Wednesday Comics Reviews: Batman and Robin, Batwoman, Deathstroke, Demon Knights, Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Green Lantern, Grifter, Legion Lost, Mister Terrific, Red Lanterns, Resurrection Man, Suicide Squad and Superboy

Posted by September 14, 2011 Comment

Another week, another thirteen titles, courtesy of Orbital Comics of London. Check out their own podcast on the new DC titles as well, see if we match up.

Superboy #1 by Scott Lobdell and RB Silva is a real surprise. Like many, my biggest experience of Scott Lobdell’s work was on X-Men. I was a big X-Men fan. Until Scott Lobdell came along, And it’s probably the reason I stopped reading X-Men for years. Now I like Scott, he’s a entertaining guy, but I didn’t like his comic book writing, the work I’d read anyway. I think there was an amusing Captain Ultra story in an old copy of Marvel Comics Presents but that was about it.

I do, however like this. A lot. It’s a research lab procedural, with the non-powered Catlin Fairchild. This is a total reboot of Superboy, but keeps many details the same – or does it? We’re teased a couple of times that Superboy is the mix of Superman genes and those of Lex Luthor, though he is never named, but the tease leads me to think we may be getting something else.

It’s weird in that this comes on the back of Scott Snyder’s Flashpoint: Project Superman which has many similarities indeed, but this is a much more fun read, and feels far denser with it. There is an experimental subject, the Superboy, there are those who experiment on him and underestimate what he is, what he thinks, what he feels, and there is “Red”, or Doctor Catline Fairchild as I’m sure we’ll discover soon who sees something different, and when her perseverance and insight is proved correct and destruction falls like rain from the sky, she’s handed the keys to the kingdom. As much as the book demonstrates the powers of Superboy, it also demonstrates the power play within big organisations and how the weak can dominate the strong in the right circumstances.

RB Silva has a very pleased detailed cartoony style with clear distinct, heavy outlines reminiscent of Adam Hughes or Kevin Maguire and it’s one I really respond to. Characters live and dance on the page, there are incidental jokes and details al over the place – and it also seems embedded in the new Teen Titans book from the same writer. Continuity starts here. A great start to the week.

Demon Knights #1 by Paul Cornell and Diogenes Neves – well that’s a relief. I gave Cornell’s Stormwatch a rather negative review for not living up to the potential of the idea, which led to a slightly awkward pub scene later that night and me buying more alcohol than round etiquette may require. But this is a very different beast. Quite literally.

A more imaginative art style with a desire to build a grand epic world (or indeed worlds) on the page certainly helps. We cross the times, from Arthur’s Britain to the Dark Ages and a world where magic may not rule, but is a factor along with other disasters like storms or flooding. And right in the middle of it all, we see the modern DC Universe – and the basis of Stormwatch – being built by the immortals.

It also does a fine line in entertaining mix of the old and that which may appear to be not so fitting for such time. Like the oaf with an axe trying to get into a pub after closing time. Or fights over ethnicity. Or liberal use of the words bollocks and arse. Hang on, isn’t this meant to be a T book? Looks like the Britishisms get a free pass here. As does the possession and gruesome death of a young baby at the beginning. Yeah, there is a certain viscerality to this title, with mixing ages and sensibilities creating a real League Of Extraordinary Not-Particularly-Gentlemen vibe, with Vandal Savage, Madame Xanadu and Jason Blood centre stage.

It’s a sword-and-sorcery romp that has learnt from Pratchett but never delves into parody. It’s an unfamiliar world with plenty of familiarities. And it lives up to its promise.

Frankenstein Agent Of SHADE #1 by Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli feels very much like mid Grant Morrison Doom Patrol.

We have a lot of Cliff in Frankenstein, also the Hellboy role, a very literal “grunt”, a fantastical blue collar monster moaning about the job but doing his duty and stepping up to leadership, in the middle of an ever changing and sanity questioning world. Such as his father who has now reinvented himself as Hit Girl from Kick Ass, all inside a three inch globe that flies around the world, full of people miniaturised by Ray Palmer, better known as the Atom. Then we have the Creature Commandos, genetic experimentations built to resemble the Universal Horror Monsters, as well as a Mummy with a mysterious past. And they are dropped on a whole bunch of other monsters, the delineation between them as clear as mud.

It’s a rich, messy, sketchy book in both art and ideas, the plot being incidental to the fun that is flung around it. Morrison brought Frankenstein back to the DC Universe, it’s a pleasure to see certain elements of his other work injected into this. Surprisingly, this feels more like a Morrison book than Animal Man does, but Jeff Lemire definitely brings an approach to the character of the monster, the freak, the outsider finding solace in similar company that is all his very own.

Red Lanterns #1 by Peter Milligan and Ed Benes

Big change of tone here for this rather angry take on the Green Lantern concept, beings powered by pure rage and now getting their own book in the DC Relaunch. And it starts with a cat.

After the initial assault, this book becomes a little thin. There’s a lot of flashback, we are being shown the history of the Red Lanterns and the cosmic reach of their present day, interspersed with a couple of scenes of people getting angry in Britain possibly in an infectious fashion, getting into fights, brawls and random violence, which isn’t referred to anywhere in the rest of the book, apart from thematically. There are not enough dots joined up for the first issue to make sense alone. This could be a confusing read for the new reader, but also a bit of a bore for the committed fan.

Benes keeps this kind of thing as pretty as ever, in a semi-Jim Lee, semi-Greg Capullo fashion, though his Britain looks more like America, even as mysteriously glowing purple hodded women hang around in doorways.

For a book that feels like it should be passionate, it comes off as feeling cold, Atroticus, leader of the Red Lanterns, wonders if he’s just going through the motions and looks for new purpose. I’m wondering just how sub textual that might be.

When Alan Moore wrote the Voodoo comic, he made straight for her name, something chosen because it sounded cool, and then fleshed out her life in reference to mystical demands, justifiying this with the power of the name she had chosen for herself. Which is basically what Nathan Edmonson and CAFU have done with Cole Cash in Grifter #1. No longer a simple soldier of fortune with a flappy mask on his face, he is.. a grifter. A con man. But one who’s operations lead him into the strangest of situations against the most fantastical operators. Basically this is Hustle Meets HP Lovecraft with just a little bit of Lost for good measure. He finds himself transformed and in danger and in a world that doesn’t even try to make sense, even though it has a Gary Frank style sheen to it.

We’re given just enough of a bite to satisfy for now, but an aftertaste that leaves us wanting more. There is a mystery here, one man is in the middle of it and there are seventeen missing days…. or is it hours.. or is it minutes? The comic doesn’t seem to know. Our Grifter has a quest to find out. And he’s going to have to find his way to con answers out of, well, anyon he can.

We have no idea of the motivation of the bad guys., We have no idea why they chose Cash. We have no idea of their plans. And it doesn’t seem to matter a bit. The game is afoot.

It’s just a joy to read any book by JH Williams. Batwoman, #1 written, drawn and painted by the man, with writing assists from W Haden Blackman, follows his trademark style of the constant repeated double page splash and the widescreen storytelling this enables. I first saw him do this on Promethea and it’s to DC’s shame that they didn’t take Scott Dunbier’s advice on printing the book sideways for the Absolute editions after they fired him.

And Williams expertly shifts from style to style to suggest changes in time and location in a fashion no caption box could ever achieve. So we jump from the ghostly night (as in, full of ghost-like apparitions, and a certain leather clad Batwoman, to a bright, bold lined, daytime, jumping from gradual shading to cel-style, suddenly very real and making the past couple of pages seem as if they were totally in a dream though we accepted it at the time. It’s a dramatically powerful technique and I’m flabbergasted to see it used so expertly.

And it’s not that’s where it stops, the minute we ente the Department Of Extranormal Operations, we jump again to something more Alex Toth/Frank Millery, pools of black spilling out and defining space, shapes and folds of clothes and skin. Beautiful.

The story doesn’t end there of course, Batwoman is defining herself by those around her, those she chooses to led join her, those she rejects. We also get Batman, Chase

The new Batman And Robin #1 seems to have given this idea of a reboot a wide birth as Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason continue the tales of Batman Inc and the burgeoning father/son relationship of Bruce Wayne and Damian and Batman and Robin.

The past is with them, as they try to work together as a crime fighting team, saving Gotham from a small nuclear leak that would devastate the neighbourhood, with Damian playing fast and lose with radiation.

I’ve taught my children not to play with radiation, Batman is clearly amiss here, and he knows it.

But while the past is here, there is a sense of change, as it happens on panel. Batman;s decision to stop marking the date of is parents’ death is a significant one and an attempt to exorcise at least one ghost, as Batman’s future lies ahead of him in Damian. But it’s the past that haunts him in Russia, with the fate of the Moscow Batman. It looks like that particular incident will be calling.

Gleason very pleasingly plunges much of the book into the darkness, but when they pair emerge from the shadows, portrays them so brightly and with classic distinction, giving us the best of worlds, The Dark Adam West. While the continuity gives the themes of the book some added gravitas, it doesn’t come close to Detective Comics #1 last week which took in far more influences and knitted them together to a stunning conclusion. There are similar structural patterns between both books, but Detective had a far grander scale throughout.

It seems that half the books this week are set in Britain somewhere. Demon Knights, Red Lanterns, now Mister Terrific #1 by Eric Wallace and Gianluca Gugliotta. We get the Gherkin, the London Eye, Doctor Who and Big Ben on page two, and a skyline that seems a little more built up than I’m used to. Anyway, as with Red Lanterns, it’s narrated flashback time as we get a post-opening fight origin of the third smartest man in the DC Universe that’s, well, pretty much there with Batman and Atrocitus in terms of dead family members spurring them to action. That’s a lot of women in refrigerators in one go, you know.

But this is a comic about science. Like Static Shock, it stars a scientist as a superhero and tries to cram as much science in as possible. However the lead, Michael Holt, starts from a position of power, he’s a celebrity scientist with money, fame and the ability to get things done, rather than having to sneak around like Static. He’s a self fulfilling prophecy, his future success came back in time to transform him worthy of it. And as something else of a science bent is being used to transform others, he seems the ideal candidate to get to the bottom of the issue. Little suspecting he could be a victim of that further transformation himself.

The power play between people in different structures and walks of life reminds me of Priest’s work, albeit without his humour,and certain parts of the likes of West Wing and Mad Men. If not quite here yet, it’s certainly playing in the same ballpark. The art doesn’t match up to this sadly, characters doesn’t have the emotional range that the script seems to demand, and there are issues over panel to panel storytelling setting scenes, but I understand that will be changing pretty shortly as the book will go through quite a few artists, but there are some exceptions such as this fine scene…

Suicide Squad #1 by Adam Glass and Federico Dallocchio. What can I say, I really enjoyed this comic. And no, I’m not just perving on the new look Harley Quinn. The plot of this comic is one of the oldest, but it’s well disguised and it’s chock to the rafters full of people getting tortured, and they’re the bad buys. The aforementioned Harley Quinn, King Shark, Savant, Deadshot, Voltaic, Black Spider and El Diablo. Clearly there must be something wrong with me.

The team are hired, as usual to fulfill a black ops mission, in the knowledge that death is a remote controlled button away. And even though the first twist is possibly predictable the final page should send you scurrying to the internet complaining about how the very nature of the book has been subverted.

Which it probably has. So let’s see what fun we can have now.

It certainly earns it’s T+ rating, as rats burrowing into stomachs, electrocution, dehydration, insects climbing into your skull and, quite literally, salt being poured onto wounds. And then we get a narrated flashback – yes another one, you’d have thought they may have spaced them out a bit. Not that I minded, this comic is just all over the place, and in a very good way indeed.

And Federico Dallacchio and Ransom Getty seem to channel Steve Pugh on this one, especially King Shark, creating a truly scary version of this… man with a shark’s head. And, yes, okay, the cover does look a little dodgy but the insides make up for it. Even if they are mostly splattered with blood.

Green Lantern #1 by Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke is clearly one of the expected gems from the relaunch. And, perfect for a Green Lantern movie audience, starring the most charismatic character in that film in the lead, Sinestro as Green Lantern as the comic opens, is a masterstroke. However you’re coming to this comic, it subverts expectations and makes me rather happy to keep this new status quo for a while.

Keep Hal Jordan being normal, keep him being rejected by everything in his life, homeless, planeless, carless and keep Sinestro as the lead! It’s so much more fun to watch the players coping with these new surroundings, that you want them to keep doing this for, ooh, I don’t know, a year or three?

Oh, okay, okay, it won’t happen, but just for this issue, you can pretend it will. See Sinestro fighting Yellow Lanterns, see Hal Jordan getting soaked, see the vast difference between their two worlds now and then bring them all together for the end.

Doug Mahnke brings on his very best Brian Bolland-mixed-with-Kevin Maguire impersonation here, meticulously detailed bold lines that dramatically define the world, that it’s a true pleasure to read.

What could be still and lifeless in another’s hand is full of movement, or potential kinetic energy that pops from the page. A marvel of the modern age.

Resurrection Man #1 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Fernando Dagnino

This is an odd choice for the relaunch, the revival of a character who didn’t do too well the first time, and without a vocal fan following to rescue it from the great abyss. It’s back. Possibly just because it’s a cool comic, that people didn’t get at the time, but now using the relaunch to give the book and the concept a boost and lose any cancellation stench in the process. Seriously it’s twelve years on. That’s enough time.

But hey, if any book could come back to life, it’s appropriate that it’s this one. Since we last saw the coffin dodger, we’ve had Captain Jack Harkness doing his trick on Torchwood. Of course Captain Jack doesn’t get the chance to get a new superpower each time.

But this is not a superhero book. Not here, not now, this is a Heaven Vs Hell book, playing out on Earth, all for the prize of Mitch Shelley, The Resurrection Man’s old soul that has cheated death so many times. And so we get dark angels, stormclouds of the dead, a crashing airplane (Lazarus Airlines – yes, they are ladling it on a bit thick) and the chase is on from many sides for this glittery bauble of a supersomething. The art is thick and heavy and the rainclouds throughout are echoed in the art itself, wet, splashy, not quite there, as if seeing it through a watersoaked windscreen.

The journey looks to lie heavy on Mitch Shelley’s soul. And it may very well take us with it.

Legion Lost #1 by Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods

The Legion Of Superheroes have come from the far future to the present, breaking through the Flashpoint Breakwall. That such a wall exists indicates that maybe this will be the only time travelling we’ll be seeing. What with there being a breakwall and everything.

But that’s pretty much what we’re left with. A bunch of superheros are trapped here now, after their pursuit led to disaster. The Earth has been infected with a disease. And only they know about it and how to deal with it, even if it claims their own lives.

But this book is seriously tricky to follow and I spend much of it flicking back and forth between the pages to try and work out who was who, where as where and when was when. I think I’ve got it, eventually, but I don’t think it was the author’s intend to make me work that hard. It could be my unfamiliaroty wit Legion lore, and to be fair I’ve never been able to enjoy a Legion book before, and this just confirms my suspicisons that I’m just not built to.

The art is amiably bouncy in a Humberto Ramos fashion and takes some interesting diversions with colour, such as this panel where  the world is scanned with very different eyes. The difference is subtle but it draws the eye beautifully…

Deathstroke #1 by Kyle Higgins, Joe Bennett and Art Thibert.

This book pulls a great bait and switch. This is a relaunch, so we may be expecting a new status quo. Like Green Arrow or something, a new way of doing things. And that’s exactly what the book gives us, a new cast for a new kind of mission, and the bickering antics that go along with this. It’s Deathstroke, still the same Deathstroke, the super powered-ish assassin, but now with a new perspective, or indeed new perspectives on his every move. And not perspectives he seems to appreciate – at least, not initially.

And then, in a masterstroke, they pull it all away, and suddenly we’re back to the good old Deathstroke. He may be starting again, he may have a new reputation to build up, but he’s doing so with the entire history that made him the badass DC assassin he has always been.

Even if he now has some new information that he’s choosing to withold from us. Yeah, the little MacGuffin tease that he is.

It’s dar, it’s funny, it’s written by someone who has read Garth Ennis’ Punisher and that’s no bad thing.

It’s a story well told, well composed, well lit, easy to read an as long as you don’t get too attached to people you shouldn’t, you’ll be fine. And if you do, well lesson learned, we’ll see you back again for issue two.

Not yet of course, another week’s worth to read next Wednesday…

So. What did you think?

Comics courtesy of Orbital Comics, London. Check out their New 52 podcast here.

(Last Updated September 26, 2011 3:52 am )