A direct follow up to Red Hood and the Outlaws #9, and tangentially connected to Night of the Owls, the first Batman annual presents a spotlight on Mr. Freeze. In his retconned origin, Bruce Wayne is Fries' worst enemy, not Batman, and the love he has always professed for Nora Fries hides an ugly and disturbing truth; indeed, Victor Fries has always been a damaged individual. Somebody at DC needs to immediately sign up an exclusivity contract with Fabok and Steigerwald, and then put them in a high-profile title. The art in this annual is fantastic; from the exquisite pencils to the impeccable coloring, the story is a visual delight. The subtle effect on Freeze's helmet is a nice, eye-catching touch. Night of the Owls is used only as bait to attract the readers' attention; however, it is fortunate that "First Snow" does not disappoint and is very well executed. A must have.
Once considered the most detached series in the X-Men family of titles, and the one operating in the fringes of 616 continuity, Astonishing has now tightened its connections to the rest of the Marvel Universe, and is starting a slow climb to become the flagship X-book thanks to the massive media attention it is receiving, and to writer Marjorie Liu. With an exciting covert ops adventure as the backdrop, the current arc reintroduces Dr. Cecilia Reyes to the fold, promotes New Mutant Karma to the big leagues, and puts the spotlight on Canadian speedster Northstar and his relationship with civilian Kyle Jinadu. Along with fan favorites Gambit and Iceman, another cool addition to the roster is Shi'ar warrior Warbird, who makes Wolverine look like Mother Teresa, and in a subtle way provides some humorous moments. The art by Mike Perkins is not the best fit for this high-profile new direction, but overall, is a good book.
Writers and Artists: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Variant Cover: Tony S. Daniel
"Fear" redefines the connection between Flash and Gorilla City, and serves as the new origin for classic rogue Grodd. Manapul and Buccellato make their main character and the Speed Force responsible for major events like the birth of Turbine, the rise of Gorilla City, and the fall of the Mayan empire; slowly turning the fastest man alive into a paradox of sorts. The subplot involving Director Singh and Hartley Rathaway provides a realistic take on a topic that is becoming quite common in comics nowadays, and I can't wait to see the role Pied Piper -Rathaway's alter ego- has played in the DCnU, since it is established that he's been around for a while. The story ends awkwardly with Barry back in Central City, without any concern for Iris West -which could be the result of a prior development in the story. The art, as always, is catchy and appealing, so all is forgiven.
Taking place in the middle of Batman #9, and right after the events of Detective Comics #9, the caped crusader tries to protect mayoral candidate Lincoln March from the deadly attack of a Talon. The story has some flaws, starting with its premise. The issue had been solicited as the return of Red Robin to the Bat-books, which was a thrilling prospect for Tim Drake's fans; and he did show up... in one panel. The plot also points out that Batman had fought a Talon early in his career; which was an unnecessary move, considering that his denial of the Court's existence was a big part of the opening chapters of the saga. This Talon's characterization and origin, however, were superbly done, just as good as the one Batgirl fought. David Finch does a great job on this action-oriented tale with powerful artwork and detailed panels. Although tightly connected to the main event, still felt like filler.
Jason Rusch, Firehawk, and Hurricane welcome the help of the Justice League International as a terrorist Firestorm from Qurac threatens with leveling Paris. This issue did redeem Jason to some degree by portraying him more in control and with none of the idiotic behavior of the past several months. Firehawk, however, is the one who catches not only the reader's eye, but also the JLI's attention, and having her join their ranks would be a splendid idea -that could be on hold, though, due to the uncertain fate of the JLI series. Another layer of complexity is added with the introduction of Wrath, who, without spoiling too much, looks and feels much better than Fury ever did. Ronnie, in the meantime, is on his own journey, and it seems the writers are taking their time to slowly elevate him to a new level of greatness. Yildiray Cinar returns with explosive visuals, and HiFi's colors bring them to life, resulting in an enjoyable book.
The Avengers' space team continues its impossible struggle against the Phoenix, now compounded with the responsibility of trying to save Hala from the cosmic entity and the manipulations of the Supreme Intelligence. Remender surrounds the story with much needed context, and given the horrible things the Kree Empire has gone through in the past, it is anyone's guess whether the heroes will be able to save its capital world from yet another devastating event. Despite the galactic scope of the story, there is still room for more personal moments, such as the one between Thor and Captain Britain, or the ominous heart-to-heart between the Marvels with the Phoenix in the horizon; which will lead directly to the next stage in the life of Carol Danvers. Mar-Vell's return is still questionable, especially if it's going to be a transient one; people have got to let him rest in peace. Better issue than last.
The third chapter of "The Others" takes Black Manta to Germany after the trail of Prisoner of War, another intriguing member of the mysterious team, and one who has strange abilities beyond those granted by his atlantean artifact, the manacles. In the Amazon, Aquaman and Ya'Wara fight Manta's men, and the door opens for the hypocritical "we kill only if we have no choice" policy, which is translation for "it's okay if I do it, but not you." Through Mera and Stephen Shin, readers learn more about Aquaman's origin and childhood -which has been a theme through the series- but also about a darker time after Tom Curry's death in which Arthur became pretty much a savage. Geoff Johns pulls a 180 on the relationship between Aquaman and Manta, and it is a jaw dropper. The cinematic style of the artwork -pencils, inks, and colors- continues being the other great half of a stellar story. Through and through, an amazing book.
This is the book that teaches everyone an invaluable lesson: less is much, much more. Still on the run from the Megacrime syndicates and with the Omega Drive still in his possession, Daredevil finds himself in Times Square, outnumbered and with the odds against him. Mark Waid throws in the right mix of dialog and inner monologue to ensure that the dedicated follower as well as the casual reader have everything they need to enjoy the story. The title has developed its own art signature and proof of it is Khoi Pham, who adapted his style to be more in sync with that of Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin. His cover for this issue has pizazz and a vintage feel to it. The plot is loaded with twists and cliffhangers, one of which involves Foggy Nelson, and some terrible discovery that will make the wait until next month an excruciating one. Art and storywise, this title is still a winner.
Trevor McCarthy jumps on the Bat-bandwagon in the fourth chapter of "To Drown the World." Clearly, his panel style is much more similar to J.H. Williams' than his predecessor's was, and he gives each of the six main characters a distinctive page motif; however, that's just design. The artwork itself needs some refining, and despite keeping Guy Major as a colorist, the palette felt unfamiliar; but all this is expected of a first issue. Storywise, the plot seemed to stall for all six points of view in order to focus the attention on Sune, who by now has probably gained the resentment of Maggie Sawyer's and Flamebird's fans. The puzzle continues coming together through the non-linear narrative, despite its detractors; although the final pages give off the vibe that a more sequential approach might be on its way for the closing chapters of the arc.
Taking place in the middle of AvX #4, the confrontations in this issue are true head scratchers. Gambit's acrobatics and smart mouth seem entertaining enough until he charges Cap's uniform with kinetic energy and makes him explode. Why would he try to kill Cap, and how did Cap survive such an attack, we might never know. Steve McNiven's art, however, is splendid, along with John Dell's fine and detailed ink work. In Latveria, a Juggernaut-ed Colossus has to endure Spider-Man's incessant jokes and sarcasm in what can only be described as an exasperating match. The humor angle was used and abused in this one, and its contrast with Colossus' current brooding, evilish self just did not play off well. Salvador Larroca's talent would have been put to better use on Spider-Woman vs. Dazzler, or Domino against Mockingbird. Not worth your $3.99.
08:38 pm in Gotham's Chinatown and the Outlaws are on a stakeout in an attempt to save the Court's most peculiar target yet: Mr. Freeze. A perfect issue for someone who is not a follower of the series, this "Night of the Owls" tie-in is a great conduit to introduce new readers to the Red Hood and his friends. Arsenal is goofy and cool, Starfire powerful and innocent, and the Red Hood, as ambiguous and conflicted as they get. This trio is a fun and adventurous gang, worth of further inspection. The thunder is stolen by colorist Blond and artist Kenneth Rocafort, whose pencils and quasi-rough style are reminiscent of departed comics star Michael Turner. Their Batgirl -who makes a cameo in the issue- is one of the most beautiful I have seen. Speaking of, pages 2 and 3 depict a beautiful and scary landscape covered in ice, and I knew I had seen the concept before, so I did some digging and voilà, Uncanny X-Men #319 and #331 written by Scott Lobdell featured Iceman building equally pretty but disturbing ice landscapes... I'm just saying.
Context: David Graves was a bystander caught in the middle of the League's fight with Darkseid five years ago. He survived, and wrote a book called "Justice League: Gods Among Men." A year later, things took an unexpected turn for Graves, and so began "The Villain's Journey." Despite the heavy action, this is shaping up to be a personal and intimate story, evidenced by the flashback scenes featuring moments in the leaguers' lives when they were vulnerable. The best part of the issue is the entertaining sequence with Flash and Green Lantern, which without a doubt has every fan screaming "I want to see more!" Conversely, it is unfortunate that Aquaman is absent, but if he's going to be put in the background, then it is better that he's not there at all. Steve Trevor gets a lot of attention as he hits a personal low, and from there, things quickly worsen. Great issue!
Scratch everything that happened last issue, because this one changes course and goes on a different direction. The search for Hope continues as Avengers and X-Men randomly fight across the world, and the Phoenix finally arrives. The disconnect between the main title and its "supporting" tie-ins reaches a critical point in this installment, where it becomes hard to tell when things are happening with respect to each other, despite the fact that it is all being coordinated by five writers. This chapter seems to invalidate everything that happened in the previous one, or at the very least renders it pointless; this becomes evident when the characters converge on the moon and the realization dawns that issue 3 and half of 4 have been for nothing. The art improves vastly as it looks less rushed, and is nicely colored. So far, the concept sounded better than what it has been.
07:38 pm and Robin's first solo adventure in the DCnU takes him to the city barrens to protect the head of Gotham's army from the reach of the Court of Owls. A different aspect of Damian's personality is channeled through this story: that of a leader and tactician. Even though having a 10 year old take over an army platoon and command it in battle is a possibility hard to swallow, Tomasi makes it a convincing one by placing the characters in a dire enough situation. The Talon's attack in this issue is more incidental than the center of the plot, which is not a bad thing; after all, the world did not have to stop spinning just because there is a Batman crossover. The focus is solely on Damian and what seems to be his slow and imminent descent into the darkness. Garbett's pencils are easy on the eyes and follow the same style Gleason has established for the series, making it a seamless transition.
Running somewhat parallel to Wolverine and the X-Men #10, this issue introduces the Jean Grey School faculty to the brawl of the year. While a couple of staff members are allowed to get more directly involved in the matter, Rogue and the rest of her team continue being relegated to mere secondary roles in the overall battle. No wonder the Avengers have stolen the show so far; with the most tenured X-Men being used as background characters, it is an unbalanced fight. The opening sequence was great, however; the dramatic flashback scenes serve as a reminder of Rogue's dark past and how powerful she truly is. Cargill gets lots of attention too, and her taunting behavior was written in a manner that did not make her look like the instigator or the bully in the confrontation. While this was indeed a story about X-Men fighting Avengers, it felt distant from the event, and more like a consolation prize for the characters left behind.
The lid is lifted on the Indigo Tribe's can, and it is indeed infested with ugly, psychotic worms. Sinestro's transformation takes him back to a very emotional moment in his life, while Hal Jordan discovers the truth behind the the Indigo ring bearers. There is no shocking revelation here, as Geoff Johns has been slowly but surely hinting at the big secret; he just puts the pieces together in a cohesive and logical manner. There is a reason why this story is being told after big events like "Blackest Night" or "War of the Green Lanterns," and that becomes clear in this issue; the purpose of this Corps can truly decide the fate of the universe. Once again, Doug Mahnke shines with intricate and beautiful panels, while Alex Sinclair rocks the colors to create a damp, cold, and scary world: Nok. Yup... Nok! Then there's those damn Guardians, and the hair rising cliffhanger. Fantastic issue.
The Scarlet Spider teams up with police officer Wally Layton to find a nuclear device that has been planted somewhere in the city of Houston. A nice self contained story that shows how well Yost is building Kaine's world; thus far, his supporting characters have been fun, compelling, and most important, helpful in the Scarlet Spider's self-discovery journey. Kaine, in the meantime, is proving to have the complex type of personality that makes him just adorable -is it okay to use that word in this setting? One thing that mortified me was the art. Don't get me wrong, Neil Edwards did an amazing job, and every one of his pages was vibrant and dynamic; but Ryan Stegman's absence is a slap in the face and a disservice to the title. Why can't Marvel reciprocate readers' loyalty? Stegman's popularity rose to the sky with this series, and now he's been pulled just after a few issues to help with a struggling title? Not fair and very upsetting.
Holy Cats! 06:07 pm in Gotham, and Batgirl's chapter of "Night of the Owls" is the most intense yet, and the one where the Court's assault on the city reaches a chilling crescendo. The writers behind this crossover have taken great measures to give their respective Talons independent personalities and traits; Gail Simone is not the exception. Using the Fire Balloon attacks of WWII as backdrop -a real life event- she gives her Talon a tragic story that inspires in the reader a great deal of compassion. Ardyan Syaf also delivers his best pencils thus far in the series. Here, Batgirl looks simply stunning, and with the tweaks made to her uniform last issue, the character just pops out of the page; the art is just beautiful. Storywise, the issue has great thrilling moments for Jim Gordon, while the final scene featuring the dominoed daredoll is a spine-shivering moment that makes one go "O-M-G!"
Saturday May 5th was Free Comic Book Day, and DC participated with a special edition of The New 52 featuring an all-new tale written by Geoff Johns that ties-in directly to the events taking place in Justice League. The mysterious Pandora serves as the point of view character at the same time that her origin is revealed along with that of other more familiar faces -no pun intended. The Shazam! mythos are updated even further than what has been seen so far in the JL backup feature; it is an interesting change that opens the door to lots of possibilities and speculation. The issue also touches on Earth-2, clearly setting the stage for an eventual clash of dimensions; but that's something that can wait a while, as there is much world building to do. Finally, the book teases the big event of 2013: The Trinity War, and the four page foldout depicting the conflict provides plenty of reasons to be more than excited about it. All that for free!