Title: The Black Ring Finale/Reign of Doomsday
Writers: Paul Cornell, Damon Lindelof, Paul Dini, Geoff Johns, David S. Goyer, Richard Donner, Derek Hoffman
Art: Pete Woods, Jesus Merino, Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, Rags Morales, Ardian Syaf, Jamal Igle, Jon Sibal, Gary Frank, Ryan Sook, RB Silva, Rob Lean, Miguel Sepulveda, Matt Camp
Colorist: Brad Anderson, Blond, Java Tarfaglia, Paul Mounts
Letterers: Rob Leigh, John J. Hill
Cover: David Finch
Editor: Matt Idelson
Publisher: DC Comics
For the better part of a year now, Lex Luthor has been seeking the secret of the Black Ring, an enormous source of power that he craves more than anything. Finally, last month, he defeated Brainiac and made that power his own. Also, over the past few months, the hideous beast called Doomsday has been storming the DC Universe, abducting those who wear the shield of Superman – Steel, Superboy, Supergirl, the Eradicator, and the Cyborg Superman. Now, with both of these threats converging, Superman makes his triumphant return to Action Comics. Is it in time, though, to save the day?
As I’ve come to expect from Paul Cornell, the main story here is really fantastic. The fateful confrontation between Superman and Lex Luthor is one of the best in recent memory, tracing the adventures of both Superman and Lex to show what truly makes each man what he is. It’s powerful stuff, and by the end there can be no question about exactly who these two men are, what makes them tick, and what will forever keep them separate. The finale of the story, leading into the next arc of Action Comics, is a little clichéd, but not the sort of thing that really hurt this issue or the fantastic Black Ring storyline at all.
This being a ginormous 96-page anniversary special, we also get a wealth of back-up features. In “Life Support,” Damon Lindelof and Ryan Sook look at the final days of Krypton. It’s a Jor-El story, extremely sad and extremely powerful. Paul Dini has an interesting little story with “Autobiography,” where Superman encounters an ancient being facing a fate that may one day be Kal-El’s own. It’s a good tale that provides some nice food for thought. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank give us the brief “Friday Night in the 21st Century,” a rapid tale about Lois, Clark and the Legion of Super-Heroes. This creative team was with both Superman and the Legion for far too brief a time, and I do wish we could see them all together again.
This finally brings us to the elephant in the issue, David. S. Goyer and Miguel Sepulveda’s “The Incident.” If you’re not a regular reader of this title and you heard about it at all, chances are it’s because of this story, in which Superman decides to renounce his American citizenship, presumably because he doesn’t want to be seen as an instrument of U.S. policy. A lot of people were upset over this story, but for several reasons, it’s kind of antiquated already. First of all, since this book came out there have been at least two other comics featuring Superman embracing his American heritage. That further seems to indicate that this was just a brief story, something to fill pages with a name creator, not intended to be followed up on. Second, it’s a weak story. It makes Superman seem… well… stupid. He’s a reporter, for Heaven’s sake, does he really think that showing up at the U.N. and making this announcement would endear him to anyone? The people of the United States would be outraged, and the enemies of the U.S. that he doesn’t want to antagonize would call it a political trick and continue to be antagonized. Superman is simply too smart for this story to make any sense. As a result, we’re left with a story that feels like the creator’s weak attempt at pushing forth his own political agenda in a story that will have no consequences on future stories whatsoever.
“Only Human” is the final story in the volume, and it’s an odd one. It’s a screenplay written by Richard Donner, director of the first Superman movie (and one time co-writer of this series) and Derek Hoffman, with storyboards by Matt Camp. It’s an okay story, one that feels very appropriate for Superman, but it’s more of an oddity than anything else. The book wraps it all up with a fantastic pin-up by Brian Stelfreeze which shows Superman through the ages, including an American flag grasped in his hands in the final piece of the sequence. So take that, Goyer.
Overall, it’s a great issue, with just that one poorly-chosen story to hurt the package.
Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Strange Adventures
A newcomer comes to Earth and more heroes are born
Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Mark Chiarello
Cover Art: Darwyn Cooke
Publisher: DC Comics
After the first issue of Darwyn Cooke’s “not-an-Elseworlds-but-not-in-continuity” miniseries, I couldn’t quite figure out what he was trying to create. With this issue I think I’ve got it – we’re seeing the DC Universe as it may have unfolded had the characters of the Silver Age appeared on the same world as the Golden Age characters instead of creating the Earth-1/Earth-2 concept. He mixes this in, of course, with liberal amounts of commentary on the Cold War and the Korean Conflict, and it comes together in a pretty good tapestry, even if all the pieces don’t seem to connect as of yet.
We follow several heroes in this book – the early career of Barry Allen as the Flash, the end of the career of Ted “Wildcat” Grant, and a take on the Martian Manhunter’s exile on Earth that both fits the time period and slips in some needed comic relief in the process. (I always knew he was a Looney Tunes fan.)
One thing about consolidating the worlds, however, is that some of the big characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman come across as Golden Age holdovers rather than contemporaries of the new characters. In and of itself, this isn’t a problem, but I find I do have to take issue with Cooke’s portrayal of Wonder Woman. Even out-of-continuity, like this is, Wonder Woman has always been a reluctant warrior, someone who fought while she yearned for peace. In this book she is painted as a very different, almost bloodthirsty character, and that doesn’t sit well at all.
Cooke’s artwork, however, is above reproach. This is one great-looking comic book. He takes the classic designs of these characters and incorporates them into an art style many people would dismiss as being “cartoonish,” and yet it all looks stunningly real. His Batman is a truer Dark Knight than we’ve seen in many an age, and his Superman has a fantastic style clearly and wonderfully inspired by the Max Fleischer animated shorts of the 1940s.
This title has a lot of plot threads, however, and even in the double-sized format the reader is left marking time, waiting for them to come together. I’m more confident now that they eventually will, but the question is, will they converge before the reader’s patience wears out?
Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Unhinged Part Two: The Way of the Traitor
Catman versus Batman! And the team strikes Alcatraz!
Writer: Gail Simone
Pencils: Nicola Scott
Inks: Doug Hazlewood
Colors: Jason Wright
Letters: Travis Lanham
Editor: Nachie Castro
Cover Art: Nicola Scott
Publisher: DC Comics
In Gotham City, Batman traces down Catman to talk to him about the Secret Six’s latest caper (to say nothing of their newest member, Bane). The rest of the team, meanwhile, begins their assault on Alcatraz Island (which, in the DCU, is evidently a metahuman lock-up instead of a tourist attraction) to break out the Tarantula. Only problem is, the Tarantula seems to agree with Batman – taking her out of prison would be tantamount to a death sentence.
Not that the Secret Six really care. They’ve just got a job to do.
It’s incredible how these characters can be so compelling and still so basically amoral at the same time. Although they’re all, technically, “villains,” none of them are written in a stereotypically “evil,” mustache-twirling fashion. They’re more rounded than that, and far more interesting. They’re in it for the money, right and wrong be damned. The confrontation between Batman and Catman is a blast, really helping to solidify Catman as a legitimate threat for this crew. As for the antagonist – man, Simone has created one of the most all-fired creepy bad guys in the DC Universe, and we don’t even know who he is yet!
Did I mention Nicola Scott? You know what there is to say about Nicola Scott? Her artwork is awesome, that’s what there is to say about Nicola Scott. Clean, classic lines, strong characters, dynamic action sequences – she’s got a look that is right up there with George Perez in terms of combining complexity, clarity, and quality.
Issue two? Just as much fun to read as issue one. I’ve got a good hunch about issue three, too.
The Weapon #4 (Platinum Studios/Top Cow Productions)
By Fred Van Lente & Scott Koblish
This highly underrated little miniseries comes to an end. With his holoform projector running out of power, Tommy Zhou will have to rely on his wits and his skill to rescue Megan Dean-Hughes from the cult of the Lin Kuei and retrieve the Scroll of Chi Mastery. Van Lente did a nice job with this story of setting up what appeared to be a rather standard martial arts story (which would have been good enough) and managed to work in a nice twist that turned out to be a genuine surprise. Koblish‘s artwork is fantastic, and the character here is really likeable. This ends the miniseries, but hopefully, the Weapon will be back for round two.
Quick Rating: Great
Title: The Middle of the End (Epilogue Chapter Two)
Can Dr. Doom save the world by destroying Reed Richards?
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Pencils: Paul Pelletier
Inks: Rick Magyar
Colors: Wil Quintana
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Cover Art: Michael Turner
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Last issue, a Dr. Doom arrived from the future, Namor and the Black Panther in tow, to try to save the world from the mad genius of Dr. Reed Richards and his mysterious “idea #101” to save the world. Thus, to prove he’s really not that bad a guy… Reed blows Namor’s head off.
Well naturally, he’s got a good reason to do this, and it becomes evident pretty early in this book, paving the way for the good Doctor to try to push the Fantastic Four’s buttons, trying to turn them against Reed by reminding them of the secrets he kept during the Civil War. When he pushes one button too many, though… well, let’s just say that in addition to drawing a great Ben Grimm, Paul Pelletier is now responsible for the art on one of the best Ben/Doom slugfests I’ve ever seen.
Although the “New Fantastic Four” storyline fizzled a little at the end, “Epilogue” is more than making up for it. McDuffie has gotten to the root of these characters, but in a way that touches on their insecurities and their flaws, and he’s using those flaws to spin a really solid, short finale to his arc. Pelletier is also perfectly matched. He’s always done his best work on superheroes with a sci-fi bent (Flash, Green Lantern and Exiles all come to mind), and this is no exception.
I may be in the minority, but with only one issue left, I miss this great creative team already.
Quick Rating: Fair
Title: Crisis on 2 Worlds & Two Worlds
The Julius Schwartz tribute series continues with two new tales of Adam Strange!
Writer: Elliot S! Maggin & Grant Morrison
Pencils: J.H. Williams III & Jerry Ordway
Inks: J.H. Williams III & Mark McKenna
Colors: Jose Villarrubia & Sno Cone
Letters: Todd Klein & Rob Leigh
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Cover Art: Alex Ross (based on a cover by Carmine Infantino & Murphy Anderson)
Publisher: DC Comics
This issue marks the second week of the DC Comics Presents tribute to the late, great Julius Schwartz. In case you didn’t get the memo, DC decided to honor Schwartz by taking one of his classic tricks – hand a writer a crazy comic book cover and make them write a story to match it. DC is doing remakes of some of Julie’s classic covers, in this case Mystery in Space #82, a cover featuring one of my old favorites, the universe-traveling Adam Strange.
I’m not expecting any brilliant comics out of this game, but I’m expecting a lot of fun. Unfortunately, this week’s issue isn’t quite as entertaining as the Batman issue last week. The opening story, by Maggin with art by J.H. Williams III, stars Adam with special guest-stars Ralph and Sue Dibney (irony, thy name is Schwartz). The Zeta-Beam scheduled to whisk Adam off to Rann instead takes a young boy and a zebra. In the meantime, his alien technology has fallen into the wrong hands here on Earth. This is a decent, if not brilliant tale, but Williams’ gritty art style is terribly unsuited for the bright Strange and even brighter Elongated Man. He’s a good penciller, but he belongs on a darker tale and not a zany silver age pastiche.
In Grant Morrison’s story, Adam is captured by a group of guerrilla fighters planning to hijack the next Zeta Beam and invade Rann. They have found a way around the fact that only Adam’s unique cellular structure reacts with the Zeta Beams (but wait – didn’t the last story hinge on a kid and a zebra getting zapped? Oh well…), and they are armed to the teeth. The story has promise, but Morrison, as he sometimes does, gets way too experimental with it. He cuts from scenes of Adam on Rann to scenes of him chained up, meanwhile narrating the story with captions that barely relate to the scenes at all but instead just offer a glowing tribute to Julie Schwartz.
The artwork is much more appropriate in this second tale. I personally think Ordway’s pencils look the best when he does his own inks, but Mark McKenna does a good job. Sno Cone’s colors add to the story as well, employing a different color scheme for the Rann scenes and the Earth scenes, and coloring the captions in with classic four-color dots. It’s a nice look.
With any anthology series like this one, you’re going to have to expect hits and misses. Batman was a hit, and this one was a miss. A near miss, but a miss nonetheless. Still, the concept is sound and a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to the rest of these specials.