life of paid thuggery.” Otto Octavius inhabits the mind of Spider-Man now, and would never say something like “I got someone to do something.” Octavius is a scientific genius and never hesitates to talk down to anyone he’s speaking with by using overly dramatic language and a condescending tone. But beyond the Spidey faux-pas, Ewing insists on writing overly obtuse dialogue that never quite feels organic. Luc, the French superhero costumier, is just corny and reminds readers that they’re reading a comic book, taking them out of the proverbial zone by highlighting how silly these characters are. Then there’s the Ebony Maw, the most ridiculous sounding henchman I’ve ever read…but only in this book. He reads just fine in Infinity, but Ewing manages to overly complicate the Maw’s monologue that made me want to just stop reading. And a Katy Perry reference? Come on, Al — you can do better than that.

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Third, Marvel still seems to think people like Greg Land’s artwork. I honestly believe that one of the reasons the ‘Marvel NOW!’ relaunch of Iron Man wasn’t as critically successful as it could have been was because Land handled the artwork and no matter how good the writing is, those airbrushed supermodel faces are just disappointing to see. Jay Leisten does Land a favor by inking in a richness and depth not normally seen in Land’s work. Mighty Avengers #1 features some of Land’s best work I’ve seen to date, but again, that’s mostly due to Leisten’s incredible inking. Of course, characters like Monica Rambeau still look different from panel to panel (the inking can only do so much).

There are a number of reasons to read Mighty Avengers #1: it’s technically a tie-in to Infinity, it features a mostly African-American cast of characters — if you’re invested in diversity in comics — and it hearkens the return of Luke Cage to the ongoing happenings of the Marvel universe. But it’s faults are big, and they might just be too big to ignore going forward. I’ll give most any series three issues, but I’m not holding my breath.

GRADE

5/10

Batman #23.1: The Joker Review

(w) Andy KubertBM_23-1-Joker_js43a0q4ji_

(a) Andy Clarke

I don’t know if this is Andy Kubert’s first foray into writing. I’ve enjoyed his artwork for years now, but I’ve never followed the man enough to know if he has any writing credits. But artists-turned-writers are not that uncommon now at DC Comics. The ‘New 52’ started off with big-hitter David Finch co-writing Batman: The Dark Knight, Francis Manapul co-writes The Flash while also providing the artwork most months, and Chris Burnham added Batman Incorporated #11 and a short story in Batman Incorporated Special #1 to his resume. It’s a good time for artists to take a stab at writing.

 

That being said, Batman #23.1: Joker is not terribly interesting. Maybe it’s because we got such an in-depth look at Joker during “Death of the Family”, or maybe it’s because the Clown Prince of Crime’s origin will — most likely — be featured in the current “Zero Year” arc, but this issue doesn’t add a lot to Joker’s mythos.

** SPOILERS AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION **

Batman #23.1 focuses on Jackanapes, a young gorilla Joker “adopts” and raises as his sidekick, more or less. The concept is meant to humanize Joker a bit, presenting a side of him that desires structure and familiarity of some sort. “Family” is, in practice, a tool of social order, which is something we’re not used to the Joker understanding. Unfortunately, it feels like Kubert didn’t go far enough. Obviously, the Joker is still insane because he murders the mother gorilla in order to secure the baby. Yet, we also see him genuinely invested in the life of his adopted gorilla son. It almost works until the final pages when Jack doesn’t pop the escape wings in his backpack and seemingly falls to his death in the river below.

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Joker seems upset; he frowns and wonders quietly to himself “Why Jack? Why didn’t you pop your wings?” But that sentiment quickly fades away when Joker does what he does best and makes a sick joke about wanting a refund for swimming lessons. Normally, I’d say this kind of behavior makes sense for Joker, but in Batman #23.1, it feels forced, like Kubert didn’t know how to end the story, so he fell back on the Joker’s penchant for compartmentalizing his emotions. It’s a bit cheap and unsatisfying.

As far as the art goes, Andy Clarke does a bang-up job on this issue. Joker’s facial expressions and Jack’s final pages are mesmerizing and full of emotion.

Batman #23.1: Joker is a missed opportunity to give the Joker more depth. Introducing the character Jackanapes may have sounded good on paper, but by the end of the issue, it didn’t feel like a Joker comic book much at all. Mostly, it felt like DC wanted to introduce Jackanapes and didn’t know how else to do it, which is not a good enough reason.

GRADE

4/10

Spotlight: Forever Evil #1

(w) Geoff Johns

Forever_Evil_1_v43xi7j9q0_(a) David Finch

** SPOILERS FOR “TRINITY WAR” AS WELL AS THIS ISSUE **

Months before it ever started, “Trinity War” was believed to be DC’s first big crossover event. It would focus on the three Justice Leagues — proper, of America, and Dark, respectively — and have major ramifications for the entire DCnU. Instead, “Trinity War” ended up being more of a prelude chapter to Forever Evil, the first TRUE crossover in the ‘New 52’, one that actually will reach into every corner of this shared comic book universe.

The opening sequence in Forever Evil #1 is truly chilling. Lex Luthor is one of the most vile and dark villains Superman or the Justice League have ever faced; he’s academically, scientifically, and culturally brilliant; his multi-billion dollar company owns much of Metropolis, real estate or otherwise; and he just so happens to want to rule the world. Kord Industries is in the way of Luthor’s plans, so instead of negotiating with the stubborn Thomas Kord, Luthor simply threatens the man’s entire family with a frighteningly specific plan should Kord fail to sign over control of his family’s legacy company to a psychopath with a chip on his shoulder for Superman. This scene shows how well Johns knows this character and sets an overall tone for the issue going forward.

Obviously, this is the first of seven issues, so there’s a lot more questions being raised than answers being given. At the end of “Trinity War”, the Crime Syndicate arrived via interdimensional portal from the dying Earth 3. The final pages of Justice League #23 only gave vague hints as to the Crime Syndicate’s motives, but Forever Evil #1 expounds on those hints and fleshes out a world under the thumb of super-powered despots. Heroes are gone, criminals run amok doing whatever they like, infrastructure has crumbled, and the message broadcast by the Crime Syndicate over every communication bandwidth available becomes clear: This world is ours.

We don’t get to see the Crime Syndicate much in Forever Evil #1, nor do we get to see the actual battle between the Syndicate and the three Justice Leagues that results in the disappearance of nearly every superhero. I do wish there had been more information about how the Leagues fell. Most likely, we’ll get the full story starting next month when various DC titles start tying-in to Forever Evil, but that’s a full month without any real answers, which is a 6/10 on the frustration scale. I don’t know why DC is content with everything being so vague right now, but it seems to be an ongoing problem for many titles: not enough information to keep readers interested. I will be reading the rest of Forever Evil because I’m extremely interested in what comes next, but for the casual reader interested in the villains of the DCnU, this crossover event could be too much too fast without context.

GRADE

8/10

Green Lantern: New Guardians #23 Review

(w) Justin Jordan

(a) Bradley Walker

** SPOILERS AHEAD!! **

** NO SERIOUSLY…MAJOR SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW **

Since Green Lantern: New Guardians #21, Justin Jordan has been making the title his own. Where before it existed as almost a side-story to the main going-ons of the GL universe, Jordan has integrated major plot points into the series that puts it on par with Green Lantern proper. The introduction of Relic in issue 21 set the ball rolling towards “Lights Out”, the month-long GL crossover that finds the scientist from the previous universe attempting to extinguish all the emotional light from the current universe. Relic is a bad ass villain and Jordan has already cemented him as a true force to be reckoned with; he’s not evil, he’s extremely intelligent, and his only desire is to see the “lightsmiths” eradicated from existence. Green Lantern: New Guardians #23 brings the hammer down as Relic takes the first big step in his quest by attacking the new homeworld of the Blue Lanterns, Elpis.

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The last time we saw the Blue Lanterns, their first homeworld, Odym, was being attacked by the Reach, a parasitic alien cult bent on universal conquest. Basically, the Blues just can’t catch a break even though they’re the least aggressive and least violent of the various colored Corps. But perhaps that’s exactly why they keep getting attacked. One of Relic’s best elements is how little he speaks — all the words that come out of his mouth are important. At the same time, Relic doesn’t wax poetic and explain everything in detail to every opposition that stands in his way. No, Relic is a pragmatic scientist who doesn’t have the same tendencies as most of the maniacal villains that populate the DCnU. Perhaps it’s a symptom of originating from a universe that preceded our own or maybe Relic’s just stoic and understated. Either way, he’s much more menacing than many of the other new villains introduced in the ‘New 52’. But his most heinous crime happens on the final page of Green Lantern: New Guardians #23.

Justin Jordan killed Warth.

Warth was a Blue Lantern introduced by Geoff Johns during the era in between “Sinestro Corps War” and Blackest Night where the various Corps of different colors were explored in depth. Warth was the second Blue Lantern to be recruited after Saint Walker was chosen by Ganthet and Sayd, the two Guardians of the Universe who decided existence needed more hope. He was a big elephant who had Buddhist tendencies and he was a fantastic, fantastic character all around. Warth sacrifices himself to save Kyle Rayner, Saint Walker, Star Sapphire Carol Ferris, and the Templar Guardians as Relic drained the Blue Lantern central battery and destroyed the planet. It’s an incredibly touching scene that made me tear up more than I’d care to admit. But the fact that I became emotional at all is a testament to how well Jordan is handling this series.

Green Lantern: New Guardians #23 is my favorite issue of the entire series, hands down. Justin Jordan has set up an amazing prelude to “Lights Out” that can stand on it’s own as well as serve as a jumping-off point for future stories. It was painful reading Warth’s death, but in the end, it shows how much Jordan cares for these characters that he’s not simply forgetting about them on Elpis just to use them when the story deems it necessary. Though he killed off Warth, Jordan shows he respects the character much more than previous writers.

GRADE

9/10

X-Men #4 Review

(w) Brian Wood

(a) David Lopez

After a quick “Primer”, Brian Wood follows up his initial arc with X-Men #4, a stellar issue that highlights two key relationships in this series that will continue to be important going forward. I’ve never been a regular reader of Wood’s work in the past, but his ‘Marvel NOW!’ X-Men is one of my favorite titles to come out of the initiative. The fact that it’s an all-female team is indeed interesting, but it’s not the focal point because the roster isn’t padded out with C-list mutants. Each character is there for a reason and it makes sense, so why not write a series about them?

The first relationship Wood highlights is that of Jubilation Lee and Wolverine. The main catalyst that caused the formation of this specific lineup of X-Men was Jubilee’s unannounced return with a baby. Logan and Jubilee have always had a special connection, but that friendship wasn’t expounded upon in the first three issues. X-Men #4 features Jubilee and Wolverine taking a road trip around southern California, simply having a good time. There’s no fight in the middle, no nefarious scheme brewing underneath them the entire time, and no mind control to be had. It’s just two very good friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time hanging out, and it’s fantastic. What used to be father/daughter-esque has turned into a mutual respect and admiration between old buddies. Then — like the cherry on top of the nostalgia express — Wood takes the duo back to the mall where Jubilee was first recruited by the X-Men way, way back when. The first three issues of X-Men highlighted Woods’ talent for writing a 90s-style action without it coming across as overkill. X-Men #4 shows how well he can adapt that talent when writing a more somber plot line.

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The second relationship explored is between Storm and Rachel Grey. Near the end of “Primer”, Storm made the difficult decision to end the life of Karima Shapandar — a friend of the X-Men who previously had been in a coma for months and months — when she was possessed by the genocidal sentient virus villainess Arkea. In the end, Rachel’s protest caused a hesitation and Karima was able to exorcise Arkea from her own body. In X-Men #4, Rachel confronts Storm and challenges her leadership role in the X-Men, et al. It’s a surprisingly bold accusation that kind of makes sense. I like Storm as a character, but her personal politics and cultural affluence often frame her decisions. In this case, she made the wrong decision about Karima, but she’s unwilling to back down when Rachel demands some sort of acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Storm and Rachel have their fight while overseeing the rescue of a crashing jetliner by Rogue, Psylocke, and Kitty Pride. Wood is able to get his action sequences in without forcing a massive battle or giant explosion. Both Storm and Rachel have valid points concerning their position on the issue of crossing the line when there’s a perceived necessity. Both women want what is best for their teammates and students. And both of them are stubborn, proud fighters. It’s no wonder they’re butting heads this early in the game.

X-Men #4 is a fantastic single issue that’s already on my top ten for the year. The two plot lines are easily digestible without being overly simplistic or dull. Brian Wood is writing character-driven stories with 90s plot-driven stories and it’s working surprisingly well each and every month. I’m glad Jubilee is back in the main fold of things in the X-Men universe because aside from the fact that she’s a great character that has been sorely underused in recent years, it’s the perfect time for a 90s-era X-Man to come back because her style from back then isn’t too far off from what goes for fashionable today.

GRADE

10/10