Superman 23.4: Parasite
Written by Aaron Kuder
Art by Aaron Kuder and Tomeu Morey
Can we get Aaron Kuder to write one of the Superman books, please? Yes, I know he's taking over the art duties on Action Comics in November, and I think he'll probably make a great team with Greg Pak, but if this story is any indication, he's got some writing chops, too. Like the Ventriloquist issue, this is one of the few examples of a new version of an old character that actually improves upon the original.
Joshua Michael Allen was a bike messenger in Metropolis, your basic punk living in the city of the future which, of course, he hates. He chooses a good time to finally snap, though, as it's an attack by some kind of giant alien blob that finally pushes him too far. He's mauled by the beast while destroying it and wakes up to find himself with a broken leg, which means no more bike riding, which means no more job.
Of course Josh's fight with the alien did more than just brake his leg. After an examination by S.T.A.R. Labs, he turns into the Parasite, and accidentally sucks everyone in the room dry. But the scientists aren't enough for the Parasite – he hungers for more.
The Parasite's back story is told in flashbacks, framed by his attempt to jump off a building and end his life. This technique has an interesting effect. While we get brief glimpses of the fact that the Parasite drained others dry after he left the lab, his attempted suicide suggests that he doesn't want to keep killing people. It introduces the tiniest sliver of doubt in your mind that the Parasite is really that bad. After all, he may have been a jerk before the accident, but he wasn't a murderer.
The Parasite is rescued by Superman and discovers an end to his hunger: the all you can eat buffet that is the man of steel. But Superman finds a way to defeat him and Parasite finds himself at Belle Reve prison when the Crime Syndicate breaks everyone out.
If there are any minor quibbles with this issue, one of them is the ending. For all the people he's killed, I don't believe the Parasite would harm a child, so the final page rings more false than ominous. The other small quibble is when Josh's ex-girlfriend calls him a parasite. That was a bit too on the nose.
Still, this issue was a pleasant surprise and I look forward to what Kuder does in the future.
Wonder Woman 23.2: First Born
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by ACO and Matthew Wilson (c)
On its face, this is a pretty standard origin story, told with a present day framing sequence. And maybe it's my love of Percy Jackson style modernizing of myths, but Azzarello makes this substantially more interesting than the usual fare. Some fantastic artwork by ACO doesn't hurt, either.
Like I said, I'm a sucker for modern versions of myths, so opening with Apollo watching three oracles spray a mural of him on the side of a building was exactly the right note to start. The three oracles allow Azzarello to tell the story with present day vernacular and all the style that comes along with it. And let's be honest: at points it's the kind of story that needs a bit of dressing up.
The First Born is Zeus' son, but not one that he wanted anything to do with (does he every want anything to do with any of them?). So he was banished to “the desert” and was adopted by…hyenas. Hey, this is the kind of thing you get in myths, so you just have to go with it. It's no stranger than being bitten by a radioactive spider. It gets a bit creepier, though. The First Born makes his dominance known by challenging and defeating all the alpha animals he can find. At some point, he decides this isn't enough, so he begins invading the territories of man. This is where it gets a bit distasteful, because the First Born does his invading using his offspring as the army, an offspring made up of half-human, half-animal hybrids. So First Born has gotten intimate with whatever ladies were around him. I'd say “comics, everyone,” but that's pretty much par for the course for your run of the mill Greek myth.
As with all great stories about a son, this is ultimately all about the father. The First Born conquers the world and builds his army, then launches his attack on Olympus. It doesn't end well for him or his army. As with the best myths, he's punished for this affront, trapped in the center of the earth for all eternity, or at least until Zeus no longer sits on the throne.
While I enjoyed this version of a classic story, I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much if it weren't for the wonderful art from ACO, whoever the heck that is. Much in the way that Cliff Chiang's art isn't what most would consider to be flashy, traditional superhero work, ACO's work looks more like something you'd see in a Vertigo title or an Image book. It's actually a lot like Chiang's work, although perhaps a bit darker and less subtle. It also reminds me a bit of Year One era David Mazzucchelli mixed with Dalton Rose. It's great stuff and I'd love to see more. I'd love to know what this ACO character has been doing up until now.
I stopped reading Wonder Woman after the first year, but I'm rethinking that after this issue. I really like the idea of turning Wonder Woman into a modern day myth; it's the perfect take on the character and an excellent way of connecting her to a greater narrative.
The rest and, thankfully, last of Villains Month:
I haven't been following Batman, so I didn't know until Detective Comics 23.4 that Man-bat's wife is and has always been evil. I find that a questionable decision. Batman/Superman 3.1 continues the trend of having what seems like all of Superman's villains originating on Krypton, which also seems questionable to me. Krypton being a relative mystery was always something I enjoyed. Green Lantern 23.4 doesn't tell you anything you probably didn't already know about Sinestro, but the art by Dale Eaglesham is really nice to look at. Action Comics 23.4 features fairly standard shadowy government shenanigans and a redesign of Metallo that is just boring as hell. Roughly 66% of Aquaman 23.2 is scenes that have already happened in other comics. The last third is a fight in a grocery store. Batman 23.4 gives us another retelling of Bane's origin, a boat full of his goons and some weapons, and a prison break at Blackgate Prison. It's nothing that couldn't have been worked in over a few pages in the series it's leading into, Arkham War. I'm a big fan of Francis Portella's art and he does some nice work on Batman and Robin 23.4, but the story is bogged down by a complete disconnect between Croc and the narration that's supposed to belong to him, but doesn't sound anything like him. It's impressive that The Dark Knight 23.4 is selling for a lot on eBay b
ecause it's a horrible, horrible comic. The story makes little sense and the origin of the Joker's Daughter is incredibly bland. It also suffers from attempting the same storytelling technique that was done much better in the Ventriloquist. Also, just how many underground groups of people are there in Gotham? Justice League 23.4 isn't about the Secret Society so much as it's about Owlman and the Outsider. It basically serves to fill in the blanks of that back story without actually filling in the blanks of that back story. In Justice League of America 7.4, Black Adam is a myth, worshipped by rebels, then he becomes real and takes over a whole country. I've just saved you $4.
It's probably clear from my reviews that Villains Month was something of a failure for DC, at least creatively (we'll see about the sales). It honestly boils down to the same problem DC has had for the last 2 years: You care not going to be able create 50+ great stories in a single month (or every month, for that matter). DC's obsession with market share is one of the company's 2 huge problems (the other being editorial interference) that will continue to drag them down. Until they figure that out, their output is going to continue to suffer.