You win some, you lose some, and luckily, there were far more winners than losers in this week’s pile of DC books. Is it our imagination, or is the New 52 DC Universe finally starting to feel like a cohesive whole? Sit back, relax, and let us know if you agree with our takes on a bunch of stories that deal with everything from the supernatural to interplanetary and interdimensional craziness!
Action Comics #16
“The Second Death of Superman”
Writers: Grant Morrison and Sholly Fisch
Pencillers: Brad Walker, Rags Morales, Chris Sprouse
The party’s almost over with Grant Morrison’s Action Comics, folks. I’m sure there’s a segment of the comics reading community that will breathe a sigh of relief when he’s gone, but I’m certainly not one of them. Action Comics has been a challenging book, to be sure. It’s jumped around in Superman’s life, toyed with chronology, introduced and dismissed seemingly major revamps of established characters with nary a footnote to help you keep things straight, and now, as it nears the end, Grant isn’t making it any easier on the reader or on Supes!
I don’t want to try and recount too much of the plot of this one, as it seems a little pointless. “The Second Death of Superman” has to be experienced, and it’d probably help if you have the previous fifteen issues handy when you do it. At a Superman panel at New York Comic Con back in October, Grant promised that before his run was finished, all the lingering questions about the New 52 Superman’s past would be answered, including the issue of whether or not he ever died at the hands of Doomsday. Grant may have been telling the truth, but he was telling it as he saw it. You see, we don’t really ever find out if anything resembling 1992’s Superman #75 ever really happened. But this Superman did die, and when it happened, it was “Doomsday.” But was “Doomsday” just a clever Daily Planet headline, or was it the name of the creature which took Superman’s life? Of course, that isn’t to be confused with the “Super Doomsday” who we see on the cover, but that’s another story…
While the first eight issues of Action Comics only covered a matter of weeks or months in the life of the Man of Steel, the most recent eight have compressed the timeframe considerably. And Morrison has been using that accelerated timeline to his storytelling advantage. It’s not enough for Grant to simply tell us that years are passing, there has to be an in-story reason for it. We have to actually experience the compression time occurring between the panels. Time itself is warping for the characters in Action Comics, because of some outside influence, and we’re watching it happen on the page.
The Legion of Super Heroes back-up story by Sholly Fisch and Chris Sprouse is nice, but feels a little inconsequential considering how high the tension is in the main story. Then again, you’ll never hear me complain about the Legion of Super Heroes showing up, especially when it involves Chris Sprouse on art. All of Fisch’s back-up stories have been quite good, but this issue’s main story was a tough act to follow. There’s only one issue left of this era of Action Comics. I can’t wait to see what happens.
review by: Mike Cecchini
Animal Man #16
“Rotworld: The Red Kingdom: Part 4”
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artists: Steve Pugh, Timothy Green II
So yeah, Blackbriar Thorn looks exactly like Alan Moore, and the heroes enter the battle saying, “Inside all that wood he’s just another man. A scared little wizard.” But the meta-textual potshot does not in any way detract from the story of Animal Man’s quest to free the world from Anton Arcane and the Rot, or the struggles of his young daughter as she faced down her own family. The emotional core of the book is Buddy’s connection with his family. While his adventures with the eclectic group of heroes, whether it is against Thorn or the armies of the Rot, are of the world-saving variety, the real goal of Buddy’s conflicts is to get back to his family. In this case, his wife and kids needs him pretty badly. Ellen, Cliff, and Grandma are all possessed by members of the Rot, and little Maxine is forced to face them. The Rot are drawn like sentient cancers, good old fashioned nightmare fuel, and the reader is practically begging Buddy to end his quest so he can return to help his daughter before her innocence is lost forever.
Buddy’s team is well utilized, and the reader gets a sense of how magnificent and awe inspiring a Green Lantern can be. When Medpyll charges his ring for the first time, that’s when things get epic. There is a great deal of thought to who is part of Buddy’s quest, and hopefully Lemire will utilize them further in the future. Animal Man #16 is loaded with moments of quiet intensity, like Maxine’s inspiring bravery in the face of her worst familial nightmares, which are contrasted with moments of sheer awesomeness like Frankenstein’s undead army. Certainly, this is one crossover that does not shrink from big ideas, but the emotional center of the book, that of a man desperately trying to save his family, is never lost.
The ending has a “holy crap” quality to it that puts the outcome of Buddy’s quest seriously in doubt. The Rot is profane, and in his climax, Lemire has it taint the purest iconography in comics. And there’s just something mind-blowing about hearing Constantine call Alan Moore a “bearded bastard” while struggling to save reality.
review by: Marc Buxton
Earth 2 #8
Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Yildiray Cinar
Inkers: Ryan Winn & Ruy José
They’ve teased it for a while, but we finally get up close and personal with Steppenwolf in Earth 2 #8. Steppenwolf, as you may recall, was the leader of Darkseid’s armies when they invaded this particular dimension. And while the army from Apokolips was defeated, Steppenwolf decided to hang around on Earth a little longer to see what kind of trouble he can cause. Well, to hear him tell it, he’s stuck here, unable to create a Boom Tube to bring him back home, but is he telling the truth? Regardless, he’s hiding out in the country of Dherain, as a guest of King Marov.
The other focus of this issue is the introduction of Fury, who has been re-created as a servant of Steppenwolf, and her new incarnation raises all manner of interesting questions. She’s still the daughter of Wonder Woman, but who might her father be? How did Steppenwolf convince her to serve him, considering that he’s the man who killed her mother? Is it me, or does her weapon of choice look less like a “lasso of truth” and more like a badass energy whip of doom?
Steppenwolf, with Fury’s assistance, ends up doing exactly what we would expect him to do to King Marov in order to gain a legitimate throne on this Earth. Much of Earth 2 #8 is just Steppenwolf and Fury decimating Dherain’s army, in a series of nicely rendered, dynamic pages from Yildiray Cinar, which showcase exactly what a serious threat that Fury is. After all, she’s an Amazon who’s been given technology from New Genesis to play with, so you probably shouldn’t mess with her.
This issue virtually stands on its own. There’s no mention of any of the new heroes which were introduced in Earth 2’s first story arc, and instead, Robinson takes this issue to engage in some welcome world-building. I hope that every few issues that Robinson takes an opportunity for more self-contained stories like this, focusing on the bigger picture surrounding this alternate universe (similar to how he would use the “Times Past” stories in Starman to flesh out backstories and seed future plotlines). Earth 2 has, at times, been a little uneven, but I think that’s just been a symptom of trying to do too much, too soon. Now that the camera is starting to pull back, allowing readers to see the bigger picture, things can get really interesting.
review by: Mike Cecchini
Green Lantern: New Guardians Annual #1
“The Show Must Go On!”
Writer: Keith Giffen
Artists: Scott Kolins & Andrei Bressan
When Geoff Johns created the myriad other Lantern Corps, it was the hottest thing going. Each Lantern and Corps added something unique to the interplanetary narrative of the DCU, and the additions made the universe seem like a very diverse place. The whole concept proved so popular that when the New 52 hit, DC wanted a parking place for these new characters. That parking place was Green Lantern: New Guardians, and in the title’s first Annual, Keith Giffen uses some of the spectrum members to explore the boundaries of the DCU and set up his new series, Threshold. It just would have been nice if any of the Lanterns actually did anything.
The whole thing starts with Carol Ferris, a.k.a. Star Sapphire, dropping Kyle Rayner off on the planet Zamaron to learn the ways of the Sapphire ring. With Kyle out of the way, her bosses the Zamarons dispatch Carol, Arkillo, and Saint Walker to find where perennial baddie Lady Styx is located. Carol is tasked with trying to find out where Styx stands in the current conflict with the Guardians. The Lanterns meet a new character named Jediah Caul, a yellow-skinned Green Lantern operating under deep cover who really wants to be Han Solo. His purpose is ambiguous; he is snarky, unlikable, and evidently, will be the main character of Giffen’s upcoming book, Threshold.
Somehow, Star Sapphire is captured, forced to compete in a reality show where she is hunted by heavily armed bounty hunters, has a brief conversation with Lady Styx while on the run, and gets saved by Arkillo and Saint Walker with the help of Caul. At least that’s what I think happens, because the whole book is all concept and no heart. Sapphire, the protagonist, really does nothing. She’s sassy and tough, but you could insert any DCU heroine in her place and tell the same story. Johns and other creators have done a great job making Arkillo and Saint Walker multi-dimensional, yet here they are caricatures. Arkillo is the gruff big guy while Walker is the naïve alien. This leads to some good comedic moments, but there is never the feeling of epic grandeur that usually surrounds these characters.
The art succeeds when it focuses on alien cityscapes, but the action is muddled, and often, the artists try to jam as much stuff on panel as possible. Giffen is usually better when he handles his own creations, so there is hope for Threshold, but this Annual was as forgettable as it was confusing.
review by: Marc Buxton
Worlds’ Finest #8
“Hunt and be Hunted”
Writer: Paul Levitz
Artists: George Perez and Cafu
The opening of Worlds’ Finest #8 is a nail biter, as Helena’s peaceful pursuit of urban cuisine is interrupted by a life or death struggle with two snipers. Her panic and confusion are offset by her toughness and training as she takes out her assassins before almost bleeding out. As she recovers, the reader is made privy to a flashback of her time learning her craft. Levitz contrasts the heavy-handed approach of her father, Batman, and the gentle encouragement of her mother, Catwoman. Selina and Helena debate when the young Helena will be ready to assume the mantle of The Huntress and begin fighting crime. This information about Helena’s past makes her a rich character ripe for exploration. The reader sees every lesson come to the forefront in her struggle with the snipers, and even though she is a stranger in a strange land, the lessons of her parents have travelled with her to serve justice in another dimension. Such reality based drama would seem out of place when juxtaposed with the inherent cosmic confusion of the multiverse, but the whole thing has a human heart and sympathetic protagonists.
The relationship and loyalty between Power Girl and Huntress is what makes Worlds’ Finest succeed. With Helena hurt, the reader gets a sense of how terrible Power Girl’s abilities can be. All of a sudden, international boundaries have no meaning, as she takes out an army to confront Ibn Hassan, the oil rich terrorist responsible for Helena’s injuries. Power Girl comes across as a good person and loyal friend, but the sight of the broken body of her friend turns her into a terrible force of nature.
Worlds’ Finest is inspiring in its thematic focus on friendship and it’s an overlooked bright spot of the New 52. Paul Levitz continues to impress as he charts the adventures of the dimensionally shifted Huntress and Power girl on Earth 1. He understands the characters, and thematically proves that a hero is a hero no matter what dimension they are in.
review by: Marc Buxton