Okay, first bit of business is a very formal, and sincere apology to editor supreme Craig Johnson…
Sure when he learned of my intention for this piece (reviewing every single One Year Later title I bought this past month) he audibly groaned, imagining it was fairly likely that I’d then drown his inbox in jpegs. Which I did, because I’m all about the visual aids. He probably also deduced that such a piece would be somewhat lengthy, sending my word count upwards of 4000. Which I also did, because I’m all about the words. So, while working your way through this column over the next 2 weeks, that was actually written in pieces over the last 3, please realize that my editor probably hates me now. But that’s cool, cause I do this for the people, and the people have demanded that some brave soul assemble 16 OYL reviews in one convenient place. And yeah, I’m that soul.
So, let’s get to it folks, the Ambidextrous that almost needs an intermission. Enjoy, and hope everyone is as excited about the next six months in comics, as I am. Should be fun, despite the perpetually empty wallet sure to result…
Blue Beetle #1 (Keith Giffen & John Rogers/Cully Hamner)
“Just like that, we’ve got it. We see you, and you see us. We know you know. Soon enough for you. Soon enough.”
First issues are always a bit of a bitch.
Granted, that number 1 in the corner provides a certain level of interest, from reader and retailer alike, but in the current marketplace, I think most “new” properties tend to live and die by what happens in the span of these 22 or so pages. The audience is looking to be engaged almost immediately, and from a storytelling standpoint, there are almost an infinite number of ways to go about that. Hence my earlier comment, because here everything is pretty much on the line, and there’s really no right or wrong path to take, long as it’s good. Whether by action, character, or circumstance, a creative team has to hook you into this new world they’re building, and thankfully, Blue Beetle uses all three, and is a Crisis tie-in on top of that.
Before Ted Kord got popped in Countdown, it would be fair to admit that my comics experience didn’t include much contact with the Blue Beetle. Ignoring some brief appearances in Birds of Prey, I’d never read any comics that he actually starred in, but here we are anyway. DC has convinced me, by way of alchemy or Jedi mind trick, that Blue Beetle is worth supporting with hard-earned dollars, and 22 pages in, I can’t disagree much with that assessment. This book looks good, it reads well, and certainly offers up more than enough mystery to propel its way through an initial arc.
Giffen and Rogers start somewhere in the middle, and use flashbacks to fill in the blanks, a technique that I happen to love, by the way. The transitions are smooth, using lines and even themes to stitch everything together, as we’re introduced to somewhat normal teen Jaime Reyes, and his chance encounter with Kord’s lost scarab. Which leads him to a major role in the ongoing Crisis, and a fight in the middle of the desert with the “crazy” Green Lantern, among other things. We’re given the group of friends, one of which will probably die tragically before too long, the struggling, yet caring, parents, the irritating younger sister, and the strange meeting with a woman missing her eyes. Action, character, and a circumstance that’s left a mystical object very painfully grafted to his spinal column. Great start, and the excellent artwork from Cully Hamner doesn’t hurt matters. Much better than any book starring the Blue Beetle deserves to be…
Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #40 (Kurt Busiek/Butch Guice)
Yes, I bought Aquaman too, don’t start with me. The new creative team was simply too much to pass up, but even after two readings, I still feel a little behind the curve on this one. Things get off to an incredibly fast start, a young man’s home is destroyed in a powerful storm, and he’s flung into the ocean, only to learn that swimming the ocean depths feels somewhat familiar to him. He’s confused and we’re confused, then he hears a voice in his head, directing him to an unlikely ally, who he rescues from death, before meeting the source of the disembodied voice, who’s under the impression that this confused kid is Aquaman. Learning exactly how all this is possible, I expect will be the fun part, and though it made my head spin a little, I’m down for a few issues to see where it all goes.
If Busiek and Guice can turn this into a sort of “Conan under the sea,” which was the phrase that came to mind when Busiek was announced as incoming writer, then for the first time since I’ve been reading comics, I’ll have bought Aquaman for more than two consecutive months. Trust me, I’m as surprised as you…
Green Lantern #10 (Geoff Johns/Ivan Reis/Marc Campos)
“You have the ability to instill great fear.”
Just what is the big deal about Hal Jordan? Again, this is one of those situations where I arrived somewhere late, and it’s given me a decidedly unique perspective. One where Kyle Rayner is a much more interesting character than his ” old school” predecessor, and is the guy I consider the one, true Green Lantern. This “belief” is so strong that I’m really looking forward to that Ion maxi-series, even with that awful, awful mask Rayner will be sportin’. And he was the main reason I was reading the GL Corps book. Which taken all together is curious, given my current position, money spent once again on something I claim to actively dislike, or be relatively ambivalent about.
Look, I got the fever, what you want me to do? This whole “event” is clearly designed to prompt the readership to read things they wouldn’t normally, and apparently that includes Blue Beetle, Aquaman, and Hal Jordan comics. Anyway, even I have to admit that this “old school” character is pretty cool here.
From page one, Jordan’s “space-cop” status is emphasized, and looks to be an essential element of this arc, as we learn about the black mark on his record. Combining the cliffhanger with the title “Revenge of the Green Lanterns,” gives some very strong indications, and if things go in the direction I think they’re going to…well, I suppose we’ll cross that when we come to it. But Johns has penned a very entry level GL story, garnishing the whole thing with little bits of OYL info. Among the most noteworthy is an international treaty that restricts the movements of superhumans to their native countries, which Hal keeps violating. John Stewart is undercover, Sinestro is recruiting an evil counterpart to the Corps, and the big revelation that Jordan and his squad were shot down behind enemy lines some months ago. Naturally, this left them as P.O.W.s, very likely subjected to torture or some similar kind of prolonged discomfort, and all because Hal never flies with his power ring. Now, that sounds like a premier recipe for a superhero guilt trip, if ever I’ve heard one.
Ivan Reis is also impressive in his showing as new artist. And have you actually seen that Bianchi cover!? The re-colored second print looks even better than the original. Like you wouldn’t have bought it…
Outsiders #34 (Judd Winick/Matthew Clark/Art Thibert)
First thing…so glad Nightwing doesn’t die in the Crisis. Was confident after that scene in the fourth issue, between him and Batman, and his proposal to Barbara Gordon in the last issue of his own title, that he was a dead man. Felt all the elements necessary for a tragic sacrifice knitting themselves together, and considering that, am very relieved he makes it through. Past that, this marks a pretty cool approach for the “outsiders,” making them a black OPS superhero unit, operating on the absolute edge of their community, with their members working undercover in real world trouble spots. Reminds me of Joe Kelly’s Justice League Elite, and Diggle’s The Losers, both of which I was pretty fond of. Even though most of the team doesn’t show up until the final scene, this was still a pretty good start to things, and Dick’s last line indicates there are a few good stories to come.
Green Arrow #60 (Judd Winick/Scott McDaniel/Andy Owens)
“This is Star City. This place matters. They should have helped. They just left us out here to die.”
Structurally, this isn’t too dissimilar from Winick’s first OYL Outsiders, the initial “reveal” of the series lead held until almost the very end, but I think the overall narrative worked better in this case. Probably anyone vaguely interested, has heard that the new stat quo casts Ollie Queen as the mayor of Star City, which set off a series of subsequent Internet grumbles that it’s treading heavily on Ex Machina turf. I guess, technically, there could be something to that, but with the massive number of superhero titles in circulation, I don’t see it a cardinal sin that two of them involve heroes turned mayor. Besides, Queen pulling double duty gives this a slightly different flavor, and a consortium of corporate “fat-cats” plotting to assassinate Oliver, should be an interesting turn. Especially, since they’re bringing in Deathstroke for the gig, cashing in on the Identity Crisis moment that just keeps on giving.
Also, caught Winick’s not so subtle jabbing at much of the limp-wristed federal response to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, if one could hazard to even call it that. Down for a couple, but on the subject of “biting Ex Machina’s style,” something I did grin about it was one of Queen’s main advisers being black, same as Mitchell Hundred’s deputy mayor. And seriously, what are the odds of that?
Detective Comics #817 (James Robinson/Leonard Kirk/Andy Clarke)
“Time to get to work.”
If this “direction” were the only significant result from pushing things “one year later” it’d be worth it. Over the course of 22 pages, a strong gust of fresh air is blown through the entire Bat-franchise, and it’s incredibly refreshing, especially for those that have been following it over the last couple years. Right here, everything is stripped back to basics, familiar characters mark their reappearance, and it just feels right again. James Gordon is the police commissioner, Harvey Bullock is on the detective beat again, and Batman & Robin are answering the signal. Robinson is successful in treating these events as if they’re the most worthwhile development in months, while being simultaneously commonplace and somewhat obvious. This is how Batman titles are supposed to be, and it’s good to see that reflected as DC moves the franchise forward.
There are a couple real surprises, most notably Harvey Dent’s new role in Gotham, and a vigilante that’s taken to murdering some of Gotham’s villains, but here, the least surprising thing becomes the most.
Batman & Robin are back, ladies and gentlemen. And it’s about time…
Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #23 (Stuart Moore/Jamal Igle/Keith Champagne)
“Colonel…calm yourself. We’ve got a man on the inside.”
This title is almost the DC equivalent of Ultimate Spider-Man. Alter a few surface details, tweak the origin a little bit, and substitute the spider powers with the ability to wield the atomic forces of the universe, and there isn’t much separating Peter Parker from Jason Rusch. Both books are anchored by the interplay of teen drama, with over the top heroics, and Uncle Ben’s familiar quote could easily resonate here, as Jason has more than a slight edge in the powers game, which naturally requires, you guessed it…even greater responsibility. The initial sequence is just the thing to set the table, a very clear indicator of the level of power Jason has access to, and for future reference, it’s always a good sign in a superhero book, when a nuke is set off in the first few pages.
The notion of forcing Rusch to bond with another person has been one of the series’ cooler staples from the very beginning, but Moore has evolved that premise a bit, using it to end his first OYL chapter with a very dope close. Matter of fact, the arrival of Moore has really given the entire thing a renewed sense of intensity and purpose. Still waiting for DC to show the series some trade love, and this is as good a place to start as any. Might also be nice to see Firestorm spend some time with the Titans, raise that profile a little bit.
But hey, I like J Rusch, and I like the team of Moore and Igle, so full speed on this.
Birds of Prey #92 (Gail Simone/Paulo Siqueira/Robin Riggs)
“Matt Thorne, also known as the Crime Doctor. Earth’s premier torture expert, they call you. Hello, Doctor. Love your work.”
Just like Firestorm, this book has been doing very well for itself the past few months anyway, so really, this first OYL ish is business as usual. It continues to feature the exploits of fantastic characters, in well-crafted stories. Oh, a lot has changed no doubt, the notable absence of Black Canary, who’s been replaced by Lady Shiva, being the main thing, but long-time readers should definitely appreciate that, since the groundwork was laid in an earlier storyline. If this book has one weakness at all, it might be that most of the new developments are hinged on past arcs, with a dash of Villains United stuff, but there’s no reason to penalize Ms. Simone for knowing how to work a subplot. Not everyone can you know.
The uninitiated are given a nice reference point though, with a member of the “Society” hoping to switch sides, and obviously, some of his fellow villains aren’t cool with that, so we launch with a good chase scene. And if you can’t slot in a massive explosion in the opener, a chase is the next best bet. But Gail continues to do her thing, and the new artist Siqueira is settling in quite nicely.
Manhunter #20 (Marc Andreyko/Javier Pina/Fernando Blanco)
This is one of those books I really, really want to like, but just doesn’t hit me for a couple reasons. From a distance, it shares a few similarities with Daredevil, an attorney moonlighting as a costumed hero, and the inherent dichotomy that results from it. That aspect gives this issue a pretty interesting cliffhanger, but I would’ve enjoyed more of a primer/introduction to the main characters and relationships. We get a general sense of who Kate Spencer is, but things probably move just a little too quickly, for those unfamiliar with the book.
Birds of Prey actually had a similar feel, that it just wasn’t slowing down for anything or anyone, but since I keep a close eye on that one, I didn’t finish the story with the same uninformed feeling I left Manhunter with. Did recognize Director Bones from the Chase series, but past that, nothing really jumped out at me. More than willing to give it another shot next month, because of the possibilities that might evolve from the ending, so we’ll see. Maybe it’ll take two to get me onboard…
Catwoman #53 (Will Pfeiffer/David Lopez)
In the last couple months, I’ve gotten the chance to re-read the first 24 issues of this series, penned by acclaimed (and rightfully so) writer Ed Brubaker. Honestly, it was even better than I remembered, and it’s really too bad the people responsible for the movie didn’t take advantage of it, as it’s a very effective blueprint for “how to make Catwoman cool,” but that’s a whole other argument we don’t even have the space for. Anyway, the stories spread over that two-year span were all pretty fantastic, especially Relentless, which is one of those classic “things fall apart” stories, and succeeds in making an official villain out of Black Mask. But like many, I wasn’t down with the art change, and ended up dropping the book even before Brubaker did, which brings us here, to issue 53, One Year Later, etc.
Pfeiffer takes full advantage of the missing time, and delivers a perfect jumping-on point. Selina has moved to the “safer” part of Gotham, and a new Catwoman is on the streets, her identity not much of a surprise to fans of Brubaker’s run. The writer handles the interior monologues very well, an element that gave the earlier issues much of their dramatic weight, and he manages to smoothly lace the character dialogue with tiny bits of info, to inform us of the new status quo. Black Mask is dead, possibly at the hands of Selina, and the all-new Catwoman has inherited some of her predecessor’s enemies. Most important though, Batman carries a stuffed teddy bear, which automatically makes this issue a must-read.
There’s a slim, slim chance that Bruce is the father of Kyle’s baby, but there are several indications that the possibility lies only in the hearts and minds of fanboys, a segment I’m including myself in, just this once. Would be cool, and more than a bit progressive if Mr. Wayne was responsible for little Helena, but even if he isn’t, should be fun learning who actually is, and watching as Holly learns to be a costumed hero. Very impressive start though, and one of the more excellent OYL offerings.
Nightwing #118 (Bruce Jones/Joe Dodd/Bit)
Okay, whew, Grayson’s still alive here too. One of my people warned me not to breathe too easy at Dick’s recent appearance in Outsiders, implying that sense this is the wonderful world of comics, we could be falling prey to some kind of alien shape-shifter, or something else not really Grayson. Hey, hey, don’t look at me like you’ve never seen it happen before. Scarlet Witch did it, and Superboy Prime did it after her. This is a very valid concern I’m nursing here.
Right, so anyway, things get even more complicated here, with the presence of not one, but two Nightwings, patrolling the streets of New York. Now, one of them is definitely not Dick Grayson, Jason Todd for those curious, but the other dude kinda appears to be Grayson. That idea right there is a pretty good one, carried even further by pitting the “twin” Nightwings against twin crime lords, but a few too many storytelling conveniences prevented me from feeling this one completely. The almost too clever scheme to steal a child away from her mother, on a crowed street mind you, an escaped mental patient who just happens to attack his doctor, and the big one, two underground crime bosses disciplining one of their “goons” on a rooftop. Because what other circumstance could lead to a rooftop confrontation between them and Nightwing. The real Nightwing. I think. But it was all a little too neat for me, everything falling perfectly into place. Will give it another issue or so, but I guess I was expecting a little more.
Still, another Dick Grayson sighting, and I suppose that’s something…
Superman #650 (Geoff Johns & Kurt Busiek/Pete Woods)
“I’m Lex Luthor. I’m never finished.”
“Powerless Superman” stories are always fun, and this one is no different. Sure, we know it won’t last forever, but there’s always a strong chance it’ll be interesting watching things play themselves out. Johns and Busiek hit the ground running, making Clark Kent the primary focus, which I’d have to believe is no accident, as the duo almost goes out of its way to highlight how “cool” and relatable he could be, especially without the hindrance of the alter ego. Things are definitely pushed forward, but there’s a “back to basics” vibe clinging to everything, which has also been the case with our first glimpse of the revamped Bat-books. Works here just as well as it does there, and gives long-time supporters plenty reasons to stay that way, and everyone else something incredibly accessible. All while introducing new ideas like the Avenue of Tomorrow, the Kryptonite Man, and handing off the hero responsibilities to Supergirl.
Close second for the best bit of the entire book is the initial appearance of the Kryptonite Man, which prompts Clark to duck into the shadows and trigger his signal watch. The best naturally, is when he’s dragged into an alley and beaten by Lex Luthor, who managed to avoid jail time, but not a shredded public rep. Don’t know how long Clark will spend as a “mortal man,” but its little moments like these, that’ll make the eventual return of his powers that much cooler.
Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes #16 (Mark Waid/Barry Kitson/Mick Gray)
So, according to a very comprehensive article in the last Wizard, Legion holds the distinction of being the “first” One Year Later book. Even though it’s been running for over a year now, apparently it’s set in the distant future of a post-Infinite Crisis DCU. Which is kinda cool, in my opinion, but then again, I loved the main premise of this book from the moment it got re-launched by Waid and Kitson.
Moving the book away from its very traditional, super team exterior, to a widespread “youth movement,” allowed it to truly distinguish itself from every other title featuring kids with powers. I love that the task of changing a stagnant, utopian society falls upon thousands of teenage activists and dreamers, that have come together to share different ideals. I love that the “adults” just don’t get it, and pray each and every night their kids don’t grow up and join that awful Legion. I love that you don’t need to have super-powers to belong, only the ability to think. Gushing aside, after a little time away during the last arc, I’m glad to see that crucial element back in the forefront.
Supergirl’s arrival is the big event here, and it’s handled with the appropriate sense of flash and flair, while posing more than a few questions about how it’s possible that she’s traveled 1001 years in the future, yet still maintains a presence (and a monthly title) in the present-day DCU. Should be fun learning how everything fits together, and as long as things remain focused on the “teenage revolution,” I’m down with this one. Definitely one of the best uses of the OYL opportunity, bringing in a fan-favorite character, while solidifying the core foundation for newer readers…
Batman #651 (James Robinson/Don Kramer/Keith Champagne)
“That was easy.”
The Bat-books’ return to form continues here, Robinson kicking this chapter off with a series of “reaction-shots” from various members of the Gotham populace, witnessing the return of the Bat-signal to the night skies. From there, it’s on to business, Batman & Robin taking down Poison ivy, who’s taken over a skyscraper, intending to pass judgment on the corporate heads inside. According to her, they’re all guilty of engaging in business practices hostile to the environment. The same old Poison Ivy song, really. One so typical and well-known that the heroes shut her down in a matter of pages, in an excellent “split-screen” sequence that follows Batman & Robin, as they emerge unscathed from the wreckage of their plane, and dart off in opposite directions, both responsible for an integral part of the surgical strike. Working together, the hostages are saved, and the pair is back in the Commissioner’s office by page 21.
Nothing more to say, really. Finally back to basics here. It’s all to the good.
Robin #148 (Adam Beechen/Karl Kerschl/Wayne Faucher & Prentis Rollins)
“Just know that if it gets to be too much, you don’t have to do this alone. We have each other’s backs. We’re family.”
I’ll spare you the very complicated story of exactly why Tim Drake will always be one of my favorite characters, and move forward to the actual contents of this issue. Which are quite excellent, by the way…
Completely unfamiliar with the work of Adam Beechen, but he very quickly proves a more than worthy successor to Chuck Dixon, who is the chief architect of most cool things that ever involved Tim Drake. First indication that Beechen’s on the right track comes almost immediately. Robin emerges from a brutal attack, standing over the dead body of someone who appears to be Batgirl, but come on…ain’t nobody buyin’ that for a second, except the police of course. Anyway, the identity of the girl behind the mask, is a character that was incredibly important during the first few years of Drake’s tenure, even before Robin was given his own monthly. It’s even possible she might qualify as Robin’s first real “villain,” that didn’t also belong to his mentor’s rogues gallery. If Beechen was good enough to include Lynx, then there’s a good chance he’s at the very least knowledgeable about Dixon’s run, and for a Robin fanboy like myself, that’s incredible encouraging.
There’s more of course, things that are notable purely on their own storytelling merits. We get a little background of where the Bat-family was during the DCU’s year of missing time, and learn again that the team is much tighter than they were before, which leads to Robin demanding to settle his murder case on his own, and Batman agreeing, however reluctantly. Probably wouldn’t have if he knew the boy wonder’s next move, breaking into the police station to examine a key piece of evidence, with every cop in the city looking for him. Now, that’s a total Batman move, and most likely a clue that a little more than Tim’s costume has matured in that missing year. Excellent start here from all involved, can’t wait to see what’s next, and for the arrival of new series artist Freddie Williams, who I think will be almost perfect for this.
Action Comics #837 (Geoff Johns & Kurt Busiek/Pete Woods)
“What do I want? That’s very simple, Metallo. I want it all. No more, no less. I want it all.”
Clark still doesn’t have his powers, and yet this storyline still remains cool. Exhibit one: after telling his wife that he was dragged into an alley and attacked by Lex Luthor and his goons, Lois asks why he didn’t fight back. Clark says he did. He published a story about Lex that morning. Exhibit two: Clark’s remarkably insightful description of a life without super powers, and how everything almost seems more real to him. Three: Clark Kent the investigative journalist uncovering an Intergang cell, and shutting it down, with a little help from Green Lantern and Hawkgirl. Four: Luthor gathering a crew of Supes’ greatest enemies, including a rebuilt Metallo, and a creepy ass Toyman. Five: the really nice ending even I won’t spoil.
In addition to that, we have the creative team to consider. Johns & Busiek on the scripting side, and Pete Woods in a star-making turn as artist. Add all that up, and you’ve got a smash hit, and a depiction of Superman that doesn’t need the words “All-Star” in front of it to be worth reading.
Whew…and that’s all I got for a couple weeks people, hope you made it to the end. Believe it or not, there should’ve been more, but a few books missed their original ship dates. Again, much love to my poor editor for sifting through all this, and I probably won’t do another massive thing like this until Civil War gets going.
If everything goes to plan, the next piece will feature the Rex Mundi creative team, talking about the upcoming move from Image to Dark Horse, and what it means for the future of the title. See you then…