Title: Las Cinco Esquinas
Writer: James Robinson
Art: Javier Pulido
Letters: Todd Klein
Colors: Hilary Sycamore
Cover Art: Tony Harris
Editor: Wil Moss
Publisher: DC Comics
With the Inquisitor cutting a bloody path through Spain, the Shade and La Sangre are joined by one of the local heroes, Montpellier, to try to hunt him down.
This isn’t really what I expected from James Robinson returning to the Shade. While there’s still plenty of cool weirdness (what with the vampires and all), it’s not as surreal as a lot of the previous Shade stories have been. It’s a more personal story, and a more straightforward one as well. None of these are bad things, it’s just a departure from what he’s done with the character in the past, and that may be turning off a few people.
One thing I really enjoy about the book is how he’s reaching out to some of the unexplored corners of the new DC Universe. With a few exceptions, most of the New 52 titles are still pretty America-centric, and I like seeing him go around Europe and show off some of the different characters that are in the DC toy box. I’d like to see more of Montpellier, and I’d read a whole miniseries of La Sangre by herself. (In fact, DC, if you’re reading, why not at least give her an arc in DC Universe Presents?)
Javier Pulido is really perfect for this story. His style isn’t like your typical superhero comic. It’s a little darker, a little more Mike Mignola-esque. That Hellboy vibe is perfectly suited for this title and the characters that we’re playing with here.
This halfway point helps show that the book is going into some different directions, but overall, I think that’s a good thing.
Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Ch-Ch-Changes Conclusion
Stuck in the body of Electro-Lass, what does a common construction worker do when his girlfriend is being held hostage and his best friend wants to marry him?
Writer: Will Pfeifer
Pencils: Leonard Kirk
Inks: Wade Von Grawbadger
Colors: JD Mettler
Letters: Ken Lopez
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Cover Art: John Van Fleet
Publisher: DC Comics
Trapped in the body of Electro-Lass after using (and promptly losing) the H-Device, the former burly construction worker goes through a roller-coaster in this issue. His best friend tells him he’s in love with him, his girlfriend is being held hostage by a couple of muggers he took out last issue, and he still can’t find the only thing that could give him his own body back.
This issue really shows off the sort of stories you can tell in a book like this with no regular cast, focusing instead on a concept that leaps from character to character. The way this story unfolds and concludes could probably never be done with a continuing character. It makes for an original read that really shouldn’t feel as original as it does.
Will Pfiefer doesn’t skimp on the major subplot of this title either, giving us a scene with the original device-wielder Robby Reed that promises to start tying together the various tales that this book has told since issue one.
It’s always a pleasure to see Leonard Kirk penciling a comic book, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t have a regular series at the moment. He’s one of the most underappreciated artists in comic books – he always has good characterization, dynamic poses and strong storytelling. It’s only due to a quirk of his own (which he freely admits) that he’s no longer penciling JSA. This book only whets my appetite and makes me want more. Together with Wade Von Grawbadger and JD Mettler, they do great work on a comic book bereft of supervillains and with only a few characters in spandex at all (although there are plenty of energy effects which are done very well).
This is a solid book that tells interesting superhero stories that you just couldn’t get anywhere else. The subplot with Robby promises to really kick things into high gear very soon – if you aren’t reading this title, why not? You’re just depriving yourself of one of the smartest superhero comic books out there.
Title: Leviathan Part One: Demon Star
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Chris Burnham
Letters: Patrick Brosseau
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Cover Art: Chris Burnham
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Returning for what promises to be the finale of his Batman run, Grant Morrison kicks off the second volume of Batman Incorporated with a pretty startling story. Talia Head’s Leviathan is growing in power, attacking on several fronts, targeting members of Batman, Inc. and bringing the conflict straight to the doorstep of the Dark Knight.
This issue is surprising on several fronts. Morrison has wasted absolutely no time getting into the heat of the moment, starting us in the midst of the action with several attacks already executed and several battles already over and done. The energy here is about as high as it’s ever been during Morrison’s tenure with the Bat.
This is a New 52 title, but aside from a few cosmetic changes it doesn’t appear that Morrison has been forced to make too many concessions for the sake of setting it in the changed world. Bruce and Damian are still Batman and Robin, Dick was Batman for a time in the not-too-distant past, and the assorted members of Batman, Inc. are virtually untouched… even Batwing, who now stars in his own solo title. This is basically a good thing. Morrison had quite a momentum built up, and the lapse since the previous Leviathan Strikes one-shot may actually have served to help keep the pace brisk. The differences in the New 52 have all been suitably explored in the other titles and there’s no pressure to do so here.
Chris Burnham came into the previous series rather late in the game, but he’s making it is how. His style is influenced somewhat by frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely, but not so much as to deem him a copycat. He’s drawing a classic Batman and a strong Damian, with the more monstrous characters depicted in a fashion that feels very consistent with what’s been done in the past.
The end of this issue, of course, is the real shocker, and if it were anybody but Morrison behind the wheel I’d be virtually certain there’s a stunt in the works to reverse what we seem to see on the last page. There still could be, of course, Morrison could be playing his own game, but from him it does feel more organic and less forced than it would be in many titles.
All in all, this issue stands as a fine beginning to a final act.
Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Widow’s Pass Part Two
Agent 355 sets out to save Dr. Mann from the Sons of Arizona… but who’s going to save her?
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Pencils: Goran Parlov
Inks: Jose Marzan Jr.
Letters: Clem Robins
Editor: Will Dennis
Cover Art: Aron Wisenfeld
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Vaughan’s near-epic story about the last man alive continues this issue. As Yorick Brown and Ampersand stay in hiding with a new friend, Agent 355 heads out to rescue Dr. Mann, who is trying to negotiate safe passage to California from the radical militia group The Sons of Arizona. As always happens to our heroes, things quickly spin out of control and even our escape artist Yorick will be hard-pressed to twist his way out of this one.
Vaughan uses several nice elements in this book – a revelation about Dr. Mann that we’ve been waiting for since the first issue, a few funny character moments with Yorick, and a couple of reality checks (it’s just not as easy to knock someone unconscious in real life as it is in the movies). He ties things up with one of his trademark last-page cliffhangers. It wouldn’t be an issue of Y without a last-page cliffhanger. It’s getting to the point where other writers who want to use last-page cliffhangers have to send Vaughan royalty checks.
Goran Parlov, still pinch-hitting for regular artist Pia Guerra, does a fine job on the artwork. It’s easy to make Yorick stand out visually, as he’s the only male character in the book, but all of the artists on this series deserve credit for making so many female characters separate and distinct visually. No one looks like anyone else, and whether that’s because there’s a good blend of ethnicities or because of other tricks like our bald friend P.J., this is one comic book where you don’t need a scorecard to remember who’s who.
There’s not much to say about this comic that hasn’t been said 21 times already. It’s a great, solid adventure story, something really distinct in an artform that seems kind of homogeneous at times. It’s one of the strongest offerings of an already-strong Vertigo imprint, and if you’re looking for a mature tale with a good, meaty story behind it, you just can’t go wrong with this title.
Quick Rating: Very Good
A mistake from Hawkman’s past comes back to haunt him.
Writer: Josh Siegal
Pencils: John Byrne
Inks: Lary Stucker
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Cover Art: John Byrne
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer Josh Siegal is a new name to me, but after reading this issue of Hawkman I find myself asking why he’s only doing a fill-in until the new creative team comes on instead of handling writing chores full-time. This is a really smart issue, wherein Hawkman and Hawkgirl find themselves facing off the bloody menace of a vampire.
Siegal takes the fact that Hawkman has been around for thousands of years in hundreds of incarnations and runs with it, showing how an honest mistake can get magnified over the centuries, leading to the current predicament. He shows the flip side of that too, though, employing skills that may go unused for hundreds of years, but are never forgotten.
Siegal also employs a non-linear storytelling style, bouncing further and further into the past to show how the characters were brought to the point. The structure of the story (if not the content) reminds me very much of one of m favorite movies, “Memento,” which tells the story from the end to the beginning. It’s not an easy technique to pull off, and Siegal does a fantastic job.
John Byrne seems to be drawing a lot of vampires lately. He did it last week in JLA and he’s doing it here. They both look good, though, so I’m not going to complain. Lary Stucker’s inks compliment the pencils very well, and we have a comic book that manages to straddle the line between superhero storytelling and horror. Visually, this book could fit into either category, and that’s what it needs to do.
After the great run Geoff Johns had on this title, it’s going to be hard to follow up. This may be a done-in-one fill-in issue, but it’s a very good one. Hawkman fans will be highly satisfied.
Quick Rating: Average
Tom Morell is just instants away from death… or is he?
Writer: Kelley Puckett
Artist: Warren Pleece
Colors: Brian Haberlin
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Editor: Matt Idelson
Cover Art: Tomer Hanuka
Publisher: DC Focus
I’ll be up front with you guys, this is not going to be a very detailed review, because the things that happen in this issue are so bizarre that it’s almost impossible to talk about them without spoiling them. At the end of last issue, frail, sickly Tom Morrell was face-to-face with the grill of a speeding mack truck. He still is when this issue opens. In fact, he still is for the first seven pages, which gives us the classic “life flashing before his eyes” sequence that fills in the gaps of Tom’s life, illuminating his relationship with his mother more than anything else. What happens after that sequence though… I just can’t say because it gets too weird. By the end of the issue you are still left with absolutely no idea what’s going on.
Often, this is a good thing. Anything that makes you anxious to read the next issue of a comic book is generally a point in that comic’s favor. This comic gets a little frustrating, though. In terms of pacing, this issue makes Ultimate Spider-Man look like a car at Daytona, and by the time you get to the major cliffhanger at the end of issue two, you can’t help but feel that this would have been the perfect place to end issue number one.
Warren Pleece’s art is pretty good, even totally saving one sequence that otherwise would have been totally incomprehensible if Pleece wasn’t able to make his faces sufficiently distinctive. The same old problem with the DC Focus titles lingers on, though – the same color palette and same lettering style in each title continue to hurt.
That’s really all that can be said about this issue without blowing the totally bizarre, out of left field twist it takes ten pages in or so. If you guys enjoy it, come back Wednesday when it lands in stores and try to explain it to me.
Quick Rating: Good
Title: The Brave and the Bold
As the Challengers of the Unknown are born, Hal Jordan finds a new purpose.
Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Mark Chiarello
Cover Art: Darwyn Cooke
Publisher: DC Comics
The various plotlines woven into the first two issues of The New Frontier finally start to converge, albeit tangentially, in this issue. Four brave men band together as the Challengers of the Unknown. Meanwhile, J’onn J’onzz finds his secret jeopardized and Hal Jordan signs up with Ferris Aircraft, unaware of the fate that awaits him.
Darwyn Cooke’s story gets a bit more interesting this issue as some of the various plotlines from the first two issues begin to connect. He has done a good job generating a feel for the silver age incarnations of these characters, with the exception of the “big three” of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, each of whom seems like more of a holdover of their golden age selves and who are, in fact, painted as something of an “old guard” in this series. Cooke also adds in a new character in this issue, a black man who sets out to take revenge on white supremacists that assaulted him. The story isn’t entirely original, of course, but I find myself curious about it mostly because, DC geek that I am, I can’t seem to figure out what character he is supposed to be a corollary for.
If there’s any problem with this book, it’s that so much of it seems like retreaded territory. While the classic versions of the characters are welcome, the red scare story and the reactionary Commie-hunter story are both somewhat worn out, and Cooke’s storyline doesn’t feel like it’s adding much to it, at least not yet.
As usual, his artwork is fantastic. Cooke’s iconic style is absolutely perfect for an old-fashioned comic book story, or a story that tries to take old fashioned elements and cast them in a new light. He draws the best classic versions of Superman and Batman that I’ve seen since the creators themselves put down their pencils, and the otherworldly form he gives the Martian Manhunter is spot-on.
So far, this series is more remarkable for the artwork than the storyline, but the storyline is okay. And it’s still got plenty to potential to grow – Cooke just needs to find the new paths that are available with such great source material and stop going down the old ones so much.