Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Superman #7

"To Hel and Back"

Scripted and Co-Plotted by Keith Griffen
Pencil Art and Co-Plotted by Dan Jurgens
Finished Art by Jesús Merino
Colored by Tanya and Richard Horie
Lettered by Rob Leigh
Associate Edited by Wil Moss
Edited by Matt Idelson
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Look at this! A sketch variant! This is an older issue from when DC generously included variant covers in their digital copies. Now, they have sadly discontinued that practice. Anyway, this cover was done by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Rod Reis. I always get annoyed when the cover artist doesn't work on the inside pages, but otherwise, this is a pretty solid cover. But I wouldn't say it's Ivan Reis' best work, by any means. Perhaps it's because I think grabbing Superman's cape is a really dumb-looking move. The black-and-white version is alright, but it feels a little rushed. Almost like it needed one more step before it was ready to go on the cover.

Of course, any problems with this cover (and story) can be attributed to the turbulent nature of the Superman title in the early stages of the New 52. Originally, George Perez (one of the bigger names in the industry) was supposed to be the main Superman writer and hold it up to the same standard as Grant Morrison's Action Comics and Geoff Johns' Justice League. But Perez quickly fell into editorial disagreements, and he left as soon as he could. He even publicly stated that the first six issues of Superman, of which he was credited as writer and sometimes artist, were edited so heavily they did not resemble his originally intended story. So DC quickly brought in Keith Griffen and Dan Jurgens to put a couple of issues out until they found a long-term replacement. For their story, DC chose a loose tie-in with Stormwatch and Grifter. And you know what? Having said all that, this issue actually wasn't half bad.

Our story begins with Superman doing Superman stuff. He's protecting innocent bystanders from a rampaging robot.

The robot eventually transports Superman to the Himalayas, where its boss, Helspont the daemonite, has set up base. Helspont tells Superman that he's curious as to why his race didn't conquer Earth long ago. He theorizes this could be due to the amount of superheroes already on Earth. To illustrate his point, a nearby cauldron of fire displays images of several heroes, including Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash.

Helspont then offers Superman the chance to serve under him while he conquers the world. Naturally, the Man of Steel declines.

The Good:

For better and worse, this felt like a very '90s issue. Now, there are a lot of comics I love from the '90s, but there are also a few things that are best left in that decade. Of course, the bulk of this praise/blame falls on Dan Jurgens, who was one of the premiere Superman creators of the '90s. I guess old habits die hard — even 20 years later. Now, what do I mean when I say this feels '90s? It's hard to put my finger on it. Part of it is the art — Jurgens' distinctive style that was so prevalent back then. And part of it is the tone of the story. It just feels a lot lighter than many current books that try so hard to be serious, grim and gritty. This was a pretty basic setup: Superman fights a robot, saves people, has some laughs at the Daily Planet, then meets the super villain, who is basically evil incarnate and wants to take over the world for the sake of taking it over. It all felt very familiar. And this works to the benefit and detriment of this issue. I suppose it depends on how you feel on a given day. Sometimes it's nice to return to the simpler times of the "good ol' days." But sometimes you want something new and fresh, even if that comes with the risk of failing.

One thing I will compliment this issue on is the use of editor's notes. This is something DC has moved away from recently, which saddens me. In this issue, there were notes telling me to check out Superman #1, Stormwatch #5, Stormwatch #6 and Grifter #6. That's a lot of issues, but they do help strengthen the continuity of the DC universe without creating compulsory crossovers. There was no "Daemonite Invasion" banner on this cover, and Superman didn't have to put his current story on hold to take part in this "event." He just happened to fight a daemonite in this issue, and if readers wanted to read other issues with more of these aliens, they'd know where to find them. I have nothing against large crossover events (as long as they're handled well), but I think DC needs to promote more of these loose tie-ins through editor's notes.

The Bad:

No Flash. The Flash didn't need to be here, and it actually didn't make any sense when he was shown in that cauldron of fire. At that point, Helspont was talking about superheroes from Earth's earliest recorded history. The Flash doesn't fit under that category. He's not that old. … Or is he? … Nope. He's not. This was an instance of the art not agreeing with the dialogue, which is a shame. And I see now why comic book databases initially didn't include this issue as a Flash appearance.

Final score: 4 out of 10

Next time: I caught the Flash's big cameo in Captain Atom #3, but I missed his small, passive appearance toward the end of that series in Captain Atom #10.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Batman #25

"Zero Year: Dark City"

Scott Snyder Writer
Greg Capullo Penciller
Danny Miki Inker
FCO Plascencia Colorist
Nick Napolitano Letterer
Katie Kubert Associate Editor
Mike Marts Group Editor
Batman created by Bob Kane

The cover is by Greg Capullo and FCO Plascencia, and I actually love it. It is incredibly simple, yet powerful. I don't think designs like this should be used a lot, but every once in a while it is a cool, bold choice.

Now I must confess that I have a rather strange relationship with Batman right now. My all-time favorite TV show is Batman: The Animated Series and my favorite movies are the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. I have a handful of Batman graphic novels on my shelf that I love, yet I have never had any interest to read this current Batman title. Tons of other people love it, though, as it's currently one of the best-selling comics out there. But it just hasn't appealed to me. I mostly blame the continuity issues. I didn't care for what Grant Morrison did with Batman Inc. and Damian Wayne, and I was quite dismayed to see those things continued into the New 52. I also didn't like the idea of the Joker cutting off his face, so I've stayed away, even though this Zero Year storyline is a great place to start reading Batman. Well, I finally relented when I heard Barry Allen appears in this issue. But nothing here has inspired me to keep reading or go back to catch up on what I missed.

Barry Allen doesn't appear in the main story, so I'll be brief. The Riddler has caused a massive blackout in Gotham City, which has kept a young Batman very busy. To make matters worse, the police is hot on his trail, and a man named Doctor Death is injecting people with a serum that causes their bones to grotesquely grow out of control.

Well, that didn't give the story enough credit, but I can see why it's so popular. It's not my cup of tea, though, and that's alright. But I will make an odd complaint you normally won't hear me make: The coloring is bad. I've seen some people praise the coloring in Batman, but it drives me nuts. Everything is pink, blue and purple. It completely takes me out of the story. Anyway, enough with that and on to the backup story — the only reason I'm here.

"People in the Dark"

Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV Story
Andy Clarke Art
Blond Colorist
Dezi Sienty Letterer
Katie Kubert Associate Editor
Mike Marts Group Editor
Batman created by Bob Kane

Neglected by their father, a young Harper Row teaches herself how to make a battery-powered light so her little brother, Cullen, won't be afraid of the dark. She also comforts him by saying that there are a lot of special people out there, trying to save Gotham, including Green Arrow, Superman and Barry Allen.

The Good:

Epic Batman story. Even though I don't necessarily love this, I can appreciate the enormity of the event. And who can't help but get excited when characters like Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Pamela Isley and Lucius Fox show up? Even if you come into this story like me — not really knowing what's going on and hating the coloring — you can't help but find some enjoyment in this issue.

The Bad:

No Flash. The backup story in this issue primarily served as a reminder that there are a ton of tie-in issues to the Zero Year event. But I don't think that was really necessary, since all of those issues are clearly marked with a Zero Year banner on the cover, not to mention all the advertising DC's been doing for them. And I don't think this backup taught us anything new about Harper Row, either. And remember, since I'm reviewing this issue as a Flash fan and grading it based on how well it portrayed the Flash, I have to say that most Flash fans should pass up on this issue. I ended up paying extra for one panel of Barry Allen that didn't look particularly amazing. Now, if you're a Batman fan, then you might want to consider this. But for a purely Flash reason, skip this issue.

Final score: 5 out of 10

Next time: I recently discovered that there are a handful of passive Flash appearances I missed the first time around, so I'm going to be playing catchup, starting with Superman #7.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Flash #25

"Starting Line"

Story by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Pencils by Chris Sprouse and Francis Manapul
Inks by Karl Story, Keith Champagne and Francis Manapul
Colors by Brian Buccellato
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual
Senior Editor Brian Cunningham
Associate Editor Harvey Richards
Editor Wil Moss
Batman created by Bob Kane

This is the last Flash cover by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato. It is really good, if not their best work. Barry looks pretty heroic, and this cover tells us exactly what we're getting inside. This is a Batman Zero Year tie-in with a pre-Flash Barry Allen. Gotham City looks good, as does the lightning bolt across a red sky. And I like that the Zero Year banner isn't too invasive. But I'm not a fan of making the Flash title transparent. It just feels weird.

Our story begins six years ago, when the Riddler apparently caused a massive blackout in Gotham right before a superstorm hit the city. To deal with this massive disaster, a call went out across the nation, seeking aid from other law enforcement departments. Barry Allen, recently graduated from the Central City Police Academy, answered the call, and headed out to Gotham to spend a week with local police. He was teamed up with Harvey Bullock and Spencer Thompson, and the three of them soon found themselves chasing down a drug addict hopped up on something called Icarus. Barry feels his partners lack a sense of urgency, so he tries to take matters into his own hands, but his rashness almost gets his shot with his own Taser. Thompson and Bullock save Barry, but the addict suddenly bursts into flames. The man dies, but the fire is extinguished by Iris West, who is interning at the Gotham Gazette and currently investigating this Icarus drug at a medical clinic full of addicts of the stuff.

The cops take the addict's corpse to the morgue, and Bullock sends Thompson home since he's been working three days straight. Bullock and Barry then head back to the medical clinic Iris was at. As soon as they arrive, the building explodes, giving them time to only save a handful of people. Thompson returns to investigate the explosion, and he and Bullock both believe it was caused by an Icarus addict spontaneously combusting. But Barry and Iris think someone else started the fire, so they stay behind.

Barry and Iris set up a makeshift lab at the Gotham Gazette and drink some beer while examining the Icarus drug. Since the drug ignites so easily at room temperature, Barry figures it had to have been made at a cold location. And since Iris was able to keep her beer cold with a block of ice from a "fish guy," the two decide to go check him out.

It turns out the fish guy agreed to smuggle in the Icarus drug in exchange for a few generators to keep his fish fresh. But as Barry and Iris arrive, the fish guy is caught in an argument about the amount of drugs being stored in his warehouse. He's then shot by Spencer Thompson, who quickly finds Barry and Iris and holds them at gunpoint, while Bullock starts to fight his way in through the back. Barry tries to save Iris, but he's beaten down by Thompson, who force-feeds Barry some Icarus. The drug causes Barry to hallucinate that he's a superhero, but he quickly catches fire. Iris is able to extinguish him, and Bullock shoots Thompson before he can kill anyone else.

After Barry is recovered and Thompson has his funeral, Barry asks Bullock why he said Thompson was killed in the line of duty. Bullock explains that Thompson wasn't the manufacturer or the supplier of the drug; he just stumbled upon it one day, and in his desperation to help his sick daughter, he made a mistake. Saying he died a hero will at least give his family some life insurance money.

And before Barry heads back to Central City, he meets with Iris and tells her that she's worth taking a beating for. The two kiss for the very first time, and Barry races off to catch his train.

The Good:

Heroic Barry. I've always liked the idea that Barry Allen was a heroic individual long before he got struck by lightning. And this issue gave us the chance to see that. He's willing to recklessly put his life in danger, and he's unwilling to let any mystery slip by him unsolved. When he later acquired super speed, he didn't suddenly decide to start helping people, but rather use that new power to improve and increase what he was already trying to do on a day-to-day basis. It would be interesting to have a new reader start with this issue and see what they think.

Iris West. She has really become one of my favorite characters, even though Barry seems content to be with Patty Spivot at the moment. But Iris is heroic, courageous and pretty, and a more than worthy enough candidate to date Barry again should anything ever happen to his relationship with Patty. But what I really liked about this issue was that we got to see the beginning of the Barry/Iris romance. Before this, we've only had a few hints and glimpses of their past relationship — and then it was usually just to show us how it failed. But here, we're able to see two young people falling in love while working together — even if it's probably not the best idea to drink beer while examining very dangerous drugs.

Harvey Bullock. Detective Bullock is one of my all-time favorite Batman characters. I absolutely loved him in Batman: The Animated Series, and I was sorely disappointed when he didn't show up in any of the Christopher Nolan films. I think he is an essential element of Gotham City and a perfect foil between Batman and Commissioner Gordon. He's too by-the-books to approve of any vigilante activity, but he's rough enough to bend the rules when the situation requires. He may appear to be a slob, but he's actually a great cop, and in my mind, there is no such thing as too many Bullock stories. Hopefully his inclusion here means Manapul and Buccellato will be using him a lot in their run on Detective Comics.

The Bad:

No Flash. It feels just wrong to have a Flash comic without the Flash in it at all. Yes, I know this was a flashback, and I already said I liked to see Barry act heroically out of costume. But it almost feels like a sin to publish a story titled The Flash and not have the red and gold costume show up anywhere. The problem with this is that the lack of the Flash (and any other superheroes) makes this feel like it's not a Flash story. It's just a regular crime adventure story. It would work perfectly on the Arrow TV show, or even in the pages of Detective Comics. But most Flash fans turn to this comic to see super heroic things happen. We like to see people run at the speed of light, time travel, control weather and more. And when you remove all that, the story feels hollow inside. Almost like a rip off. It would have helped a bit to frame the story as a flashback within the current day just so we could have at least one panel of the present-day Flash remembering this past adventure. That would have helped, but I don't think it would have completely saved this issue.

Zero Year tie-in. I'm not opposed to the idea of involving the Flash in other major crossovers — in fact, I usually support continuity-building stories. But I feel that this particular issue fell short of the usual goals of a crossover. I heard in an interview with Francis Manapul that he and Brian Buccellato always wanted to leave The Flash after issue #24. DC was more than willing to accommodate them, and even offered them the chance to move on to any other title they wanted to. So naturally they chose Detective Comics, and I don't blame them for that. I probably would've done the same thing. So anyway, a few weeks after making this decision, DC told Manapul and Buccellato about their plans to incorporate more characters into Scott Snyder's Zero Year story, and they convinced/required them to write one more Flash issue tying in to this event. So Manapul and Buccellato came back for an encore of sorts, while also returning to the beginning of their character and getting a chance to practice drawing Gotham City. All that is good and well, but it doesn't help the fact that this story had virtually nothing to do with the actual Zero Year storyline. This was a completely stand-alone tale that could have happened at any time and any place. The only thing that sort of made this a Batman story was Harvey Bullock. But Batman didn't show up beyond a brief glimpse of what could have been the edge of his cape and a vague reference from Bullock to some vigilante. So the Batman fans who picked up this issue just because they saw the Zero Year logo on the cover had to have been pretty disappointed to find a complete lack of the Dark Knight here. And Flash fans had to have been disappointed to not only  find a complete lack of the Scarlet Speedster, but to also find a story that had nothing to do with the Reverse-Flash storyline or even Forever Evil. Ultimately, I think this issue failed to convince Batman fans to read more Flash stories and Flash fans to read more Batman stories. And that's a lot of disappointment for a story that cost a dollar extra.

And thus ends the Francis Manapul run on The Flash. He worked on the character for about three years, dating back to before the New 52. He provided some really amazing, memorable stuff that gave me a greater appreciation for comics and inspired me to start this blog. Brian Buccellato will stay on The Flash for a couple more titles, so I'll keep this blog going at least through that run. Sadly this issue wasn't as good as many of the other Flash issues were, but one slight dud does nothing to diminish the magnificence of the other stories.

Final score: 6 out of 10

Next time: Continuing the Zero Year trend, Barry Allen makes a passive appearance in Batman #25.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Justice League #23

"Trinity War Chapter Six: Conclusion"

Geoff Johns Writer
Ivan Reis Penciller
Joe Prado, Oclair Albert and Eber Ferreira Inkers
Rod Reis Colors
Nick J. Napolitano Letters
Kate Stewart Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham Senior Editor
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster by special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family

The cover is the final three-part image by Doug Mahnke and Alex Sinclair. It's nice to have the Flash included with the big guys of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Pandora and Aquaman (even though Aquaman has been a bigger non factor this story than Flash). I also give props to this cover for actually showing something that happens this issue. And, unlike the other Trinity War covers, this one can stand well on its own. However, I do not like Mahnke's style at all. Everybody's face looks incredibly weird.

Five years ago, Darkseid's invasion weakened the barriers between universes, enabling the Outsider and a female companion to come to Earth. Over the next five years, Outsider built up the Secret Society, planted a mole on the Justice League, and enacted an elaborate plan to acquire Pandora's box, which involved framing Superman for murder. Today, the Outsider has retreated back to the shadows while the rest of the heroes arrive at the temple of Hephaestus to battle for Pandora's box.

Everybody fights for a while, resort to base name-calling, and continue to play hot potato with the skull-shaped box. Until suddenly, the box goes "dormant," and everybody suddenly stops fighting. Wonder Woman wonders why Superman is still sick, and Firestorm and Element Woman locate a microscopic sliver of kryptonite in his brain. Atom admits to placing it there, which triggered the heat vision blast that killed Dr. Light. She also says that Cyborg is also a traitor — or rather, the mechanical part of him, which removes itself from Victor Stone and calls itself Grid.

The Outsider then picks up the box and is surrounded by a force field of lightning that prevents the Flash and other heroes from touching him. He explains that the box is science, not magic, and it was created long ago on his home world, the birthplace of evil — Earth Three. The Outsider then opens the box, which creates a portal. The Sea King is the first to arrive, but he immediately dies for some reason. He's quickly followed by Ultraman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick, Power Ring, Deathstorm, Owlman and a mysterious prisoner.

Atom reveals herself to be Atomica and jumps into Johnny's hand. The Outsider reveals himself to be Owlman's butler. Our heroes scramble to protect Cyborg and Superman, while the Crime Syndicate launches its attack.

The Good:

Surprising reveal. It was kind of nice to see that this female Atom was actually evil. At first I thought DC was just trying to increase its diversity with the Atom. But now Atomica is her own character, and her betrayal makes sense. I also liked Cyborg's robotic self turning on him, and I was secretly hoping this action would kill him (although it looks like he'll survive). It's not that I hate Cyborg — I just wanted a major, meaningful death. DC promised the death of a hero in Trinity War, but all we got was Dr. Light, who never really was a hero to begin with. But still, this issue was pretty exciting. I knew Trinity War would lead into Forever Evil, but I didn't necessarily think the Crime Syndicate would be behind it. So it wasn't too bad of an ending for this epic crossover. Having said that, though, there were still a few things that made me mad.

The Bad:

Kryptonite in the brain. In the New 52, in Grant Morrison's run in Action Comics, Superman's enemies planted a piece of kryptonite inside his brain. It made him very sick, and he almost died until he was saved by Kryptonian technology. Either Geoff Johns didn't read those issues, or did and just decided to copy that plot device. In a perfect DC-continuity world, Superman would have remembered the sensation of having kryptonite in his brain, and he would have at least asked someone to check that out.  Instead, he just sat around coughing and followed everybody around to investigate Dr. Psycho and Amanda Waller. Another similar problem with Trinity War was making John Constantine the only person corrupt enough to touch Pandora's box. A rather recent issue of Justice League Dark saw Constantine compelled to tell the truth, and he had nothing but good things to say to everybody. So it was a bit of a whiplash to go from learning that Constantine is actually good at his core to being told that he is completely corrupted.

Failure to deliver. For Free Comic Book Day in May 2012, Geoff Johns wrote a short teaser for Trinity War, and Jim Lee drew a massive two-page spread showing what we all believed to be an actual scene from this story. Here's what Lee drew back then:

And here's what Ivan Reis drew for the official story:

Very similar, yes, but there were more than enough differences to really bug me. Johns basically had a whole year to plot events in Justice League and Justice League of America to get to that moment, but he apparently changed his mind or forgot what DC co-publisher Jim Lee drew. Of course, I wouldn't be so mad if the fighting in this issue (and this whole crossover) didn't feel so forced and rushed. Throughout these six issues, all the heroes repeatedly, and reluctantly, got into brief fights out of some sense of obligation. And then all the fights ended faster than they began. What was the deal with Pandora's box going dormant? Basically, I'm upset because I feel cheated. I was promised a big event that pitted all my heroes against each other. But Johns couldn't come up with a more compelling reason for everybody to fight each other than a magical evil box that turned everyone evil. But then we learned that the magical box was not magical at all, even though everything it ever did screamed of magic. And for an issue titled "Conclusion," it wasn't very conclusive. Sure, we got a couple of nice reveals, and I enjoyed them, but ultimately, this whole Trinity War was not much of an event in itself, and just an extended prelude for Forever Evil. Hopefully that epic storyline will be more satisfying.

Final score: 4 out of 10

Next time: Before jumping into Forever Evil, I'm going back to hit some passive Flash appearances I missed the first time around. But first, I'll review the final Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato issue, The Flash #25.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Justice League Dark #23

Jeff Lemire Writer
Mikel Janin Artist
Jeromy Cox Colorist
Rob Leigh Letterer
Kate Stewart Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham Senior Editor
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster by special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family

The cover is the center of the three-part image by Dough Mahnke and Alex Sinclair. It doesn't work terribly well on its own, and Martian Manhunter looks kinda weird, but it's alright.

We open in Lex Luthor's prison cell, where Wonder Woman has seized Pandora's box. She's gained a third eye … on her tiara … and is attacking everyone in sight. Shazam, running away from John Constantine, shows up and grabs the box, which causes a major disturbance in the magical plains. All magical-based beings in the world, including Deadman at the House of Mystery, feel the effects of Shazam possessing Pandora's box. This brief moment of pain, however, enables Deadman to locate the captured Madame Xanadu.

Back at Washington, D.C., formerly the site of A.R.G.U.S. headquarters, Element Woman has protected all the heroes and Amanda Waller from Plastique's blast. Everybody immediately begins to accuse Waller of setting up Superman's "murder." Waller naturally denies these accusations, and at the urging of Superman, everyone begins to dig through the wreckage for survivors.

Back at Luthor's prison cell, Pandora's box has begun to corrupt all the nearby heroes, except for Zatanna, who's protected by her magic. Everybody kind of plays hot potato with Pandora's box, and everything gets quite chaotic, until Constantine arrives and grabs the box without becoming corrupted. He and Zatanna then try to teleport away to London, but end up at the temple of Hephaestus, which is where Xanadu is being held. They are soon joined by Batman and his team.

But that's not all. The Outsider joins the party and tells everybody that Pandora's box is actually a doorway, and now it's time to open it.

The Good:

Epic story. All the characters are still involved, and we got some fighting, to boot. But more importantly, this issue felt like it went somewhere. The reader has known the Outsider has been behind this right from the beginning, but none of the main characters have … until now. Now we just need to figure out exactly who he is and what he's doing. And although my synopsis was brief, I really did enjoy this issue. Jeff Lemire and Mikel Janin are growing on me. And as for the Trinity War as a whole, I'd have to say I've enjoyed it up to this point (part 5 of 6). My scores have been rather average — mainly because the Flash has been mishandled — but I think this has been a good, if rushed, crossover.

The Bad:

The Flash did absolutely nothing in this issue, but I prefer that to what he's been doing recently. I'd much rather have him sit silently in the background than having him sound like an idiot every time he opened his mouth. In an ideal world, this story would have been long enough to give meaningful moments to all characters involved, but it's not, so I'll take what I can get. An uninvolved Flash is better than a stupid/jerky Flash.

Final score: 6 out of 10

Next time: Justice League #23

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Justice League of America #7

"Trinity War Chapter Four"

Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire Writers
Doug Mahnke Penciller
Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Marc Deering, Doug Mahnke and Walden Wong Inkers
Nathan Eyring, Pete Pantazis and Gabe Eltaeb Colorists
Rob Leigh Letterer
Kate Stewart Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham Senior Editor
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster by special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family

The cover is by Doug Mahnke and Alex Sinclair. It's the first part of another three-cover image. While I don't think Mahnke is as good as Ivan Reis, and I'm not a big fan of the red/purple background, I do think these covers are better than the first Trinity War covers. I think it's better to have the climax cover at the end instead of the middle, and I like that the heroes aren't fighting each other. The big selling point of this crossover was that all the Justice Leagues would fight each other. But then that didn't really happen. Nobody really seemed like they wanted to fight, and when they did, it was only for a moment. So it's nice to not have misleading covers anymore.

Our story opens with Lex Luthor in prison. His team of high-priced lawyers has arranged for his release, but he's more interested in the news of Superman's "murder," so he fires his six lawyers. Pandora then visits him, hoping his purely dark heart can be the key to open her box.

At A.R.G.U.S. headquarters in Washington, D.C., Plastique takes advantage of the chaos to sneak into the morgue and place an explosive on Dr. Light's corpse. In Pittsburgh, Dr. Psycho is preparing four victims for his dastardly experiments when he's discovered by Superman's team.

Dr. Psycho tries to use some telepathy tricks to escape, and he even comes close to discovering Superman's secret identity, but in the end, he's captured by Martian Manhunter, who begins to probe his mind. Meanwhile, the remaining members of Batman's team are locked out of the House of Mystery. Simon Baz tries to use a battering ram to break down the door to no avail.

Even Vibe's powers have no effect, but Catwoman finally opens the door by asking the house politely. Once inside, the Phantom Stranger appears in a mirror and tells them his mission to retrieve Dr. Light's soul failed. Batman, Katana and Deadman are able to return, but the Phantom Stranger must pay the ultimate price.

Back in Pittsburgh, Martian Manhunter learns that Dr. Psycho was sent to Kahndaq by the Secret Society, but it appears he was set up as a fall guy. Atom then admits she's been spying on the Justice League for the Justice League of America and Amanda Waller. Everybody suspects Waller arranged the death of Dr. Light, so they decide to return to ARGUS and confront her.

Back at Luthor's prison cell, Pandora is about to hand him her box, but is interrupted by Wonder Woman and her team. Wonder Woman seizes the box and gains a third eye. The Phantom Stranger is able to tell Batman's team that Madame Xanadu knows what the box really is. And Superman's team returns to ARGUS just in time for Plastique's bomb to go off.

The Good:

Fun story still. The epic feel of this crossover continues, and it remains a must-read for DC fans. The inclusion of Lex Luthor was an absolute necessity, as was shifting the blame from Dr. Psycho back to Amanda Waller. Dr. Psycho is probably a C-list villain at best, but Waller conceivably could have orchestrated this whole conspiracy. The mystery would probably be a bit more fun without all the cutscenes to the Outsider, but it's still an entertaining ride, all the same.

The Bad:

Mishandled Flash. It seems whenever I'm upset with the Flash, Geoff Johns is involved. I really wonder  why he's forgotten Barry Allen's personality. He wouldn't be so rude to compare Simon Baz to Hal Jordan like that. His quick apology only helps a little. Also, why can't anyone remember that Flash has been to the House of Mystery before, and recently, too? A simple fix would have been to have Flash explain to Simon Baz that the house is magical and he can't pound his through it. You could still have Catwoman be the one to open it, and it would have helped make the Flash a little less worthless than he has been in this crossover.

Final score: 5 out of 10

Next time: Justice League Dark #23

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #11

"A Foolish Man"

J.M. DeMatteis Writer
Fernando Blanco Artist
Brad Anderson Colorist
Travis Lanham Letterer
Harvey Richards Associate Editor
Wil Moss Editor
Brian Cunningham Senior Editor
Batman created by Bob Kane
Deadman created by Arnold Drake
Katana created by Mike W. Bar and Jim Aparo
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster by special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family

The cover is by Guillem March, and I really do not care for his style. It just feels … incomplete. The overall concept of this cover is good, though — it shows us all the major characters of this story entering the afterlife, so it gives you a good idea of what's going to happen inside, even if the presentation is a bit on the symbolic side. Normally, I'm upset when the cover artist doesn't draw the inside pages, but I prefer Fernando Blanco's style, so it all works out for me.

Now, the Flash is barely involved in this story, so I'll be rather brief in my recap. In our last Trinity War chapter, the Flash decided to stay on Batman's team with the Phantom Stranger, Steve Trevor, Catwoman, Vibe, Katana and Simon Baz. They're all hanging outside the House of Mystery, while Batman negotiates with the Phantom Stranger inside. Deadman went with Wonder Woman's team to Belle Reve, but when they couldn't find Pandora's box there, he decided he'd be of more help with Batman's team. Simon Baz and Katana practice sword fighting and Flash notices that every time he looks through the window, he sees a different room.

The Phantom Stranger is hesitant to take Batman to the afterlife to find Dr. Light, but he won't say why. Apparently the Phantom Stranger has been warned to not return to the afterlife on threat of being wiped out of existence. But after hearing Batman talk about how important Superman is, the Phantom Stranger relents, and takes Batman, Katana and Deadman to the afterlife.

In the afterlife, everybody is momentarily separated and taken to their own personal heaven. Katana is reunited with her dead husband, and Batman experiences a Christmas with his parents he never had. But Phantom Stranger is able to get them all back on track and lead them to Dr. Light. Unfortunately, Dr. Light has no memories of his death, so Phantom Stranger decides to bring him back to life to clear Superman's name. But as soon as he attempts this, the angel Zauriel appears, sends Batman, Katana and Deadman back, and punishes the Phantom Stranger.

The Good:

Compelling story. This is the only Phantom Stranger issue I've read, but it was really interesting. Even though I'm not normally a fan of these supernatural-type stories, I enjoyed this concept of heaven and an all-inclusive religion. Basically everyone creates their own afterlife experience, and it was neat to see a quick glimpse of this. If I had more time and money, I'd read more Phantom Stranger.

The Bad:

Weak connection to previous issues. The Flash has been to the House of Mystery before. So why was he so surprised by its mystical properties? As easy as it was to have him say that line, they could have had someone like Vibe be amazed by the house and have the Flash kindly explain it to him. But even more importantly, in Justice League Dark #22, it was the Phantom Stranger who suggested to Batman that they needed to visit Dr. Light in the afterlife. But in this issue, it's implied that Batman came up with the idea, and he had to spend a lot of time twisting Phantom Stranger's arm to take him there. I suppose this did help provide an opportunity to recap the Trinity War just in case there was a single person out there who had only been reading The Phantom Stranger and not any of the Trinity War issues. But this scene could have been improved by making the Phantom Stranger willing to risk his own existence, but unwilling to risk taking anyone else there. I've offered two suggestions for simple changes that would have gone a long way in improving this issue, but as it stands, it ends up as just an average issue.

Final score: 5 out of 10

Next time: Trinity War continues in Justice League of America #7