DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as Young Animal, Wildstorm, Black Label, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu, entertainment editor Kyle Pinion, and contributor Louie Hlad are here to help you with.
THIS WEEK: Kyle chats briefly about Marv Wolfman’s return to Cyborg, the debut of Brimstone, and the beginning of Batman’s big battle with Deathstroke
Note: the reviews below contain **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artists: Tom Derenick & Scott Kolins
Colorist: Wil Quintana
Letterer: Rob Leigh
I’m not sure any superhero within the DC stable has taken a bigger beating than Victor Stone over the past few years. From being inarguably the worst aspect (that wasn’t Superman’s upper lip or Batman’s shifting weight) of last year’s Justice League film, to being shafted with one of the worst books of the Rebirth launch; Cyborg is just a character that the company cannot seem to make work outside of his Teen Titans days, at least until Christopher Priest’s Justice League run kicked off. The John Semper run was nigh-unreadable, and the Kevin Grevioux fill-in was moderately better, but still offered little for readers to keep the title on the radar. Well, after what turned out to be an extended break period rather than a cancellation, DC has once again enlisted the one man they figure can do something with the character in co-creator Marv Wolfman.
And the verdict is? Well, Cyborg at least talks like a human again, so that’s real progress. Teamed up with artists Tom Derenick and Scott Kolins, Wolfman ditches basically everything that came before, including all the supporting cast except for a mere mention of Professor Stone. What he replaces them with is a totally competent adventure that pits Cyborg up against a bunch of anoymous looking mechs that are attacking other mechs. Sadly, these designs are pretty bland all around, so if they were color coded (the red ones are bad guys), I’d have no idea who was doing what or how. But at the very least there’s a mystery building here that finds a mysterious Eastern influenced antagonist that’s looking to discover the secret behind what makes Cyborg tick. And then there’s this equally mysterious third party that he’s become a party to. Secrets abound!
Also, I do enjoy a good split between shared art duties in a way that makes sense for the story, here Kolins takes on all the pages that focus on the villain, whereas Derenick does everything else. Anyhow, not bad! Not exactly enough to win me over, but at least I didn’t hang my head in shame after reading it. I consider that a victory in of itself.
The Curse of Brimstone #1
Storytellers: Phillip Tan & Justin Jordan
Dialogue: Justin Jordan
Colors: Rain Beredo
Letterer: Wes Abbott
Another week, another outing from the New Age of Heroes. I haven’t really been head over heels for any of them thus far, though The Terrifics is probably the one that continually flirts with going somewhere approaching fun. And I guess I kind of like Sideways a bit, though some of that is just Rocafort’s costume design, some of it is my interest in a DC analogue for Spider-Man, and that I just kind of like Dan DiDio’s writing (OMAC forever!!). But The Silencer and Damage? Not my bag, really. In comes Phillip Tan and Justin Jordan with their collaboration The Curse of Brimstone, and it’s off to a pretty good start.
There’s two immediate observations that come to mind while I was reading this debut issue of DC’s newest horror-based hero, firstly, I have to give credit to the unique flavor that Jordan and Tan imbue the title with is its setting, which is centered on the ruins of coal country. We’re so used to our four-color heroes bounding about colorful and vibrant metropolises, particularly in the DC Universe – even the backwoods of Louisiana, the general setting of Suicide Squad, takes on a larger than life weight when viewed through this world’s lens. But, here we get something that’s a bit closer to real life, and given how much attention has been paid to flyover country in the media, and the segment of society that’s been left behind in the current economic boom period, their approach here couldn’t be more timely. I feel like some of this comes from Jordan’s own personal observations in Pennsylvania, though I could be imagining that. It’s one of the better presentations of blue collar poverty this side of Southern Bastards.
The other big attention grabbing area for my purposes is that Tan’s art, clearly benefiting from the level of control he’s been given through the “Marvel-style” method that’s been employed with these New Age titles, clicks with me here for the first time in many a year. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but given the opportunity to control the flow of the panels and the actions of the characters withing (surely with some close consultation with Jordan) produces a rather gripping and foreboding origin tale.
In light of the real world struggles (abject poverty, alienation and despair, children having to grow up to adjust their lifestyles to meet the mistakes of their parents), the supernatural elements that creep in on the margins have a hard time comparing, but I’m really curious where this is going. But there’s clearly a neat elemental aspect that’s going to be fleshed out, and I’d be really curious to see how long Tan and Jordan keep their protagonist in these confines or if he’ll grow beyond them, either in the real world or perhaps towards something more Doctor Strange-like. Consider me on-board, it’s one of the best of this line thus far.
Pencils: Carlo Pagulayan
Inks: Jason Paz
Color: Jeromy Cox
Letters: Willie Schubert
And now we come to one of this week’s heavier hitters, as Christopher Priest’s masterful, and sadly underread, Deathstroke heads into probably its biggest story yet…that’s right, it’s Deathstroke vs. Batman. I suspect that’ll add a few more “butts in the seats”, as it were. And putting aside the fact that the conflict feels driven a bit more by market needs instead of a natural creative outgrowth of series as Priest has been shaping it, this first issue of the six-part monthly showdown with DC’s two toughest badasses is off to an enjoyable start.
Priest kicks things off with one of my favorite tropes in these types of event crossovers: finding the commonalities between its stars’ supporting casts and pairing Alfred with Wintergreen is a brilliant little stroke. Watching them bond as young men over European football and commiserating over their shared pitfalls related to their respective benefactors is a great way to draw a line between the commonalities between DC’s signature hero and one of their most popular anti-heroes/villains, depending on which way the wind blows. Priest repeats that same device in recorded messages that play over the actual plot of the issue, where both Robin (Dick Grayson) and Jericho describe the men they are intrinsically tied to, either through great tragedy or birth. It’s a nice way to continue driving home that message about these two utterly driven men that have more in common than it would seem on paper, and how thin that line between heroism and vigilantism, and good and evil really is in retrospect.
The build up to their confrontation is pretty thrilling, though I admit to being totally won over by all of Priest’s work in the DCU over the past two years (this week’s Justice League is also very good, and is of a piece with this Deathstroke run), but the parental angle that’s driving Batman to come to blows with Deathstroke here is especially intriguing. The DNA paperwork that’s pushing Batman into this near obsessive drive to shut Slade down is clearly forged, but because that seed of doubt has been planted, he continues on in the most toxic way possible. It’s an angle being taken with Bruce’s psychology that I can’t recall being explored before. The villain behind the scenes, whoever that may be, makes their mark through these efforts – but what it showcases about these two men is pretty delicious.
Story: Patrick Gleason & Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Jaime Mendoza & Doug Mahnke
Colors: Wil Quintana
Letters: Rob Leigh
Bizarro Kyle: “Me love the new Superman comic, it not aggravating at all to read Tomasi and Gleason write in all Bizarro-speak. Me also loved how the inking made the book look so consistent. Me didn’t skip through a number of pages to get to the end. Me not excited about Bendis at all.”