Re: Ray's 53rd DCU/GrayHaven Megathread - Beware the Court of OOMPHwls!!!
DC Universe Reviews - The New 52:
Batman #6 - ***** (Book of the Week)
Not quite up to the level of last issue's mind-twisting labyrinthine horror show, but what is? That was arguably the best single issue I've read in years. This, on the other hand, is easily up to the level of the first four issues - which is to say, fantastic. The issue opens with Bruce stabbed in the chest by Talon, who begins taunting him about his inevitable death. Batman, beaten, is hauled before the Court of Owls, who make themselves seen for the first time. It's a massive group of masked aristocrats, ranging from old people to a little girl who may be the most sadistic of them all. The Court swarms on Batman, beating him and tearing him apart in an incredibly creepy segment. While fighting back, Batman seems to transform, taking on a more animalistic appearance, although I'm guessing this is the product of his hallucinations from last issue, as it doesn't seem to last. Facing Talon one-on-one again, Batman manages to fight the assassin to a standstill, and in a stunning display of Bat-awesomeness, reveals that he's figured out most of the Court's secrets, including how to escape. He defeats Talon, manages to blow a hole in the labyrinth and escape to the nearby river. It's a great segment - which makes it even more shocking when he hits a solid glass wall inside the river, still trapped by the Court of Owls as he sinks down to his apparent death. And inside the Labyrinth, the Court collects Talon's unconscious body and makes plans to terminate him - after all, they've got dozens more growing inside the mysterious coffins in their lair. This continues to be the creepiest book in the new 52 - even more so than the outright horror series - and it's only getting better each issue. Six for six.
Green Lantern Corps #6 - ****1/2
One thing I've noticed about the new 52 is that the stories have gotten a lot darker. Not necessarily more mature or gruesome, but just dark and unsettling. That is very clear in this issue, as the battle with the Keepers comes to a conclusion. This is a war comic, more so than any other Green Lantern comic I can remember. It's intense, brutal, and actions have a sense of finality to them. Guy Gardner and his elite team of Lanterns are on route to the planet of the Keepers to rescue John Stewart and co., who are being brutally tortured. Most of the Lanterns have already succumbed to the torture and died, just leaving John and a new recruit. In the most shocking scene of the issue, the young recruit breaks, promising to tell the Keepers how to get the battery back from Oa - only for John to snap his neck to keep him from talking. John is quickly turning into the most ruthless and militaristic of the main Lanterns, unafraid to kill someone in the name of the greater good. Guy and the Lanterns invade the planet, taking on the Keepers in a no-holds-barred battle where the Keepers refuse to surrender, no matter how many of their number die. The Lanterns are able to score a final blow by dropping Fat Man and Little Boy on them, essentially creating a "fear bomb" that turns the Keepers into cowering weaklings. The Guardians, on Guy's suggestion, sentence the surviving Keepers to bury all the dead of their innocent victims - an entire planet's worth. This issue, like a lot of the best books in the new 52, is going to stick with you.
Nightwing #6 - ****1/2
Kyle Higgins is really building a great first arc here, tapping into long-forgotten parts of Dick Grayson's past and setting up a spectacular final showdown where it all began. The issue opens with Dick on the trail of Saiko, revealed last issue as his old friend Raymond. His trail leads him to Texas, where he goes up against a redneck gangster and interrogates his corrupt boss for tips on Saiko. Meanwhile, Saiko and Raya plot to set up his revenge against Dick, via a tribute night dedicated to the Graysons, where Saiko will make his move. Dick, seeing this as the likely trap it is, is hesitant, but is forced by Bryan Haley to go ahead with it, and instead attempts to monitor the event for an attack. Meanwhile, a Gotham murder scene appears to frame Nightwing for a double homicide, and in the best scene of the issue, Alfred visits Dick at the circus, helping him pay tribute to the Graysons even in the middle of the crisis over Bruce's disappearance. The action comes to a huge-scale close at the end as Saiko attacks the circus, taking on Nightwing and apparently blowing up the tent. This entire thing has been a great, old-school Dick Grayson story that pays tribute to all that came before for him while setting up new friends, enemies, and settings for the character. In short, this is exactly how you relaunch a popular character's new series.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #6 - ****1/2
This issue is co-written by Josh Williamson off a plot by Lobdell. I'm not sure if this is a creative change or just a one-off to give Lobdell time to get ahead, but there's absolutely no drop-off in quality from what's become an excellent title overall. This issue takes place a month before the first issue and fills in a lot of the gaps that were left unanswered at the start. We open with Jason Todd battling nuclear smuggler supervillains on a submarine off the coast of Miami. He manages to stop them, but winds up blowing the whole thing to hell and getting seriously injured, waking up on a mysterious tropical island. Starfire is tending to him, and it seems like she may be slightly confused due to his similar appearance to Dick Grayson, who its revealed here she still did have some involvement with. We get some flashbacks to both the equivalent of the New Teen Titans and Jason's time as Robin, where it becomes clear that he had a much tenser relationship with Dick than he did in the old DCU. Overall, Lobdell and Williamson continue to peel back the layers of Jason Todd, revealing a very interesting, complex character, and this issue gives some much-needed background and personality to Starfire as well. The issue is a bit light on the action, but that's out of the norm for this title. This is still one of the strongest Bat-titles, and I'm looking forward to next issue's return of Essence.
Supergirl #6 - ****
This continues to be a very smooth, fast-paced, action-packed comic with just enough introspection and emotion to keep it from turning into a brainless action romp. The series is told pretty consistently from Kara's perspective, which helps keep it grounded. We open with a flashback segment showing her combat training on Krypton, which she was somewhat lacking in. We also get a nice bit of her relationship with her father before flashing forward to the current day, where Kara is beaten and trapped on the ruins of Argo City. A vision of her mother and father gives her the strengnth to break free, and she escapes as Argo City sinks into the blue sun, and finally comes to terms with the fact that her world is gone. Meanwhile, on Earth, an Irish teen visiting New York (Siobahn, aka the Silver Banshee, perhaps?) is caught in the middle of Reign's invasion of Earth. The villainess proceeds to tear apart New York until Supergirl arrives, beginning a high-stakes battle as Reign tries to convince her to join forces and conquer Earth. When Supergirl refuses, Reign summons her allies - the other Worldkillers, including a lizard man and some sort of tusked monster. These creatures look a bit goofy, but the issue overall is very entertaining, especially when it slows down and we get a chance to get inside Kara's head. Both Superboy and Supergirl have been pretty great in the reboot.
Wonder Woman #6 - ****1/2
This unique, mythology-driven take on Wonder Woman is continuing to be the best in some time. In the wake of the death of Zeus, there's a war in Olympus for control between Hera, Hades (in the form of a little boy with a candle for a head) and Poseidon (in the form of a giant sea monster). There's a lot of humor worked in there, and Wonder Woman essentially playing impartial peacemaker between warring Gods is pretty interesting, as she solves the problem in a way that keeps Hades and Poseidon at peace while completely screwing over Hera. And speaking of Hera, Azzarello has been successfully setting her up as Diana's new arch-nemesis in the wake of her murder of Hippolyta and the Amazons. But where this issue really excels is in an area I've been talking about for some time. Wonder Woman has the weakest supporting cast in comics - until now. Between the sarcastic Zola, the mysterious Hermes, and my favorite, the snarky demigod Lennox, who's like an Olympian John Constantine. They've built up the comic so it feels like much more than a modern day Xena. This issue might not have the "Wow factor" of some of the previous issues, but it's got so many fun moving parts that it continues to be one of my favorite DC titles right now. And that's the first time I've ever felt that way about a Wonder Woman comic.
Blue Beetle #6 - *
I was digging this series for a while, especially last issue. While it was a lot darker than the previous version, a lot of the characters seemed intact, and Jaime's relationship with the Scarab was interesting. But this issue...there's often a point where a comic hits the point of no return, where you can just tell that the fans are going to walk away and not look back. That's this issue. Because after this issue, there's virtually no chance that this title will ever resemble anything like the old comic. Last issue, after Jaime saved Paco's life by putting a piece of the Scarab inside him, Paco transformed into a Red Beetle-like being. This issue, he comes after Jaime and puts Brenda in danger, wrecking the Reyes home and trying to kill Jaime and the Scarab. But what Paco does isn't the problem here. It's what Jaime does. First up, it seems like Jaime and Paco's friendship was...to say the least, strained, with Jaime going on a rant about how they were never really friends. And then, to psych Paco out of his possession, Jaime takes Brenda, pretends that the Scarab has taken over him fully, backhands her, and threatens to blow her head off. This scares Paco enough to break free of the Scarab's control, while essentially turning Blue Beetle into the most unlikable hero in the DCU. And this is a DCU with Voodoo in it. At the end of the issue, he decides that he can't be around his friends and family anymore, so he and the scarab take off for New York. In six issues, this title has pretty much gutted everything I loved about the previous version of the title. I don't expect this title will make it past 12, with the way the sales are looking, and after this issue, I doubt I'll miss it.
Catwoman #6 - ***1/2
The interesting thing about Catwoman as a title is, Judd Winick seems to understand exactly how much of a trainwreck Selina's life is. When we open, Selina is under arrest by an army of corrupt cops looking to collect the stolen cash. When she refuses, they turn loose Reach on her. Reach proceeds to attempt to beat the location out of Catwoman, but Selina gets the upper hand by ripping her ear off with her teeth in gruesome fashion. While the title is good overall, I feel like some of these touches are more than a bit much. Escaping with the help of the new MCU detective, she heads for the rooftops to get out of town, only to meet with Batman, who is more than a bit pissed off with her. It turns into a big fight between them, where he pins her against the wall and tells her that the path she's going on will kill her, and asks her if she wants to die - and she says maybe she does. It's odd, dark territory for at Catwoman title, and given how little we know about her history in this version, I can't say yet if it makes sense for me. The issue ends with her seeking out her old friend Gwen from last issue, asking for help. There's some good moments here, but it's all a little too glossy, violent, and extreme for me at points.
Birds of Prey #6 - ****
As I said before, my big problem with this series has been the villain, Choke. He's a mysterious mastermind that works in the shadows, acting through agents, mind control, and generally being a creepy, creepy fuck. So essentially, he's coverbanding the Court of Owls. But even though the concept of Choke doesn't appeal to me, this issue finally seems to be finding its groove as an action comic. The issue opens with a working stiff named Brendan Bowman getting up from his cubicle and promptly being assaulted and kidnapped by the Birds. It turns out that he's one of Choke's sleeper agents, completely unaware of this. Choke has been targeting workaholics who will not be missed during their disappearances. Brendan, once cured with a bunch of other agents of Choke, agrees to go undercover in his workplace, pretending to still be an agent to flush out Choke. The only problem is, he wasn't the only agent in the office. Far from it. It seems the entire office was a hiding ground for them, and they can instantly detect that he's been deprogrammed. This issue seems to be taking on the tone of a compelling, twisty spy thriller, which gives it a much clearer identity than the title's had until now. I'm hoping this level of quality continues into the conclusion and next arc.
DC Universe Presents Challengers of the Unknown #6 - ***
It's a new arc and a new cast for DC Universe Presents, and this is an odd one, to be sure. Dan Didio and Jerry Ordway are co-writing, and taking on the tricky job of revamping the Challengers of the Unknown. And this seems to be a very big modernization, to the point where they're pretty much unrecognizable. "Challengers of the Unknown", now refers to a popular reality show with D-list celebrities going on adventures around the world. June is now the producer, and the others are members of the cast. The group, along with a couple of other members that might as well have "Cannon fodder" stamped on their forehead, crash into a mountain that appears out of nowhere and land in Nanda Parbat, sans their pilot (and June's boyfriend) who appears as a disfigured monster in June's hallucinations. The issue is full of all sorts of weird stuff as they're welcomed to Nanda Parbat, learn about the mystical nature of the place, leave, try to flag a helicopter down, and get attacked by a giant snow lizard. It's an odd, twisty issue that's pretty fun in a strange, Kirby-esque way (Didio really seems to be having a love affair with these concepts lately), but it's also an odd fusion of retro and modern that doesn't quite jell in the first issue. This is only a three-issue arc, so hopefully it'll find its footing quickly. But at least we can be pretty sure it'll never be dull.
Captain Atom #6 - ****
This title is currently the lowest-selling un-cancelled DCU ongoing, which is a damn shame, because it's a really fascinating exploration of Captain Atom's powers and what happens when a good man finds himself no longer a man at all. The action is huge-scale, and the battles are an interesting combination of action and sci-fi. This issue reveals the nature of the shapeless monster that Atom found devouring a town last issue - it's a grossly mutated rat who was a test subject in a lot of the same experiments that produced Atom. It's immune to energy attacks, which it absorbs, so General Eiling's efforts are only making things worse. Atom winds up defeating the pitiful creature by sucking all the nuclear energy right out of it and into himself. Back at base, he manages to cure his friend Ranita by pulling the radiation out of her hand and slowly rebuilding the tissue and skin. Overall, this issue seems to be about Captain Atom finding his place and coming to terms with what he's become. And then the last issue shows a destroyed Earth out of nowhere, so you know there's more interesting stuff coming up.
Legion of Super-Heroes #6 - ****
After last issue's great done-in-one of one-page stories for the entire team, this issue pulls back and gives us only a couple of stories, all pretty strong. In the first one, Sun Boy, Element Lad, and Chemical Kid head back to Sun Boy's home planet to prevent a massive disaster which has begun to engulf the planet in Lava. The Dream Girl/Starman segment is kind of boring, but the main plot this issue - Dragonwing in a futuristic China - is very entertaining. This is the first we've seen of Dragonwing outside of the Legion, and it seems like she has her own personal dramas back in China. She's got an evil sister who is in league with a crime boss, and there appears to be a whole dragon-themed mafia out for her head. I'm not really sure what to make of Chameleon Boy impersonating her dog, but this issue is pretty fun, twisty, and unpredictable.
Young Justice #13 - ****
This continues to be a great companion piece to the animated series. This issue takes place right before the Downtime episode, which opened with the team getting their butts handed to them by Clayface. This issue focuses on how they got there, with a distracted Aqualad accidentally letting the creature into the base, and him taking out the team one by one. There's a lot of focus on Aqualad's character, and the burden that all he left behind is causing for him. While this segment is strong, it's a little heavy on action for my tastes. However, much stronger is the brief Artemis segment, which focuses on Batman and Green Arrow using her "Arrest" to send her undercover in a Gotham jail, where she meets up with old friend Cameron Mahkent - aka Icicle - who gives her some tips about upcoming action at Belle Reve. Weisman wrote this issue, so it's really no surprise that this title feels on the level of the series.
My Greatest Adventure #5 - **1/2
This holdover from the old DCU keeps on plugging along. Matt Kindt is obviously a talented sci-fi writer who seems really interested in the nature of Robotman's transformation, but the plot he's working with - Robotman on an island full of sci-fi cyber-monsters - just isn't giving him too much to work with. The weakest segment is probably Aaron Lopresti's Garbageman, who is fighting an army of monsters created by a man's subconscious. It ends when the guy kills himself and makes them disappear, and Garbageman and his ex-girlfriend move on to plotting against his killers. The strongest segment, as usual, is Tanga, which this issue reveals the true face of Za, has Tanga take him out in rather amusing fashion, and sends her off on a final battle against the planet's overlords. Overall, an amusing diversion, but very little meat here.
DC Universe Online Legends #23 - ***
As this series comes to its conclusion in only a few issues, it's turned into a fairly entertaining no-holds-barred action story, as the remnants of Earth's heroes and villains team up for one last stand against Brainiac. What I like about this series most is how it manages to humanize Luthor while still keeping him the brilliant egomaniac he always was. This issue, as the heroes bury their dead, several villains make plans to defect to Brainiac's team, and Brainiac's invasion reaches its tipping point. With only three issues left, they should be pretty much all action, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Superman pull a surprise reappearance by the end. We all know death has never been enough to stop that guy before.