This was an interesting week for our DC Comics read and review piles, as there isn’t a flagship title in sight! Instead we get a mix of non-traditional superheroics with Stormwatch #17, Earth 2 #9, and Worlds’ Finest #9, a little dose of horror with Swamp Thing #17, and the big-screen sci-fi stylings of Insurgent #2!
“The Men Who Fell to Earth”
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Will Conrad
Stormwatch has been the odd man out in the New 52. The Authority/Stormwatch characters always had a very post-modern feel to them, so redesigns seemed out of place and unneeded. The book started with writer Paul Cornell, who quickly departed. The title then fell into the hands of the always capable Peter Milligan who has been trying to find the title’s voice and purpose with varying degrees of success. The original mission statement of Stormwatch was a team that handled super-human menaces in the years before the rise of the Justice League. They were the first line of defense against the impossible, but at times, the book has felt a bit typical. Go back to the Warren Ellis/Mark Millar days, and you’ll know that Stormwatch should never feel typical. This issue was a step back in the right direction even though the action still feels like it’s taking place in its own reality rather than the DC Universe.
The Engineer has been possessed by a corrupting force and is coldly trying to kill Midnighter and Apollo. She transports them to Earth and is using Stormwatch’s HQ, the Eye of the Storm, to try and end the threat to her plans. Milligan’s Engineer is a cold and calculating machine, a strong part of her character has always been her human core, and this issue effectively strips her of that. Her plans are larger than killing her former comrades, as she also wants to wipe humanity from Earth and start fresh. For the first time since the reboot, Stormwatch faces a threat that feels massive in scale. Add to the fact that Engineer is their former comrade and you have some effective drama from Millligan and company.
Midnighter and Apollo are struggling to stay alive while struggling to come to terms with their feelings for each other. One of the better story choices the new Stormwatch has made is to begin the narrative before the two are romantically linked. As a long time reader, it’s fun to watch them forge their romance, instead of it already having existed years before they step on stage. Their banter keeps the story flowing, and there is a sense of drama as readers know that if Engineer succeeds she isn’t killing two heroes, but killing a great love.
Jack Hawksmoor also gets to shine this issue as he takes the fight straight to Engineer. His powers are always awesome to see in action, and since the Eye of the Storm is, essentially, a huge city, we get to see Jack at his finest until Engineer ‘ports him into the Brazilian rainforest. Uh-oh. Right there, Milligan gives us enough drama to return next issue, but when he adds Zealot and O.M.A.C. to the fold, he introduces the prospect of more mayhem. It’s a relief that Stormwatch finally feels like something resembling Stormwatch.
The story is solid, but it still isn’t clear what place this book holds in the DCU and seems forced and unimportant to the overall narrative. Using O.M.A.C. in a solid and unexpected fashion justifies its inclusion this issue, but Stormwatch still feels extraneous in a world that will soon have two Justice Leagues. Part of Stormwatch/Authority’s old charm was that they were truly Earth’s only defense against the horrors of the universe. Now, it seems like if they fail, it’s really no big deal, as many heroes will be there to pick up the slack. By making a member of Stormwatch itself a threat, Milligan brings some of the old drama back to the title, and makes this issue a strong read with consequences.
Will Conrad brings the goods this issue. His Midnighter and Apollo reek of confidence and power, while his Engineer is inhuman and scary. The action is perfectly paced. His splash page reintroduction of Zealot has a great old school Wildstorm feel to it. Milligan and Conrad finally find a bit of the magic that defined these characters in the past. It’s not back completely, but this issue was certainly a step in the right direction.
review by: Marc Buxton
Earth 2 #9
“Tower of Fate: The Man who was Scared”
Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Nicola Scott
Inker: Trevor Scott
Other than the initial story arc, much of Earth 2 has felt like an exercise in world-building. And that makes sense, of course. I mean, just look at the title of the book. Earth 2 #9 is the prologue to the second major story arc, “The Tower of Fate,” which will, naturally, be introducing Doctor Fate to the New 52 version of my favorite parallel universe. But still, a prologue is just a prologue, and this issue is still introducing many of the concepts and the world.
The one thing I have to keep telling myself when I read an issue of Earth 2 is “this is not a Justice Society comic.” It may feature a bunch of characters that are, for most intents and purposes, analogous to members of the Justice Society we all know and love, but really, this book isn’t about an organized team in any sense of the word. If it was, it’d be called Justice Society rather than Earth 2. As a result, issues tend to bounce around from character to character, and location to location, and we don’t really get much of a sense of who everybody is.
That’s alright, though. The fun of this book remains trying to pinpoint the characters who haven’t been introduced fully yet, and waiting to see how they’re going to look and act when they finally do show up on the scene. Doctor Fate is a pretty serious heavy hitter for JSA fans, so knowing that he’s not only gonna be a major part of the book, but the driving focus of virtually the entire story arc, is quite encouraging. Some of the problems I’ve had with Earth 2 have stemmed from how quickly the main characters (Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, etc) had to be established in order to get that first arc moving.
Earth 2 #9 features the return of Nicola Scott on art duties, and she’s always welcome here. But even her clean pencils can’t save a rather thin issue. Jay Garrick (The Flash of this worl) returns home only to be confronted by Wesley Dodds (I might add, I absolutely love his costume design in this book), Major Sato, The Atom, and a host of World Army troops, only to be rescued by Khalid Ben-Hassin, the man who looks to be the new Doctor Fate. And that’s pretty much it. After barely seeing Jay at all in the last few issues, it’s a little jarring, and introducing his mother right in the middle of all of this seems even stranger. Still, “The Tower of Fate” sounds promising enough, so hopefully, now that we’re in “Nabu’s realm” things can get moving.
review by: Mike Cecchini
Swamp Thing #17
“Rot World: War of the Rot: Part 2”
Writers: Scott Snyder & Jeff Lemire
Artist: Andrew Belanger
Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire are the two brightest lights of the New 52. Everything they touch turns into critical gold. They both did the impossible by taking two beloved Vertigo properties, Animal Man and Swamp Thing, and shifted them both into the mainstream DC Universe without losing the dark tonality that defined each character. Snyder and Lemire hit part 1 of “War of the Rot” out of the park in Animal Man #17. Startlingly, they completely went off the rails in Part 2.
How this happened is confusing. After Animal Man #17 all the elements were there. Swamp Thing and Animal Man were making their final stand against Arcane. Arcane shockingly uses hideously transformed versions of Buddy’s daughter Maxine, and Swamp Thing’s love Abby to derail the heroes’ attempts at defeating the Rot. It had an army of zombiefied DC icons taking on Swampy and Buddy’s rag tag band of heroes. It had Frankenstein as a Green Lantern. So how did it go so wrong? There seemed to be no focus in Swamp Thing #17. It bounced from one conflict to another, going through the motions of a story without including the emotional resonance that defined both series from their inception.
Both heroes’ journeys revolve around defeating the Rot so Buddy can reunite with his family and Alec can reunite with Abby. But when confronted by the horrifically profane versions of their dear ones, the showdown is treated like a generic super-hero brawl. Yes, Buddy delivers a stirring speech about how he won’t let his daughter live as some tumorous creature while bravely defeating her. Yes, it does become a character defining moment for Buddy, as his instincts take over and his role as father combines with his role as Earth’s protector to allow him to mercifully put down his little girl. The concepts are there and well thought out but they are stillborn, there is no heart to the proceedings. Shocking for a book written by two authors whose work is defined by heart. Everything is rushed; there’s no sense of gravitas anywhere, just one mini conflict after another. The Rot War isn’t over, and there’s little doubt that these two master storytellers will return to form, but Swamp Thing #17 is an unforeseen disappointment.
The art plays a huge role in the book’s failings. Swamp Thing has been defined by great artists since the character’s inception. The Rotworld saga has featured some of the most disturbingly visceral art of the past few years. Andrew Belanger creates some unique page designs, but his faces and figures are incredibly cartoony. Cartoony doesn’t complement a story about giant cancer monsters rending apart the very fabric of nature and reality. The transformed Maxine should give the reader a sense of innocence tainted, a horrific combination of purity and putrescence. Instead Bellanger renders something that looks like a cross between a Muppet and a cabbage. Bellanger is capable, no doubt, but his style is so wrong for Swamp Thing, it makes one wonder if editorial is paying attention at all to some of these assignments. There are horses for courses, and a clean cartoon style just served to further derail a story muddled in its own disorganization.
review by: Marc Buxton
Writers: F.J. DeSanto and Todd Farmer
Artist: Federico Dallocchio
When I reviewed the first issue of Insurgent, I compared it to the pilot episode of an interesting new sci-fi series. I take that back. Insurgent is a feature film waiting to happen. So maybe I was a little dissatisfied with some of the set-up and exposition in the first issue. So what? They got me to come back for another helping, so clearly, it was worth it. Insurgent #2 delivers the goods.
So, we’ve already established that there are a bunch of cybernetic sleeper agents wandering the streets of the near-future America. These folks aren’t to be trifled with, and when they “awaken” they can do some serious damage. The thing is, most of these people didn’t ask for these abilities, and none of ‘em know that they have them. That’s where the villain of Insurgent comes in. Alright, so he looks like maybe he should be jobbing on Impact Wrestling, but aside from that, he’s actually pretty interesting. And, like the best villains, he doesn’t think small. Is he a messianic figure for these folks who have unknowingly had their bodies altered by government nanotech? Is he looking for power? Recognition? I’m intrigued. Just how many people DID the government make these alterations to, anyway? Dozens? Hundreds? Try ten thousand.
Ten thousand American citizens, jacked up with nanotech that they didn’t ask for. Ten thousand people who are sleeper agent super soldiers. And the nameless baddie of Insurgent is looking to activate all of ‘em. Are the stakes high enough for you, yet? Because they are for me! The consequences of this are nothing short of Civil War, and this time, it ain’t gonna be fought with cannons and horses.
There’s no shortage of action in Insurgent #2. We got all the preliminaries out of the way in that first issue (which wasn’t exactly short on action, either), and now it’s all-out war. Well, maybe not yet, but it sure looks like it will be in the immediate future. Insurgent reads like a smarter than average, big budget sci-fi b-movie, and I suspect that’s exactly the effect that DeSanto, Farmer, and Dallocchio were going for. I think I’ll stick around and see how this one finishes.
review by: Mike Cecchini
Worlds’ Finest #9
Writer: Paul Levitz
Pencilers and Inkers: George Perez, CAFU, Yildiray Cinar
Inker: Phil Jimenez
Yikes, that is a lot of artists. That’s never a good sign for any book, even when two of them are the great George Perez and Phil Jimenez. Too many chefs and all that. Last issue, Helena was attacked in a rooftop assault, and Kara went looking for those responsible, now, incapacitated, Helena must take on wave two of her attackers in a hospital. Plus, Levitz flashes back to Power Girl’s first time in Metropolis, as she must confront her fears about running into the Earth 1 version of her cousin, Superman.
The draw of Worlds’ Finest is the relationship between the dimensionally lost Kara and Helena. Think Chuck Dixon or Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey for an idea of how strong the bond is between the two heroines. Their friendship comes across to readers through naturally flowing dialogue that just pops off the page. These are two characters from very different backgrounds, who just get each other and inspire each other to greatness. This relationship allows them to successfully navigate the unfamiliar world they find themselves trapped in and always find comfort and solace in the predictably of their friendship. That aspect of the book shines through here, even if Power Girl and the Huntress face a forgettable and generic threat.
Guys in armor working for some shadowy organization are the go-to threats in the New 52. The DC Universe, at times, resembles a Halo convention more than the DCU we all know and love. There is a sense of danger as Helena is injured when these knights in generic armor attack, but there seems to be no thought to the visual designs or character motivations of the antagonists. Levitz has earned a wait and see attitude from readers, but, as of now, his carefully crafted heroes do not have equally well rendered villains worthy of their attention.
The most enjoyable part of this issue is the ladies’ visit to Metropolis. Kara’s fear adds dimensions to her character, as it is rare to see her vulnerable side. Levitz has written Kara as the ultimate confident modern woman. She runs a successful business, has a vital social life, and is fiercely loyal to Helena. Her fear of running into her cousin Kal-El adds a nice wrinkle to Kara’s confident façade. These are the moments Levitz has always exceled at, those little character moments that humanize his characters to make their struggles relatable and add drama to any coming conflicts. It’s just too bad those conflicts are with such common villains. Kara and Helena deserve better.
All the artists do a great job; there are just too darn many of them. The constant shifting of styles fragments a story that doesn’t have that much meat on the bone to begin with. One artist, a worthy foe, and more of the same interactions between the two leads should be the right formula to make Worlds’ Finest a must-read.
review by: Marc Buxton