Saturday, March 28, 2015

Secret Origins #5

Marv Wolfman Writer
Edgar Salazar Penciller
Jay Leisten Inker
Thomas Mason Colorist
Dave Sharpe Letterer
Lee Bermejo Cover
Amedeo Turturro Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham Group Editor
Cyborg created by Marv Wolfman & George Pérez

There's not a whole lot going on with this cover, but it is a really strong image, none the less. Despite being promoted to the Justice League with the start of the New 52, Cyborg has actually received very little love. This comic helps put some spotlight on him, and now we'll apparently be getting a Cyborg on-going series and maybe even a movie in, like, seven years. I support all of this, especially since Cyborg is one of the few ethnically diverse heroes DC has to work with. But not only that, he can also appeal to anyone with a prosthetic limb or who requires the aid of a machine to stay alive.

Here's DC's original promo for this Secret Origins series:

"Since the dawn of the New 52 ... fans have been asking to see how all of these changes affected the origins of their favorite characters. And now we are happy to say that those answers are forthcoming — every month in the pages of the entire New 52 by examining the histories of several characters!"

I suppose that's an honorable intention. This series started off with Superman and Batman, which made a lot of sense since there was a lot of confusion regarding which aspects of those two characters did and did not carry over from the pre-52 universe. But with Cyborg, a simple retelling of his origin feels unnecessary since Geoff Johns very clearly laid everything out during the first six issues of Justice League. Well, let's see how Cyborg's creator handles this.

Our story begins in S.T.A.R. Labs in Detroit, Michigan. Cyborg is in a heated discussion with his father about some formula they're working. A new employee is shocked to see a member of the Justice League arguing with the lab's head scientist, but his co-worker tells him they're not really fighting — it's just their usual friendly father-son banter. Cyborg overhears this and remembers his relationship with his dad wasn't always like this.

We then get a brief retelling of Cyborg's origin, how he was a star football player in high school, but his dad didn't want him to accept an athletic scholarship. We get the added detail of Victor Stone moving in with his friends as soon as he turned 18, then we see the fateful day when he was nearly killed by the arrival of Darkseid's parademons. Dr. Stone saved his son with advanced and alien technology, then we see an odd scene of him taking Cyborg out to the high school track to get used to his new body. And then Cyborg went off with the Justice League to battle Darkseid and Spore, saying his dad stayed with him until he had a purpose again.

But that's not how it happened. If you re-read those Justice League issues, you'll see that Cyborg initially was freaked out by everything and ran away from his dad as soon as he could. He was immediately thrust into the fight with Darkseid, and still had a tenuous relationship with his father five years later. But this retelling implies that Cyborg was able to bond with his dad a lot sooner than that. Oh well.

There are two other stories in this issue, one for Jason Todd and another for Mera, the wife girlfriend of Aquaman. Flash doesn't appear in either of those, so I'll skip them.

The Good:

Not a whole lot to say here. This was only a 12-page story, and it didn't tell us anything we don't already know. The emotional moments were handled well, but we've already seen them. And since so little was added to this story, I wonder why DC even bothered publishing this story.

The Bad:

Little to no Flash. He only showed up in one flashback panel, which isn't necessarily a knock against this issue as a whole, but a knock against this issue's "Flash"-iness. If you're looking for a good Flash story, this is not an issue to pick up. And the sad thing here, is there actually was a great opportunity for the Flash to play a major role in this issue. Some of the quieter, more tender moments of the Justice League series had Flash talking to Cyborg about his relationship with his father. I all wanted to see from this issue was how Cyborg and dad became friends again. And Wolfman could have easily thrown in one of those Flash conversations to help prompt Cyborg to try to patch things up with his old man.

Final score: 4 out of 10

Next time, we'll begin a big Superman story with Superman: Doomed #1.

Justice League #30

Injustice League Chapter One: Kicking Down Doors

Geoff Johns Writer
Ivan Reis & Doug Mahnke Pencillers
Scott Hanna Inker
Rod Reis Colorist
Dezi Sienty Letterer
Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Rod Reis Cover
Amedeo Turturro Asst. Editor
Brian Cunningham Group Editor
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Jose Shuster
By special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family

I'm not sure why this cover has the Forever Evil banner since this issue clearly takes place a week or two after Forever Evil ended. I guess it could serve as a Forever Evil epilogue, but it's titled Chapter One of a new Injustice League story arc. The cover itself is rather bland, with all our heroes posing in front of a vague, green background. But I think that blandness is at least partially intentional, as the real drama of the cover is simply the choice of characters. Front and center is Lex Luthor, and to the far left is Captain Cold, two notable super villains now standing side-by-side with Earth's greatest heroes. Less surprising is Shazam, who has been seen on Justice League covers as early as issue #15. But he hasn't officially been a full time member until now. Notably absent are Superman and the Flash.

Our story begins with Dr. Psycho hosting a meeting of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. This group is comprised of several lesser-known villains, including classic Flash villain Dr. Alchemy. We haven't seen the Flash fight him yet, or even make mention of him, but apparently he is quite active and willing to join forces with the likes of Clayface, Livewire, the Tattooed Man and Scavenger. Anyway, Dr. Psycho claims he has plans to take down Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. And since everyone thought the Secret Society fell with the Crime Syndicate, they have the element of surprise, and will be able to ruin the Justice League member's lives before they realize it.

Suddenly, the wall of their secret headquarters is blown apart by Lex Luthor, who is joined by Cyborg, Shazam, Aquaman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain Cold. Luthor tells the villains they're all under arrest in the name of the Justice League, and Wonder Woman asks who wants to surrender. Shazam is amazed that someone took the time to carve "Secret Society of Super-Villains" into their table, and Cyborg suggests Dr. Alchemy did it.

Four days earlier, everyone is reading the Daily Planet with the headline, "Lex Luthor saves world." (Sadly, that story is nothing but Lorem Ipsum dummy copy.) Clark Kent is out walking the streets, talking to Bruce Wayne on his cellphone. Apparently unworried about anyone overhearing his conversation, Clark complains to Bruce about how he's trained his super hearing to pick up any time someone says Luthor's name, and now everyone won't stop talking about him. Bruce is also weary of all the attention Luthor is getting, and says even his trusted advisor Lucius Fox suggests that he go into business with Luthor. Even though interviews with Luthor are constantly running on TV, nobody's actually seen him for the past few days, which is what worries Superman and Batman most. Meanwhile, the Doom Patrol watches Luthor's interview in a dark room, and blame the Justice League for unleashing the Crime Syndicate on the world.

We then cut to Wonder Woman interrogating Metallo on Luthor's whereabouts. She is joined by the Flash, who reminds the Amazon they need to keep Metallo conscious. Wonder Woman is quite worked up by all the accolades Luthor is undeservedly receiving, and she claims she'll put her sword in Luthor's throat. Flash rather sternly tells her that Luthor deserves to be tried, convicted and sentenced to an appropriate punishment, one not involving swords. He promises Diana they'll give Luthor the full Amazonian inquisition as soon as they find him, but no swords in throats.

In Central City, Leonard Snart is meeting with Jake Shell, parole officer to the Rogues. Shell wants to make sure Snart is on the straight-and-narrow, so he asks him what he did last night. Len says he stayed home and watched a movie, when he really went out drinking with Trickster, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master and Glider. Shell tells Len he needs to keep a low profile since Luthor has been telling everyone that Captain Cold helped save the world. Len doesn't see the point in this, since the Flash won't ever let him go free. But his parole officer points out that the only thing the Flash can do now is to take off his mask and testify under his real name, which seems unlikely. Shell reminds Captain Cold that he's not a maniac like Ocean Master or the Joker, and Cold begins to wonder what Luthor wants with him.

Since the Justice League's Watchtower satellite has been destroyed, the team has taken to meeting in the Batcave. Batman notes there are still more than a dozen members of the Secret Society at large, and Wonder Woman and Flash report on their encounter with Metallo. Flash complains that Metallo told him too many things he can't unhear while under the spell of Wonder Woman's lasso of truth. But ultimately, as Wonder Woman points out, their interrogation was fruitless, as Metallo did not know where Luthor is. Batman says Luthor is an insect, and bats eat insects. Flash loves this joke, and quickly checks to see if Batman pulled it out of a little black book of bat-comebacks.

Aquaman and Cyborg arrive at the cave and report that Parasite also doesn't know where Luthor is. Cyborg begins to suspect that Luthor isn't on Earth anymore, and sure enough, he turns out to be right. The Justice League soon receives an invitation to a satellite orbiting Earth in the exact opposite position of where the Watchtower used to be. So the League teleports up there to find Luthor, Shazam and the most expensive champagne in the world. Shazam doesn't care for the drink and asks if he can have soda instead. But none of the League are interested in drinking and want to get straight down to business.

So Luthor explains that he considered himself worthy of joining their ranks since he did save the world last week, after all. He also invited Shazam since he feels the League could use more raw power. Shazam excitedly asks for a workout session with Superman to see who's stronger, but Superman tells him neither he nor Luthor are members of the Justice League. Luthor makes his case, saying the public's trust of the League is at an all time low in light of the Crime Syndicate attack, and they need him in order to get back into good standing with the public and politicians. Superman still says no, so Luthor offers to let Wonder Woman place her lasso around his neck. Flash sees the look in Wonder Woman's eye, and suggests they wrap the lasso around Luthor's hands instead.

Under the truth-telling spell of the lasso, Luthor says he spent the past three days refurbishing the satellite to serve as a replacement for the Watchtower, so he could find a place on the Justice League. And he says he wants to join the League because he's an egomaniac. Luthor explains that he always hoped to convince the world of an alien threat and be the one man capable for eliminating a Kryptonian. But now he sees Superman isn't the greatest danger to humanity. Whatever destroyed the Crime Syndicate's world is still out there, and Luthor believes only he and the Justice League can stop it.

Superman then angrily rips the lasso off, and tells Luthor it's their job to save the world, not his. So Luthor hands the controls to the satellite over to Cyborg and sadly leaves with Shazam. Flash is initially hesitant about making Luthor's satellite their new Watchtower, but he does admit it's better than the Batcave. Batman points out that Luthor's concerns are correct, but Superman says they know Darkseid destroyed that world, and they know they can beat Darkseid again. Wonder Woman agrees, but Batman isn't so convinced. Flash wonders if there's a way they can visit the remains of the Crime Syndicate's world, but Aquaman doesn't want to risk creating a doorway for the new threat. Cyborg suggests they find Power Ring's ring, which may contain a battle history like Green Lantern's ring.

And speaking of that power ring, we see that it has presented itself to one Jessica Cruz, who has apparently sheltered herself from the outside world for quite some time. The ring tells Jessica she has been chosen to annihilate the earth. We then head out to Wayne Manor, where Lex Luthor asks Alfred Pennyworth if Batman can come out and play.

The Good:

Great cast of characters. Lex Luthor, Captain Cold and Shazam are wonderful additions to the Justice League. They bring just the right amount of edginess and comedy that has been missing ever since Green Lantern left the team. Not only was he willing to get into fights with anyone and everyone, but he and the Flash formed one of the best comedic duos in DC. Without Hal Jordan, Geoff Johns tried to have Flash carry the comedy by himself, which didn't work. And as for the necessary inter-team tension? I guess they were hoping more would come from the Superman-Wonder Woman romance. But now the stagnation has ended thanks to the addition of two notable villains and one oversized kid. Shazam is so wonderful — it still boggle my mind that DC hasn't given him his own on-going yet.

The Batman reveal. I am so glad that someone finally figured out who Batman is. And it makes perfect sense for someone as smart as Lex Luthor to be the one to do it. That reveal made for a great cliffhanger ending, and set up some delicious inter-team turmoil.

Johns got Flash right. As I said before, Geoff Johns really had a hard time figuring out what to do with the Flash once he sent his best friend away from the team. Flash works best as the straight man next to a boisterous comedic figure, and when Johns struggled to realize that, I think he gave up and intentionally left Flash out of the book for a while. But now he's back and nicely filling the role of the team's moral compass. He talked Wonder Woman down from killing Metallo and Luthor in a very natural way that felt true to the character. The situation itself was comedic, but not at the expense of making Barry Allen act like an idiot. I guess it just took Johns a couple of years to figure out how to pull this off.

The Bad:

I don't really have a major complaint here, just a couple of little nitpicks. I didn't like how Superman was openly talking about his super hearing while on a crowded street as Clark Kent. Someone is bound to hear him say that and put two and two together. In fact, I didn't like Superman one bit in this issue. He spent the whole time complaining and shouting. Maybe I would have understood his point of view better had I actually seen this version of Lex Luthor do anything bad. He's spent most of the New 52 locked up in his own prison or actually saving the world. Yeah, we all know Lex is a bad guy, but what has he actually done?

My other minor nitpick was the Captain Cold scene. It is cool to see that he has a parole officer, but I couldn't quite figure out what the point of that conversation was. The whole scene seemed to serve solely as a place to tell the readers what kind of a villain Cold is. But his parole officer really didn't have anything interesting to say, and neither did Cold. I did like seeing him hanging with all the Rogues, and I did notice that Heatwave was absent. This would have been the perfect opportunity to plainly declare his death and then build on that to establish Snart's character.

Final score: 7 out of 10

Next time, we'll take a quick detour into the "Passive Appearances" list but keep things in the Justice League family with Secret Origins #5.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Flash #30

Lost Time

Robert Venditti & Van Jensen Writers
Brett Booth Penciller
Norm Rapmund Inker
Andrew Dalhouse Colorist
Dezi Sienty Letterer
Booth, Rapmund & Dalhouse Cover
Kate Durré Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham Group Editor

I'm back! After the departure of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, combined with the disappointment of Trinity War and Forever Evil, I needed to take a break away from The Flash and The New 52. But after learning DC will finally stop using the New 52 label after Convergence, I decided to suck it up and cover the remaining issues carrying that tag. When all is said and done, this will hopefully be a comprehensive list of every single Flash appearance in a comic with "The New 52" on the cover. Or, in "event" terms, from Flashpoint to Convergence. Just a word of warning, though. I took a break for a reason. There's a good chance I won't be liking this Venditti/Jensen/Booth run very much. So don't expect as many positive reviews as I had in the past. Of course, there's a chance my angry reviews could be even more entertaining than my positive ones. We'll see. In any case, thank you for joining me on this ride.

OK, let's start with the cover. It looks like Flash is saving a guy from crashing his motorcycle and stopping another guy from robbing someone. Central City is still in ruins from the events in Forever Evil, and overall, the Flash looks ... fine. The art is going to be very hard for me on this run. I don't like Brett Booth's style. Which is odd to say, since I enjoyed his Vibe covers so much, and was perfectly happy with him replacing Manapul. But the more I've seen of Booth's style, the more I've become disenchanted by it. Forgive the pun, but his style is all flash and no substance. It's very spiffy and shiny, but inconsistent and lacking in the crucial emotional expressions. I'm not against Booth, per se, I'm just not a huge fan. And I'm going to do my best to not compare him to the visionary Manapul.

Our story actually begins in the future. Five years from now, in Central City, Flash arrives at the scene of an accident only to see Iris strapped to a stretcher and being loaded onto an ambulance. A white-haired official (not sure if it's supposed to be Darryl Frye) pulls Flash back, saying the police need to do their jobs — they haven't even identified the teenager who was also in the car. The official explains that the kid flat-lined right after the EMTs arrived, and they were unable to revive him. The old man then rather rudely rips into the Flash for not being there to prevent the accident. But Flash is no longer listening to him, horrified by this sight:

Quick note: If the EMTs worked on this poor kid and tried, but failed to revive him, why did they leave his corpse in a mangled heap on the ground? I'm no paramedic, but I'm pretty sure that's not standard protocol. On TV, you always see them respectfully covering the deceased with a white sheet. Or something like that. Anyway, enough complaining.

Now. We arrive at the Central City Police Station downtown precinct, which is in pretty bad shape. Not only was it beat up with the rest of the city during Forever Evil, but it has also attracted a fair amount of remarkably tame graffiti — mostly calling the cops pigs and drawing a "not" sign over the Flash symbol. Our hero, Barry Allen, is napping in the wrecked records room, when he's visited by his girlfriend, Patty Spivot, who works above him as a hematologist. Patty tells him he's late, and Barry says he'll have no trouble cleaning the room. But Patty was referring to his appointment with the psychologist. Apparently everyone on the force is required to be cleared for duty, which gives Barry the chance to get his old job back.

Barry starts to clean the room, and he and Patty fall into what has become a familiar argument: Barry is having a hard time balancing his day job with his career as a superhero, and keeps losing track of time. To help alleviate his chronic tardiness, Patty presents Barry with a watch set to the station's clocks, so he can no longer have an excuse for being late. Barry appreciates the gift, and finally admits his hesitation to talk to the "shrink." Patty says it's unpleasant to relive the Crime Syndicate's wave of terror, but promises it feels better to be able to talk it out. Barry insists he needs to be out doing, not sitting around talking. But Patty points out that he's been working nonstop day and night to help get the city back to order. She then finally shoves her boyfriend out the door to his dreaded appointment.

As Barry walks in, his old friend James Forrest walks out, looking quite a bit thinner from when we last saw him. Forrest insists he doesn't need this "new-age nonsense" and it'll take more than a few capes to rattle his 20 years of experience. So Barry takes a deep breath and enters the room with Dr. Janus. She begins the session by going over Barry's past and saying there's enough drama there to spend several months of therapy on. But in the interest of time, she'll stick with the recent history. She reminds Barry how important this evaluation is, explaining that without it, defense attorneys will be able to have every case thrown out on claims of the department being mentally unstable.

So they begin. Barry admits he hates seeing his city being torn apart, and he says he should have been there to stop things. Now it's so bad, he doesn't even know where to start. Dr. Janus says it's natural to feel responsible, but ultimately realistic. Lucky for Barry, Dr. Janus spends quite a bit of time looking down at her notes, which gives him time to zip out and do some cleanup as the Flash without her noticing. He takes a flyer from a girl looking for her dog, and passes Forrest, who's having an emotional breakdown while eating lunch on a park bench.

Barry avoids the specifics of his whereabouts during the attack, simply telling Dr. Janus that he was trapped, and had run right into it. Barry still insists on saying he could have done more, saved more lives, but he failed the city. Dr. Janus again tells him he can't shoulder all that responsibility. She asks him if he thinks he'd be able to punch out Grodd, and tells Barry to accept that there are some villains too powerful for the police. As she talks, Flash patches a large hole in Iron Heights Prison, finds the girl's lost dog, and puts it and the flyer right in front of Forrest on the bench.

Dr. Janus tells Barry that he needs to be grateful that he's alive, and that he can work through his grief by reestablishing routines and connecting with other people. She then takes a bathroom break, which gives Flash enough time to rescue a bunch of people from a collapsing bridge. And we're treated to a heartwarming scene of Forrest returning the dog to the little girl. Dr. Janus then concludes the evaluation by asking Barry why he wants to stay on the force. Barry says he wants to make a difference, bring criminals to justice and to help people. So Janus decides to recommend Barry to return to the force, but she wants to continue seeing Barry every couple of weeks. While he has noble intentions, they're not necessarily healthy. And Dr. Janus is worried Barry will push himself too hard and break.

Barry then proudly tells Patty that he's well adjusted and heading back to the lab immediately. But he notices his new watch is already two minutes late, and he suggests they return it. But Patty thinks he's just trying to make up an excuse to stop wearing it, and she instead talks about how great it'll be for them to be working together again.

Twenty years from now, Barry is a mess. He's wearing a fancy new blue suit, and still has the watch Patty gave him. But when he looks at it, he realizes he's lost two years, eight months, seven hours, 56 minutes and 12 seconds. The distraught hero is surrounded by newspaper clippings, lamenting all the time he's lost. But Barry claims he now understands where it all went wrong. He pulls up a clipping that says, "Funeral Held for Teen Killed in Car Accident," which shows a picture of the boy we saw die at the beginning of this issue. Barry says, "I'm on my way. I promise, Wally ... I won't ever be late again."

The Good:

Future Flash. I'm ready for some time travel with the Flash. Manapul and Buccellato avoided it, but the Flash has always been about time travel. I don't think I'm wholly on board with this "losing time" concept, but I am intrigued by this future Flash. The pre-52 Barry died while still in his prime, so we never got to see what he'd be like after 25 years of being the Flash. And this older Barry apparently feels like his career was a failure, and is quite desperate to fix it, which makes him quite compelling.

I also liked how this issue dealt a lot with the Forever Evil aftermath, but I don't think it went far enough with it. I really wanted a detailed rundown of what actually happened. Did Grodd kill Solovar? How many Rogues survived? This was the place to address these types of questions, but it ignored them. And I have a sinking feeling in my gut they'll never be answered.

The Bad:

Wally West. So here it comes. Yeah, I know he didn't do anything other than die in this issue, but I still put him in the "Bad" category simply for being black. I'm a horrible racist, I know. But I am strongly opposed to the idea of changing a pre-exisiting character's ethnicity to create more diversity. If DC wants more diversity, then DC should create more diverse characters or promote existing diverse characters. But don't make radical changes to beloved, legacy characters. And yes, changing a character's race is a radical change. A white man's experiences are different from a black man's, regardless where you're from. In my opinion, race is as strong a defining characteristic as age, gender and sexuality. How many changes can you make to a character before that character becomes someone else? To me, this version of Wally is a completely separate and different character who just so happens to have the same name.

I guess what really makes me mad is it feels like DC is telling me I was wrong to like the old Wally. I never cared that Wally was white, but since he was, that's what I grew accustomed to and appreciated about the character. It's as if DC is admitting a mistake in making another major character be a white guy, and now their universe is bogged down with too many of them. Wally was quietly shoved to the sidelines during Flash: Rebirth, and completely swept under the rug after Flashpoint. After years of complaints from the fans, DC finally acquiesced, but with a caveat. They basically said that the only way for a "Wally West" to exist in this new age, it would have to be an ethnically diverse "Wally West." They could have easily created a new character, or dug up an old one like Jenni Ognats, but they chose the quickest, sloppiest way to pay lip service to the fans while simultaneously checking off some mark on an imaginary diversity quota sheet. When they made the Justice League animated series, they chose John Stewart as the Green Lantern instead of making Hal Jordan black. Why does it have to be so complicated in comics?

I could go on, but I'll wrap things up here. After all, I'm not that big of a Wally fan. I've always liked Barry better, and Impulse is really my favorite character of all time. But Wally was such a huge, constant presence in the DC Universe for two decades that it feels wrong for him to be seemingly treated with so little care by the editorial board. I do have a theory about this. The guys in charge now, namely Geoff Johns, were big Barry fans when they were kids. So now that they're calling the shots, they're trying to re-create their nostalgia. I suspect in about 10 years, we'll get a new group of people in charge who grew up with Wally and Impulse from the '90s and will do everything they can to bring that era back to life. It's only a matter of time.

Of course, very little of this has to do with the issue at hand. I don't think it's fair to pin this all on Venditti, Jensen or Booth. So I'll wrap things up by saying this was a perfectly average comic book. It transitioned from the previous major event and established the new plot line for the series. But as the debut issue for a new creative team, it didn't particularly grab my attention. I guess I needed something a little more spectacular to grab me and show that I'm in store for something amazing.

Final score: 5 out of 10

Next time, we'll take a larger look at the post-Forever Evil world with Justice League #30.