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

Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2 Review

(w) Ray FawkesTRIN_PAND_Cv2_R1_wj6mev8c7i_

 

(a) Daniel Sampere, Vicente Cifuentes

** SPOILERS ARE IN THIS REVIEW **

What a steaming pile of crap. For real. Trinity of Sin: Pandora makes such an egregious error in only it’s second issue that I’m seriously considering not even reading the third issue even though it still connects to “Trinity War”. The major problem with Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2 is that it doesn’t stand on it’s own at all. NOT AT ALL. Even when I was younger — before I became enamored with critical analysis of comic books — I hated when a new series was launched just to connect to the current crossover event. Starting something during an event that will become dated very quickly is no way to begin on a strong note. In fact, if a new series is reliant upon an event — or the other way around — it can actually detract from and harm the new title in the long run. Now, Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1 was a fun issue despite it’s repetitive nature. While we’d already seen a lot of Pandora’s backstory, the first issue of her solo series focused more on Pandora’s emotional setting, giving readers a deeper look at why Pandora is the way she is. It was enjoyable and informative, but ultimately left me wanting more and hoping I would get it in Pandora #2.

Unfortunately, Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2 is a total crapshoot that I really, really wish I hadn’t bought. Usually, even if I don’t like an issue, I don’t regret buying the it; mostly, I accept that it’s a down point and appreciate the information I’ve been given nonetheless. In this issue, all the information we get is completely boring, then when it should be interesting, Ray Fawkes dances out Signalman and we get my vote for one of the worst characters in the ‘New 52’.

At the end of Pandora #1, Pandora decided that Superman, being purest of heart, could handle the power of the golden skull from whence the seven deadly sins escaped. Pandora #2 picks up after she’s given Superman the skull and everything went to hell. You absolutely must read Justice League #22 to really understand what’s going on in Pandora #2 and that is simply poor form for a brand new series. I’m sure that 90% of the people buying this series are reading “Trinity War”, and thus will know what’s going on in Pandora #2. But for some random kid who saw the first issue and thought it looked cool, this follow up is going to confuse them. It confused me and I’ve read all the Pandora material DC’s published thus far.

Now let’s talk about Signalman, the single worst reintroduction in the ‘New 52’. To start, he basically looks the same as he did prior to the line-wide reboot. It’s lazy, and honestly works against the ‘New 52’ aesthetic as a whole; all these other villains and heroes have newish looks that feel more modern and less campy. Signalman, however, looks as terrible as he did when he was first created. Lame spandex (not armor-esque like almost everyone else), crazy yellow cape that has no apparent explanation for how it’s attached to his jumpsuit. Terrible yellow bandana mask combo. And to top it all off, a power that turns Signalman from an awful super villain into a proxy for the writer to spew exposition. IT’S INFURIATING. Signalman basically explains Pandora and her powers to the reader as his “advanced signal capturing powers” are able to somehow give him information about how Pandora’s parahuman (a term I really hope does not catch on) physiology works. What? Excuse Me? Just, don’t…

I usually really like Ray Fawkes. His wok on Justice League Dark with Jeff Lemire has been incredible. But Trinity of Sin: Pandora gets two strikes for this second issue. There is nothing of value in this comic book because it’s structured so poorly. All the relevant information going into this second issue is covered in another series, and all the new information we’re given throughout these pages is either only applicable to Pandora herself, or is just boring. Pandora fights against the Secret Society, but we already knew that. She’s immortal, but she’s not a metahuman by contextual standards in the ‘New 52’, but we already knew that. She’s trying to get the golden skull to open back up, but we already knew that. I just can’t get over how useless Pandora #2 truly is. Don’t buy it; don’t waste your money.

GRADE

2/10

Spotlight: Trinity of Sin – Pandora #1

(w) Ray Fawkes

Pandora-1-2(a) Zander Cannon, Daniel Sampere, Patrick Zircher, Vicente Cifuentes

** SPOILERS BE HERE! **

Pandora’s life is a tragedy. Not just the adjective, but in the way Shakespeare presented the idea of a dramatic tragedy. Pandora was good, she had some very bad things happen to her, now she’s bad. Those are simple words to describe a rather complex character, but those intricacies all spring from this one inevitable truth. Trinity of Sin: Pandora attempts to reconcile this truth against her role in the DC universe. Readers first met the maroon-cloaked mystery in Flashpoint #5 when she used her powers to integrate the DC, Vertigo, and Wildstorm universes into a single timeline. All by herself, Pandora recalibrated the multiverse.

Now, Ray Fawkes is going to tell us how.

I like Ray Fawkes and the writing for Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1 is great. He’s able to capture a grand, mythic tone that’s not often achieved, and he does it well. Pandora herself feels much more like an actual character instead of just a prop for DC’s major events, and Fawkes goes out of his way to express Pandora’s utter self-loathing, an emotion with which many, many people can relate. Also, telling Pandora’s tale as it marches forth through the ages is a great way to convey the breadth of her life; she’s experienced enough to drive even the most pious and stoic mad. This historical montage also serves to show us Pandora’s emotional journey, from desperation at the sight of her entire life destroyed by her own actions, to her acceptance that her life was hollow, and eventually, to how we’ve seen her before, as the vengeful warrior intent on dismantling the horrors of her own doing.

But, Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1 is a pretty straightforward origin story. I say ‘straightforward’ because nothing in this issue particularly surprised me. Even though Ray Fawkes has a new spin on the classic Pandora’s Box mythology, most of what happens in this issue seems rather obvious. We already knew — quite a long time ago due to The New 52 #1 for Free Comic Book Day 2012 — that Pandora was damned by a Council of Wizards for opening up the box containing the seven deadly sins, we already knew that she spent a millennia wandering the planet just like Phantom Stranger and the Question, and we already knew that she had — sometime in the 20th century — decided to take matters into her own hands. All of this is information we had prior to the release of this issue, which makes the regurgitation of this information somewhat dull.

Fortunately, Fawkes didn’t decompress this origin, and later this month we get a “Trinity War” tie-in. As an origin story, Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1 is spot-on, but as an ongoing series based on a character readers have been invested in since the literal inception of the ‘New 52′ universe, the issue falls a little flat. Fawkes’ solid dialog and narration saves the issue from being boring, but the fact that these pages basically just reaffirmed what we’ve already seen is frustrating.

GRADE

7/10

Justice League Dark #20

(w) Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes
(a) Mikel Janin and Vicente Cifuentes


** SPOILERS ABOUND **


Last month’s “WTF” edict demanded that each title in the ‘New 52’ drop some big revelation or surprise somewhere in their April issue. For the most part, writers were able to organically integrate this concept into their current narrative. But for some, it felt very forced. Like Earth 2 #11‘s inclusion of Mister Miracle even though he wasn’t actually part of the story at all. Or how the revelation that Eclipso was behind the scheme to destroy House Amethyst in Sword of Sorcery #7 was a surprise to no one who actually read the series. 

Justice League Dark #19 guest starred not only Swamp Thing — which made sense, as Swampy is a Dark-themed character — but also The Flash. Unfortunately, it was all of a one-page spread. This was an instance where the “WTF” moment felt very forced, like editorial knew Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes were gearing up to use Flash in Justice League Dark #20, and just wanted to make #19 all the more attention-grabbing, just for sales. But that’s all just my own beef with DC higher management.

Justice League Dark #20 is a fantastic issue. I wasn’t expecting it not to be, as Lemire and Fawkes have been delivering amazing issue after amazing issue for months now. I’m always just a bit skeptical of guest appearances that seem too good to be true; like Flash working with the JLD.

Barry Allen is unique in the ‘New 52’ as one of the only characters who is written so consistently across every title he’s featured in — the Flash is always his good-natured, generous, laid-back self, whichever book you’re reading. That’s rare these days as many writers simply use guest appearances as a plot device instead of deriving real character relationships from the experience. Barry isn’t there just to be fast: He provides a significantly different perspective on how to be a hero. Even after John Constantine berates him in front of everyone else, he still stands up for the surly mage when his compatriots turn against him.

If you’re not reading Justice League Dark, you should be. I know that’s a cliche thing to say in comic book reviews, but hear me out. It checks off a lot of boxes on the “who would like this?” list. It’s a supernatural series (1). It includes well-known heroes like Constantine, Deadman, and Zatanna (2). It’s consistently one of the best titles DC publishes each month (3). It’s an integral part of this summer’s “Trinity War” crossover (4). Mikel Janin’s artwork is superb (5). That’s five good reasons to read this book.

GRADE
9/10

Spotlight: Constantine #1

(w) Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes     (a) Renato Guedes

Constantine #1 by Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes, and Renato Guedes is a solid read. All the right parts are there and technically speaking, everything lines up beautifully. Jeff Lemire  and Ray Fawkes hit all the right narrative beats, and Renato Guedes’ artwork fits the series like a glove; rough around the edges to look just realistic enough. Realistically, Constantine #1 will be praised and hailed as another success for superstar Jeff Lemire. And that sentiment wouldn’t be wrong. Lemire has a phenomenal grasp on fantasy storytelling — as evidenced by his work on Animal Man and Justice League Dark — so it would seem like a natural fit for him to helm the solo series for John Constantine.

What doesn’t make sense is that Constantine #1 feels underwhelming. Perhaps it’s that Lemire’s been writing the character in the pages of JLD for over a year and I’ve become comfortable with Constantine in a team book, or maybe it’s that the snarky Brit doesn’t seem to have the same edge he did in Hellblazer. I don’t want to discount Lemire’s impressive work on this issue because it is good; good enough to make me want to continue reading the series. One of the most impressive aspects of the issue is it’s self contained nature that simultaneously sets the stage for Constantine’s ongoing adventures. Lemire knocks the ball out of the park in terms of being new reader-friendly, and he conveys the Constantine charm well enough to warrant more than just a passing once-through.

Part of why I’m interested in this series is that Lemire will be writing Justice League Dark, Green Arrow, Animal Man, and Constantine all at the same time, which means there’s likely to be a crossovers and guest appearances between these titles in the future. While judging a title on it’s potential for future payoff might seem somewhat redundant, it’s safe to say that a cohesive comic book universe is part of what makes the medium so much fun. You can find Batman popping up in Metropolis or Coast City because he lives in the same world as Superman and Green Lantern. Similarly, when a creator is charged with multiple titles, it’s not uncommon to see said books intermingle even more than the standard fare. And if Lemire’s work in the ‘New 52’ thus far is any indication, we may be in store for some epic crossovers. 



** SPOILERS AHEAD **



Constantine #1 begins “The Spark and the Flame” which sees Constantine up against the Cult of the Cold Flame, an organization that has been floating around for a while now. The general plot progression throughout the issue isn’t anything to write home about, but Lemire and Fawkes keep things interesting enough with the dialogue and Constantine’s inner monologue between actions sequences to keep the story flowing. One of the biggest revelations is that Zatanna’s father, Zatara, was a leader of the Cult of the Cold Flame alongside three other sorcerers who were once agents of good. It’s only mentioned briefly in a moment of exposition, but it’s an important piece of the DCnU history about a character who has had so little development/backstory in the ‘New 52’ it’s almost painful. 

Of course, the bigger idea gleaned from learning about the Cult’s leaders is that they all used to be good men who were corrupted by magic. Ethical quandaries have always been a staple of Hellblazer, and it’s fortunate that this element of the character and his overall narrative tone has been kept intact in this new series.

The final pages of Constantine #1 prove that, in a very real way, Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes have a firm grasp on John Constantine. There’s a lot to love, not only regarding the story and the characters, but also about the story structure and openness to future potentials. I love the ideas presented in this issue, I just struggle with the presentation itself and how the writing feels like it’s vibrating at a frequency only slightly off from our own.

GRADE
8/10

REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #16

(w) Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes
(a) Mikel Janin

Justice League Dark continues to be one of my favorite series from DC’s ‘New 52’ thanks to it’s unique take on the superhero genre. Jeff Lemire has crafted an incredible ongoing narrative that isn’t confined to separate arcs, but rather builds upon itself with each storyline. Things started off with “The Black Room”, which quickly turned into “War for the Books of Magic”, and now, we’re shoulder-deep in “The Death of Magic” that’s bringing Lemire’s big epic to a head. 

Though it sits in the middle of this newest arc, Justice League Dark #16 doesn’t fall prey to the ‘filler syndrome’ — it’s full of intense action, story development, and some not-at-all-annoying exposition that gives readers a better look at how magic originated in the DCnU. I’ve mentioned in past reviews how much Lemire’s Justice League Dark resembles a serial television drama in it’s structure and pacing. Much like LOST, True Blood, or Game of Thrones, each issue of JLD has enough self-containment to feel satisfying as a stand-alone story while contributing to a much grander vision.

Using context clues, it’s been pretty evident that this world our heroes have found themselves in was once a magical realm that has since been taken over by a fascist, scientific society. The somewhat lengthy history lesson about Timothy Hunter’s ancient mystical ancestor reveals a lot about how things came to be in this world known as Epoch, how men became jealous over their inability to wield magic, and how that led to a campaign to exterminate all magic from their world. Lemire is doing a absolutely amazing job at mixing traditional fantasy tropes with high concept superhero drama, and it shows in the way he seamlessly juxtaposes the mystical concept of the series against a world where magic is considered the ultimate heresy.

Mikel Janin’s artwork is beautiful as ever. While many of the characters featured in Justice League Dark are featured in other titles, they seem to always look the best when Janin is as the table (except for maybe Bernard Chang’s Madame Xanadu in Demon Knights). Especially John Constantine, whose facial expression perfectly match his confused and frustrated feelings over losing his silver tongue.

Justice League Dark #16 is another excellent chapter in “The Death of Magic” and the series in general. Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes have such a knack for fantasy writing it’s uncanny. There are so many different elements that affect the story at any given time, and each of them is handled with care and precision to create one of the most entertaining and fun books DC currently publishes.

GRADE
8.5/10

REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #15

(w) Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes
(a) Mikel Janin


In this modern era of fascination with all things magical and mystical from our entertainment outlets, it takes a lot of courage to challenge the status quo of how people perceive “the supernatural”, as a media concept. Just look at the popularity of True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Once Upon A Time, Grimm, or any other number of supernatural shows (including Supernatural) that all seem to have a concept of magic based around a shared aesthetic: magic is chaotic, everywhere, and cannot be contained, hence how and why people can utilize it for their own means. While all of these shows have different storytelling methods and dramatization processes, they all stick within a fairly narrow definition of “supernatural”.

Jeff Lemire is taking a different approach with Justice League Dark, specifically this “The Death of Magic” arc that was prefaced by the discovery that the ancient and mythical Books of Magic were actually highly advanced technological machines seemingly capable of imitating what humanity knows as magic or mysticism. One of the most common shared elements of magic-based fiction is that magic is ever-present. Lemire has penned an arc that challenges this standard by flipping it on it’s head.

At the end of Justice League Dark Annual #1, Timothy Hunter opened the Books of Magic before he and Zatanna were teleported, by the books themselves, to a new and unknown world. This month, Lemire reveals that in this new world, anything remotely connected to magic is hunted down and exterminated with extreme prejudice. Zatanna also discovers her backwards magic is super-charged in this new place, and uses her heightened ability to fend off an assassin gunning for the two individuals who just used teleportation illegally.

The only problem I had with this issue was Amethyst. Constantine uses a crystal he stole to summon Amy from GemWorld in order to help stop Nick Necro, then in JLD #14, she’s seen exploring the House of Mystery with Black Orchid and Frankenstein, then in this issue, she’s just gone. Granted, she does mention something about Constantine giving her the port crystal once everything had settled down, there just isn’t a scene or even an off-handed comment about Amy’s departure. It feels like that detail just slipped through the cracks, which wouldn’t be a big deal except Amethyst didn’t really need to be there in the first place, so bringing her in then dropping her from the book without even a modicum of explanation is kind of frustrating.

Justice League Dark #15 does an excellent job of setting up “The Death of Magic”. Lemire is playing around with the idea of magic in the DC universe, something that’s only ever been lightly done, due to the ingrained nature of continuity-based comic book mythology. As long as I can remember, magic has always been regarded as a more ‘powerful’ or ‘enigmatic’ force than science in comic books. With the ‘New 52’, all bets are off, so making magic and science more equivalent doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched idea.

GRADE
9/10