Week three brings a number of Batman villains to the forefront, as well as a surprising disconnect with the main Forever Evil storyline. Hardly any of the comics this week seem to have much of a tie-in to the event they’re supporting, which is unexpected. That aside, it’s business as usual with mothers getting killed, throats getting slit, crucifixions and an attempted bunny murder!
Follow the jump for every issue reviewed, from my least-favourite through to my favourite.
One thing that you should note is that some of the comics take place as part of Forever Evil – the Batman and Flash comics, it seems – whilst the Green Lantern/Superman issues are more general. So some issues follow on immediately from the first issue of the event, whilst others are more general stories. Keep that in mind as you buy the comics – they’ll all make sense, but some will be directly following on from the main story whilst others are unconnected origin stories.
ALSO IMPORTANT! Two comics this week are promoting upcoming Forever Evil storylines. If you pick up either Scarecrow or The Rogues today, save the issue till last – chronologically, they come after all the other Villains Month issues.
China Mieville (w), guest artists on every single page, four colourists, Taylor Esposito (l), Gregory Lockard (e)
This would probably be a perfectly fine issue for people already reading Dial H For Hero, and I imagine will only be bought by people who are interested in that series. But this jam issue, which has a different artist on each page, is practically unreadable as a story for anyone else. As a showcase for wonderful art from some vital and intelligent artists including Jeff Lemire, Annie Wu, Emma Rios and Brendan McCarthy, this is fine work indeed. As a coherent story told across twenty pages, it’s unintelligible and boring.
The concept is that a group of kids have the device which lets people change into a randomly-generated superhero identity – and do so on each page as they… fight some police? I have no idea what their goal is. The artwork is some of the best in the industry, from unique and inspired creators like Frazer (not Frazier, as he’s credited here) Irving through to…well, unique and inspired creators like Tula Lotay and Jock. The story is thoroughly wanting, despite the inhuman efforts from letterer Taylor Esposito to try and make the whole thing work as a whole.
Tom DeFalco (w), Chad Hardin (a), Chris Sotomayor (c), Taylor Esposito (l), Kyle Andrukiewicz, Joey Cavalieri (e)
Competent and well told by artist Chad Hardin, Shadow Thief’s main problem is an abundance of stale and awkward dialogue, which renders almost all the characters into cardboard props rather than actual realised personalities. There’s a reasonable story in here somewhere, but DeFalco’s dialogue is so wooden that it turns the comic into a campy, messy piece of B-Movie nonsense.
The narration also does a poor job in keeping the reader updated with events in the storyline – at one point we lead into a flashback sequence so we can see Shadow Thief’s origin, but that isn’t made properly apparent from reading the narration boxes. Instead we have to suddenly realise where we are halfway through the sequence, once it becomes clearer that the scene has now moved into the past. Although the issue puts all the pieces of the character together and sets her up for whatever comes next (which isn’t revealed on the final page, so who knows where or when we’re next meant to see her), the scripting dooms this issue.
Dan DiDio (w), Philip Tan (a), Jason Paz (i), Nathan Eyring (c), Travis Lanham (l), Chris Conroy, Matt Idelson (e)
Generic and simplistic, Eclipso sets the story up so that the reader expects to see a twist at the end – but then doesn’t give us a twist. The story really is as basic as it first appears to be, making the whole issue feel anticlimactic. As a result, the worth of the issue is decided mainly by how much you enjoy Philip Tan, who takes the padded-out story and goes hell-for-leather with his art. He exaggerates all the facial expressions – which tends to offer mixed results, with some of his characters looking dynamic and some looking extremely wonky and strange – and tries out some experimental page layouts.
Eclipso himself looks pretty great throughout, Tan’s style perfectly fitting the maniacal creature. Nathan Eyring’s colouring manages to well-handle the strange and unconventional use of page space from Tan, also, making this some of the better work I’ve seen from the artist in quite some time. Jason Paz and Nathan Eyring seem to bring out the best in Tan’s work, offering an unexpected break from the uniform DC house style which has dominated the rest of Villains Month.
Scott Lobdell (w), Dan Jurgens, Ray McCarthy (a), Hi-Fi (c), Taylor Esposito (l), Anthony Marques, Eddie Berganza (e)
This isn’t particularly a story about H’el until right near the end – this is about Superman’s father, and his time on Krypton. Through an extraordinarily convenient plot device at the end of the first H’el storyline a few months back, the character is now comatose in a Krypton laboratory, having travelled back in time and place via science magic. So what we have here is a villain having an extended out-of-body experience, wandering the halls of the building as he follows around the actual protagonist of the storyline.
Not a bad hook, but not necessarily an interesting one either. Despite the efforts of Dan Jurgens and Scott Lobdell to expand the realm, the main accusation which can be thrown at the story is that it is boring. The Superman books have done such a disjointed and poor job at explaining and motivating the Kryptonians over the last two years that following ANOTHER re-defined version of Superman’s father feels more like a chore than an enjoyable standalone story. The creative team put together a fairly rough-standard story, but aside from a last-minute twist throws yet more convoluted wood on the continuity fire, H’el isn’t a particularly worthwhile read.
Peter J. Tomasi (w), Szymon Kudranski (a), John Kalisz (c), Dezi Sienty (l), Darren Shan, Rachel Gluckstern (e)
In which Peter Tomasi sets up his miniseries ‘Arkham War’. There’s nothing here which defines Scarecrow at all. His origin isn’t explained or dived into whatsoever, and he doesn’t do anything that represents who he is as a personality. Rather, this is Scarecrow walking over to a number of Batman villains and chatting for a while with them, setting up an imminent war between them all.
Scarecrow seems far more lucid and overtly intelligent than I’ve ever seen him before, something which fits Jonathan Crane – he is a former psychologist, after all – but also doesn’t sit well for Scarecrow. There’s no real evaluation of fear or any of the themes associated with the character. It’s a pure issue of set-up, trying to get readers to pick up the next storyline. It’s well written and especially well-coloured by John Kalisz, but I found myself disappointed that the solid creative team were focusing on Arkham War rather than on telling a story about Scarecrow himself.
John Layman (w), Cliff Richards (a), Matt Yackey (c), Steve Wands (l), Darren Shan, Rachel Gluckstern (e)
Interesting, this one, in that it’s the first villain month issue to view the protagonist with a sense of disdain rather than reverence. John Layman and Cliff Richards unite to present a definition of Clayface as a bumbling idiot with anger issues, rather than a villain who ever feels properly dangerous or scary. It’s really a twenty-page guide to getting things wrong, reading like if the Coen brothers ever turned their hand to supervillain stories. At every turn the comic is predictable, but in a way which builds into the presentation of the character. You know when he’s going to make a mistake and you know every act he makes will be an act of mistimed violence – and yet that foreknowledge works for the story.
I was less interested in Clayface after reading the issue, but the comic itself? Decent. It definitely serves to cement the character as a C-List villain at best, rather than somebody who can ever be taken as a serious threat to Batman – but there’s something a bit charming and fun about DC finally admitting that and embracing their rubbish character.
Frank Tieri (w), Christian Duce (a), Andrew Dalhouse (c), Taylor Esposito (l), Darren Shan, Rachel Gluckstern (e)
A story told with grim delight from Christian Duce, Penguin has never looked so seedy as he does here. Duce is wonderful with expression, extablishing Penguin as somebody filled with a quiet dignity and short rage, whose self-loathing is matched only with his self-adoration. It’s a fantastic display from Duce, matched by Andrew Dalhouse’s use of shadow to create wrinkles and depths to Oswalt Cobblepot’s body language which only enhances the intriguing strangeness of the character.
Frank Tieri’s scripting is also strong, although the opening sequence does start things off strangely. I’m not entirely sure I buy the idea of Penguin engaging in physical combat personally, and the story gets much stronger once it moves to the real essence of the narrative. It’s not particularly surprising to learn that this is a story about Penguin getting revenge on somebody who has ‘slighted’ him, nor is the nature of Penguin’s revenge anything unexpected. But it’s well told, with a firm sense of heightened reality which makes this a great – though disturbed – look into the mind of the character.
John Ostrander (w), Victor Ibanez (a), Wil Quintana (c), Travis Lanham (l), Chris Conroy, Matt Idelson (e)
This issue immediately brings to mind John Ostrander’s run on Suicide Squad, with Cheetah getting a very strong definition and sense of herself. With the exception of one scene – which I believe recreates a scene in Justice League, where the characters was first introduced to the New 52 – this is a great issue, packed with intriguing character moments. If Cheetah herself doesn’t get much focus beyond a few scattered origin pieces and a fragmented present-day storyline, it’s because Ostrander is so adept at character that he doesn’t need many panels to convey exactly who she is.
But to that one scene. The issue concerns itself with a dagger which, when driven into somebody, turns them into a personification of the Goddess of the Hunt. This is how Cheetah gets her powers. As a child she is told to steal it and bring it to her family, which she does. She then stabs herself with it and becomes Cheetah. All well and good. Only, prior to this, we’ve seen a two-page sequence in which the grown-up Cheetah – in human form – works in a museum where the knife has been re-housed. She then stabs Wonder Woman with it for no apparent reason, who turns into a cheetah and… gosh, it’s so confusing. Why did the knife get returned back to the museum where it was stolen from? Why did Cheetah then get a degree JUST so she could be hired AS the curator of this museum? It makes no sense whatsoever, and detracts from the actual narrative in this issue.
I can’t even explain it here coherently, because it makes so little sense in the issue itself. Ostrander wisely abandons that failure of a plot immediately, and instead tells a story which intersects Cheetah with two other characters, leading to a battle between them, It’s rather tremendous stuff, with Ibanez doing a masterful job in laying out the ‘hunting’ sequences so they feel full of tension and momentum. If only Ostrander could jettison whatever the heck that flashback scene was referencing, this would be my favourite issue of the week. As he can’t, half the reading time is spent wondering how the flashback relates to the character at all – before you get to the end, and realise that it didn’t. It was simply a mandate he had to work with.
Charles Soule (w), Alberto Ponticelli (a), Stefano Laudini (i), Danny Vozzo (c), Dave Sharpe (l), Chris Conroy, Matt Idelson (e)
Usually when a writer takes on multiple books all at once, at least one of those books suffers as a result. But I haven’t yet read a single Charles Soule issue – and he’s got a lot of them out right now – which hasn’t been rock-solid. He’s one of a new guard in reliable, entertaining writers who can turn their hand to just about anything. With Black Hand, a character so linked now to Geoff Johns, he manages to gently push the villain away from past continuity and into a new direction. Black Hand’s story appeared to have been completed, but Soule finds a way to bring him back into circulation.
In the process he gives Alberto Ponticelli and Stefano Laudini (especially Laudini, who offers an incredible element of dread to the comic with his inking) some great stuff to work with, which they handle magnificently. The comic is funny and darkly cruel, often simultaneously. The best scene features the character raising up a hoarde of zombies to attack the police – only for the savvy offers to immediately turn the tables. Soule walks a careful line between silliness and outright parody of the zombie genre here, as Black Hand’s new power is to raise and control the dead. That he manages it so deftly and entertainingly is testament to the man who may just be DC’s best writer right now.
Charles Soule (w), Jesus Saiz (a), Matthew Wilson (c), Travis Lanham (l), Chris Conroy, Matt Idelson (e)
And look, that Soule guy’s back again for his second issue of the week, which is another fun read. Gross… thoroughly gross… but entertaining because of it. Well told and featuring some of the most disgusting but character-driven moments of horror I’ve ever seen in a mainstream comic, Soule gets deep into the heart of the Arcane family. Jesus Saiz uses the issue as a spotlight for his art, which is stylised somewhere between Travel Foreman’s grotesques and Andrea Sorrentino’s careful referencing. The issue also features a brutal moment of cruelty to bunny rabbits.
It all feels very much in-line with Scott Snyder’s run on Swamp Thing, but again takes the well-defined character and gives them a renewed purpose and goal. The script packs in an impressive amount of content for readers, unveiling perhaps five-six origins all at once, some of them much shorter than others. It manages to unfurl the Arcane family as a group, explaining away their backstory without diminishing them as villains or as horrors in their own right. If you can get past Matthew Wilson’s uncanny ability to perfectly colour mould without throwing up, then this is a horror story which stays with the reader long after the final page is turned.
Ra’s al Ghul
James Tynion IV (w), Jeremy Haun (a), John Rausch (c), Travis Lanham (l), Darren Shan, Katie Kubert (e)
My favourite issue of the week doesn’t have anything new to say about Ra’s al Ghul particularly – what I enjoyed about it so much was how it simply reaffirmed all the elements of the villain which make him so enjoyable to read. There is a madness in Ghul as a personality, but it comes across in a far different way to the madness seen in most of the rest of Batman’s villains. There’s a feeling of expansiveness in Tynion’s script, which is well-captured by Jeremy Haun (who has put out two Villain Month issues within two weeks). The fun of the issue is simply in getting to spend time with a villain whose dialogue is filled with entertaining lines and careful pauses.
I don’t really have much to say about the issue. It’s somewhat slight, and most of it is relating the backstory of the character for readers. But for everything, I found that I simply enjoyed the story far more than I enjoyed any of the others this week. I can’t particularly explain what it is that I enjoyed so much, either. Many people might read this and think it’s decent, but nothing extraordinary. Maybe that’s what it is.
Something about it made me smile, though, so here it is at the top of the list!