THIS WEEK: The DC Round-Up crew of Cy Beltran, Zack Quaintance, and Joe Grunenwald convene to discuss a trio of titles for the week, including Absolute Power – Ground Zero #1, Zatanna: Bringing Down the House #1, and Superman #15.

Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bolded recommendations without our discussion for our final verdicts.

Absolute Power #1Absolute Power – Ground Zero #1

Writers: Mark Waid, Nicole Maines, Chip Zdarsky, and Joshua Williamson
Artists: Skylar Patridge, V Ken Marion, and Gleb Melnikov
Colorists: Patricio Delpeche, and Gleb Melnikov
Letterer: Steve Wands

ZACK QUAINTANCE: Hello everyone, and welcome to this month’s DC Roundtable. We’ve got a lot to discuss this week, which is actually the FINAL Tuesday update, with DC shifting back to Wednesday releases next month (huzzah!). Let’s start by discussing Absolute Power – Ground Zero #1, the official kick-off to this year’s summer event. I’m curious, we see things really moving now, but what did we think about the line-wide buildup to this issue?

CY BELTRAN: We’ve discussed this together, Zack, but I really appreciate how organic this buildup has felt compared to past events. Even before opening this issue, I could see the seeds being planted in Batman and Superman without superseding the ongoing stories within those individual series. Now that we’re in the thick of it, it’s very clear that this has been building for years, going as far back as War for Earth-3.

Absolute Power

JOE GRUNENWALD: Agreed. It has been nice to see how this storyline has built off of what’s come before it in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Titans: Beast World was maybe not the best event (I would dare even call it a hot mess) but you can see how important it was to getting the DCU to this current moment and setting the stage for Absolute Power. I was skeptical at first when they said this would be about Waller plus Failsafe plus the Brainiac Queen, but now that they’re all together it makes perfect sense in context.

ZACK: I’m with you both. In recent memory, I can’t really think of another event story that seemed to build as well as this one. There’s even small threads coming together here, like the political intrigue on Gamorra that was seeded in Superman: Son of Kal-El. And what really impressed me — or maybe I should even say caught me off guard — is how it collects story points from books by so many different creators. Often with something like this, you’ll see the creator writing the event drawing exclusively from their own recent runs. This one really feels linewide in a way many events do not.

CY: That was especially clear in this first Absolute Power one-shot. Mark Waid co-writes the first two stories in the issue (and is writing the main event), but they don’t read to me as Waid pieces, but as individual bits from Nicole Maines and Chip Zdarsky that Waid gave a plot assist to. Maines was the writer on Suicide Squad: Dream Team, a stellar prelude to the event that continued the beats set up in Son of Kal-El

JOE: Yeah, I had forgotten all about what happened with Jay’s mother previously, and this issue did a nice job of bringing me up to speed. In a broader sense, for as many disparate threads as it’s pulling together, this one-shot accomplishes the feat of being very accessible to new readers, which is always impressive when it comes to an event book.

ZACK: Another thing too, is I think there’s still more threads elsewhere in the DCU that can be woven into this event — thinking specifically of Green Arrow here — so it hasn’t even really shown its whole hand quite yet. So, excellent Absolute Power build-up aside, how did you find this issue just generally speaking? I think interconnected mainline superhero universe continuity sickos like us are primed to like it, but still asking…

CY: I did come into Absolute Power – Ground Zero having read every series that’s built up to this, but I think this stands on its own pretty well to ease readers into the event. Each story briefly summarizes the most important bits, while moving us ever closer to the actual event itself in fascinating ways. I was especially curious how Failsafe was going to return after the conclusion of the 25 issue arc Zdarsky has constructed over in Batman, and this gave a surprising answer to that question, with a random Time Commander appearance I wouldn’t have seen coming from a mile away.

JOE: Leave it to Zdarsky and Waid to make the last line of the defense of the DC Universe the flipping Time Commander. This Absolute Power start is clearly a stage-setting collection of stories, but it still finds ways to surprise and delight, whether it’s Time Commander’s role or the way that Amanda Waller ingratiates herself to the Brainiac Queen (or vice versa). It’s good event-building and it’s also just clever storytelling throughout.

ZACK: Yeah, I think this Absolute Power zero issue does it’s job really well, which is to just line things up and provide an on-ramp to the event for those who might not know what’s happening elsewhere. By the end of each of these little stories you see what I presume is one of the big bads of all the action to come. So, good tablesetting. And! Speaking of the Time Commander, we’re now about half done here — so about we go to verdicts. Absolute Power – Ground Zero #1 gets a BUY for me.

CY: I’ll second that with a BUY as well. A very strong zero issue and essential for this event.

JOE: Yeah, it’s a BUY for me, too. If you’re at all interested in this event I think this one-shot will tip you over into excitement for it.

Zatanna: Bringing Down the House #1

Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Javier Rodriguez
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

ZACK: Let’s move from that to something completely different with Zatanna: Bring Down the House #1 by writer Mariko Tamaki, artist Javier Rodriguez, and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. As a Black Label book, this is about as different as it gets from the zero issue of a mainline event, seeking to be just a high-quality comic with broad appeal. What did you all think of this first issue?

CY: These are three of my favorite creators in all of comics, so it’s very hard to come into this with any objective opinion, but if I can be hyperbolic for a second, I think this mini will go down as a perennial classic for DC. Rodriguez is constantly upping his game and this issue almost blows the water out of some of his more recent work over at the House of Ideas in just the first few pages. Otsmane-Elhaou is the perfect complement with balloons that never feel static and bounce around the page to fit these eccentric layouts. 

JOE: I love Rodriguez’s work, and it’s stellar here as always, but to me it almost felt like it’s holding back on the crazier, more innovative elements I’m used to from him. But that also fits the tone of the story he and Tamaki are telling here. This is a Zatanna who’s definitely holding back from what she can do, and I suspect Rodriguez’s storytelling will let loose more as Zee does as the series progresses. 

ZACK: I think that’s a very astute prediction, Joe. There’s a bit early in this book, where Zatanna goes to see her father, who is very much in control of his magic and using it. The work on those two pages to me seems to tip some of the more experimental and ostentatious ways that Rodriguez is presumably likely to approach the visual storytelling as Zee gets more into her bag, so to speak. I don’t know about you all, but I kind of liked the magical restraint in this first issue, felt like the right move plot-wise to build tension. What did you all think about that?

CY: Joe, I almost reached through the screen and fought you before I saw where you were going. I agree with the points you and Zack made here, and the restraint used by this creative team makes me ecstatic to see where this might lead. I liked the toned-down approach here, and it made me think of Tamaki’s work in books like Roaming, where the story is far more character-focused than plot-based. This issue seems to be following that path, and I appreciated the time we spent getting to know Zee as opposed to jumping into an action piece already in progress.

JOE: Well now I want to read a Black Label book by both Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, but I’ll save that dream for another time. The focus on Zatana as a person definitely grounds the book in a reality that it needs before it can go all crazy magical (technical term). Zatanna being a working magician is something that seems like it comes up a lot but is never fully explored, so it’s fun to see Tamaki and Rodriguez doing that here in this sort of alt-past where Zee’s maybe not fully a superhero as we know her now. Even aside from the mundanity of having a day job, everyone has stuff in their past they’d rather not think about or want to just put behind them, and that’s a great way to make her relatable to readers.

ZACK: There’s some very powerful ideas in this setup, in my opinion, around childhood trauma and the ways it can make you reluctant to take big shots or be your true self in adult life. It’s relatable, and it’s a very engaging way to launch this story. Kind of a minor question here, but who do you all think the mysterious figure with the white eyes in this story is? Are we thinking a character we might know from the DCU, or a new figure for this story?

CY: I am nowhere near as well-versed as the two of you in DC, but I’m hoping that it’s a new character for this story. It’d be interesting to set-up Zatanna’s life with someone who isn’t as tied to the years and years of canon, and just have it be some random person, who’s more important to Zee than DC continuity as a whole. However, I am notoriously bad at predicting so I’m sure it’s someone we already know.

JOE: There’s been a tendency for the past…thirty years? to want to make Zatanna part of the Bat-family, so admittedly my first thought when I was that figure, a slender woman with short black hair, was that it’s Selina Kyle, but that obviously didn’t turn out. I hope it’s someone entirely new to this series and to the DCU in general, should they make it out of the book and into the regular continuity. If I had to pick someone from the canon, though, I’ll take a shot in the dark and say it’s the Phantom Stranger in disguise.

ZACK: There’s a thought. I really don’t have a theory myself, but that’s an interesting one and they love to use The Stranger in these type of stories. Before we go to verdicts on this one, I want to note that within a 10 span, we got an announcement about a Plastic Man noir Black Label book, and the debut of a Zatanna in Vegas Black Label book — let’s go ahead and declare the death of the whiney “Black Label is all Batman!” line.

JOE: Yes, Black Label is now representative of the main DC line: 65% Batman and 35% other stuff! (I’m kidding, Chris Conroy, please don’t yell at me.)

CY: I will always appreciate a non-Batman Black Label book, though I wouldn’t mind seeing this creative team tackle the Bat-family. However, I do tend to lean toward the Nice House on the Lake(s) of the world.

JOE: There have been incredible non-Batman Black Label books – thinking about Rogues specifically. I’m very grateful for this imprint in general.

ZACK: Rogues, Wonder Woman: Historia, and Peacemaker. That said, watch next issue the big reveal is the mysterious character was actually…Batman! Anyway, you all I’m a definite BUY on this one, and I think I’ve maybe undersold how much I liked it — this is a fantastic debut with the potential to be the start of something truly special. 

JOE: My only disappointment in this book is that it’s normal trade sized and not oversized like so many other Black Label books, as I would love to see Rodriguez’s art in that format. This is the easiest of BUYs for me.

CY: Ditto ditto, both for the spectacular quality of this book and the desire to see Rodriguez’s art as large as possible (I did indeed splurge on the treasury edition of the History of the Marvel Universe to see his art at that size). If it wasn’t clear, this is a BUY for me as well.

Superman #15’s Last Page

Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artist: Rafa Sandoval
Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez
Letterer: Ariana Maher

ZACK: Well you all, we are about out of time, but before we go, I did want to say…so how about that last page in Superman #15? What did we think of that?

JOE: As the resident old man who was reading Superman comics in 1992 in the lead-up to a certain big storyline, that final page tickled me to no end. 

CY: I was pleasantly surprised to see what we saw, and it made me wish I could also experience what Old Man Joe read back in 1992.

ZACK: Ribbing Joe for being old — or anything else — is a long proud tradition of these roundtables, congrats on going there, Cy.

JOE: Yes. Ever so excited for you.

ZACK: That last page ruled. Going to the ol’ Doomsday well again isn’t new, but something about using that iconic paneling felt especially epic to me.

JOE: I remember from all the build of “Death of the Justice League” how important the Death of Superman storyline is to Josh Williamson, so I’m not surprised to see him going there, but I also trust him to do something fresh and entertaining with it.

ZACK: For people of a certain age, that’s still the story for Superman, I think, and yeah, I trust the current run to give us an interesting revisit.

CY: As a representative of the youth of America, I will say that Death of Superman was one of the first DC stories I got around to reading when I dipped my toes into the Distinguished Competition, and those first few pages of teasers in the trades drew me right into the story, so I’m all for wherever this is going.

ZACK: There is just something compelling about that one that spans generations, apparently. Or, perhaps crushingly, your parents mentioned it was a pop culture phenomenon at the time?

CY: I will not say what year I found out about the Death of Superman for fear of crippling Joe on the spot, but it was a big moment for me to find out he had died at one point.

JOE: Cy what year was it

CY: …2010 when I was 8 or 9.

JOE: <withers to dust>

CY: Whoops.

ZACK: Very good. Good bye forever, Joe. Well, we’ll end on that note…and we’ll see you all back here for the DC Round-Up as it returns to Wednesdays next week!

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  1. Waiting for the reveal that the Amanda Waller we’ve been seeing these past few years is actually an Evil Factory clone created by Mokkari and Simyan for Darkseid (the same way the original pre-Crisis Morgan Edge was), and the real Amanda Waller is jailed away somewhere…

  2. Waller and the Joker are the two dullest and most-overused characters in the DCU. I can’t wait for this nonsense to be over.

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