Unsurprisingly, in a week as full of releases as this one, it’s tough to not find some great books to write about. This is about as strong a week we’ve seen out of DC Comics in the last year or so, and it’s anchored by strong offerings like Action Comics #17, Green Lantern Corps #17 (you’re gonna miss Peter Tomasi when he’s gone, folks), a post-Joker Nightwing #17, Legion of Super-Heroes #17 (welcome back, Keith Giffen!), and a surprisingly awesome Justice League of America’s Vibe #1!
Justice League of America’s Vibe #1
Writers: Geoff Johns and Andrew Kreisberg
Pencils: Pete Woods
Inks: Sean Parsons
Did this creative team just do the impossible? Is Vibe suddenly a viable, compelling, integral part of the workings of the new DCU? It might be a little too early to tell, but so far, so good. For those who don’t know, Vibe has been a punch line since his first appearance, nearly thirty years ago, in 1984’s Justice League of America Annual #2. Vibe was a member of the infamous “Detroit League” which consisted almost entirely of second and third string characters (Vibe! Vixen! Gypsy! Steel!) which was the last Justice League line-up before Crisis on Infinite Earths came and cleaned house. Needless to say, Vibe, his ridiculous v-necked costume, mediocre power set, and unfortunate code name, hasn’t been seen all that often in comics in the last few years.
So, why Vibe? Why now? What makes DC think that this character can suddenly support his own title? Well, for starters, it looks like they’ve finally found a purpose for him. Vibe gained his powers when he was caught in the backlash of one of Darkseid’s Boom Tubes during the invasion of Earth that we saw in Justice League #1. In fact, Vibe’s older brother was the first casualty of that war, having been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Young Cisco (the soon-to-be Vibe) was caught in the dimensional pull, and as a result gained vibrational powers and the ability to sense dimensional disturbances.
This might not sound too impressive, but as any student of DC continuity will tell you, when the words “dimensions” and “vibrations” appear in close proximity to one another, you know that talk of the multiverse can’t be too far behind. And we certainly do get teases about the multiverse (as well as one notable nod to the old Detroit League incarnation) as we follow Amanda Waller through a secret section of the ARGUS HQ. While I’m not sure that I buy everyone’s motivation for throwing this inexperienced kid into a volatile mix of superhumans, that’s kind of the price you pay with superhero books in general, right? All is forgiven.
Vibe #1 ties in pretty closely with the brand new Justice League of America title (which Vibe will be showing up in) but you don’t need to have read that to get on board here. I’m pretty impressed with Vibe #1. While this isn’t the most inspired or stylish work I’ve seen from Pete Woods, he tells a good, clean, clear story, and Johns and Kreisberg have turned Vibe into, if not an essential character, certainly a viable one with loads of potential. Vibe is a title that just might grow the new DCU beyond the rather static, insular place it’s felt like since the re-launch, and the idea that this might be the character that properly reintroduces the multiverse is intriguing. I’m as surprised as you are, but I’ll be back for more!
Review by: Mike Cecchini
Action Comics #17
“Superman and the Fiend from Dimension X”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencillers: Brad Walker & Rags Morales
Writer: Sholly Fisch
Penciller: Chris Sprouse
Reviewing any work by Grant Morrison is tricky. Morrison layers his work with so much subtext that it takes multiple views, reads, and considerations to get the full impact of his narratives. The best way to review Morrison is to read a Morrison arc, think about it for a decade, read it again, change your opinion (twice) and then review it. In lieu of that, it’s good to go with one’s visceral thoughts and let fly.
The best way to dissect a Morrison plot is from the inside out. Action Comics #17 starts with the Kents. This issue covers their death in a car crash following Clark’s senior prom. It is strongly hinted that Vyndktvx somehow manipulated the event using Pa Kent’s handkerchief in an isomorphic magic ritual. Morrison reveals the events that led to the Kents’ deaths now tie in to Superman’s struggle in the present with Vyndktvx and a giant robotic alternate dimensional Superman. The real fuel for Superman’s might isn’t the yellow sun, but the eternal lessons taught to him by his adoptive family. Superman is surrounded by sheer insanity; a cadre of Superman villains fueled by revenge and working for Vyndktvx, kryptonite chains, a pending invasion from another dimension, and a giant robot Superman destined to replace the Man of Steel. He can’t possibly win, but with the lessons engrained in him at the moment of his father’s death, he can’t possibly lose either.
So, all that seems pretty big, right? Well, wait…this is Grant Morrison and the consequences are bigger than a villainous rampage and an inter-dimensional invasion. The events playing out in the present are supposed to be Superman’s death, but the future needs him to survive, so Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, and Cosmic Boy arrive to prevent Superman’s death, even if it means it will wipe out their future. Morrison weaves threads through dimensions and potentialities, as the Legion are inspired by Superman, where Superman is inspired by the love of his parents. Jonathan Kent’s words as he lay dying in his son’s arms not only create the world’s greatest hero, they also echo through time to inspire heroes of the future, heroes so great, they are willing to sacrifice everything so the universe’s greatest champion can live!
These are huge ideas that go beyond the big punch ‘em up that this issue appears to be on the surface: that the moment of a mortal man’s death can define heroism and sacrifice thousands of years later. Because it is Jonathan Kent, a powerless man, who says the words that inspire the future, by extension we all have the potential to alter events through our message and our morality. Yeah, THAT’S what this comic is about.
The thematic idea of the Kents’ inspiration to the future is further echoed in Sholly Fisch’s back-up. Fisch relates the moments before Clark’s senior prom, the last moment Clark and his parents will ever share together, and a visit from future Superman, who will have Jonathan’s lessons reiterated during the moments of Superman’s greatest test.
Review by: Marc Buxton
“The Long Week”
Writer: Kyle Higgins
Artist: Juan Jose Ryp
Colors: Brett Smith
Finally, the “Death of the Family” storyline in the Batman books is over, and everyone is resuming their lone roles in comic books. Sort of. Nightwing #17 is a transitional issue, as Dick turns the page on an important chapter in his life, and takes some brotherly advice from Robin (Damian Wayne).
Dick Grayson’s story as Nightwing is one of my favorite in all of comics. You know: man takes in boy, raises boy, makes boy badass, boy runs away and becomes his own man. Generally, it’s a great story, and although I enjoyed the overall arc of “Death of the Family,” I am glad to see Nightwing begin returning to his own life and his own problems. And, that’s really all that Nightwing #17 is, the beginning of Nightwing returning to his own life after the Joker’s antics.
Mostly, I enjoy the darkness of the character, and Nightwing #17 certainly continues along that same path. Nightwing is one of the more theatrical books in DC’s lineup, and Kyle Higgins’ story of Dick Grayson’s second tragedy in Nightwing #17 is interesting enough, although lacking in some areas. Robin silently stalking Nightwing in the shadows felt out of place and unwarranted, as if Robin just woke up one day and said, “you know what, I’m just going to follow Dick today to see if he’s okay!” That’s not how writing should work, and Higgins lost a point for this.
One thing I really hate about comic books showed up in this issue also, with Robin and Nightwing talking as they’re running on the rooftops. I hate it. You can’t run at full speed and have an everyday conversation while running and jumping across roofs. It’s surprisingly prevalent in comics, and it’s a cliché that just has to go.
But, the rest of Nightwing #17 is good enough. Having the Joker dress Raya Vestri, the girl Joker broke out of Blackgate prison, as Nightwing and then killing her in typical Joker fashion, and I found it enjoyable. The little fling between Nightwing and Sonia Zucco (Branch), whose father killed Dick Grayson’s parents, was another unfortunate fate for Dick, albeit an enjoyable one to read.
Juan Jose Ryp’s artwork is very well done, to say the least. His character modeling and creation are all really detailed and well drawn. Ryp’s few action sequences were great. I especially liked Robin grabbing Nightwing’s arm as he’s raining down blows. Brett Smith’s color work takes from a large palette of colors, although it heavily favors the dark hues, which is perfectly fitting for a Nightwing book. Overall, Nightwing #17 was the transitional issue I was expecting, but worth the pick-up, as it’s undoubtedly necessary for what’s next for Dick Grayson.
Review by: Robert Bernstein
Legion of Super-Heroes #17
“The Beginning of the End”
Story: Keith Giffen and Paul Levitz
Art: Keith Giffen
Inker: Scott Koblish
It’s impossible for me to stay away from the Legion for very long. I’ve tried. But the Legion of Super-Heroes remains one of my favorite franchises in comics. The idea of costumed superheroes operating in a straight sci-fi environment is immensely appealing to me, so even when Legion has hit some rough spots (which has been, unfortunately, quite often in the last twenty years), I’m still usually along for the ride. So when it was announced that Keith Giffen, one of the most important creators ever to work on the book, would be reuniting with Paul Levitz, thereby recreating the team that crafted one of the finest adventures in Legion history (I’m talking about “The Great Darkness Saga” in case you didn’t know), I knew I’d be showing up for the party.
Unfortunately for me, I haven’t been following Legion of Super-Heroes since 2011’s relaunch. By all accounts, it was largely unaffected by DC’s reboot, and essentially just picked up the pieces from the previous series (which itself had only just been relaunched a few years prior). As a result, I’m not sure exactly how much I’m missing by jumping into the action with Legion of Super-Heroes #17. It doesn’t really matter all that much to me since: a) I’m such a ridiculous Legion nerd and my collection already has so many gaps in it that I’m used to coming in right in the middle of the action and figuring things out as I go and b) Keith Giffen.
Let’s start with “a” though. Legion of Super-Heroes #17 opens with Phantom Girl, Polar Boy, Invisible Kid, and Sun Boy waking up from a crash on a planet that none of them are familiar with, and where nobody speaks Interlac. Well, THREE of them wake up. One of them won’t be waking up again. Ever. And you know what they say in comics about how, “if there’s no body…” well, there’s a body alright…and this Legionnaire appears to have been dealt with permanently. Twice. Meanwhile, Ultra Boy, Glorith, and Chameleon Boy are on Rimbor where they’re attacked by Servo-Bots that seem to have some connection to Tharok from the Fatal Five. It ain’t much to go on, even if you’re as big a Legion fan as I am. So, on to my second point…
Keith Giffen. Good God. Keith Giffen’s style has changed a bit since his glory days on the Legion (and Ambush Bug, for that matter), but it ain’t a bad thing. Fans of his recent work on OMAC will see a similar style here (abetted, once again, by inker, Scott Koblish). Giffen has embraced a style reminiscent of 1970s Jack Kirby, particularly apparent during some of the frenetic action sequences and anything involving the expulsion of large quantities of cosmic energy. So, needless to say, I ain’t complaining. It’s a shame that it looks like Giffen is only sticking around for two more issues, because I could look at this book all day. Ah, well…better enjoy it while I can. And for some of us, any excuse to buy the Legion is a good excuse…
review by: Mike Cecchini
Green Lantern Corps #17
“Wrath of the First Lantern Part Two: Decimated”
Story and Words: Peter Tomasi
Penciller: Fernando Pasarin
Inker: Scott Hanna
Geoff Johns isn’t the only superb, long running Green Lantern writer departing at the end of “Wrath of the First Lantern.” Peter Tomasi, who has been writing tales exploring the wider Green Lantern mythos, is departing Green Lantern Corps the same month Johns bids his farewell. Hopefully, Tomasi’s own contributions will not be lost, as he has taken what Johns has created and deftly added to it. Some of the most powerful GL stories of the past decade have been penned by Tomasi, and his departure marks the end of an entertaining era.
Tomasi uses Green Lantern Corps #17 to explore the inner workings of Guy Gardner, a character he’s done an extraordinary job exploring. In this issue, the First Lantern, Valthoom, somehow kidnaps Guy and mentally tortures him by showing him what Guy’s private world would have been like if certain events were altered. It seems Valthoom uses the emotional spectrum to guide his victims through a torturous exploration of their own psyche. The whole thing is used to explore Guy as a character and give readers a window into what makes Guy tick.
Valthoom exposes Gardner to potentially his greatest tragedies. Tomasi reveals a childhood moment where Guy and his sister fall through ice and are saved by their older brother. Valthoom tweaks reality, and shows Guy that if his brother had been the one to fall along with the sister, Guy would have failed to save them. He exploits Guy’s weakness: his fear of inferiority to the sibling his father preferred. Later, Valthoom exposes Guy to a moment where he was forced to allow a dozen people to die in order to save hundreds. Again, the First Lantern tweaks reality, and shows what would happen if Guy had failed, and this is where the issue hits the accelerator, as the tragedy causes Guy to become a Red Lantern.
Tomasi masterfully weaves human moments of vulnerability and tragedy with the Green Lantern mythos. He presents a world where human regret can have very real consequences on the universe thanks to the power of the Lantern spectrum. Many cosmic comic events are overwrought with idea after idea after idea, so much so that they sometimes lose impact. By filtering all these ideas through Guy Gardner, Tomasi makes a huge story small and crafts a story we can all relate to. Stories like this are why Tomasi will be missed.
Readers now know the memories and vulnerabilities that fuel Guy Gardner. The violence was a bit difficult to look at at times and almost distracted from the story, but on a second read it became clear it was necessary to show how Guy would have become a Red Lantern if he was forced to experience those extremes. This is another reason Tomasi is so good, he takes readers to the edge, but always has a narrative reason for doing so, never wallowing in gratuity.
This issue couldn’t have been easy to draw, as many of Valthoom’s scenes are told in complex montages with highly rendered details. Pasarin never muddles the art, and tells a dynamic story that under a lesser artist would have lost cohesion. Like Johns, Tomasi has three months left to do what he does best, tell kick ass stories filled with huge ideas that never lose their humanity. The next creative teams have some large shoes to fill.
Review by: Marc Buxton