Top 5 DC Comics Releases for Week of 1/30/13

Reviews of Flash #16, Superman #16, Aquaman #16, Batman and Robin Annual #1, and Masters of the Universe: Origin of He-Man #1

(whew) Well, at least we avoided one of those “every issue we review this week has the same number” conundrums. Man, those are awkward. Anyway, Mike, Marc, Jarrett, and Bob run down a bounty of beautiful…ummmm…I ran out of alliteration. Anyway, we’ve got another chapter of “Throne of Atlantis” in Aquaman #16, the almost conclusion to “H’el on Earth” in Superman #16, some quality speedster/gorilla fighting action in Flash #16, the origin of He-Man in (you guess it) Masters of the Universe: Origin of He-Man #1, and an atypical father/son story in Batman and Robin Annual #1.

Aquaman #16

“Throne of Atlantis: Chapter Four”

Writer: Geoff Johns

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Penciller: Paul Pelletier

“Throne of Atlantis” looks like it’s successfully doing what many creators have strived for, but somehow failed to do: make not just Aquaman, but his entire supporting mythology an absolutely essential part of the DC Universe. Aquaman #16 is, on the one hand, almost indistinguishable from the Justice League issues it’s crossing over with right now, but on the other hand, there’s no question who the star of the show is, here. Then again, Aquaman is pretty much the star of the show in Justice League at the moment, too. And he should be during this event.

I mean, really, Vulko, of all people, is the most compelling character in this issue. Vulko! That right there should be enough to tell you how incredibly cool Geoff Johns has made Aquaman’s world right now. It’s taken awhile, but the New 52 DCU isn’t feeling quite as “new” anymore. There’s a cohesiveness and sense of scope that’s starting to take shape with these minor crossovers in the Superman titles, the Batman books, and right here. The DCU is starting to look like a much larger playground than it did just a few months ago, which solves many of the problems that some folks have had with the entire reboot. In fact, I think within a year, we won’t even notice it anymore. And when that happens, they’ve won, and it will be because of stories like “Throne of Atlantis.”

But as I’ve already said, the beauty of this comic is its seamless integration with Justice League right now. Paul Pelletier’s art is a nice match for Ivan Reis over in Justice League, and the two styles don’t “bump up against each other” when you read these titles side by side. The expanded roster of Justice Leaguers (hey, it counts! Some of them are gonna be showing up in Justice League America in a few weeks) all look great, and Pelletier is perfectly at home rendering some serious action sequences. Oh yeah, and the baddies? Pretty horrific.

What’s more, “Throne of Atlantis” looks to be short and sweet. There’s only one more issue (it concludes in Justice League #17) so I can’t even complain that they’re stretching this one out too long. In fact, when you see this last page, you’ll kinda want them to take their time, too. I think we can stop with the Aquaman jokes now.

review by: Mike Cecchini

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Story: 8/10

Art: 8/10

Overall: 8/10

 

The Flash #16

“Gorilla Warfare: Love and Sacrifice”

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Script, Cover, and Art: Francis Manapul

Script and Colors: Brian Buccellato

Since the start of the New 52, The Flash, under the guidance of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, has been a stand out title. It always gets iffy when pencillers try their hands at scripting, but Manapul has deftly ridden the lightning and crafted a very exciting series with some finely executed character work. Manapul was born to draw the Flash, the artist’s layouts are always unique and surprising. He gives the book a constant sense of rhythm and motion, something vital to a book about the fastest man alive. It’s become almost a guarantee that, art wise, The Flash will contain a sequence or a layout that readers have never seen before. The only knock on the series is the frequent sense of decompression in each issue, as every installment seems like a fragment rather than its own narrative. Really, since the book began, only three complete stories have been told, and while the stories have been entertaining, The Flash really needs to move at a, well, faster pace than that.

This issue breaks that decompressed pattern, as all sorts of controlled craziness takes place. The writers converge a number of plot lines very nicely and dove tail them into the final confrontation with Grodd. Iris West and a crew of normal folk are trapped in a time warp inside the speed force, Iris’s formerly incarcerated brother is making his way to the fight, the Rouges are doing what they can to uncharacteristically protect their city, and Barry must combat his own fear of inaction in order to stop Grodd’s rampage. All framed by a poignant flashback sequence involving Iris and Barry’s bitter break up over her need to prove her brother innocent of his past crimes. This adds a welcome layer to Barry and Iris the serves as a framework for all the craziness that follows.

Since the book began, the thematic center has been Barry’s inability to stop moving. He solves everything with forward momentum, and his need to keep going distances him form any meaningful human relationships. It is a fear that defines the character, and it is a nice character wrinkle for the modern speedster. In order to defeat Grodd, Flash must use his mind, not his legs. Manapul and Buccellato use the speed mind of the Flash in ways no other writers have thought to do. High praise indeed, because, between Mark Waid and Geoff Johns, it felt like every aspect of Flash’s potential power has been explored. Flash uses this ability to finally bring the fight to Grodd, who outmatches Barry in every other way. In the best scene in the series so far, Barry is finally able to bring the fight to Grodd without moving a muscle. Awesome stuff.

Speaking of Grodd, it’s always challenging for an artist to effectively render Grodd, as the idea of a psychic gorilla warlord is inherently silly. Manapul does not flinch from the challenge and his Grodd exudes primal terror. Somehow, Grodd’s simian face radiates savage intelligence. Manapul’s page layouts continue to be complex and burst with energy. The art sells the plot, a plot that in another artist’s hands might collapse under the weight of its own inherent ridiculousness. As a whole this modern take on the Flash is a great character study of Barry Allen, an exciting forum in which to explore the always welcome Rouges, and a tour-de-force of page design. This issue gives you plenty of bang for your three bucks, making up for the past abuse of decompression.

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review by: Marc Buxton 

Story: 7/10

Art: 10/10

Overall: 8/10

 

Masters of the Universe: Origin Of He-Man #1

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Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov

Artist: Ben Oliver

Ah, Masters of the Universe. If you are a child of the eighties, those four words conjure images of massive castles, robot horses, green slime and barbarians in loincloths. The original toy line shattered sales records and the accompanying animated series became an instant TV ratings juggernaut. The massive success of He-Man gave birth to the boy’s toy craze that dominated the rest of the 1980’s. An enjoyable DC Comics miniseries was followed by a less enjoyable two year run at Marvel. In the early 2000’s, the franchise was revived in comic form by Image and now DC Comics has regained the reins.

I am easy to placate when it comes to Masters of the Universe stories. The franchise has seen precious few high points in the last 31 years. This issue, unfortunately, does little to separate itself from the long line of forgettable He-Man tales. The one-shot serves as an origin of the title character, but does so in a way that I found unexciting and silly. The bulk of the issue deals with Skeletor as he pontificates about how great he is and how evil he is and how worthy of the power sword he is and how evil he is and how great he… zzzzzzzzz. Skeletor stalks the Eternian palace with Prince Adam, who he has taken hostage and forces him to reveal the location of King Grayskull’s power sword. Adam makes contact with the sword, The Sorceress visits him in his brain and tells him that the sword is his, Adam wakes up, becomes He-Man and stands up to Skeletor.

Ben Oliver’s art is easy on the eyes. He is a talented artist, to be sure, but even pretty imagery couldn’t add any substance to this quick and lightweight story. For me, one of the most important elements to the Masters of the Universe, err, universe, is its bright and varied color palette. The colors in this book were just, dull. The coloring isn’t poorly executed, but the fact that the story followed two characters around one location severely limited the opportunity to vary the coloring from page to page. The cover, however has a really cool design and is worth the price if you’re a He-Man fan. I’m on-board for future DC Masters of the Universe comics, but I really hope that we get more stories that resemble steak dinners, because this bite-sized issue left me decidedly unsatisfied.

review by: Bob Chamberlain

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Story: 2/10

Art: 5/10

Overall: 3/10

 

Superman #16

“H’el on Earth: A Fistful of Sticks”

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Writer: Scott Lobdell

Artist: Kenneth Rocafort

Yes, “H’el on Earth” is still going. I guess it hasn’t been going on any longer than any of the crossovers through the other DC books right now, it just feels longer because, well, the first four or five parts of this didn’t really do much. But it’s getting better, and fast. Superman #16 might not be the most action-packed issue of this crossover, but it’s certainly the most compelling, and probably the best looking, too!

People give Scott Lobdell a lot of grief. But you know what? Other than the occasional weird line of dialogue here and there, he’s been telling some pretty darn neat Superman stories since he came on board. I don’t know if this is an editorial edict from DC or if Lobdell is driving the bus at the moment, but there’s been a pretty hefty focus on the sci-fi and Kryptonian elements of the Superman legend in recent months. We open on Krypton here, and Krypton is never far from the discussion, especially considering how important Krypton is to H’el’s plan. A big part, really. Actually, it’s kind of a planet-sized part.

As for Kenneth Rocafort, this guy needs to stick around. I absolutely love the way he makes these characters look, and since pretty much the entire comic takes place either on Krypton, in the Fortress of Solitude, or on an alien ship, he really gets to flex some sci-fi muscle. When H’el engages his “star chamber” (which, as you might imagine, is central to his big, evil scheme) it’s, well, it’s pretty gorgeous actually.

The problem with Superman #16 is, no matter what, it all still feels a little inconsequential. This is a pretty hefty villain, and even though his motives are finally fleshed out in this issue, I still don’t quite “get” him. His hold over Kara is certainly creepy enough, but I’m not sure I’m buying that, either. It’s tough for me to kinda ding an issue for the sins of earlier chapters, but I wonder if that’s what I’m feeling here. “H’el on Earth” should have developed much more quickly. Now we’re coming to the end, and as cool as it’s looking, there’s still something missing. Ah, well. At least they’re back to telling big, cosmic Superman stories.

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review by: Mike Cecchini

Story: 6/10

Art: 8/10

Overall: 7/10

 

Batman and Robin Annual #1

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“Batman Impossible”

Writer: Pete Tomasi

Art: Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes

I’m a sucker for a good father/son story and Batman and Robin Annual #1 really delivers the goods. I also love when Alfred gets his due in the Batman canon. I’ve always found him to be the center of the Bat-Universe and when he sheds his uppity-British butler-ness, he can be a real gas. To quote Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne from Tim Burton’s Batman, “I couldn’t find my socks without him.” And then of course there’s Damian Wayne, who many Bat-purists still haven’t taken a real shine to, but the spoiled brat is the real centerpiece of this story. I’m always a big fan of one-shot stories that stray from the current story arc going on in the main title. It’s the comic book equivalent of Halftime in a football game; a proverbial breather to remember why we obsess and love these characters our entire lives.

The bonus-sized story opens in Gotham with Bruce coming off a grueling night of patrol. Nothing out of the ordinary for Bats but hey, the guy needs some rest. He awakes to Alfred bringing him breakfast at lunchtime and his bags for travelling overseas. Surprised that he has to go anywhere, Bruce reluctantly boards the Wayne Enterprises jet. As soon as the pair are over international waters Alfred allows him to view a video that Damian has left for Bruce. It seems that Bats Jr. is sending his Pop on a worldwide scavenger hunt in the name of improving their relationship. He wants proof that his Dad is the World’s Greatest Detective and not just the legend and lore he has heard in his short ten years. Damian’s arrogance has never been as high as in this segment but it is nice to see that he’s at least making the effort of reaching out to his Dad. Obnoxious sure, but still the kid seems to mean well for once and that shows me some character growth.

Damian’s first request is that Bruce heads to London with Alfred in tow to follow specific instructions. It’s interesting to see the father-son dynamic where Bruce entertains Damian’s demands even if he is not being a brat when “asking.” When Bruce and Alfred arrive in Jolly Old England at a posh hotel, they are met by the General Manager Clint Barrington, an old friend of Alf’s from his theater days doing Shakespeare across the pond years before Bruce was born. As they are welcomed into the hotel the manager presents Bruce with a painting that dons a prominent wall in their hotel painted by none other than the long deceased Martha Wayne. Above Martha’s signature is a young child’s writing that merely says “Bruce.” While Bruce has no recollection of visiting this particular haunt as a tot, it is clear that he has been there a lifetime ago. Barrington explains that a strange and anonymous letter had arrived three weeks earlier with specific instructions for Bruce’s next move.

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However, back in Gotham the reader is already aware that this entire wild goose chase has been orchestrated by Damian. In order to gain some independence and of course go on wild night patrols, Damian is determined to prove something more to himself than his Dad. But the precocious ten-year old is clearly enjoying his time on his own thinking that his Dad is buying into this so obvious dupe of a setup. Damian is in Gotham the whole time out on patrol as a “Batman Junior” type. I really dig the costume that Vicente Cifuentes draws for Damian and it is an awesome homage to the Gotham by Gaslight one-shot by Mike Mignola from back in ’89. I remember picking up the book when I was twelve and loved the idea of Batman in a different time in Gotham without any real laws that were enforced. The suit that Damian wears in the Annual is similar, but with 21st century gadgets. Very cool.

It is revealed that Damian is merely sending these video messages to Bruce’s digital tablet via green screen from Wayne Manor. The next stop is Barcelona then Greece where he continues to find meaningful pieces of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s all too brief history together. Bruce is moved at the thoughtfulness of Damian even though it’s obvious that he is clear on the ruse that his young son is playing on him. Seeing Damian around the Batcave unsupervised was much more fun than I expected and he takes to the Gotham night with the zeal and enthusiasm of a pup waiting for his first meal of the day. Although he is a bit of a know-it-all and comes from privilege, he is highly skilled even if he is pretty obnoxious most of the time. In the end Damian tells his Dad that the last stop on this historical tour is back in London where the journey started.

When they meet in London where Alfred has taken the stage again as a classically trained actor, Bruce divulges to Damian that he has known the whole time that he never left Gotham and that his green screen skills are not quite as good as he thinks. But more importantly, Bruce tells his young son how much he has grown and that he does trust him to be his partner; a far cry from the beginning of Damian’s earlier Bat-career. While it might be a little schmaltzy, Batman could use the occasional schmaltz from time to time and if anything Damian is keeping him and Alfred young.

review by: Jarrett Kruse

Story: 8/10

Art: 8/10

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Overall: 8/10