And here we go again! A whole bunch of #17s this week (this is getting weird), with Demon Knights #17, Superboy #17, and Batgirl #17, not to mention a brand-spankin' new Katana #1 and a slightly less new Threshold #2. There is, as they say, something for everyone with this batch of DC releases!
“Endure the Flame”
Writer: Ray Fawkes
Penciller: Daniel Sampere
Inker: Vicente Cifuentes
Boy, did Ray Fawkes dodge a bullet. This was to be the first issue of Batgirl not written by Gail Simone after her controversial (albeit temporary) removal from the book. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and Simone remains the regular writer on Batgirl with Fawkes serving as a fill-in for issues 17 and 18. As a result, Fawkes can be judged for who he is and not who he isn’t. Gail will be back, and Fawkes doesn’t have to be the target of misguided fan anger. Fawkes inherits his story at a narrative highpoint as, last issue, during a riveting battle with the Joker, Barbara’s seemingly evil brother James played his hand.
The first thing that jumps out in Fawkes’ debut is the narration has switched from Barbara’s first person into an expository third person style. It was jarring at first, but soon, the narration created a distinction between Fawkes’ style and Simone’s. It’s clear that Fawkes understands Barbara as he uses her eidetic memory as a plot point to bring down Joker’s thugs. This is a nice moment of empowerment for Barbara, using her mind to clean up Gotham rather than her fists, and using her unique mental prowess to take a sort of vengeance on those that tortured her last issue.
Barbara sends the info on Joker’s goons to Jim Gordon, who sends his men out to round them up. One of the men is Barbara’s brother James, who sets traps for the young cops sent to bring him in. Fawkes does a good job establishing the new dynamic in Gotham post Death of the Family. The GCPD has been gutted by the Joker, and vulnerable rookie cops must bring down the goons and James. Barbara must suit up to protect them from James’ genius. Meanwhile, James, watching from the shadows, is fascinated with his sister. It’s almost as if James is becoming to Barbara what Joker is to Batman. As their rivalry grows, Barbara, already hurt and exhausted from her encounter with the Joker, is pushed to her limit.
Fawkes pens a great scene between Gordon and Bullock, as Bullock insures Gordon that the GCPD will bring in Gordon’s son. The scene shows the strong bond between Gordon and his department, a bond strengthened by Joker’s rampage. Many fill-in writers make their issues feel like they exist in a vacuum with no connection to what came previously, but Fawkes’ feels like a direct extension of Simone’s, both dramatically and thematically. It’s clear that he knows his way around drama and is a worthy addition to Batgirl and DC’s stable of creators.
The only thing noticeably missing from this issue is Simone’s trademark wit. Barbara always has a quip or glib line to break the tension. This issue was serious to the point of almost being heavy- handed, but in Fawkes’ defense, the current arc is pretty brutal and personal for Barbara. Fawkes would do well to realize in the future, that a little humor can counterbalance the gloom of any story, and the contrast will effectively draw the readers into the character’s world.
Fawkes could have been cast in the role of pariah if DC didn’t come to their senses and rehire Gail Simone. This negative view towards Fawkes’ talents would have been a shame, because he s clearly a structurally strong writer who has a great sense of character and drama. Fans should look forward to seeing him taking the driver’s seat on another book in the future.
review by: Marc Buxton
"A Star is Born"
Writer: Keith Giffen
Artists: Tom Raney & Scott Kolins
Threshold is one of those books that nobody expected to be any good. It spun out of a Green Lantern: New Guardians annual that nobody seemed to care for, it features re-tooled versions of seriously obscure DC Silver Age sci-fi characters, and it was the target of a surprising amount of vitriol when it was revealed that one of the characters was an updated version of Captain Carrot. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I think I can safely say that we have hit peak internet when there is righteous indignation over a revamp of Captain Carrot. It’s time to turn off our devices, walk away, and go have a catch or shoot some hoops or something.
Anyway, all that aside…I think I might just really dig Threshold. It’s fast paced, it’s action packed, and its got the kind of grimy, dirty, lived-in science fiction feel that characterized the original Star Wars. There’s laser guns, wise-cracks, more alien races than in your average cantina scene, and a general sense that anything can happen. That’s really the thing here. So even though one of the main characters is technically a Green Lantern, and some of the supporting cast are updated versions of characters from fifty something years ago, there’s this general feeling that any of them could end up on the wrong end of a laser beam at any second.
Threshold #2 suffers from “second issue syndrome.” You know, “sing it with me, second verse, same as the first!” It happens. Whatever. I’m over it. Tom Raney’s art looks great and is really growing on me. There’s not a panel in the book that isn’t wall-to-wall aliens, ray guns, or aliens getting gutted and covering everything in purple blood. The whole book, despite all the high tech stuff in it, has a grimy, urban feel to it. It reminds me a little (unsurprisingly) of the “Five Years Later” era of the Legion of Super-Heroes. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing Raney take a crack at that little corner of the DC Universe at some point!
Oh, yeah, and then there’s Captain Carrot…ahem…I mean Captain K’Rot. This isn’t some “gritty reboot” of the character, it’s just, well…I don’t know what the hell it is, but it’s amusing, and it sure doesn’t compute that fans who didn’t give a damn about the character six months ago would suddenly get all up in arms. Oh, and for those of you who care, yes, he’s got Pig Iron along with him. This is important stuff, y’all.
And let’s not forget that Blue Beetle makes an appearance. Despite being pretty far removed from most of the DCU, this IS still a DCU book. And y’know what? Beetle looks and feels right at home in this setting. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Jaime Reyes version of Blue Beetle, from the look of the character on down, but he looks great here. Let’s face it, the Beetle armor is terrific alien tech, and he’s kind of wasting his potential on Earth. This little conflict spills over into issue three, so we’re not done with this yet.
I’m not exactly sure, but I think I might just be hooked on Threshold. Hell, I’ve just made it nearly all the way through this review without even mentioning the Larfleeze back-up story! I don’t wanna say too much, but I’ll do what I can. It’s darn funny, Scott Kolins’ art rules, and there’s a three panel Larfreeze reaction sequence which is pretty much the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen done with the character. Not essential, but it made a good comic even better.
review by: Mike Cecchini
"Way of the Outsider"
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artist: Alex Sanchez
I always like to take on the challenge of reviewing first issues of characters that I really don’t think are worthy of carrying their own title. In this day and age of constant reboots, re-launches and new numbering, you never know when you will overlook a good book about a fringe character that gets a shot at their own title. Unfortunately Katana #1 isn’t the book I had hoped it would be outside of the David Finch cover.
Katana has been around for thirty years already and is generally known as a member of the Outsiders. While her powers are nothing to write home about, I’m always intrigued by superheroes that do not have super-strength, super-speed or super-anything. For those that don’t know, Katana is a master of martial arts but it is her sword, the Soultaker, which has mystical powers. The sword is a twin but for those that wield it, it can communicate with the people that have been taken by its blade. In this case it is Katana’s dead husband Maseo. Katana aka Tatsu Yamashiro, is in the underbelly of San Francisco’s “Japantown” where she is determined to train and search for more secrets of the Soultaker sword. It does get a little confusing for new readers looking to jump on that don’t know some backstory about the character.
After training for a bit and having nightmares that betray the memory of Maseo, Tatsu ventures out into Japantown looking for a girl name Shun whose entire body is tattooed with scenes from Ancient Japan. Shun’s handler Yoko demands payment for every peek of the poor girl, who looks exhausted and frayed. She quietly asks Tatsu for help but it is of no use as Yoko immediately kicks her out after she has seen the piece of art history on Shun’s back. I wasn’t exactly sure what the point of this was in relation to the overall plot and I always feel that with new number ones, readers should be more engaged than quizzical.
While strolling through a sculpture park that reminds her of her childhood, thirteen attackers descend upon Katana. As she tears her way through more than half of the assassins, her Soultaker sword begins to move independently without her control. One of the attackers is familiar with Tatsu and while fighting asks her to join the Sword Clan but she is quick to dismiss them as corrupt. Then the man welcomes her to the “Tightrope,” whatever that is. Whether it was a test or not remains to be seen but the premiere issue was just “blah.”
Writer Ann Nocenti’s story is muddled and not told in a traditional narrative style with clear heroes and villains. Plus she lays on a heavy dose of Japanese clichés and stereotypes that do not translate well. Alex Sanchez’ art is good enough but with a David Finch cover, it’s a total bummer to open the book and see the stark difference in their styles. It is like when you were a kid and the toy on the commercial looks amazing but when you bring it home and put it together, it looks nothing like the box. That is exactly what Katana #1 is like; all exterior with no real guts.
review by: Jarrett Kruse
Demon Knights #17
“The Demon Bound”
Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Bernard Chang
One of the greatest appeals of Demon Knights was the voice and quirky humor of ex-writer Paul Cornell. When Cornell moved on, the book was in danger of losing its edge. Cornell introduced a world that told a sweeping medieval adventure but never lost sight of the fact that the fantasy based book was entrenched solidly in the DC Universe. Genre-juggling is a difficult thing, but so far, new writer Robert Venditti has being doing it very well. Venditti puts his own stamp on Cornell’s successful merging of superheroes with fantasy.
One of Venditti’s best moves is to time jump a number of years from when Cornell’s stories took place. This way, the new writer can do his own thing, and make distinctive changes to characters without neutering the conflict resolution that Cornell created. These characters are in a different place now, and these places aren’t necessarily pleasant. Take Jason Blood, for example. Jason is separated from Etrigan, which would normally be a good thing, but Jason’s former teammate, the immortal Vandal Savage, is torturing him in order to release Etrigan. Meanwhile, Etrigan is trapped in Hell, prisoner of Lucifer. Venditti creates a delicious irony in that the two have always wanted to be separate, but in order to escape their personal hells, they must find a way to reunite.
Meanwhile, Exoristos, Shining Knight, and Horsewoman must attempt to rescue Jason so he can use the Demon to stop Savage’s invasion of Themyscira, Exoristos’ home. Venditti presents the same form of high adventure fans of Cornell’s Knights are used to as the crew attempt a daring rescue of Jason Blood, using Exoristos to distract Savage with a stirring arm-wrestling contest. This sequence nails the type of humor that defines the book, and solidifies Venditti as a writer able to handle more than just action.
The stakes are raised by issues’ end. The Knights need Etrigan in order to combat Cain, the first vampire. Cain will invade Paradise Island unless the Knights can gather enough power to stop him. One of Cain’s army of vampires is a former Amazon. Yes, this book features an Amazon vampire marching with Cain to invade Wonder Woman’s home. This combination of DC lore combined with balls-to-the-wall action, humor, and spot-on characterization continues to make this book an underappreciated delight.
There are great quiet moments between the rescue and the vampires, as Ex faces the conflict of having to protect her home, which she has been exiled from. There is still a great ambiguity to the sex of Shining Knight, and the moments between Horsewoman and her new horse are priceless. This is a great cast under the care of a great new writer, and here’s hoping that DC allows this book to continue to expand the boundaries of DC’s rich past.
Chang’s art is detailed and adds layers to the rich fantasy world Vendetti is playing in. His woman are beautiful without being overtly sexist, something that is all too rare these days. He can do it all, from Amazons, to vampires, to demons, to bison riders. Chang captures the spirit of Demon Knights perfectly, combining fantasy elements with comedic timing to give readers a truly unique reading experience.
review by: Marc Buxton
“H’el on Earth: Lost Cause”
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Penciller: R.B. Silva
Inker: Rob Lean
“H’el on Earth” has been an exhausting, maddeningly inconsistent journey. Stretched across three titles, Superman, Superboy, and Supergirl, it took what felt like forever to actually get any momentum going. Of the first three to five chapters of this, I couldn’t help but feel that half of them (or more) could have been dispensed with entirely. The problem, of course, was one of structure, and it seemed built in to the crossover itself. “H’el on Earth” seemed to want to have it both ways. It wanted to get readers (like me) who don’t normally read Superboy or Supergirl to feel like we should pick those titles up, but on the other hand, it also seemed to want readers of any one specific title to feel like they weren’t OBLIGATED to buy the extra books in the series.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that “H’el on Earth” succeeded in either respect. I was looking for an excuse to buy more Superman titles (because that’s the kind of sucker I am) and “H’el on Earth” was just the excuse that the ol’ Science Council ordered. As a result, I can’t really tell you if reading “H’el on Earth” through just ONE of these titles would be a fulfilling experience, as they all kind of run together in my head. My instincts tell me, however, that the answer would be “no.”
After the slow start to this crossover where events just felt horrifically decompressed, Superboy #17 sure does pack a lot in. Maybe too much. H’el’s big scheme to “reboot” Krypton (at the expense of Earth) is minutes away from fruition, the weird insectoid herald from Superman #1 shows up, Supergirl and Superboy (and then joined by Wonder Woman) end up throwing punches because Kara is either being psychically manipulated by H’el or she’s the must gullible person in a red cape I’ve ever seen, and basically, nobody has a chance to catch their breath.
All of these little misgivings aside, “H’el on Earth” has turned out to be pretty entertaining, with a few standout issues that have nicely expanded the post-reboot Superman mythos. I’m not sure Superboy #17 qualifies as a “standout” in this series, but it sure looks nice. R.B. Silva’s art has really grown on me, and combined with Rob Lean’s inks and some really sweet, bright coloring from Richard and Tanya Horie, Superboy just LOOKS like a comic starring all of these characters (and the Justice League) should.
I don’t know if I’m gonna stick around and keep buying Superboy once “H’el on Earth” completes, but I might. They’ve gotten me intrigued enough about the character, and the possibility of expanding the new Superman mythos through him just enough to make it appealing. If I’m back here next month with a review of Superboy #18, then DeFalco and Silva did their job!
review by: Mike Cecchini