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.
Title: Hot Case
Writer: Kevin Hopps, Greg Weisman
Pencils: Christopher A. Jones
Inks: Dan Davis
Letters: Dezi Sienty
Colors: Zac Atkinson
Cover Art: Christopher Jones & Carrie Strachan
Editor: Jim Chadwick
Publisher: DC Comics
Last issue, as the Young Justice kids got a little antsy with their lessons in espionage, Captain Atom decided to give them a practical assignment: prove the innocence of late Air Force officer Nathanial Adam, convicted of murder during the Vietnam era. This issue, the kids have tracked down some of the people involved in the case, only to find them being murdered one at a time. As they face a foe with a sword that can cut even Superboy, the team has to wonder just what they’ve stumbled into.
This has been a strong two-parter. It’s nice to see the team sent out on a different sort of case, a chance for Robin’s detective skills and Miss Martian’s stealth abilities to really come into play. The story is hurt slightly with familiarity – there’s a reveal at the end that isn’t a reveal at all if you’re familiar with the characters in the comic books, and probably isn’t that big a shock even if you have no idea who Captain Atom is and never read a story with him in it before. Building it like a mystery feels a little anti-climactic.
Christopher Jones does a good job of keeping the characters on-model with the TV show while, at the same time, providing strong, dynamic pages that hold up compared to any other superhero comic on the market. This book exists in-between episodes of the cartoon show, but the creators have done a good job of telling original stories that explore the characters without feeling like they’re just marking time until the next episode begins.
Title: Batgirl! Batgirls!
Writers: Art Baltazar & Franco
Art: Art Baltazar
Cover Artist: Art Baltazar
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Publisher: DC Comics/Johnny DC
In the batcave, Barbara finds a stash of Batgirl costumes and decides to have a little party. It’s Batgirl, Batgirl, Batgirl and Batgirl in “Batgirl! Batgirls!” As the Batgirls start to run rampant, Robin rounds up a few Robins of his own. Also: the Secret Six. Once again, the team behind Tiny Titans produces one of the most entertaining comics on the shelf. The book is sharp and wonderfully referential, bringing in tidbits and commentary about a lot of what’s gone on in the DC Universe(s) in the last few years. As with all great parodies, though, this is done with a very loving touch, presenting the characters in a way that’s really funny, but still making clever quips that will work just fine for older readers. The younger readers, fortunately, won’t notice anything and will still enjoy the book as a simple kids’ comic. The fact that they can bring in the Secret Six, probably the least kid-friendly DCU comic of the last decade, and still make it work so well is a fine testament to the talents of Art Baltazar and Franco. This is the best comic out there for kids, and fortunately, there’s plenty for their parents to enjoy as well.
Quick Rating: Fair
Title: Pushback Book Five
Green Arrow joins the hunt for Prometheus.
Writer: A.J. Lieberman
Pencils: Al Barrionuevo & Javier Pina
Inks: Francis Portela & Jimmy Palmiotti
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letters: Clem Robins
Editor: Matt Idelson
Cover Art: Lee Bermejo
Publisher: DC Comics
It’s interesting that the most frequent criticism of Lieberman’s writing on this title is that he doesn’t have a very good handle on The Joker, then he turns out an issue like this, which is basically a retelling of the Joker’s origin according to Alan Moore. The Joker has spent 12 years trying to find the man who murdered his wife, and now that the information is at his fingertips, he pauses to reflect on how he got where he is.
Which is really where the problem comes in – the Joker is simply not a reflective character. He’s never been the sort to pontificate about the past – he’s about the now, the chaos, the turmoil he can create in the present. Past and future have never help much import for him. If finding his wife’s murderer is so important to him, why has he spent the past twelve years creating smiling fish and trapping Batman in enormous jack-in-the-boxes? Reading the issue the way it’s written paints the Joker’s entire career up to this point is the comic book equivalent of O.J. looking for the real killers.
Again, I really like Barrionuevo’s artwork on this title – he does a great Batman and Robin and has a good handle on the villains, who are really the stars of the piece. He shares penciling duties with Javier Pina this issue, but their styles are either very similar or Pina has adapted his style to mesh with Barrionuevo’s, because the transitions are seamless. I really can’t tell where one artist departs and the other comes in.
Lieberman’s initial Gotham Knights arc has been pretty much average throughout. He’s got skill at certain things, but has chosen to focus this storyline on things he’s just not as good at. Hopefully after “Pushback” concludes next issue, he’ll shift the focus of the book back to the Batman family, because I think that will be his best chance to really shine.
Quick Rating: Good
Title: Scary Monsters (As the Crow Flies Part Three)
As Jonathan Crane continues his work for the Penguin, a horrifying new Scarecrow terrorizes Gotham City’s underworld.
Writer: Judd Winick
Pencils: Dustin Nguyen
Inks: Richard Friend
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Clem Robins
Editor: Bob Schreck
Cover Art: Matt Wagner
Publisher: DC Comics
I didn’t expect Judd Winick to spend so much of his Batman tenure focusing on the villains, but that’s just what he’s doing, and it’s working well. For a long time now, the Penguin has been portrayed as a sort of bumbling snake oil salesman, at best a washed-up kingpin who’s unable to reclaim his past glories. Here he finally feels like a mob boss, like a nasty bad guy to be reckoned with.
The Scarecrow, meanwhile, is a man who is both confused and torn. He seems to have a real emotional attachment with his assistant, Linda, and truly disdains being in the Penguin’s employ. Still, he has a warped duty to perform, and he keeps going.
Our heroes aren’t absent, of course. Batman sends Robin (Tim Drake, this clearly takes place before Robin #125) off for his regularly-scheduled weekend with the Teen Titans, clearly glad to get his young partner out of harm’s way, and then sets out to find the creature that’s driving mobsters insane. There seems to be a fairly obvious culprit in the creation of this nightmarish Scarecrow substitute, and I’m hoping Winick is either fooling me by looking in the wrong direction or has a really original backstory that is yet to be revealed.
Nguyen and Friend have a wonderful style in this series. They have a fine traditional rendition of Batman and a great big, nasty monster. The creature comes out like something out of L. Frank Baum’s nightmares, a real Scarecrow from hell.
The Winick/Nguyen Batman may not go down in history as the greatest run of all time, but it’s a good, solid run that should be satisfying any mainstream Batman fan. If the mystery turns out to have more to it than it seems, it’ll be better than solid. I’ll just enjoy it while it lasts.
Quick Rating: Very Good
What would you do the night before the end of the world?
Writer: Brad Meltzer
Pencils: Adam Kubert
Inks: John Dell & Joe Kubert
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editors: Eddie Berganza & Dan Didio
Cover Art: Adam Kubert, Joe Kubert & Nei Rufino (Cover A); Adam Kubert, John Dell & Laura Martin (Cover B)
Publisher: DC Comics
Since Brad Meltzer is the one who started the DC Universe in its current direction way back in Identity Crisis, it’s only fitting that he come back to make his case as line reaches the end of that road with Final Crisis. It’s the night before the last battle, the night before the heroes of the DC Universe expect the world to end, and everyone is preparing in their own way. What they do, who they choose to be with, how they spend their final night… these are the choices who make the characters who they are.
Much of the book is made up of short vignettes. Powerful father-son moments with Clark and Jonathan Kent and Batman and his two true sons, sister moments with Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl, and tender moments between husbands and wives are plentiful, and are to be expected. There are unexpected moments, too. A villain almost chooses to be a hero, a hero almost chooses to be a villain. Those heroes who seek spiritual guidance find it in a surprising but highly satisfying place. One hero spends the night pining for a lost love, while others spend it with their soul mates.
The core of the book, however, is Geo-Force. In his Justice League of America run, Meltzer established Geo-Force’s drive to get revenge against Deathstroke for the death of his sister. On his last night on Earth, he chooses to make good on that vow. Even at the height of the Outsiders’ popularity, Geo-Force has never been more than a B-list hero, but this issue he’s a B-lister who steps up and delivers a powerful, emotional punch that even the top heroes in the DC Universe would have trouble matching.
Adam Kubert’s pencils are good as well, and John Dell’s inks compliment them very well. The real shocker on this book, however, comes in when several of the pages (as well as the variant over) are inked by the legendary Joe Kubert. His pages have a wonderfully classic look to them, as though they fell right out of the war comics of the silver age… and for a book like this one, a war story look feels wonderfully appropriate.
It’s not entirely clear why this isn’t specifically labeled as a Final Crisis crossover. Although they don’t specifically refer to the events of that book, the thumbprint of the series is obvious. I can only think of two real reasons the book is marketed the way it was. First off, there’s a clear effort in the company to make DC Universe a brand in and of itself (as evidenced by the zero issue from a few months ago, the several reprint specials we’ve seen, and the upcoming Decisions miniseries). Second, although the book clearly deals with the Crisis, you don’t really need any knowledge of that larger crossover to understand, appreciate, and get absorbed by this wonderfully emotional story. It’s part of something larger – something that goes back to Identity Crisis itself – but it stands on its own. And it’s well worth the read.
Another week, another time I didn’t actually get around to anything but the DC books. Again, sorry. Hopefully next week I’ll do a bit better.