Friday, March 29, 2013

Justice League #9

"The Villain's Journey Chapter One: The Call for Adventure"


Geoff Johns Writer
Jim Lee Penciller
Scott Williams Inker
Alex Sinclair with Pete Pantazis and Gabe Eltaeb Colorists
Pat Brosseau Letterer
Darren Shan Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham Editor

This is a pretty good cover by Jim Lee and Scott Williams with Alex Sinclair. Although it only has three members of the Justice League, they are taking on all of Batman's villains in Arkham Asylum, which is a pretty exciting concept. I don't recognize all the villains, but it looks like we have Two-Face (with a Jim Lee tattoo on his arm), Scarecrow, Clayface and Killer Croc. The colored version has probably a bit too much orange, but at least the black-and-white doesn't have excessive amounts of rubble to muddy Lee's pencils. My biggest complaint about this cover, though, is it promises a really epic fight that ends up being very brief inside. But maybe that's more of a complaint about the actual story itself.

The variant cover is by Carlos D'Anda with Gabe Eltaeb. This is one of those more symbolic covers that I really enjoy because it is so reminiscent of Queen's News of the World album. (I'm not sure if that was intentional or not.)  I do think this cover is a bit of a spoiler, though — we never see this villain's face inside the issue, just the back of his head. But that doesn't bug me near as much as leaving the Flash off it does. Why doesn't anybody like drawing the Flash? But maybe that's one reason why I like the Flash so much — he's always the forgotten hero, and I feel bad for him.

The story starts four years ago in Augusta, Maine, where David Graves, author of Justice League: Gods Among Men, is withered and dying in his beautiful home. His doctor tells him there's nothing more he can do and asks Graves if he's contacted the Justice League. Graves says the League can't help him and his journey must begin. He then pulls out a gun, shoots his doctor and leaves.

Today, in Washington, D.C., Colonel Steve Trevor is harassed by paparazzi, who want to know more about his breakup with Wonder Woman. Trevor, however, is able to find solace at his sister's house.

In the Batcave, Batman is reading the letter from his dad that the Flash gave him at the end of Flashpoint. The letter reads, in part: "Dear Son, There's only one thing I know about life. I know some things happen by chance. And some things happen because we make them happen. Barry Allen ..." Batman then has a flashback of repainting his room as a boy. Aflred reminded him that his mom painted it his favorite color, but the young Bruce said he doesn't have a favorite color anymore. Batman is brought back to reality when a report comes in of chaos at Arkham Asylum caused by the telepathic villain known as The Key.

At the Daily Planet, Lois Lane invites everyone out to lunch, but doesn't see Clark Kent, who remembers being picked last for a basketball game in school. He starts to eat lunch alone, but then gets a text from Bruce saying, "Got lunch plans?"

Superman arrives at Arkham Asylum and helps Batman subdue the rioting inmates. He uses his heat vision to take down Clayface, then tells Batman all the lead pipes are obstructing his x-ray vision. Right on cue, Cyborg shows up and produces a map showing where The Key is. Cyborg has a flashback of his dad. Even though he periodically updates Cyborg's equipment and systems, the two of them remain on non-speaking terms.

We then cut to a mysterious cloaked individual breaking into Steve Trevor's house. He tells Trevor that the world only sees him as the Justice League's errand boy, but he knows better.

In Central City, the Flash and Green Lantern have just finished a battle, but they've made quite a mess. Green Lantern suggests the Flash should clean it up since it'll only take him five seconds. But Flash says that's only relative to the outside world — for him, it'll take hours. Flash then changes the subject and wonders who would attack Iron Heights to release the villain known as the Weapons Master. They get ready to interrogate the bad guy, but Flash asks to be the bad cop this time. We get a flashback of Hal Jordan being arrested outside a bar. As the cop slammed him into the wall, Hal cried out, "Hey, I've got rights!" In another flashback, we see Barry Allen working as a police scientist and witnessing two cops slam an arrested man into a counter. Barry yelled at them, "Hey, he's got rights!"

Green Lantern reminds Flash that being bad cop goes against everything he is, but Flash starts to beg, even offering to clean up and run to China for Chinese food. Lantern reluctantly agrees and goes to Weapons Master to set it up. Lantern tells him he'd like to turn him over the authorities and be done with it, but he can't because this is the Flash's city and he's pissed. He says, "If it wasn't for me, he'd already be in here, vibrating his hand through your brain to get answers and turning it to mush." Lantern even says that Flash has already done this to a villain named The Mongoose and put him in adult diapers for life. He pleads with Weapons Master: "Do us both a favor. Tell the Flash what he wants to know. I've got enough to clean up." The Flash then shows up, looking pissed.

Flash says, "All right, Weapons Master. You better, uh, talk or ... or I'm going to ... I'm going to get really ... upset." It doesn't work. Luckily, Wonder Woman shows up with her lasso of truth to save the day. We then get a flashback of Wonder Woman's relationship with Steve Trevor. He taught her about couples holding hands, but later, he walked away from her, saying, "If you're not going to say it, don't say anything."

At the same time, Superman, Batman and Cyborg begin questioning The Key. He had broken into Arkham and wants to be locked away. He and Weapons Master both basically say the same thing. They were approached/attacked by David Graves, who only wanted to know everything the villains knew about the Justice League.

We then cut to Steve Trevor, who is tied to a chair and being tortured by Graves. Trevor refuses to reveal any League secrets, but once Graves threatens Trevor's sister, he gives in.

The Shazam backup story show Billy Batson's first day at school with his new foster family.

The Good:

The art. It's so good to have Jim Lee back. He just operates at a higher standard than most other artists. That high standard does make it difficult for him to stay on a monthly for very long, but I'll enjoy everything I can get from him.

Really funny Flash moment. I laughed out loud watching the Flash try desperately to be the bad cop and utterly fail at it. Green Lantern's right: being the bad cop is against his very nature. Flash is just too darn nice, which is why I love him so much. Of course, this does fall into the theme of Geoff Johns writing the Flash a lot goofier than how Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato write him in The Flash. You could argue that Johns really wanted to write Wally West, but had to stick with giving Barry Allen Wally-like qualities. That could easily be the case, but I think Johns is writing everyone lighter and slightly goofier in Justice League because it is a more mainstream, kid-friendly book. Also, I can easily Barry's need and ability to lighten up around the Justice League after all the serious events in The Flash. There's not so much pressure on him when he's with the League, so he can afford to relax a little and get in a few necessary laughs. I'm pretending this story happened right after he rescued Patty from Weather Wizard, so after what must have been a breeze of a fight with Green Lantern and Wonder Woman on his side, I can easily see him craving some good-natured silliness. I mean, he just basically broke up with his girlfriend. So let's let him be funny in Justice League for a little bit. But if he's involved in too many punchlines, then maybe we should ask Geoff Johns to bring back Wally West.

Reference to Flashpoint. As far as I can tell, this is the only instance of the New 52 acknowledging Flashpoint. I hope that changes. I don't want things to revert back to the way they were before, but I would like to know more about the implications of Flashpoint. Obviously Batman knows about it, but does the Flash even remember it happened? Also, when are we going to see this big war Pandora referred to at the end of Flashpoint? I have hope these questions will be answered. In the meantime, I'm just glad to see that it hasn't been entirely forgotten ... yet.

The Bad:

Lackluster story. The Villain's Journey was the heavily-promoted second arc of Justice League, that technically started in issue #7. I know this was the set-things-up issue, but I really feel like nothing important happened here. A man who wrote a novel about the Justice League is interviewing unknown villains to get more information on the League. Maybe it would've had a bigger impact had these villains actually been recognizable. The only one I knew here was Clayface, and he was taken down in half a second. I understand Geoff Johns has a difficult task of trying to work with other characters' villains without interfering too much with their continuities, but I think he should have been able to use some big names. I place this responsibility on the editing board. They should have things planned out two years in advance and have regular, big meetings with the authors and editors to see what they're doing and get everyone on the same page. And since Justice League is the flagship title, it should have first dibs, and everybody should work in part of what Justice League is doing into their own stories. I would have loved to have had a quick panel in The Flash saying Captain Cold was assaulted by David Graves with an editor's note referring me to this issue of Justice League. In my mind, that is a very easy thing to do, yet DC does it very rarely.

The Ugly:

Nasty filler text. To try to make things more natural, they had Graves' doctor flip through the Justice League book while talking to him. But nobody took the time to type up half a page of actual text for the book. Instead, we got gibberish. Maybe this is the curse of Jim Lee's artwork: it's so good and so detailed, that whenever he makes a mistake, it sticks out like a sore thumb. But I don't think it's unreasonable to ask Johns or one of the editor's to write a paragraph on the Justice League for this scene.

Final score: 6 out of 10

Next: The Belly of the Beast

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Flash #10

"Weather Wizard"


Script by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Pencils by Marcus To
Inks by Ray McCarthy
Colors Brian Buccellato (pgs 1-10) and Ian Herring (pgs 11-20)
Letters Wes Abbott
Associate Editor Chris Conroy
Editor Matt Idelson

After giving us nine straight issues of superb artwork, Francis Manapul finally had to take a break. I don't blame him, everybody needs to take a breather now and then. Plus, nine issues of writing and drawing is pretty good. Rags Morales, artist on Action Comics, only lasted four issues before his first break, and the great Jim Lee could only give us six issues of Justice League before bringing in guest artists.

Also of note is the new editing team. I don't know why Brian Cunningham and Darren Shan left The Flash, but things have been pretty good under Matt Idelson's guidance. There are less editor's notes, including the occasional reference to another title, which makes me sad. But it does seem like Manapul and Buccellato are being allowed to tell the kind of story they want to, which is the most important thing.

Although this issue was drawn by a guest artist, Manapul and Buccellato still did the cover, which is another classic Flash vs. the villain of the month. It's eye-catching, exciting and tells you exactly what happens in the book. I normally get a little upset when the cover is not drawn by the same person who did the inside pages, but for Manapul, I will make an exception. The black-and-white version began the stupid sideways, runaround thing, which is why I have so much black space on it. Also, very sadly, this marks the first month without a Flash variant cover. I always liked having another cover, even if the other one was usually pretty bad. Sometimes they were good, though. But what really makes me sad is it seems like DC pulled the variants from the Flash because not enough people were buying it to justify the extra cover. So I guess we need to get more people to buy The Flash!

The story starts in Central City two years ago. Claudio Mardon is on the phone with his brother, Marco. Their dad has died, and Claudio jumped at the chance to run the family business, but Marco wanted nothing to do with it. But now, Claudio is in town for a meeting that will bring big changes to the business, and he needs Marco's help. They're interrupted by a knock on the door. When Claudio answers the door, he someone he recognizes, who immediately riddles his body with tons of bullets, killing him instantly.

Now. The Flash is reflecting on his whirlwind of a life. He went to the Speed Force to save Iris and three others, but instead found Turbine. When he got out of there, he ended up in Gorilla City and was almost killed by Grodd. When he finally got out of that mess, he went home only to find his friend Dr. Elias was holding anti-Flash rallies and his girlfriend, Patty Spivot, had headed to Guatemala to follow up on a cold case, only to get captured by Marco Mardon, a.k.a. the Weather Wizard, who currently has Flash caught in a whirlpool.

Darryl Frye once told Flash the burden of responsibility shouldn't be carried alone, and Flash wants to share the burden of being a superhero with Patty. He doesn't know what he'd do without her. In truth, he needs her more than she needs him. But before he can save her, he has to do something about the Weather Wizard's tidal wave that is threatening to flood a nearby village. He uses his super-speed to draft the millions of gallons of water behind him and pull it out of the village with minimal damage. He dumps the water in the sea and saves a fisherman before his little boat sank.

Marco, meanwhile, used the opportunity to escape in a jeep with his sister-in-law, Elsa. He asks her why the Flash is after him, and she says it's because of the cop (Patty) that's investigating Claudio's murder. This confuses Marco, but before he can ask another question, the Flash has caught up with them. Elsa sends a text saying, "Kill them" and Marco prepares some lightning.

We then cut to Patty, who is tied up in a basement with a man known as The Spider. He tells Patty he used to work for the Mardon family, and his job was to clean up any murders associated with them. One day, he got a frantic call from Elsa, and when he went to the address, he found the 22-year-old head of the family, Claudio. The Spider says that Claudio could never stomach the violence of the job, but he was smart enough to travel to Central City to broker a peace treaty with a rival cartel. But Elsa found out he'd be weakening the family, so she had him killed, blamed their rivals and brought Marco back into the family. Being loyal to the Mardon family, the Spider decided to take the evidence right to Marco, but Elsa got to him first. The Spider assures Patty, however, that Elsa wouldn't kill them as long as he has the evidence, but as soon as he says this, three of Elsa's men, who just received her text, enter the basement with their guns drawn.

Back to the chase scene, Flash is easily able to dodge Marco's lightning and he jokes that he should try dousing him in chemicals as well. He finally pulls Marco and Elsa out of the jeep, and allows it to drive off a cliff and crash into the Mardon's crops (possibly drugs) and start a fire. The Flash then demands to know where Patty is. Marco says he'd never kidnap someone trying to solve his brother's murder, but Flash doesn't believe him. When Flash threatens to tear down the Mardon empire, Elsa speaks up and tells him where Patty is. Flash takes off, leaving Marco to question her why she didn't tell him she kidnapped Patty.

Half a second later, Flash takes out Elsa's men and frees Patty. She asks if this was where he disappeared to, but he just says it's a long story, but he heard she was in trouble so he came running. Patty assures him she's fine, but asks the Flash to do something useful like bringing down the Mardon cartel's drug empire.

Marco, meanwhile, is furious with Elsa, but she tells him she was only doing what was best for the family. Marco was busy playing cops and robbers and Claudio was too young, but it was her sacrifice that took the family to the top. Marco reminds her of his sacrifice: using his powers brings up all his darkest emotions. Creating enough rain for their crops nearly made him want to kill himself. But Elsa dismisses him and admits that she killed her husband for the family. This sends Marco over the edge, and he grabs her and summons a bolt of lightning so they could join their family in death.

The Flash and Patty are watching the crops burn, and he tells her he has something important to tell her, but she wants to go first. She says she blamed him for Barry's death, but realizes now that he really does have good intentions. However, her heart is still broken, and every time she sees that red costume it reminds her of what she lost. After she calms down, she asks Flash what he wanted to tell her, but he just says he needs to put out the fire and then they can go home.

Miraculously, the bolt of lightning that killed Elsa did not kill Marco. He's approached by a spectral form of a woman, who he at first thinks is Elsa, but then recognizes as Lisa Snart. She introduces herself as Glider and tells Marco it's time to come home.

While the Flash is putting out the fire, he realizes that it's not fair of him to place his burdens on Patty. The world needs him to be the Flash, but every time he runs, he puts Barry's life on hold and puts the lives of those he cares about in danger. He can't hurt Patty every time he puts the red suit on. He decides to carry his burdens alone. The world needs him to be the Flash, and for Patty to be able to move forward, she needs Barry to stay dead.

The Good:

The story. Marcus To's art was very decent, and having Buccellato color the first half of the issue really helped, but ultimately the artwork was nothing spectacular to brag about. But the story was more than enough to justify picking up this issue. Sometimes a guest artist means it'll be a filler issue that has nothing to do with the main storyline. But not here. This wrapped up the small subplot of a cold case Patty began working on back in issue #6, and it dealt with a lot of good emotional stuff the Flash was dealing with. He is officially dead and he just found out he is the necessary release valve for the Speed Force. Then at the end of this issue, he finds out his girlfriend hates his alter ego. So he makes a very interesting decision, which may or may not have been the right one. All this sets things up to be quite intriguing moving forward.

The Weather Wizard. Another classic Rogue hits the scene! I don't really know anything about the old Weather Wizard, but I really enjoyed this one, especially his power limitations. With a power with so much potential like controlling weather, there needs to be a good reason for this person not to completely take over the world. (I've often felt X-Men's Storm should do more.) But here, we're given a pretty viable reason for the Weather Wizard's hesitancy in using his powers.

The gangster back story. I really like The Godfather and other gangster stories. Family mobs, secret murders, powers struggles, all that fun stuff. I've read a couple of good Batman stories with gangsters, but I never imagined it could work with the Flash this well. Yes, the gangster element was limited, but I think that's a good thing. Too much gangster stuff would make the Flash too much like Batman. This was a good taste of the gangster world and a welcome change of pace.

Final score: 8 out of 10

Next time: The Flash really has been going through a lot right now, and he's decided to keep Barry Allen dead. I think before he returns to Central City to face this problem, he needs to go on a nice distracting Justice League mission.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Action Comics #14

"Superman's Mission to Mars"


Grant Morrison Writer
Rags Morales Penciller
Mark Propst Inker
Brad Anderson Colorist
Steve Wands Letterer
Wil Moss Associate Editor
Matt Idelson Editor
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Jose Shuster

I'm going to be perfectly honest: I have no idea when this story takes place. Traditionally, Action Comics takes place before the "now" of every other comic in 2011. But once Superman started fighting the fifth-dimmesional demon Vyndktvx, Morrison has played fast and loose with the timeline. In issue #15, Superman says he has memories of going to Mars, but won't actually go there for two more years. So I'm assuming that this two-year jump puts it right in the middle of normal continuity. But I could very easily be wrong. Once Morrison finishes his run, we might be able to piece everything together and put all the stories in the proper order. Or worse, Morrison might create a big event that negates everything that happened in Action Comics. Anyway, here is Action Comics #14.

The cover is by Rags Morales and Brad Anderson. It's not a bad cover — it's nice to finally see the Multitude, which was built up for quite some time, and it's kind of neat to see them as vicious angels with fiery swords. But the image itself doesn't strike me as particularly dynamic, and maybe that's because of Superman's weird face. It looks like he was just flying along, ran into these angels, paused and looked at them for a second, then went his way. I think he should have been fighting them, or at least looked a little more concerned. Also, the blue sky and cover text are very misleading. The Multitude in actuality does not visit Earth — at least in this issue (I don't know, I haven't read any Action Comics after this one).

The variant cover is by Steve Skroce and Jason Keith. Now this is the kind of action I want to see on my comic book cover. I do think Superman's cape is ridiculously too big, but other than that, this is a solid cover.

The main story sadly does not include the Flash, but if you want to buy this to read just the backup, then you might as well give the main story a glance. So that's what I'll do here.

The story starts with Superman hearing a distant cry for help, which he follows to a scientist colony on Mars, which is being attacked by machine-aliens called Metalek.

Superman fights them for a little bit, but ultimately ends the conflict by talking to the aliens and negotiating a truce. But as soon as that fight ends, the colony is attacked by the Multitude — a never-ending army of feral angels. With the scientists' help, Superman is able to defeat them. But at the end, he realizes the Multitude was merely a tool being wielded by Vyndktvx.

That was a shockingly brief recap, but really that's all that happened. A couple of fights that ended very quickly and conveniently. Luckily, we do have a backup story that does have the Flash (if only for a little bit.

"Star Light, Star Bright ..."

Sholly Fisch Writer
Chris Sprouse Penciller
Karl Story Inker
Jordine Bellaire Colorist
Steve Wands Letterer
Wil Moss Editor
Matt Idelson Group Editor
Special thanks to Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Jose Shuster

The story starts with Superman and the Justice League battling N'rrssshk't the Conqueror and his army of reptilian aliens armed with thought canons, multiphase quantum blades and encephalobots. Superman shields Batman from a big blast, and Batman actually thanks him, but asks, "Don't you have somewhere to be?" Superman is hesitant to leave his comrades, but Cyborg and Flash assure him they're fine.

Finally, Wonder Woman is able to convince him to leave by simply saying, "Go." So Superman flies to the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium in New York City.

He meets with some astronomers who show him pictures of his trip to Mars last week, but more importantly, they prepare him for the moment he's waited all year for — a chance to see Krypton. The planet is 27 light years away, so they normally can't see it, but on this night, when the orbit brings it closest to Earth, the astronomers have arranged for all the planet's major telescopes and satellites to focus on it. With all the devices working together, they are able to essentially use the Earth as a giant mirror, and Superman is able to process the enormous amount of data on their supercomputer to create a clear image of Krypton exploding.

The Good:

Real-world application. One of the astronomers, Dr. Tyson, is a real astronomer, and he gave DC the real coordinates of a star 27 light years away. So now budding astronomers can look up in the sky and see where Superman came from, which is pretty neat. The backup story also featured a lot of scientific background and explanation that I imagine will inspire a few kids to pursue astronomy. I also enjoyed the bittersweet ending here. On the one day Superman is able to see his home world, it explodes.

The Bad:

Limited Flash exposure. He really didn't even need to be here, and was probably thrown in as an after-thought. Although I am always happy to see the Flash in another title, I'm a bit saddened when that appearance is nothing more than just one panel.

Sloppy art. The backup feature had a good story, but unspectacular art, especially for the opening fight, which should have been really cool. Think about it: if you're an aspiring artist working for DC, and your editor tells you that you get to draw the Justice League fighting dinosaur aliens, wouldn't that be a dream come true? Wouldn't you go all out with your best stuff? But sadly, Chris Sprouse's work did not reflect that. Maybe that was his absolute best. Who am I to judge? All I can say is I didn't enjoy it. I also didn't enjoy Rags Morales' work in the main story. That especially felt sloppy to me, considering how much time he had to work on it. He had a lot of help on issue #12, then took off #0, the annual and #13, only to turn in #14 at a lower standard than what he usually does.

Uninspiring main story. I think there were a number of people who picked up this issue just for the backup. There was a fair amount of press around the "discovery" of Krypton, and then there were guys like me who just wanted to see a particular Justice League character. In this day and age, I think DC should offer these backups as separate, 99-cent digital comics. What if I loved Shazam, but couldn't stand the Justice League? But right now, the only option is to pay the full $3.99 and hope the main story is halfway decent. But that wasn't the case this time. It was just Superman jumping from fight to fight and resolving his problems in rather unsatisfactory ways. I'm not against having him negotiate a truce — but I would like to hear that conversation. I'm also not against him soliciting help from others, but I think the Multitude was too great a threat to be beaten so quickly. Basically every adventure in Action Comics was somehow tied to the threat of the Multitude, and when we finally get to see them, they're only there for half a comic book.

Final score: 3 out of 10

Next time: Well, the Flash has had enough fun beating up N'rrssshk't the Conqueror, and now it's time for him to go back home and tell everyone Barry Allen isn't dead. Perhaps he should visit his girlfriend, Patty. I wonder where she could be ...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Action Comics #12

"Return of the Forgotten Superman"


Grant Morrison Writer
Rags Morales, Cafu, Brad Walker Pencillers
Rick Bryant, Bob McLeod, Cafu, Andrew Hennessy Inkers
Brad Anderson and Gabe Eltaeb Colorists
Steve Wands Letterer
Wil Moss Associate Editor
Matt Idelson Editor
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Before I get reviewing, I have to apologize for missing this issue. It really happened soon after Action Comics #10, but the Flash's appearance in here was so quick and brief, that I completely forgot it happened. Also, it didn't help that I really hated this issue and didn't go back and re-read it like I normally do. But if this issue never turned me away from Action Comics, then I never would have picked up The Flash and begun my quest to review in order every Flash appearance, no matter how big or small it was. I'll include a timeline at the end to help put everything in order.

The cover is by Rags Morales and Brad Anderson. I like that it shows a scene that actually happened in the book, and overall, it's a pretty solid cover. I think I prefer the black-and-white version over the colored. It takes away the effects of the psychic powers and focuses on the action.

The variant cover is by Cliff Chiang, and I absolutely love it. It's simple, it's colorful, it's symbolic, and it's something new that we don't see every day. In my opinion, this is what variant covers should be: something different. Sometimes, when you experiment like this, you run the risk of losing fans (and I understand why a lot of people wouldn't like this), but sometimes, your risk pays off and you find some people who appreciate it. And I'm one of those people.

The story starts with a series of images of Clark Kent's life, but some things are different from what's already happened in the New 52 continuity. Clark leaves home when both his parents are still alive; his first job is at the Daily Planet instead of the Daily Star. He still becomes Superman and teams up with the Justice League to repel Darkseid ...

... but after the battle he establishes a new Camelot and ushers in a new golden age, where Kryptonian technology has been introduced to Earth and the skies are full of flying heroes. Superman even gets married to Lois Lane. But then he realizes that his dream come true truly is just a dream. In reality, Lois is dying after being hit by a fire truck, and Superman is battling Captain Comet, who has used his psychic powers to send an angry mob after the Man of Steel, so that he could take Lois' niece, Susie, away to his planet.

Like Comet, Susie has psychic powers, and he tells her she is unique and needs to be saved before the world is destroyed. To earn her trust, he shows her his life's story. He was born as Adam Blake in Kansas the same day Superman's rocket landed on Earth. He displayed psychic abilities at an early age and was often referred to as the Blake Farm Ghost, or was confused with Superman, hence the Forgotten Superman. He was outcast by his family, but discovered by aliens, who took him away. Now that he's back, he only wants to take little Susie with him, but he hasn't cared who he hurts or kills to accomplish his goal, which Superman has a problem with.

They fight for awhile, but Comet is only defeated once Susie steps in with her powers. Comet teleports to his spaceship and Superman rushes Lois to the hospital. Superman saves her life by reading all the books in the medical library in five minutes and performs the operation himself.

Later, Batman meets Superman and gives him a hard drive with every story written by Clark Kent. Batman tells him that Kent is a hero in his own right, and Superman needs to bring him back from the dead. Batman also placed a small tracker on Superman's cape, but he either didn't notice it, or didn't care.

Clark then goes to his landlady, Mrs. Nyxly, who tells him she's the only one who can bring Clark Kent back to life. She reveals that she is a fifth-dimmesional being with three wishes, and she uses one of them to make the world forget that Clark had ever died.

In the epilogue, Susie is visited by the strange little man who has been involved in every adventure in Action Comics. As Mrs. Nyxyly alluded to, this little man is really Lord Vyndktvx, who is attacking Superman's whole life at once and is disrupting the timeline as a result.

The Good:

Hmm ... if you're really into wild science fiction from Grant Morrison with aliens, alternate dimensions and time travel, then this storyline is for you. Personally, though, it's too much for me to handle.

The Bad:

Little to no Flash. For diehard Flash fans, I do not recommend picking up this issue. You only see two quick images of him, and those are in a dream sequence, which really doesn't count. It was kind of fun to see the Batmobile running over parademons, though.

Inconsistent art. Rags Morales is a very hit-or-miss artist. When he's on, he's one of the best in the business; but when he's off, some of his stuff is unbearable, and there was plenty of that going on here. He's also really bad at hitting deadlines, so with this larger-than-normal issue without a backup, Morales called upon two other pencillers to help him out. For me, that's too many cooks in the kitchen and created a rather unpleasant reading experience.

Big leap in Superman's abilities. My favorite thing about the early Action Comics issues was the depowered, still developing Superman. Lots of things still hurt him and it took a long time before he learned how to fly. But in this issue, Morrison threw all that out the window and gave Superman abilities I didn't want him to have just yet, especially the super-speed reading. Something like that should be reserved for the Flash, not a young Superman still learning to fly.

Deus ex machina finale. I was so excited to read this issue when it first came out, mainly because I wanted to see how Clark Kent would come back after faking his own death. Turns out, his landlady just had to use a magic wish. Now, I have nothing against his landlady being from the fifth dimension, but I don't want her to solve my hero's problems with a blink of an eye. When Superman got Batman involved, I was worried Batman would solve everything for him. But instead, Batman gave him a nice pep talk and encouraged Superman to fix it himself. But he didn't! Such a sad, disappointing end to a story that only got worse by alluding to more wild, difficult to follow story line in the future.

Final score: 1 out of 10

Next time: The Flash will make one more quick appearance in Action Comics — but this time it's not a dream!

Now here is my little Flash timeline. As far as I can tell, this is every appearance of Barry Allen in the New 52. If you notice any omissions, please let me know and I will review them.

The Flash #0 — Barry Allen becomes the Flash
Justice League #1–6 — Darkseid
Action Comics #10 — Early Justice League meeting
Action Comics #12 — Dream sequence
Captain Atom #3 — Libyan war
The Flash #1–#5 — Mob Rule
Justice League #7–#8 — Spore, Green Arrow
The Flash #6–#9 — Captain Cold, Turbine, Gorilla Grodd
Action Comics #14 — Superman finds Krypton
The Flash #10 — Weather Wizard
Justice League #9–#14 — David Graves, Cheetah
Green Lantern #14 — Simon Baz
The Flash #11–#12 — Heatwave, Glider
The Flash Annual #1 — The Rogues
The Flash #13–#17 — Gorilla Warfare
Justice League #15–#16 — Variant covers only
Superman #15 — Joins H'el on Earth storyline
Superboy #16 — Assault on the Fortress
Supergirl #16 — Supergirl
Superboy Annual #1 — Flashback
Superman #16 — Flashback
Superboy #17 — H'el on Earth*
Supergirl #17 — H'el on Earth*
Superman #17 — H'el on Earth Finale*
Vibe #1 — Flashback*
Justice League of America #1 — Posters and files
Animal Man #17 — Rotworld*

The ones I've marked with an * are issues I haven't read yet, but have seen the Flash in the previews. As I get reviewing these issues, I'll explain more why I've put them in this order. And once again, I'm bound to be missing something, so if you know of anything I've overlooked, please help me out.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Flash #9



Story by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul
Colors Brian Buccellato
Letters Wes Abbott
Assistant Editor Darren Shan
Editor Brian Cunningham

I said it last time, but I'll say it again: I really enjoy this trend of having a new villain on each cover. It's just pure, unadulterated fun. Especially when Manapul and Buccellato are doing the art.

And once again, the black-and-white is just as beautiful as the colored version. For some reason, I didn't notice that Grodd's sword was shaped like a lightning bolt until I saw the black-and-white. Just one of many neat details Manapul puts in his work.

The variant cover is by Tony S. Daniel and Sandu Florea with Tomeu Morey. Flash looks pretty cool here, but the action doesn't really fit with the story. It looks like while Flash is trying to "Escape from Gorilla City!", he's being chased by the gorillas who are throwing a bunch of spears at him. But nothing like that happens in the book. Plus, Daniel couldn't bother himself to draw even one gorilla. It's a proven fact: comics sell better when they have gorillas on the cover. Don't just write the word gorilla — draw one!

Our story begins in the past, when Barry was a boy on a safari experience with his mom. The trip became rather traumatic for young Barry when a rampaging gorilla knocked over the tour bus, attacked and began to eat a gazelle, then turned its attention to Barry. While this is happening, Barry's mom talks about fear being a good thing because it ignites the fight or flight response. But sometimes fear can paralyze you.

Back to the present, Turbine has slipped out of Flash's grip while in the wormhole, and the Flash alone falls out of it into Gorilla City, where Grodd is eating his father's brain.

Grodd says that taking his father's knowledge and memories isn't enough — he wants more. He turns around to see the Flash, who is very surprised to see the gorillas can talk. General Silverback wonders if Flash is the Messenger, but Grodd says he isn't because he can smell his fear. Instead, Grodd labels Flash as dessert. Flash tries to run away, but Grodd easily catches him. Luckily, the elders intercede, saying the Flash is indeed the Messenger because of the symbol on his chest. As Grodd holds Flash's head, he admits he can feel the power of the Light surging through the human. He asks Flash what his message is, but Flash's mind is blank — he can't even remember his own name.

Inside the Speed Force, Iris is fiddling with the Flash's earpiece, but is unable to do anything with it. The group of four introduce themselves to each other. There's Albert, the engineering major, Gomez the football player, and Marissa the fashion model. They all feel like they've been in the Speed Force for days, but none of them are hungry. Albert wonders if they're dead and don't know it like in that old TV show where they all got lost. Iris asks, "You mean 'Lost'?" Albert: "I don't know. I don't watch much TV—" But then he's interrupted by an ominous growling sound.

At the Central City Police Station, Hartely Rathaway is paying a personal visit to David Singh, who is not happy with him. Singh yells at Hartley for wanting to go out and play hero while the city is already holding public demonstrations denouncing one vigilante. Hartley says he wants to go back because of the demonstrations. With the Flash missing, the city needs the Pied Piper. But Singh says the city doesn't need another vigilante, and he doesn't need Hartley showing up where people can see them. Hartley realizes that Singh isn't so mad about the Pied Piper as he is worried that people will start talking. He says, "If you can't accept our relationship, how will anyone else?" They're briefly interrupted by Patty asking to take a leave of absence. Once she's gone, Hartley says, "Fine David ... keep your secrets ... but hiding everything isn't the answer."

In the Virunga Mountains of East Africa, the elder gorillas are discussing whether they should do away with the mental projections that mask their city, since it seems like Grodd will reveal their existence to the world soon. They also feel the Flash's arrival signals the end of their time, which explains why their connection to the Light has been fading and the new generation is more savage and devolved. They realize they need to save the Flash so he can fulfill his destiny of saving the world, but doing so would destroy their civilization. They agree to make that sacrifice and release Flash before Grodd destroys him and brings ruin to the world. Unknown to the elders, one of Grodd's soldiers had been spying on them the whole time.

Outside, the Flash is chained to a pillar and guarded by two gorillas. The guards explain to him the pillar is the lightning rod, the beacon that connects them to the Light, and they're surprised that Flash doesn't already know this. Two elders then sneak up from behind, knock out the guards, and lead the Flash into an underground cave. They show him ancient paintings that illustrate the history of the Light. They explain that their forefathers were hit by lightning, which sped up their minds, allowing them to see the past, present, and future. But with each passing generation, their connection to the Light has faded. They built their city as a giant lightning rod in an effort to reconnect with the Light, but now they realize they are not what was intended. Over time, the Light has reached out and touched others in an effort to find one being worthy of its power. The elder points out paintings of the Mayan civilization being destroyed, the gorilla civilization being created, Turbine being sucked into the Speed Force, and Barry Allen turning into the Flash. The elder tells Flash he is the Runner. The Light moves the world forward, and with every stride he takes, he keeps the world safe. His destiny is to run for us all.

Flash is amazed by this information, but asks why he doesn't remember any of it. He's answered by Grodd, who springs out from the shadows, shouting, "Because it's all lies!" He quickly kills one elder and pins the Flash against a wall, while his soldier kills the other elder. Grodd says he will not let his apes die like the Mayans — he will devour the Flash's brain to claim his powers of the Lights and use those powers to save his apes and lead his empire out of the shadows and conquer the world. He says he can smell Flash's fear, and it is delicious.

While Grodd is talking, Flash remembers the rampaging gorilla from his safari. After killing the gazelle, the gorilla ripped open the bus. Barry's mom threw a camera in its face and a ranger shot it with a tranquilizer dart. Barry's mom then told him that being afraid is not only normal, but necessary because there is no courage without fear. It's okay to be afraid, so long as you don't let it stop you. Barry then remembers who he is. He is the Flash. And he's the fastest man alive.

Flash escaped from Grodd as he lunged in for the killing blow. Undeterred, Grodd tells Flash he can't outrun fear. But Flash says he's running towards it. The only way to conquer fear is to look it in the eye and face it. As they fight, Grodd tries to hit the Flash a couple of times, but misses and takes out pillars supporting the cave. Flash and the gorilla soldier try to warn him to stop, but he doesn't listen, and eventually causes the whole place to collapse.

Later, Grodd remains buried under the rubble, but they believe he's still alive. An elder takes advantage of the king being unconscious to address the citizens of Gorilla City. He says although they've always followed the king in the past, now is the time for them to forge their own path and control their own destiny. He tells them that Grodd's plan will only bring destruction to the world and they need to let the Flash go to save the world. The apes, though, still seem worried about betraying Grodd.

We then cut to South America Air, flight 661. Nonstop from Central City to Guatemala City, Guatemala. Patty is on board, following up on the cold case she opened before the Captain Cold attack.  She's still surprised Singh let her leave, but she thinks he may have allowed it so she won't end up in one of those crazy demonstrations. In any case, she is happy to not only attempt to right a wrong, but to just get away to catch her breath.

On a balcony in Guatemala, Marco Mardon and a woman are watching their crops be watered by a rainstorm. The woman says that Marco's late brother, Claudio, would be so proud. She boasts that every cartel from here to the United States will fall beneath the heel of the Mardon Family, for even the weather will bend at their command ...

Back in Central City, Barry Allen is happy to be home after being gone for a couple of months. He's glad to see Elias has put the energy cells to good use in restoring the city's power, and he wonders how he'll tell everyone he's back. He then runs into an anti-Flash demonstration, complete with a burning Flash billboard. Leading the protest is none other than Barry's once-trusted ally, Dr. Darwin Elias.

The Good:

The art. So much fun stuff here. The gorillas, and Grodd especially, looked great. The cave paintings were cool, and we had nice flashbacks and scenes in the Speed Force to break things up. The really cool thing here, was the flashbacks are distinctly different from the Speed Force images, so there's no potential for confusion.

The story. This is the first time I've noticed Manapul and Buccellato give an issue a central theme. In Issue #1 and throughout the Mob Rule arc, they toyed with the "Move Forward" concept, but it didn't really stick. In this issue, the theme was fear, and it was prevalent in every part of the story. There was Flash's fear of gorillas, the elders' fear of the world being destroyed, Grodd's fear of losing his empire, Iris' fear of the unknown, and Singh's fear of his relationship being discovered. If you really want to get deep, you could argue that Elias and Patty are motivated by fear right now. I don't think that every issue needs a theme, but when one has one, and it works, then it's real nice.

Hartley's and Singh's relationship. A weaker storyteller would have been too heavy-handed with this and would have made it either preachy or offensive. But Manapul and Buccellato handled this side story with perfect tact and class. But most importantly to me was the added depth to these minor characters. I couldn't care less if they were or weren't gay. But I love to see them struggling through this real-life, personal problem that not only humanizes the characters but adds incredible richness to the story.

A third explanation for Flash's powers. We've had the scientist's view, then the first-hand experience, and now a more mystical, almost religious account that was passed from generation to generation. They all said very different things, but at the root of the matter, I think they are all correct to a certain degree. This is a really fun way to explain a superhero's powers. Instead of having one person give us all the facts, we're exposed to several different perspectives and then can decide for ourselves what we want to be true. Was Barry Allen preordained from a higher power to be the Flash, or did he acquire his powers  completely through the lightning/chemical bath, or did he always have those powers in him that just needed to be triggered? The answer is yes. Depending on your perspective, that is your reality. Another example of this is Grodd's desire to eat Flash's brain. Did he really get his father's knowledge from eating his brain, or does he just believe that? Ultimately, it doesn't really matter because he's still going to try to eat the Flash's brain either way. Same with the Flash's power. It doesn't matter how it works or where it came from. He's the fastest man in the world and he's going to save everybody he can. It's that simple.

Good cliffhanger. Sweet little Patty Spivot is all on her own now, headed to Guatemala, where the Weather Wizard reigns (or rains) supreme! Plus, Barry not only has to revive himself from the dead, but now his one ally in Central City has turned against him and is convincing everyone else to do the same. I really didn't see this coming, but I really like it. It raises the intensity, the drama, and it adds more to the character of Elias. He now reminds me of Professor Emil Hamilton from Superman: The Animated Series (I never read the comics, so I don't know what he did there). I also find it ironically fitting that the Flash, who is so concerned with his public image, would have so much trouble maintaining it.

The Bad:

If I didn't already know what happened, I would say this Flash-Grodd fight was criminally short. But I do know we'll see Grodd again and I do know it'll be awesome, so I'm not going to penalize this issue for that. So, it looks like we've stumbled into another perfect issue!

Final score: 10 out of 10

Next time: It's going to take Barry a little while to figure out how to resume his life in Central City, so in the meantime, I think he can go on a quick adventure with Superman and the Justice League in Action Comics.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Flash #8

"The Speed Force"


Story by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul
Colors Brian Buccellato with Ian Herring
Letters Wes Abbott
Assistant Editor Darren Shan
Editor Brian Cunningham

We are now entering a really fun trend of Flash covers by Manapul and Buccellato, where each cover depicts Flash fighting a new villain. Yes, all the Flash covers have been great so far, but there's something nostalgic about this approach. I've never really read any Silver Age Flash stories, but I imagine that most of the covers were like this — simple, to the point, and something to make kids in the comic shop say, "Wow! The Flash is fighting Turbine this week!"

I don't mind all the yellow on the colored version, but when you take it away, the black-and-white looks a little scarier, I think. There's a lot of tension and a strong element of the unknown going on here. Plus, putting the Flash banner in red really makes it pop.

The variant cover is by Bernard Chang. This is pretty good, and I like having the Flash be a little more in control of the situation, but something about Chang's style makes it look really cartoony for me. Doesn't Turbine look like he came straight out of a Young Justice episode?

Our story begins on May 12, 1944. High above Monte Cassino, Italy, the U.S. Army Air Force's 99th Flying Pursuit Squadron prepares for engagement. They are led by First Lieutenant Roscoe Hynes, who is piloting the world's only P40 Turbo-Nine fighter. Hynes breaks formation and boldly charges ahead, but is engulfed in a bright light and is sucked into a wormhole.

Now. Inside the Speed Force, Hynes has subdued the Flash. He introduces himself as Turbine and says the Flash is his ticket out of there.

Turbine says he knows all about the Flash, even that his real name is Barry Allen. Flash is able to throw Turbine off him, but he starts to spin around, creating a whirlwind. Turbine says he's going to go back home, even if he has to kill the Flash to do it. He uses his whirlwind to launch a bunch of rocks at Flash, who is able to dodge them all. He says he'll try to help Turbine, but first he needs to find someone. However, he isn't able to get Turbine to settle down until he knees him in the chin.

Now that Turbine's stopped spinning, Flash asks him if he's seen Iris and the others, but Turbine says he's been alone there for 70 years. As they talk, Turbine has a hard time maintaining his composure. He'll start to freak out a little bit and stutter and repeat words, but then he'll quickly recover. He tells Flash he's learned all about him through the images in the sky that show significant moments in Barry's life. We see his spelling bee trophy, riding in a go-kart with his dad, and, of course, an image of his mom. Turbine describes the Speed Force as a place where the past and the present happen — all existing in the same place and time. He says the place gives Flash his powers.

As they explore the Speed Force, the floating rocks start to form a path toward images of Dr. Elias, Mob Rule, Captain Cold and gorillas. Flash feels the Speed Force is beckoning him toward the present and the future, but Turbine doesn't like that idea. Instead, he pulls Flash back toward the past to show him images of his mom's death and funeral, his dad being arrested, and Barry becoming the Flash. Flash asks Turbine why he's causing the time anomalies, but Turbine says he isn't the problem, but the solution. Turbine describes the Speed Force as a giant ball of energy that's always moving forward and building up excess energy that needs to be released. When the Flash runs, he lets that energy out, but when he doesn't, things get crazy.

At the Central City Music Hall, Hartley Rathaway and the Central City Symphony are performing at a memorial service for four deceased police officers, including Barry Allen. Darryl Frye gives a speech about how these officers helped the city in its darkest hours over the past two months. Even though they didn't have bulletproof skin, magic rings or super speed, they were true superheroes. Afterward, Patty Spivot, David Singh and James Forrest are arguing about the Flash. Forrest defends him, saying they don't know all the facts, but Patty still blames him for Barry's death and Singh labels him as a self-serving vigilante. Hartley joins the conversation, reminding Singh that some vigilantes do actual good. Singh tells Hartley that not all vigilantes are as easily reformed as him, then he introduces Hartley to the others as his friend, which seems to upset Hartley.

Back in the Speed Force, Turbine shows the Flash what happens when he doesn't run. They find ancient Egyptian monuments, a Mayan temple, Hynes' old plane, a tank and a train. In the sky, they see images of a Mayan civilization being destroyed by the Speed Force, and Gorilla City being created by it. Flash is amazed that the Speed Force did all this before he started running, but Turbine admits that not all the objects were brought there by the Speed Force. He says that when Flash uses his powers, portals open up, and he's tried to go through them, but never has been able to. Instead, he starts spinning and inadvertently sucks objects into the Speed Force.

This makes Flash pretty mad, and chews Turbine out for knowingly causing the vortexes and creating so much pain and suffering. Turbine meekly says he was just trying to go home, but Flash says he can't send Turbine back in time because that could alter the timeline and destroy everything. This is too much for Turbine, and his fragile psyche snaps. He starts spinning again and says he'll kill the Flash. As Flash gets knocked around by the whirlwind, he worries that if he stays in the Speed Force too long he could lose his mind like Turbine.

Eventually, Flash is able to grab Turbine and pull him toward the future. Turbine tries to fight him off, but is only able to rip off one of Flash's earpieces, which is later found by Iris West. She is with the three others who were on the boat that was broken by Captain Cold. Presumably, they arrived in the Speed Force right after the Flash and Turbine left it.

In Gorilla City, an elder is preparing Prince Grodd for his final challenge to adulthood — a fight to the death with his father. The elder paints a red lightning bolt on Grodd's chest, and tells him if he wins, he'll claim his father's memories, knowledge and throne. Grodd is able to defeat his father, killing him by ramming the large spike on his helmet through his father's head. Grodd declares himself king, but his moment of triumph is spoiled by the Flash suddenly appearing behind him in a lightning bolt.

The Good:

The art. Brian Buccellato did need some help on the colors this issue, but I think Ian Herring only colored the first page, which took place in 1944, and I think that was a good move to give that different time a different look and feel art-wise. If Herring did help on any other pages, then I couldn't tell, because everything was executed at the same high level we've come to expect on The Flash.

The Speed Force. This issue was all about explaining the Flash's powers, and I found it fascinating. Even more fascinating, was learning that Dr. Elias was wrong. Usually, in comic books, whatever the scientist says is 100-percent true. But in real life, scientists get stuff wrong all the time, so it was really nice to see this scientist not have all the answers. Of course, Elias wasn't completely wrong — when the Flash ran too fast, he did open a portal that Turbine used to create the vortexes. So I guess Elias was right, with the information he had. In any case, I really like the Flash having mysterious powers, and having this comic slowly unravel those mysteries through different angles.

Barry Allen's death. They had a service. It's official. Barry Allen is dead. Manapul could have all too easily threw in some convenient time travel and had the Flash reappear right after the Captain Cold fight, but instead he chose something unexpected. And since I've already read Flash #17, I know that Barry's death will be resolved in a satisfying way, unlike Clark Kent's death in Action Comics (I'll be reviewing that soon).

Gorilla Grodd. I know Turbine was the feature "villain" in this issue, but like Mob Rule, I don't really consider him a villain. He's just a lost, confused guy who's spent a few too many decades in isolation. He is an interesting character, but nowhere near as exciting as Grodd. This guy is definitely a villain. I mean, he wants to eat his dad's brain. You don't really get more vicious than that. And once again, after having read through the Gorilla Warfare storyline, I can say that this New 52 Grodd is a welcome addition to the DC Universe.

The Bad:

Just one very, very minor issue I saw. In the Speed Force images, we saw Barry's dad with a mustache, but he never had one in Flash #0 or the annual. However, I will write this off by saying Barry's dad is one of those guys who'll grow a mustache for a bit, then shave it off, then grow it back a few years later, then get sick of it and shave it again. I know people who do that it real life, so why can't Henry Allen?

Final score: 9 out of 10

Next: Trapped in Gorilla City!