Quick Rating: Good
Title: Chronicle & Parenthood
Chloe Sullivan gets a visitor that dredges up a case from the past.
Writer: Clint Carpenter
Pencils: Tom Derenick & Tom Grummett
Inks: Adam DeKraker & Kevin Conrad
Colors: Guy Major & Trish Mulvihill
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editor: Tom Palmer Jr.
Cover Art: John Van Fleet
Publisher: DC Comics
DC comics and the WB network begin a multimedia assault with a story that picks up a thread from a season one episode of Smallville, continues on the show’s website and will wrap up two months from now in the next issue of the comic book. If you’re going to do a story like that, this is the way to do it – “Chronicle” is a story that has a fairly satisfying ending to it, even if you don’t decide to log on to the website and check out how it continues, but the option to keep reading is there if you want it.
A man arrives on Chloe’s doorstep with new information about the mysterious “Level Three” that Luthorcorp moved out of Smallville under mysterious circumstances. Chloe and Clark go out to investigate. In a back-up story, Jonathan and Martha Kent get stranded on the side of the road due to a series of Clark-related mishaps. The backup is a quick funny story with a predictably sappy ending, but in the context of the television show it works fairly well.
It’s always a challenge, when adapting a TV show or movie, to draw characters that resemble the real actors without completely surrendering the storytelling needs of a comic book. Tom Derenick does a great job with this – his characters look enough like Allison Mack and Tom Welling to remind us that there is a TV show but he never sacrifices the conventions of comic storytelling. Tom Grummett isn’t quite as successful at this – his faces, especially John Schneider as Jonathan Kent, tend to be a bit over-detailed, but overall, the story looks all right.
This issue also includes a few text pieces – an article about visual effects on the program, the beginning of the season two episode guide and a weird “Voices From the Future” report that uses that annoying internet technique of substituting numbers for letters. You’re welcome to try to decipher it if you want – I got frustrated in two sentences.
This is a decent comic book, but I don’t think it gets used to its fullest potential. I’ve never seen an issue outside of comic book stores. This should be out there on magazine racks where kids and teenagers who watch the TV show can find it, read it and hopefully make the transition to other comic books. It’s time DC learned how better to market the best tool for grabbing new readers they currently have.
Title: Where Monsters Dwell & Lovelife
Writer: Troy Hickman
Pencils: Angel Medina, Dan Jurgens
Inks: Jon Holdredge, Al Vey
Colorist: John Starr, Beth Sotelo, Guy Major
Letterer: Robin Spehar, Mark Rosian, Dennis Heisler
Cover Artist: Rodolfo Migliari
Editor: Scott Tucker
Publisher: Image Comics/Top Cow
I’ve mentioned before my love for Troy Hickman’s series Common Grounds, but it’s time for me to do it again. Back in 2004, Top Cow released this six-issue miniseries, featuring a coffee shop chain where superheroes and villains alike could come in under a banner of truce, have a cruller and a cuppa joe, and let a little steam off. Inside this concept, which is a little silly at its core, Hickman managed to tell stories of love, loss, courage, redemption, and utter terror at any given moment. It was a bravura piece of storytelling, and this issue was no different. In “Where Monsters Dine,” Hickman does a loving tribute to the silly giant monster comics Marvel turned out in the late 50s and early 60s, before Superheroes took over the company again. What does a monster do when his time is over? How does he get by in a world that’s so small? The story is funny as hell, and a little sad at the same time. In “Lovelife,” we meet the Eternal Flame. This immortal hero saves a suicide and brings him in for a heart-to-heart talk about what’s really important. This story has a humorous bent to it, but the message is far more poignant – if you’re immortal, if you watch everybody you care about grow old and die, why would you bother with love? There’s actually an answer, and it’s a good one. Hickman took all the classic superhero tropes and, in this series, used them to tell strong stories that run deep. I don’t know if he – or Top Cow – would ever return to this series, but if they did, I’d sure as hell read it.
Title: 7 Days of Death Part Three: The Bigger Picture
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Pencils: Marcus To
Inks: Ray McCarthy
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Cover Artist: Marcus To
Editor: Rachel Gluckstern
Publisher: DC Comics
Red Robin has been captured by the Daughters of Acheron, and the half-sister of Ra’s al Ghul himself wants to appropriate him for her own purposes. Fortunately, Tim has an ace in the hole – Cassandra Cain, alias the Black Bat. Assuming, of course, that she doesn’t kill him first.
Staring down the barrel of the DC relaunch, Fabian Nicieza seems to be using this issue to set the stage for next issue’s finale. The long-running subplot concerning Tim’s relationship with Tamara Fox reaches a conclusion, and Tim takes a few major steps towards establishing himself as his own hero. Ironically, this is just the sort of thing that you would expect to see if the book was continuing on – the establishment of his own headquarters, vehicles, and arsenal to allow him to operate more independently of Batman, Inc. It’s really rather curious, and it’ll be interesting to see if the final issue gives closure to that sort of thing, or if it’s one of the (sadly, many) threads of plot throughout the DC Universe that will remain frayed when the universe shifts on August 31.
Tim and Cassandra’s relationship is the centerpiece of this issue, and it actually works very well. There’s a real feel of connectivity to them, but not the sort of forced romance some people would expect. The relationship has a sibling quality to it, like Tim and Cass are both the middle children who have been kind of cut loose to fend for themselves as the eldest are already established and the youngest need most of the nurturing at this point.
Marcus To continues to show himself to be a workhorse superstar, delivering solid artwork dependably month after month after month.
It’s good that Tim will still have a showcase after the relaunch, with Teen Titans, but I’ll miss seeing him in his own series, and I’ll miss Nicieza’s version of the character. It’s worked well.
Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: In the Shadow of Two Fathers
Jack Drake has learned his son’s secret… will it be the end of Robin?
Writer: Bill Willingham
Pencils: Francisco Rodriguez De La Fuente
Inks: Aaron Sowd
Colors: Guy Major
Letters: Nick Napolitano
Editor: Michael Wright
Cover Art: Jason Pearson
Publisher: DC Comics
Did I say Bill Willingham had a slow start on this title? Man, has he made up for it. Last issue Jack Drake figured out one of the best-kept secrets on the planet: the secret identities of Batman and Robin. This issue, he confronts them, and Tim Drake’s career as Robin is at stake.
Let’s give Willingham credit for a major-league fake out here. He had everyone believing that the much-ballyhooed news that a new Robin will debut in issue #126 had something to do with Tim’s guilt over the apparent death of Johnny Warlock. Nope. He went somewhere else entirely, somewhere that works better for the characters and that makes for one of the best issues of Robin I’ve ever read.
Willingham has all of these characters spot-on. There’s a particularly good sequence where Alfred suggests ways to deal with the discovery that split my sides. Even in an issue as heady as this one, the writer finds room for fun, and Robin should be the fun character in the Batman mythos.
Would that the artwork was as good as the writing. I’m very grateful that Damian Scott will take over the penciling chores next month, because the De La Fuente/Sowd team has been up and down, and this issue is way, way down. Poses are awkward, faces are mangled, and in a few scenes they even drift into what appears to be the sort of idiomatic language that appears in manga comic books, but has no place in this one. I wish someone could take this book and redraw it from panel one because the fantastic script deserves better artwork.
If the story in this issue is any indication of what is to come, Robin fans are in for a hell of a ride. I still don’t believe Tim’s departure will be permanent, but the story that brings him back promises to be a great one.
Quick Rating: Fair
Title: Anarky in the USA
When a bomber hits Star City, Green Arrow comes face-to-face with Anarky.
Writer: James Peaty
Pencils: Eric Battle
Inks: Jack Purcell
Colors: Guy Major
Letters: Phil Balsman
Editor: Bob Schreck
Cover Art: James Jean
Publisher: DC Comics
Is this fill-in week at DC? First Gotham Central, then this one-off story where none of the regular creators chime in and none of the regular storylines are progressed.
When a highly-populated arts plaza is blown up, the clues point to the vigilante named Anarky, and Green Arrow sets off to bring him in. Once he’s convinced that the young man is being framed, however, the two set off on a tenuous partnership to bring in the real bombers.
It’s a decent enough team-up story, as far as they go, but the main premise is kind of hard to swallow. First, that Green Arrow would suddenly decide that Anarky is innocent not based on any evidence but just on a “feeling,” and second, that he would work with a known terrorist, whether he shares many of his anti-establishment viewpoints or not.
Eric Battle’s artwork is pretty good this issue. He handles the two main characters fairly well, at least in costume, but for some reason the expressions on Anarky’s face whenever he’s unmasked make him look like he isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, if you know what I mean.
In the end, things are done up a bit too quickly and things settled a bit too neatly. And again, Green Arrow seems way too comfortable with his impromptu partner.
I can’t really recommend this issue, but I won’t tear it apart either. It’s all right, but the plot holes are things that really could have been patched up very easily, and that’s a big problem.
Quick Rating: Average
Title: Wail of the Banshee
The Silver Banshee returns for a face-off with the Creeper.
Writer: Chuck Austen
Art: Carlos D’Anda
Colors: Guy Major
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Cover Art: Joyce Chin & Arthur Adams
Publisher: DC Comics
First, the good news: this is not nearly as bad as the last several issues of Action Comics have been. The bad news, though, is that the reason it’s not as bad is because Superman barely appears in it. This is a Creeper story, with Superman making a cameo appearance as a deus ex machina which, when you consider the number of cancelled series the Creeper has left in his wake, is clearly what the readers were clamoring for.
The Silver Banshee returns this issue, securing a new human host. For some reason, this gives her a tongue longer than Gene Simmons, which she uses for various attempts at sexual innuendo, which has never exactly been a character trait she has exhibited before. She has no particular plan in this return, she just distracts Superman enough that he won’t be bothering her then walks around asking people to be afraid of her, at which point the Creeper shows up and obliges her.
Carlos D’Anda’s guest artwork works fairly well for this issue. He and Guy Major cast a dark, disturbing pallor across the comic that works with the frightening atmosphere the Banshee is intended to convey. They even manage to put Superman in this world without compromising the visual integrity of the character, which isn’t easy. As usual, it’s the artwork that elevates this issue.
In the end we get an epilogue that promises the return of a villain most readers were sick and tired of about ten years ago, and although there appears to be an attempt at putting a twist on him, it’s a twist that has been tried before and failed to make him any more interesting.
I imagine this was the Superman crew’s effort at a Halloween story this year. It could have been worse, but it could have been a lot better, too, which is something I find myself saying quite a bit these days.