Comic Fodder

DC Comic Reviews: Week June 6, 2007

Each week Comics Fodder will bring you reviews of a few titles from DC Comics. Not all titles will receive a mention. Should readers feel a certain title has been overlooked from DC Comics, DC's Vertigo or Wildstorm imprints, drop us a line and we'll take a quick peek.


Hey all. Somehow this week I missed both Flash and Outsiders, but I didn't realize it until this evening when I sat down to write some reviews. Sorry about that.

Overall, a very good week for DC. We're back to reviewing Countdown in this column as I realized the "Blogging Countdown" column was going to stray a bit outside of the lines of anything resembling a review. Hope you'll stop by and take a look.



ALL-NEW ATOM 12

Gail brings Ryan Choi back to Ivy Town, and the comic immediately finds itself back on track. Gone is the self-pitying melodrama which not only seemed uncharacteristic of the prior issues, but which seemed in danger of putting a questionable unsympathetic spin on the protagonist of the book.

The issue begins with a synopsis buried in the narrative in order to catch up readers and to give Ryan a small breather before sending him off into even more chaos (how he's getting any research or teaching done at this point may be the most unsolvable of all the mysteries within the book). Writer Gail Simone re-presents Ivy Town to readers with a cover image from an Ivy Town Chamber of Commerce brochure highlighting the oddities of the town and the return of Dwarfstar the miniature serial killer who disappeared to a quantum size during the first arc. It's tough to talk about humor, but Gail's light touch is back in play in this issue and working fairly well. Other bits feel a bit forced, such as the "math groupies", but you really can't beat a giant floating head who has overdone the spray cheese and is all partied out.

Whatever feelings of despair readers may have felt during the "Jia" storyarc, Gail seems to be back to what worked about the series to begin with. However, Ryan's sudden appearance of a mastery of martial arts seems a bit tacked on, especially when the point of The Atom as a character is supposed to be about the triumph of brain over brawn. Apparently shrinking, density control and a flying nuclear stick aren't enough to put in one guy's arsenal. However, the appearance of some classic Atom villains and Choi's quick dispatching of said villains has a fun quality to it.

The surprise appearance of one of DC's oddly powerful (yet somehow unsuccessful villains), plus the promise of the beginning of the search for Ray Palmer offers promise of future issues worth looking forward to.




BIRDS OF PREY 107

The Secret Six/ Birds of Prey confrontation kinda/sorta wraps up.

Pretty clearly, this story could have been told in two issues, or possibly one, had writer Gail Simone avoided the cutesy fighting scenes in the prior issue. Instead, the storyline carried on for an unnecessary four issues in which Simone managed to resurrect a formerly dead JLA'er, Ice and not a whole lot else.

Bringing Spy Smasher into the book and somewhat integrating her into the team as the pushy new boss was required in order for Spy Smasher to eventually receive her rightful comeuppance as the character actively interfering with our protagonists. Of course, we haven't had the comeuppance quite yet, but it seems as if Simone is telegraphing the whole Spy Smasher arc, and the face-off is just an inevitability. Small moments such as Lady Blackhawk seem sort of hollow (when pretty clearly those moments are supposed to be rah-rah moments) when none of Blackhawk's teammates do boo to stand up by her side and/ or make Spy Smasher walk the rest of the way home instead.

All in all, nothing much heroic has actually happened in the past few issues except for seeing a lot of well-established characters kowtowing to a character with a type-A personality (which seems a bit absurd for any of the characters on the team, especially Barda or Huntress) and some semi-pointless slugging away with the Sinister Six. Plot may not be as important to Simone's overall plan for BoP, but too little time has been spent getting to know any of the new cast. Whereas readers had dozens of issues to understand the Oracle/Huntress/Black Canary relationship even prior to Gail's arrival on the title, her greatest success was in building those characters and relationships. Here... not so much.

Certainly the wacky factor Simone has introduced into the series is going to reach a certain audience, but with the stakes so low and the likelihood of any actual danger to any of Simone's beloved characters nonexistent, its all a bit.. fluffy. We're never given a reason why stone killer Deadshot doesn't put a bullet in Spy Smasher, and the whole flirtation while stabbing Catman in the leg with barbed arrows just kinda/sorta feels forced.

And, readers, telling a girl you've just met that she smells good works if you're a sexy ne'er-do-well. It makes everyone else a sort of creepy weirdo.



COUNTDOWN 47

A Mary Marvel-centric issue of Countdown, with a bit of a foreshadowing dream-sequence of an opening for Jimmy Olsen. Whatever connection lies between Jimmy, the Source Wall, Lightray and the reappearance of Jimmy's powers a la the series "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen" (a continuity long lost to Crisis on Infinite Earths), suggests that Jimmy's story may be the one to follow.

Certainly as a storytelling idea, dragging the purest of DC's characters over to the dark side must be enticing, but this Mary Marvel demands greater definition. Unfortunately, aside from a generic perception of the Marvels within the DCU, it's a bit tough to know that this Mary was ever supposed to be a vision of chastity and virtue. Certainly if readers are to care much about Mary's descent to the dark side, it would have helped to have seen a bit of what came before.

The portrayal of Black Adam matches the one seen at the conclusion of 52, prior to Billy stealing the lightning and changing Adam's magic word. So, like the whole "identity of Jason Todd" confusion, hopefully this bit of seeming continuity digression will be cleared away.

Oh, and, DC... don't just assume I remember which book I last saw Holly Robinson. Catwoman is a fairly insular book which I pick up for an issue or two every year. I was at the last panel of the two page spread before I recalled who she was, and that really breaks up the flow of the book. Captions or greater background on each character would be terribly beneficial.

Writer Sean McKeever's handling of the scene between Piper and Trickster seemed forced, although a bit of explanation regarding the Piper's reversion to his former criminal ways was welcome after a year of silence on the topic. While it's interesting to see a friendship or alliance forming between the two former rogues, the "so to speak" dialog just seemed off, as if McKeever wanted to use his own "Not that there's anything wrong with that" from the Golden Age of Seinfeld, but was aware so obvious a reference might detract from the story.

Overall, the series continues to feel like the first portion of a novel, establishing characters, etc... A tough chore considering many of the characters date back fifty or more years. Patience seems to be the watchword for Countdown, with the brewing trouble among the Monitors suggesting that something dark and significant is beginning to grow.

In some ways, this series has more promise for narrative cohesion than DC's last weekly series. With the weekly comic operation up and running, a skilled writer and producer overseeing the comic and several seemingly disparate storylines all in motion, the imaptience of fanboys seems to be the biggest threat to the title. Unlike 52, which had tremendous novelty value as a weekly comic, Countdown may suffer from reader realization that they are, in fact, reading a comic which features b-listers. However, no promises have been made regarding what this comic will deliver.




DETECTIVE COMICS 833

It's not too hard to track writer Paul Dini's adoration of DC's greatest magician/ super-hero. He wrote her into Batman: The Animated Series, wrote the 48 page special, Zatanna: Everyday Magic, and married magician Misty Lee.

Dini adds a new layer to the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Zatanna Zatara as Batman calls upon Zatanna to assist him in investigating a magician whose macabre acts have become increasingly deadly. Incorporating the ideas from Batman: The Animated Series, we learn of a past between Zatanna and Bruce Wayne which goes back to childhood and meeting again during Wayne's training as he sought out Zatanna's father, John Zatara, to teach him the art of escape.

While certainly placing a large questionmark above the age of Zatanna, the relationship works well, and, as Dini portrays it, places far greater weight on Zatanna's decision to erase Batman's memories of being restrained by the Justice League (as seen in Infinite Crisis).

The story is, at minimum, a two issue tale. Dini's surprise conclusion to the issue succeeds with a great impact and a terrific cliff-hanger moment. The use of illusion, escape and other tropes of the magician's trade are well used as themes throughout the story and add a unique flavor which make the team-up in the issue work, as well as putting Batman on his heels in quickly resolving the crime, and that makes for a far more interesting Batman tale.



SUPERGIRL 18

Writer Joe Kelly does not like your Silver-Age/ Bronze-Age Supergirl, and he does not want her back. He is quite adamant that his Supergirl just isn't getting her due, and he wants to make sure you know what a mistake you've made in not celebrating his vision for the Girl of Steel.

Apparently the last 18 issues of the Supergirl series have been one big illusion played by a somewhat esoteric Donna Troy villain, Dark Angel, who has been recruited to assist the Monitors in... You know what? This comic isn't just nonsensical, it's ridiculous. Joe Kelly (and by virtue of this comic hitting the stands, editor Eddie Berganza) whine like petulant children for the lack of a popular consensus supporting their take on Supergirl. Rather than honestly providing a contrasting example of a Silver-Age Kara Zor-El, they provide a spoof of that version who enumerates the crimes of the current Kara Zor-El, all while beating the tar out of her. Because the current Kara Zor-El is sad, according to Kelly, I guess the reader is supposed to feel bad for her. But the fact that the previous 14 issues or so did nothing to give readers a sympathetic Kara makes the argument feel a bit more than hollow.

There's some argument made that Supergirl should be allowed to whine incessantly because she's Supergirl and will pick herself back up and soldier on, and that we should have/ could have waited to see that happen. There's some argument that readers want a pollyanna who can make them forget their problems, and clearly they take issue with that, believing their Kara speaks to truth in some fashion. But apparently Kelly and Berganza missed the part where the character actually does anything but whine. And a stacked, strawman argument as presented in this issue is beneath both of them. I'm disappointed.

What it seems both Berganza and Kelly seem unable to understand is that whether the comic sells 50,000 copies or not, Supergirl just wasn't working. The series was rapidly going nowhere, Kara's past was rewriting seventy years of Superman mythology to accommodate a fairly half-baked idea about a mad Zor-El so that Supergirl could, eventually, have a fistfight with Superman, which would end in some sort of syrupy moment when she realizes killing Superman is a bad idea from a DC Comics merchandising perspective.

Moreover, Kelly and Berganza missed the part where Supergirl should be likable. I don't know what they think they've been working on, but there is absolutely nothing in their Kara. At least you want to root for a pollyanna with Superpowers. With no secret identity and no supporting cast beyond 20-something letch Captain Boomerang (I mean, really...), there's just nothing here. Kara is unrecognizably human, she weeps a lot, runs away from problems, won't talk to the only other Kryptonian (who would really like to talk to a Kryptonian who isn't Zod, one imagines), and insists he's a jerk for... nebulous reasons at best. Perhaps a typical teenager, but the portrayal of few other heroes portrays them as "typical" people, not joe average who happened to stumble into a pile of world-shattering super powers and then did nothing useful with them.

Hopefully the coming change in guard will work out.



SUPERMAN 663

Firstly, the cover (not pictured at the DC link) and interior art in this comic are phenomenal. Carlos Pacheco out does himself in capturing the grandeur and wonder of the world of Superman, from images of effortless flight by Young Gods to Superman considering his role on Earth from the surface of the moon. Some of this speaks to Busiek's understanding of Superman and knowing what scenes can reflect the possibilities of Metropolis and Superman, but kudos to Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Mareno for bringing the art to life.

The "Fall of Camelot" story continues, with Superman still tortured regarding his role among humans after Arion's prophetic vision suggests that Superman's presence interferes with the natural cycles of destruction and rebuilding which humanity must suffer. Some readers consider the seeming navel gazing or consideration of use of power to not provide enough action to the tales of Superman, but its the focus upon the character of Superman and his studied examination of his own responsibilities which has always delivered some of the best stories for the Man of Steel. This extra layer of introspection assists in defining Superman as a character not solely about punching crooks in the head, but as tremendous power used responsibly. Busiek plays the notion well in using Lois's voice to offer up other possibilities for Superman should he give up the planet-saving game while still serving humanity.

While these themes are often present in Superman's stories, Busiek has managed to shed new light upon the core of the character's dilemma, opening up the wheelhouse to see what makes it work. The question of a Superman book will rarely be: Can Superman win the day when facing off with a band of criminals (not after 70 years of handing crooks their keisters as he sends them to jail), but the nuances of being such a character are what makes Superman work.

Thus far, Busiek's run on Superman has been a terrific amount of fun as Superman is defined in the post Infinite Crisis world.




Aside from Kelly and Berganza's insistence on their direction (even as the ship goes down), a mostly fulfilling week. Simone seems back on her game in The Atom, and Birds of Prey is at least wrapping up the Sinister Six cross-over arc.

I may be the only person putting it in writing, but I'm actually enjoying Countdown quite a bit. There's a novelistic feel, and much of the griping that it doesn't "grab" people seems to stem more from a lack of anticipation more than the actual superiority of 52 at this point in the game.

Moreover, what seemed like a fairly straightforward take on Superman when Busiek took the reins of the book seems on its way to becoming one of the best runs for the character in several years. Add in the lush art of Pacheco, and this book is some of the best work DC is putting out there.

Looking forward to the "3-2-1 Action" arc by Busiek in Action Comics and featuring Jimmy Olsen.



So what did I get right? What's wrong? Did the recent issue of Supergirl turn you around on the character and make you want even more Joe Kelly? Is Countdown nothing short of sheer disappointment? You tell me.

Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.



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Ryan is your resident reviewer of DC Comics. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas. He likes Superman.
ryan@filmfodder.com