Friday, April 24, 2015

Grayson #6

The Brains of the Operation

Writer / Tim Seeley
Plot by Time Seeley & Tom King
Artist / Mikel Janín
Colorist / Jeromy Cox
Letterer / Carlos M. Mangual
Cover / Mikel Janín
Assistant Editor / Matt Humphries
Editor / Mark Doyle

I love this cover. It's fantastic and fitting for what the series should be. Ironically, covers this beautiful and unique are almost too good for the story inside. I am so close to liking this book, but there are just a handful of things keeping me back. Anyway, in case you were wondering, that's Dick Grayson fighting Midnighter, the former member of StormWatch who can predict any move his enemy might make. But he doesn't matter to the Flash, so we won't talk about him.

In fact, none of this story has to do with the Flash. Today's mission sends Dick out to China to retrieve some sort of modified brain. There's some really weird stuff going on with killer whales on robotic spider legs, and ultimately Dick is kidnapped by Midnighter. His partner reports their failure to the director of Spyral, and it's in his office where we catch a quick glimpse of the Flash on his monitors.

We also see that Spyral is currently working on deducing Martian Manhunter's identity, but are stumped for the time being. Anyway, Dick goes on to defeat Midnighter, which only opens the door for more wacky adventures, all of which don't involve the Flash, so I'll leave the series of Grayson forever.

The Good:

Like I said earlier, I am really, really close to liking this book. But I just can't get into it. I think it didn't set itself up well enough for me in the first issue, and it kept getting wackier than I expected or wanted it to. I also find it odd that even though I skipped from issue #2 to #6, I didn't feel like I missed anything. I'm not sure if that's a strength or a weakness for an ongoing.

The Bad:

Little to no Flash. Once again, we're teased with the fact that Spyral is collecting data on the most powerful superheroes in the world. But for what? And will anything ever come from it? Sadly, we'll never find out on this blog, because this is the final Flash appearance within a Grayson issue under the New 52 banner.

Final score: 4 out of 10

Next time, let's take a quick diversion to Wonder Woman #36. I know I'm jumping around a bit, but I do have a reason. There are quite a few issues that seem to happen before Lex Luthor officially joins the Justice League, so we'll be a bit sporadic for a bit.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Grayson #2

Gut Feelings

Writer / Tim Seeley
Plot by Tim Seeley & Tom King
Artists / Mikel Janín & Guillermo Ortego & Juan Castro
Colorist / Jeromy Cox
Letterer / Carlos M. Mangual
Cover / Mikel Janín
Assistant Editor / Matt Humphreys
Editor / Mark Doyle
Batman created by Bob Kane

The cover of this issue is so much better than issue #1, it's not even funny. Not only does this have the epic look and feel of a noir movie poster, but it actually shows us what the inside art is going to look like. DC should have trusted Janín from the get-go, instead of using that ugly pink thing to launch the series.

Well, just as with the last issue, this issue only gives us a quick glimpse of the Flash on a computer screen at the very end. So I'll just touch on the highlights here. We get to see more of Dick talking to Batman, who tells him about his fake funeral. And Dick says he hopes to quickly take down Spyral so he can return to his old life.

As Agent 37, Dick is sent out on his next mission, this time to England. Once again, he's after an odd, mechanical body part — a stomach that has given this lady super speed but also made her a cannibal. Once again Dick completes the mission rather sloppily, and we return to Spyral headquarters, where we see an update on their wall of superheroes.

So this super crazy secret organization has correctly identified the Flash as Barry Allen, although they are only 87 percent certain of it. Apparently they used Central City Police blood records to determine this match.

The Good:

I did like this this issue more than the first one. The conversations with Batman were really helpful, especially in establishing that Dick Grayson is officially dead to the world. But I still would have liked more explanation as to why, exactly, does Dick have to infiltrate Spyral. Also, the series still seems to be struggling with trying to decide how much of a superhero book it really wants to be.

The Bad:

Little to no Flash. The prospect of someone like Spyral discovering the Flash's identity is very exciting. But what are they going to do with it? So far, nothing has come from this shocking revelation, and I doubt anything will. Just another seed to be sown and never reaped.

Final score: 4 out of 10

Next time, we'll wrap up this passive appearance diversion with Grayson #6.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Grayson #1

Writer / Tim Seeley
Plot / Tim Seeley & Tom King
Artist / Mikel Janin
Colorist / Jeromy Cox
Letterer / Carlos M. Mangual
Cover / Andrew Robinson
Assistant Editor / Matt Humphreys
Editors / Kickin' Kate Kubert & Merciless Mark Doyle

Mikel Janin is one of my favorite artists, so I was a bit disappointed to see he didn't draw this cover. I guess Andrew Robinson did an OK job ... it's just very ... pink. And I'm not sure what kind of a message they're trying to send with that. Is this supposed to be a serious, or a light-hearted title? Because in the New 52, you're usually one or the other with no in-between. Aside from that dilemma, I am surprisingly unfazed by seeing Dick Grayson holding a gun. Maybe I should be shocked, outraged or excited, but I'm completely indifferent. I guess I've never really cared about him that much — he's always been Nightwing to me and off doing his own thing.

Our story begins with a one-page recap of Dick Grayson's life. From being an acrobat with the Flying Graysons, he became Batman's first sidekick, Robin, then his own hero, Nightwing. But after his identity was exposed during Forever Evil, Batman asked Dick to infiltrate the secret organization known as Spyral.

So we pick up with Dick on one of his first missions as a Spyral agent out in Russia. Absolutely none of this has to do with the Flash, so I'll skip it, only saying that Janin's art is nice and clean and the action isn't too bad. My favorite part was when Dick had to hypnotize a Russian into believing he's his friend. (All Spyral agents are equipped with hypnotic devices to accomplish their missions and conceal their identities.) The hypnotic illusion this guy has is real fun, as it includes the ever-friendly Russian teddy bear, the Cheburashka.

Anyway, Dick accomplishes his mission, just a little messier than Spyral intended. After a quick debriefing at Spyral headquarters, he sends a quick message to Mr. Malone (Batman's most notable alias, Matches Malone) and basically reports he hasn't learned anything yet. We then see that Spyral is working on determining the secret identities of the most notable superheroes in the world. They've already deduced Batman's identity within 89 percent accuracy and Cyborg's at a 90 percent match. Up next on their list is none other than the Flash.

The Good:

Not a whole lot to say here. Janin's art is nice, but not nice enough for me to recommend this book on that alone. Mostly, though, I wonder why this book even exists. It's one of those non-superhero books with superheroes in it, which is a contradiction and never seems to do very well for DC. If they wanted to get serious about doing a James Bond-type spy book, then why'd they choose someone as high-profile and celebrated as Dick Grayson, the first major sidekick in comics history? It just feels very out of place.

The Bad:

Little to no Flash. He showed up on a computer screen, which is the exact definition of a passive appearance on this blog. Now, if this computer image were to actually lead to something, say a story where this Spyral organization went after Barry Allen, then this comic would be worth it. But I have a sneaking suspicion that will never happen.

Why is Dick a spy? This issue does not offer up any kind of explanation as to why Dick Grayson has given up being Nightwing to infiltrate this mysterious, yet seemingly all-powerful group. I guess Tim Seeley is working under the impression that readers of this series have already read whichever Batman title it was that set this up. But I didn't read that, and I would have at least liked an editor's note telling me which issue explains this sudden and drastic change to a character who's now been around for about 75 years.

Final score: 3 out of 10

Next time, we continue with Grayson #2.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Superman/Wonder Woman Annual #1

[Last Sun] Chapter 3 "The Promise"

Story Charles Soule
Pencils Ed Benes, Tony Daniel, Pascal Alixe, Cliff Richards, and Jack Herbert
Inks Jaime Mendoza, Matt Banning, Vicente Cifuentes, Pascal Alixe, and Cliff Richards
Colors Jeromy Cox
Letter Carlos M. Mangual, Dezi Sienty and Taylor Esposito
Cover Tony Daniel and Tomeu Morey
Assistant Editor Anthony Marques
Group Editor Eddie Berganza
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. By special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family.
Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston.
Doomsday created by Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonsson and Roger Stern.

I'm usually pretty satisfied with Tony Daniel's art, but this cover does nothing for me. Why, exactly, is Wonder Woman glowing? And what's going on with Superman/Doomsday's jaw? His mouth shouldn't be able to open that wide, right? I think this could have and should have been a much better cover.

So, unlike H'el on Earth, which pretty much kept the Justice League involved the whole time, Superman: Doomed only featured the League in very small doses at the beginning and again toward the end. So what happens when you skip about 10 issues in a huge story like this? You get pretty confused pretty quick. I'll do my best here. In any case, I can reasonably assume I don't know much more than the Flash does.

The issue begins with another image of the Daily Planet homepage and a story written by Lois Lane. Curiously, Lois focuses on how dangerous Superman has become since turning into Doomsday, and she even says Earth's best chance for survival lies in the hands of Brainiac, who is apparently invading the planet. I've surmised that Lois is being controlled by Brainiac at the moment, but why would Perry White allow such a thing to be published?

Our story begins near Mars, where Cyborg Superman battles Superdoom (the transformed Superman), as the Brainiac invasion fleet approaches Earth. Superdoom easily rips off Cyborg Superman's arm, but he just laughs, saying all he was doing was stalling for Brainiac. When Superdoom hears this, he immediately takes off toward Earth.

Meanwhile, 22,236 miles above the earth, in geosynchronous orbit, the Justice League meet in what I assume to be Lex Luthor's satellite he gave the team, although this issue calls it the Justice League Emergency Bunker. Flash, Wonder Woman and Cyborg are in person, while Batman confers via hologram. Flash notes that Brainiac has sent a lot of ships, and Cyborg learns they're all full of robots. He tries to communicate with them, but is hit by surge of electrical feedback and is essentially shut down.

As Flash tends to Cyborg, Wonder Woman receives a call from Steel and Lana Lang. For some reason, these two are in a spaceship 238,900 miles from Earth. Lana has used her electrical engineering skills to discover a pattern in Brainiac's attack. And that pattern tells her Brainiac is trying to turn off the entire planet at once. Steel says they just have to destroy 36 percent of the fleet to prevent this, a figure that Batman agrees with. The Justice League then has a brief discussion about Superman. Apparently someone flooded the atmosphere with kryptonite, which weakens Superman's resistance to the Doomsday virus. Batman is worried about Superdoom returning to Earth, but Wonder Woman has faith in her boyfriend.

Inside Superman's mind, his good self is represented by Clark Kent and his bad side is essentially Doomsday wearing his Superman suit. Clark says he's fast enough to dive down to Earth, fight Brainiac's forces, then leave the kryptonite atmosphere before it effects him too much. The Doomsday side of him is very much in favor of this plan, believing that he'll be able to take control before Clark can leave Earth again.

So Superdoom puts his plan to the test in Cambodia, where Hawkman and Simon Baz are getting their butts kicked by Brainiac's robots. Superdoom easily destroys the machines, and almost attacks Hawkman, but he pulls out at the last second.

Wonder Woman wages war in Greenland, while Batman works on ridding the atmosphere of kryptonite from the Fortress of Solitude. Swamp Thing fights in Louisiana, the Red Lanterns in Hong Kong, Aquaman in the Atlantic Ocean, the Teen Titans in Ecuador, and in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia, the Flash is working with Green Arrow.

These two have had virtually nothing to do with each other in the New 52, but they have become best friends on the CW, so I guess it's good to see them share a panel here. Anyway, despite the heroes' best efforts, Cyborg reports they aren't destroying the robots fast enough. Meanwhile, in lunar orbit, on the dark side, Cyborg Superman is constructing a large gateway. Steel notices this and prepares to directly battle Cyborg Superman.

In Romania, Superdoom has easily destroyed a bunch more robots, but now is preparing to destroy a nearby town. Clark fights the monster in his head, but can't prevail against the kryptonite. Soon, Wonder Woman arrives to prevent Superdoom from taking innocent lives. However, even Wonder Woman can't stop her monster boyfriend. She removes her wristbands and begins to glow blue, which is what must be happening on the cover, but I have no idea what it means. Is she going into god mode? Well, whatever it is, it doesn't work, and she eventually feels she has no other choice but to cut off Superdoom's head. But just before she does so, Batman completes his plan off panel (an editor's note directs us to Action Comics Annual #3) and all the kryptonite is cleared from the atmosphere. The Clark side triumphs over the Doomsday side, and Wonder Woman spares her lover.

Cyborg then observes that the heroes are finally gaining an edge, as we see Brainiac's forces falling to Shazam and Captain Cold standing alongside the Weather Wizard and ... a miscolored Mirror Master? It looks like he was drawn as Mirror Master, but colored as the pre-52 Heatwave, which, of course, is nonsensical since Heatwave has never worn that white-and-orange outfit in the New 52 and is currently presumed dead.

Anyway, Steel predictably fails against Cyborg Superman, but he is able to escape with Lana. However, Cyborg Superman happily explains that the whole invasion was merely a diversion for his and Brainiac's true plans. And somehow, Steel is able to figure out that Brainiac's forces began to self-destruct after 36 percent of their numbers were destroyed. He says this to Lana while they are still very much in space, floating around with their spaceship destroyed, protected only by his organic steel. So yeah, then Cyborg Superman summons a gigantic monster large enough to easily swallow Earth whole.

The Good:

Hmm ... I was previously rewarding Superman: Doomed for being an epic story, but I don't think I can say that anymore. Much like H'el on Earth, this Superman crossover began with a bang, and ended with a whimper. Maybe I would be feeling differently had I read those 10 issues I skipped over, but I kind of doubt it. What started out as a Doomsday story has become a Brainiac story, and not a very good one by the looks of it. I am, however, glad that the Flash did more in this issue than stand silently in the background.

The Bad:

Stupid science. Everything Steel and Lana Lang said and did in this issue was completely stupid. I hated the whole electrical engineer bit and especially that 36 percent number they kept throwing around. And I have a serious problem with a couple of characters floating around in space, explaining things they shouldn't be able to explain. I can handle this liquid, organic steel providing enough protection to survive in space, but to be able to carry on lengthy conversations? Too much for me. And I'm only complaining this much about these two because they were such a large part of the story.

Weak story. I think this one got away from Charles Soule. There's so much going on here — possessed Superman, global invasion, major villains returning, and, especially for this title, a fight between Wonder Woman and Superman. So why wasn't this issue better? Perhaps Soule bit off more than he could chew. By wasting so much time with Steel and Lana, he wasn't able to give Brainiac's invasion much more than a montage. And the heart of this issue — a Superman III-esque internal struggle coinciding with an external Wonder Woman fight — was severely undermined by essentially being resolved off panel. So much hinged on Batman clearing the atmosphere of kryptonite, and all we got of that was an editor's note. And of course, we were treated to the cliche of having our main villain, Cyborg Superman, gleefully announce that every defeat he suffered was all part of his larger plan. (This was the same problem that plagued the Young Justice show.) I was so frustrated at the end of this issue, I almost wanted that giant monster to swallow Earth and be done with it.

Final score: 3 out of 10

Next time, we'll take a quick detour into some passive Flash appearances in the Grayson series, staring with issue #1.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Action Comics #31

[Infected]: Chapter 1 "True Believers"

Story Greg Pak
Pencils Aaron Kuder, Rafa Sandoval & Cameron Stewart
Inks Kuder, Vicente Cifuentes, & Cameron Stewart
Colors Wil Quintana
Letters Dezi Sienty & Taylor Esposito
Cover Aaron Kuder and Will Quintana
Assistant Editor Anthony Marques
Group Editor Eddie Berganza
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Jose Shuster.
By special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family.
Doomsday created by Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonsson and Roger Stern.

Now that we're properly in the Superman: Doomed storyline, we've entered an awkward phase where DC simply can't decide what to name each issue. The result is an awkward hodgepodge of brackets, colons and quotation marks. But I suspect very few people are as bothered by this as I am. But I might be able to find a few more people who are also bothered, or at least unimpressed by this cover. I get the symbolism Kuder's going for, but it's just not working — mainly because Doomsday's head is so ridiculously small.

The first page of this issue is a rather clever recap of the previous issue dressed up as the Daily Planet's website. There's a story by Lois Lane, a photo by Jimmy Olsen (although I'm pretty sure he wasn't in Smallville in Superman killed Doomsday), and some fun ads for Cadmus and Big Belly Burger with Turtle Boy toys.

Our story begins right where we left off with Superman in Smallville, a bit disoriented after killing Doomsday. Wonder Woman is first on the scene, followed closely by Flash, Lex Luthor, Cyborg, and for some strange reason, Martian Manhunter (I guess no one told Greg Pak that he's not a member of the Justice League).

Luthor tells Superman that he wants to quarantine him to determine whether he poses a threat after being poisoned by Doomsday. Superman then violently attacks Luthor, but soon realizes he just imagined it. Wonder Woman whispers to Superman that Luthor can't be trusted, and she tells him to go. So Superman takes off, confiding to Batman via radio that something is off.

Superman heads up to Alaska to chill out with Krypto. But then some poachers show up in an airplane, and Superman rather violently destroys their plane. At first, he thinks he imagined this, just like with Luthor earlier, but he realizes he actually did it this time. Luckily, he didn't kill the poachers.

We then see that Steel has covered himself in liquid, organic steel to keep him alive until he finds an antidote for Doomsday's poison. He's then approached by Senator Lane, who has evidence that Superman may have inhaled Doomsday's remains. And we get some more subplot with Lois Lane and Lana Lang that I really don't care about.

We cut back to Superman, who has suddenly become locked out of his Fortress of Solitude. As he pounds on the door, he notices his hand is beginning to look like Doomsday's. When Krypto starts growling at him, he realizes he should be terrified that he's becoming a monster. But he surprisingly doesn't care, and returns to Metropolis as Clark Kent.

The Good:

Epic story. This is still a big, fun and important event. As I said previously, I was a little sad that Doomsday was killed so quickly, but that's not what this story is. The story here is Superman turning into Doomsday, which is quite an interesting prospect. And even more shocking here is how Superman is not only unfazed by this transformation, but even seems to be embracing it. All in all, this isn't a bad comic. Even though it had three different pencillers, the art didn't seem to suffer too much.

The Bad:

Little to no Flash. He didn't say a single word and just kind of hung out in the background, ultimately failing to do anything worthwhile. I don't know what I would have liked to see him do in this issue, but those looking for a good Flash story can easily skip this issue and not miss much.

Final score: 5 out of 10.

Next time, we'll skip ahead toward the end of Superman: Doomed with Superman/Wonder Woman Annual #1.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Superman: Doomed #1

Story Scott Lobdell, Greg Pak and Charles Soule
Art Ken Lashley
Colors Sunny Gho
Letters Carlos M. Mangual
Cover Ken Lashley and Alex Sinclair, after Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding
Assistant Editor Anthony Marques
Group Editor Eddie Berganza
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
By special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family.
Doomsday created by Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonsson and Roger Stern.

The cover is loosely based off an old Superman Doomsday collection, and I have to say this is a major improvement. It's been more than 20 years since the world was introduced to Doomsday, and he was long overdue for a redesign. This New 52 version looks pretty cool and creepy. Plus, it helps that Ken Lashley's art is simply beautiful.

Our story begins in the Bahamas, where Doomsday is destroying a small island by simply standing on it. Everything and everyone in close proximity to the monster burns up and dies instantly. The government sends a couple of fighter jets out to deal with him, but the planes fall apart when they get too close. Luckily, Superman is there to save the pilots. But one of them was poisoned and turns a sickly purple. Superman flies back to the island, only to find Doomsday has disappeared.

Superman goes to the Fortress of Solitude to work with Dr. Shay Veritas. Apparently the last time Doomsday appeared was through a rift in the Phantom Zone, meaning he is likely using the zone to teleport around the world. Dr. Veritas points out that Doomsday was only in its larval stage when he last battled Superman, and now that he's matured, Superman is the only person on Earth who can survive 10 minutes of direct contact with the monster.

Superman struggles with the prospect of having to kill Doomsday for a while, and has a heart-to-heart talk with Perry White as Clark Kent. And we get some subplot stuff with Lois Lane and Lana Lang in Smallville, but I don't think that's too important for our Flash purposes. So let's skip ahead to Doomsday's next appearance in Zambia, which is where the globe-trotting hero Steel happens to be. Steel directly engages Doomsday in battle, but is quickly poisoned. His suit keeps him alive, but he is seriously wounded and sidelined. Luckily, Wonder Woman shows up just then to fight the monster. She is also poisoned, though not as badly as Steel. She fights the beast for a while until Superman shows up. But at the sight of the Man of Steel, Doomsday promptly teleports away.

Superman and Wonder Woman then head to the emergency Justice League bunker in Washington, D.C. (Apparently they're still not ready to move into Lex Luthor's satellite.) Batman, Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash is present, and even Hal Jordan makes an appearance via hologram. However, Hal says he's fart too busy with the Green Lanterns to return to Earth. Superman then requests that all the heroes stay away from Doomsday and focus their efforts on assisting the areas where the monster has already been. Luthor then shows up unannounced via hologram, much to the displeasure of the League.

Luthor says that Doomsday isn't just killing everything, but that it's actually absorbing all life around him, growing stronger with each thing it kills. Luthor speculates that the monster's ultimate goal is Superman, but it feels it isn't ready to kill him yet, so it's been avoiding the Man of Steel. Luthor says if Superman leaves Earth, then maybe Doomsday would leave, too. Flash calls that "maybe" weak sauce, and Wonder Woman in particular is quite upset with that proposal. But Superman actually agrees with Luthor on this, saying he'll leave Earth and take Doomsday away with him.

So Superman says goodbye to Batman and Wonder Woman, then finds Doomsday in India. He punches the monster up into space, flies up, grabs it, and directs it toward Venus. The two fight for a while, before Superman subdues it with a big blast of heat vision. He then returns to Smallville, beaten up and poisoned, only to have Doomsday teleport right on top of him. They fight some more, until Superman finally kills Doomsday by ripping it in half. But Superman is left severely wounded and turning purple.

The Good: 

Epic story. This is a great beginning to a big crossover event. The stakes are high, the action is great and the character development is nice. Making Doomsday poisonous is a great idea that gives him a whole new dimension of dangerous. I was a little sad that Doomsday was killed in this issue, but that's not the story that's being told. Doomsday's death was only the prelude to this big adventure.

Great art. I've never paid attention to Ken Lashley before, but this issue definitely put him on my radar. He has a very strong, dynamic style that perfectly fits this story. It will be sad to continue through this crossover without him, but in the future, I'm going to have to keep my eye out for any Lashley projects.

The Bad:

Little to no Flash. His big moment here was calling Luthor's plan "weak sauce." That's not enough for me. I know this is Superman's tale, but it would have been nice to see the Justice League actually get out of that war room and help some people. Flash especially could have been pulling people out of the way of Doomsday's path.

Final score: 6 out of 10

Next time: The beginning of the end ... [Infected] starts in Action Comics #31.