What I’m Reading 0013: 9/23/13

Time to review some comics! I don’t have much for my increasingly-canned intro, so let’s ROLL!

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1. Savage Dragon #191 (Image, W & A: Erik Larsen). Well, Larsen laid an egg here, after a string of recent excellence. There’s numerous sequences competing for attention here, but none of them are executed with any particular amount of finesse. We have, in order: Dragon’s space-daughter Lorella fighting against a Virus-Dragon (don’t ask) on a ship hurtling toward the sun, with no explanation given for what’s going on (fortunately this at least is rectified later in the issue); a prison breakout that results in nothing more than the needless and anticlimactic death of a longtime foe; an assassination attempt that acts as nothing more than an excuse for the old Dreadknight armor to get trotted back out; and finally, Malcolm’s girlfriend breaking up with him because of pressure from her parents. Any one or two of these would have been more than enough for a single issue, and decompressing the story load would have done wonders for fleshing out the plot points crammed in here. Nothing is really given room to breathe, and by that turn, nothing feels like it has much weight to it. Larsen gets in this frenetic pacing mode occasionally; it usually precedes him rushing to get to the next major storyarc. With Dragon’s death and the succession of Malcolm the major plot-to-come, it’s fairly obvious he’s itching to get there–too bad he’s running faster than his particular writing skills allow for, at least in this issue. Score: 5/10.

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2. Uncanny X-Men #12 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Chris Bachalo). Not a lot of ground is gained in this installment of “Battle of the Atom.” Young Cyclops and Jean Grey enlist Modern Cyclops’ rogue (no, not that Rogue!) X-Men to assist them in their bid to remain in the present and POTENTIALLY DESTROY THE SPACE/TIME CONTINUUM INSTEAD OF JUST GOING HOME AND NOT DOING THAT. Their insistence that risking all of reality, and all the lives therein, is worth their personal freedom to choose their own fate is a bit of a non-starter for me. Yes, the present sucks, but it’s already happened, dammit! The notion of fighting your destiny is a noble one, but frankly Young Cyke and Jean come off as naive and a bit petulant in their ongoing insistence that they can fight fate and to hell with everything/one else. As do Kitty Pryde and Rachel Grey, going against the grain of the rest of the X-Men in order to fight for the first generation’s freedom to choose and, again, possibly destroy all of reality. There’s a whole argument to be made as to whether or not they already did so the instant they were brought to modern times, and whether or not that act altered reality or created a divergent timeline, but I digress. The heart of this argument is, for me, an essentially selfish one when weighed against the lives of so many others, and thus puts me on the side against their personal freedom, which is an odd place to find myself. What a mark of good writing! The best writers force the reader to challenge themselves and their preconceived beliefs, which in a very unexpected way, Bendis and friends have done here in this crossover by asking: is the greater good more important than an individual’s personal freedom to choose their own path? It’s an age-old question presented as only the X-Men could. (Different scenarios call for different responses: no the “greater good” of the United States is NOT worth illegally wiretapping its citizens, just to pick a completely random example.) As for this issue, like I said, not a lot of ground is gained as Modern Cyclops decides to take up his younger self’s cause. The opening scene is a great one for Maria Hill and SHIELD, which humorously hammers home what a headache the X-Men would be for her. (“I had a dream the X-Men blew up the moon. …It was a very vivid dream.”) And of course the last page, neatly summarized in a brief meta-moment by Emma Frost: “The message boards would love this.” Yes indeed they would, just as I’m loving this story. Score: 8/10.

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3. Thor: God of Thunder #13 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Ron Garney). Uh, what the hell HAPPENED this issue? After twelve straight issues of the finest writing of Jason Aaron’s career, such a steep, precipitous drop in quality is unfathomable. But it has happened: once the finest book being produced by Marvel has suddenly turned into a crass advertisement for the upcoming Thor: The Dark World film. It’s all here: Malekith the Dark Elf is brought back into play, as are Sif and the Warriors Three. The story is paper-thin: Malekith is pulled out of his imprisonment in Hel by his disciples, all so he can go on a murderous romp throughout the nine realms. Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three follow in order to stop him. That’s it. Anyone trying to tell me this issue, and the rest of this arc, is anything other than a blanket attempt to cash in on the upcoming film sequel is utterly full of shit. Ron Garney’s art is and always has been lazy; why he continues to land such high-profile gigs such as this book is beyond me. Frankly he looks as though he laid out some rough sketches for each page and then had the mightily talented Ive Scorcina save his ass by coloring over all his shortcomings. I had a feeling this book might lose something post-Gorr, post-Esad Ribic, but I had no idea it would drop THIS far in quality. A sad state of affairs; I can only hope subsequent issues raise the bar back to at least SOMEWHERE near this book’s former glory. Score: 2/10.

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4. New Avengers #10 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Mike Deodato). In the latest “Infinity” installment, Jonathan Hickman gives us more insight into Thanos’ plan on Earth, and what he really wants. He’s after his bastard son, who is among the Inhumans, putting king Black Bolt in a sticky position: kill all Inhuman children ages 16-22 or have all of Attilan annihilated. But despite this thorny predicament, this is a fairly lightweight issue, chock-full of debate among the members of the Illuminati regarding this and the rest of the crises on Earth, i.e. the rest of Thanos’ as well as the incursions of alternate Earths, which up until “Infinity,” had been this book’s primary focus. How Hickman intends to tie this disparate plot thread into the larger tapestry of “Infinity” remains a mystery at this point, which isn’t helped by the fact that it’s been put on the backburner until now. Less an essential chapter of “Infinity” and more of a segue to the third issue of that series, there’s not too much here that’s necessary to the overall proceedings. Lots of good character stuff, though, including Dr. Strange’s denial/cover-up of his recent defeat at the hands of one of Thanos’ minions, as well as Namor outright lying about Atlantis being completely obliterated (as opposed to the fact that Namor actually screwed over Black Panther in order to secure safety for his people and further his war with Wakanda). I would have liked to have seen more forward progress, but then, that’s sometimes what tie-in issues to larger events do: tread water as a stop-gap to the next main issue. The trick lies in the execution. Even Deodato’s art is off a bit this issue; in certain panels peoples’ faces are distorted-looking, and Beast’s size in relation to the other characters is completely overblown. Not a completely horrid issue by any means, but don’t expect to feel like the larger picture of “infinity” is going to be bettered by this outing. Score: 5/10.

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5. Infinity #3 of 6 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Jerome Opena). Thanos learns a serious lesson in this issue: do NOT fuck with Black Bolt. And that’s all I’ll say on that front. This issue serves as the turning point for both the wars in space and on Earth, as the war against the Builders finally shifts in a positive direction once Captain America starts taking a more active hand in the battle strategy. It’s nice to see our heroes starting to rally and win some after getting their asses kicked thus far, although Black Bolt’s victory may prove to be Pyrrhic at best. We also see the Starbrand finally prove his worth, although making this guy an Avenger so soon after his introduction still strikes me as more of vanity move on Hickman’s part than something the character has proven to have legitimately earned. But, at least in terms of power set, the guy definitely gets a chance to shine this issue. This is the rare issue in a large-scale story like this that actually feels like a turning point; where Hickman’s going to go from here is anyone’s guess now that all bets are off. As with any story such as this, however, there’s very little doubt that the heroes will prevail; where a writer truly proves his or her worth his in the details of how they got there. Is the victory truly earned, or are the characters merely going through the motions, acting as chess pieces for the writer’s amusement? As we’re only at the halfway point of this Infinity gauntlet, I can only hazard a guess as to how events will play out, but as of now, everything points in the direction of solid craftsmanship winning the day. Score: 7/10.

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6. Daredevil #31 (Marvel, W: Mark Waid, A: Chris Samnee). Despite silly-looking Silver Age villain the Jester on the cover there, this is one deadly serious issue. Mark Waid not only comes up with a perfect allegory for the Trayvon Martin case, he also comes up with a way to address the public’s outrage over the verdict in a way that’s both smart and tactful without being preachy. It’s a very, very delicate balancing act here, as the entire subject is one that is extremely touchy and still fresh in the public’s mind. But that’s why comics like this exist, to challenge, to provoke thought and discussion, to rise to the challenge of their subject matter. Waid handles the situation in a mature way, playing “What If?” as the prosecutor, defeated in court for not being able to prove a racist old harpy’s guilt in the shooting death of a black child, beyond a reasonable doubt, suddenly decides to take justice into his own hands and reveal the jurors to the public, thus inciting violence, riots, and very, very serious threats of death. But only Daredevil can “see” the truth: the prosecutor, of course, did no such thing, but media manipulation courtesy of the Joker, er, the Jester broadcast the doctored footage across the country for the world to see. Immediate confusion results, and the reader is challenged by the notion of illegal mob justice (in this case representing a sense of actual justice) versus the fallacies of the court system (in this case performed a grave injustice by allowing the murderer of a child walk free). Despite the fact that the prosecutor is being set up by the racist Sons of the Serpent organization, who have in recent issues been infiltrating New York’s court system, the issue challenges the reader straightaway to take sides on this issue, by neatly illustrating that there are no sides, only victims. My hat’s off to ya, Mr. Waid. Score: 10/10.

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7. Powers: Bureau #7 (Marvel/Icon, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Michael Avon Oeming). The usual Powers “write-for-the-trade” mentality is shuffled aside for this issue, as Walker and Deena take a breather and deal with the fallout of the last arc’s events. Which is to say: Walker finds out Deena is pregnant thanks to the especially-icky guy who was getting powers semen on people and impregnating them via osmosis. Including men. While all this is going on, the agents are dealing with a homicide that eventually leads to a version of DC’s Triplicate Girl gone terribly wrong: the woman multiplied into five versions of herself, but then the multiples went off and decided to live their own lives without her permission. So she’s paying them back in kind for ruining her life in the only way she knows how, by putting bullets in their heads. Which opens a bizarre, only-in-comics philosophical issue: is she truly committing murder, since the duplicates are actually part of her? This issue had everything that has made Powers great over the years: a unique homicide involving superpowers, witty repartee, great character work, and Bendis’ deft sense of pacing holding the entire thing together. If you dropped this book due to its erratic shipping schedule and/or disillusion with volume three, now’s the time to come back, because the creators are writing and drawing the hell out of it like it’s 2001 all over again. Score: 8/10.

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8. 100 Bullets: Brother Lono #4 of 8 (DC/Vertigo, W: Brian Azzarello, A: Eduardo Risso). For a comic called Brother Lono, Lono sure doesn’t do much this issue. At all. Still wringing his hands over all the blood he’s spilled in his past, Lono guiltily fantasizes about biting an offending individual’s finger off (and swallowing it, naturally), then gets drunk and passes out the rest of the time. So it’s up to the supporting cast to fill in the blanks for the remainder of the issue, which is not a good sign since so many members of said supporting cast, the villains of the piece in particular, are so poorly fleshed out. We basically have generic drug dealers espousing the traditional razor-sharp Azzarello dialogue in lieu of actual character development, which is a serious problem this series has had from the start. I really want to care about Lono’s struggle to become a better man, but it’s hard to when Azzarello keeps giving that plot point (which should be the main point) short shrift when compared to the goings-on of the drug dealers who want to use the grounds of the church at which he’s staying as a staging ground for their operation. And this is a legitimately concerning issue, since we’re now at the halfway point of this miniseries, and I’m still waiting for everything to congeal and move forward. Azzarello famously juggled second- and third-tier characters’ arcs amidst the larger story of 100 Bullets, but there he had space to breathe and allow for his plot points to grow organically at their own pace. But here, it seems he’s trying to take his time again, but with only four more issues to go, I’m not certain everything isn’t going to wind up feeling crammed in at the end. And now that the story of the World’s Hottest Nun has taken its own unexpected turn, all these tangles don’t look to be straightening out anytime soon. Score: 5/10.

I may currently be unable to meet my personal goal of getting at least four posts up a week on this blog, thanks to a super-hectic work schedule, but don’t think I’ve abandoned it. If nothing else, I’ll always squeeze in a What I’m Reading installment each week, at least until my time frees up a bit and I have more time to write. After all, I’m still reading comics every week, which means I have the opportunity to steer you all in the right direction for how to spend your hard-earned money every week, too. (Hint: buy less DC.)

~ILL DIABLO~

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What I’m Reading 0012: 9/15/13

Welcome back for another edition of What I’m Reading! As usual, I’m running a bit late with this installment, so please excuse the tardiness as I yap about comics that are nearly a week old now. As ever and without further ado, let the games begin!

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1. The Walking Dead #114 (Image, W: Robert Kirkman, A: Charlie Adlard). Any comic that blasphemously features a guy named Jesus kicking peoples’ asses on the cover is all right in my book. In this final chapter before “All Out War,” all of Rick’s recent mistakes come home to roost, putting both his followers’ faith in his leadership and their overall security at risk. Thanks to his overeagerness in trying to kill Negan, all hell breaks loose, and even Ezekiel’s tiger gets in on the action. Fuck you to all haters who despise Ezekiel’s tiger, dammit! But just as Rick’s overconfidence, blows a major advantage he and his allies have against the Saviors, Jesus shows up to reassure Rick that he is the only one capable of leading the group effort against them. All of this serves to set Rick up as a fallible leader, but still a guy the people can believe in and follow. So why does it feel like we’ve been at this for a little too long now? The Negan storyline is ostensibly poised to wrap over the course of the next twelve issues, adding to the feeling that it’s already been going on forever. The key fallacy with this story is just how much the zombies have been taken out of the overall context of the book. Yes, yes, Kirkman’s stated on numerous occasions that zombies are only a part of his overall tale of society rebuilding itself in their wake. But at this point they’re such an afterthought, and are handled so easily, that they don’t even feel like any kind of a threat anymore. When was the last time we even saw someone eaten by zombies? I racked my brain, but it’s been awhile. So while I have to give Kirkman props for having his grand experiment move forward and evolve in a logical way, I fear he’s lost sight of what this comic’s been about from the start: MOTHERFUCKING ZOMBIES EATING MOTHERFUCKING PEOPLE!! It’s still a solid read, though. Just don’t expect any gruesome zombie-related deaths anytime soon. Lastly, that final page: if Kirkman wanted to undersell me on the Saviors’ threat, this cheap play for laughs was just the way to do it. Oops. Score: 7/10.

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2. X-Men #5 (Marvel, W: Brian Wood, A: David Lopez). If you want to hook a reader into a book, you give it an eye-catching cover that stands out on the racks among the rest of the detritus. Clearly, however, nobody told cover artist Arthur Adams this, as he turns out this exceedingly dull, by-the-numbers piece for this month’s issue of Brian Wood’s up-’til-now superb X-Men. I mention the cover first because it’s indicative of what’s going on inside: a blah, dull excuse at wedging a crossover into a book whose writer clearly isn’t feeling it. Brian Wood’s entry for “Battle of the Atom” here feels stilted and rote; it’s very clearly outside of his characters-first comfort zone. We get more intergenerational minglings between the Young, Modern, and Future X-Men, none of which adds any particular depth to their relationships. We get Young Cyclops and Jean Grey on the run, gabbing on and on about nothing we haven’t already heard from them vis-a-vis their reasons for bolting. We get Kitty Pryde and Rachel Grey deciding to go against the grain of the rest of the X-Men, and we get Young Cyclops and Jean hooking up with the most expected and thus least surprising people on the planet in their bid to, y’know, not go back to the past where they belong and thus STOP endangering the very fabric of reality. Damn kids today! David Lopez’s art is woefully underwhelming; just check out Jubilee’s expression in the last panel of page twelve if you don’t believe me. Is she trying to pass a kidney stone here? Bite through her upper lip? Most other panels are simply boring to look at. There’s no dynamism, nothing to get excited about, nothing that stands out. Lopez is clearly an amateur not ready for the big time. As for Wood, he needs to stick to what he does best, which is characterization. Lines such as Rachel Grey’s “Just watch and see how hard I stress-eat these P.C.U. noodles” in light of meeting (SPOILER) Future Jean Grey are great mini-moments of characterization, and are signature lines of dialogue in the Wood tradition. (Rachel Grey stress eats? Who knew? Great stuff!) Too bad the bulk of this issue is filled with garbage like, “Sure, it’s dangerous. But life is dangerous.” Blech. Wood is so much better than that. Here’s hoping that in a couple of months, after the current crossover is done, he gets back in step with his strengths as a writer. Until then, he’s really just a round peg in an x-shaped hole. Score: 5/10.

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3. Captain America #11 (Marvel, W: Rick Remender, A: Carlos Pacheco). If anyone could use a break, it’s Cap. Too bad Rick Remender has no intention of giving the poor guy one! In the aftermath of the Dimension Z saga, Cap finds himself once again a man out of time, having spent more time in that hell-dimension than he had in our modern world. Struggling to readapt, and racked with grief over the loss of not one but two people he loved in the last couple of issues (or so he thinks, anyway), Remender has struck upon a brilliant way to reinforce just who Steve Rogers is and why he embodies The Best of Us as Captain America. It’s the cap mythos writ new for the 21st century. Fortunately, Cap’s not alone in his struggle to readjust: Jet Black is here with him, attempting to live life in this World She Never Made alongside Steve. The difference is that she has no frame of reference whatsoever for life on Earth; Cap even has to define for her the “pained longing” over the deaths of her father and brother as “mourning. Grief at the loss of someone you cared for.” The issue ends with Cap trying to tell Jet that living in the past is no way to live; she counters with a brilliant argument that leads to the issue concluding in a quiet, somber manner that I’m sure longtime Cap fans will be moaning over for months but in actuality is a brilliant means of leaving Cap’s future wide-open and uncertain. My only real complaint with this issue is the art: Carlos Pacheco continues to simply be whatever he needs to be for the story instead of an artist in his own right. Here, with the inking assist of Klaus Janson, he’s clearly channeling his inner John Romita Jr. at the behest of the editors in order to create a sense of artistic continuity between the two pencillers. It doesn’t really work, and his pencils mostly just feel like they’re either unfinished, rushed, or merely aping JRJR. A completely solid issue otherwise. Remender’s long-term course is clearer now, much to my delight. If you left this book in frustration during the overly-long Dimension Z story, now’s the time to come back. Cap hasn’t been this consistently good since before the last numerical reboot. Score: 9/10.

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4. Avengers #19 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Leinil Francis Yu). Avengers getting tortured by aliens is a seemingly-constant reoccuring plot point in the Avengers books, at least since “The Kree-Skrull War.” Aliens are assholes, basically. That’s pretty much the gist of this issue, as the Builders attempt to zero in on Carol Danvers’ unique human/Kree biology, and do other dastardly things in the process. Elsewhere, one of the glactic war council, one J-Son of Spartax tries to pull a fast one on the rest of the alliance in order to get his planet and people spared the Builder’s relentless and seemingly unstoppable assault. (Turns out to be a ploy by Cap, BTW. J-Son’s a dick, but not a traitor.) The guy’s a major arrogant prick; he even has the balls to tell Captain America and Thor their backwater world’s assistance isn’t needed. You’d think at this point in Marvel continuity, there wouldn’t be a sentient being left in the galaxy who doesn’t know how awesome the Avengers are at saving, well, everything. That there’s still someone like this in a leadership position is a bit of a cognitive dissonance at this point.  Who the hell wouldn’t be falling over themselves to get Captain Freakin’ America’s thoughts on how to beat the unbeatable alien armada? And what about Thor? The guy’s A GOD, for cryin’ out loud! Anyway, this issue didn’t do a whole hell of a lot for me, as several things happen, but none of it amounts to much. As I’ve stated before, Hickman needs to remember the value of having an individual issue within a larger story stand out on its own, and not be beholden so entirely to what’s come before and will come hence. Score: 6/10.

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5. Kick-Ass 3 #3 of 8 (Marvel/Icon, W: Mark Millar, A: John Romita Jr.). Sometimes, Mark Millar just needs to be smacked. He has a tendency to get so caught up in how clever he thinks he is, he misses extremely obvious stuff. Case in point: Hit-Girl’s current incarceration. She’s been put in solitary confinement, yet insists she can come and go as she pleases. That, and she has the pull to manipulate other prisoners to do he dirty work for her. To illustrate this, she has one of the prisoners filch her (third) psychiatrist’s cigarettes and deliver them to her, all before the poor schmuck even gets to sit down with her for the first time. Later in the issue, she insists that she’ll be escaping prison herself soon. So clever! EXCEPT… if that’s true, then what the hell was the point of the botched break-out attempt by Kick-Ass and Justice Forever in issue one? To push that even further, what the hell was the point of sending her to jail in the first place, since the only thing she’s done since has been rack up a body count and allow Millar to constantly tell us how badass she is? Fortunately, that’s really my only major complaint here. Kick-Ass continues to prove that he is actually starting to have what it takes to be a real threat to organized crime, despite his inane cohorts botching their attempt at having a “Batman Year One” moment in a raid. All of which underscores the fact that he’s almost certainly about to have a steep, steep fall from grace, courtesy of a woman he’s been dating (in his uniform, naturally) who might not be as innocently into him as she seems. The stakes continue to rise all around as Millar brings all things Kick-Ass to a head. Despite Millar’s inherent and apparently unavoidable Millar-ness, I’m enjoying the hell out of this series, warts and all. Romita Jr. continues to show his flexibility as an artist, easily shifting between his clean style here and his messier, more abstract style on his recently-wrapped Captain America run. I’m going to miss Dave Lizewski when he’s gone, but Millar and Romita Jr. are well on their way to bringing his story to a logical, well-rounded conclusion. Score: 8/10.

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6. Sidekick #2 of 12 (Image/Joe’s Comics, W: J. Michael Straczynski, A: Tom Mandrake). Things do not get better for Barry, A.K.A. Flyboy, this issue. In the wake of his mentor the Red Cowl’s “death,” he’s an alcoholic mess, unable to cope with death or his own public irrelevance. We get a flashback to his origin (a twisted take on the classic Bruce Wayne avenge-thy-parents myth), and a look into the Red Cowl’s relationship with Joan Darling, a Lois Lane-esque reporter who took the step Lois never did and routinely banged our hero’s brains out. Unbeknownst to her, however, Barry was listening in on their after-hours goings-on on a pretty regular basis, smiling and jerking off the whole time. Um, ew? Flash forward to today, and Barry, drunk off his ass and commiserating with Joan, tries to get a little sympathy sex… which is NOT reciprocated by Joan. And this is after Barry visits a supposedly-friendly scientist in an attempt to find out whether or not Red Cowl is still alive in an alternate reality somewhere, who turns cruel and reinforces the public’s notion that Barry and Red Cowl were lovers. OUCH… Barry is not a likeable character, but that’ the point. He’s Robin gone terribly, terribly wrong. Half the fun of this comic is watching just how far he’s willing to fall before he finally gets his shit together. He does bad things, he screws up, he makes some of the worst decisions a person could make. All this is to illustrate that our heroes have feet of clay, too. But it’s not executed in a nasty, superhero paradigm-destroying way, as Warren Ellis or Garth Ennis might approach the subject. Straczynski lets just enough of Barry’s humanity shine through while he’s making these awful decisions that we understand that he’s a basically decent person underneath it all; he’s just horribly weak and unable to overcome his personal failings. We all can sympathize with that notion, I think, which is why Barry isn’t totally irredeemable, and in time will become a character worth rooting for. Which is ultimately Straczynski’s point. If only Tom Mandrake’s art were up to the task of supporting JMS’s story. His faces are frequently off-kilter and flat, or just plain awkward looking. He’s basically doing a weak take on Astro City‘s Brent Anderson, and not even pulling it off all that well. Hopefully he improves as the series continues, but even if he doesn’t, this is still a great comic worth checking out. Score: 7/10.

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7. Astro City #4 (DC/Vertigo, W: Kurt Busiek, A: Brent Anderson). Thank you thank you thank you thank you THANK YOU Kurt Busiek for finally getting this volume of AC on track! Astro City has always been at its best when exposing a previously-unthought of slice of superhuman existence and imbuing it with the humanity of an everyday joe. Here Busiek reintroduces us to Maddy Sullivan, last seen in a supporting role in AC volume 2 #22 waaaaay back in 2000. Maddy’s an FX tech in Hollywood whose telekinetic abilities allow her to give directors their effects without the budget (or, apparently, the CGI). She’s also one of a number of everyday folks who have superhuman abilities but have no desire to get out there and save the world. What do they do? They live life amongst the crowd, blending in, finding ways to live modestly with their powers. They also network, and have get-togethers on occasion, sort of a support group for non-heroes. Anything other than pull on a pair of tights and fight crime. But sometimes a villain will pop up who doesn’t get the message: in this issue, a dork named Major Domo (who doesn’t realize that a majordomo is just a head flunky, not the guy in charge) kidnaps Maddy and some of of her other superpowered friends to work for him as slaves in his bid to Rule the World. As you might imagine, this doesn’t go too well. Just because they aren’t above-it-all heroes doesn’t mean they aren’t able to fend for themselves. This issue gets right down to the core of what Astro City is about: ordinary folks living in a world with superheroes. After three not-so-solid issues beforehand, Busiek getting back to his roots here is the real welcome return for this book I’ve been impatiently waiting for. Too bad Alex Ross is still off his game, though: his cover is too busy, and the fore- and background blend together rather than create a sense of depth. This is due to an overuse of similar colors in both (also: what the hell’s the deal with the S&M chick on the far right?), that causes the image to become jumbled. Weirdly, this is not the first time Ross has had this problem on this volume of AC. His cover images, once so striking and singular, are now just a hodgepodge of characters with no real depth. But whatever. Ross can do whatever he wants, because Busiek and Anderson are the real stars here. Welcome back, guys. And this time, I really mean it. Score: 9/10.

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8. Aquaman: Black Manta #23.1 (DC, W: Geoff Johns and Tony Bedard, A: Claude St. Aubin). And because no What I’m Reading would be complete without me bitching about DC in some way (they deserve it though), here we have the first of two Aquaman issues to tie into the astoundingly lame Villains Month. Here we have Black Manta, chillin’ like a villain (sorry, couldn’t resist) in Belle Reve penitentiary when the whole “death” of the Justice League goes down and the Crime Syndicate shows up to run the DCU. As a show of good faith, they bust a number of supervillains out of jail, and will keep them in their good graces, provided they work for them. This holds no appeal to Black Manta once he finds out Aquaman is “dead,” however, since his only reason for being one of the bad guys was to see Arthur Curry dead for killing his father (neat trick on Johns’ part: Aquaman actually did kill the guy’s dad, although it was a case of mistaken identity). This story couldn’t be more half-assed if it tried. First of all, we have the token “Amanda Waller offering the villain a chance at joining the Suicide Squad” scene, which has been played out so many times most fans can recite it by heart. The very definition of boring filler, as it adds absolutely NOTHING to the story at hand, especially since Manta tells Waller he isn’t interested. Secondly, during the prison breakout, we see Ocean Master up and heading out alongside the rest of the villains. This means that the entire subplot that’s ran through the last five issues or so revolving round Tula and pals attempting to break him out of jail has been rendered completely pointless. So thanks for wasting my time with that, Johns. Third problem: the story is asking you to believe that Black Manta is finished as a villain, since his raison d’etre is dead and gone. It’s also asking you to buy into the “deaths” of the entire Justice League, which is the very definition of stupidity (read: Forever Evil is therefore utterly stupid too). The League will be back and so will Black Manta. There was absolutely nothing of merit in this issue that moved the overall story forward in a meaningful way. Johns must have known he had weak goods on his hands, which is why he brought perpetually lackluster writer Tony Bedard on as co-author here. But the fact that he so willingly allowed such a dud into his larger Aquaman scheme proves that he doesn’t really care about story anymore. He only cares about kissing as much corporate DC ass as possible. Score: 2/10.

B’deh, b’deh, b’deh, that’s all folks! Tune in next time as I alternately worship and savage more comics I’ve spent my hard-earned money on. ‘Til then, keep reading those funnybooks!

~ILL DIABLO~

DC’s Big Gay Batwoman Faux Pas Continues to Suck Dick

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I have some pretty strong feelings regarding DC’s recent ejection of writers/artist J.H. Williams III and Haden Blackman from their Batwoman title. (Technically, yes, they quit–but considering the near-constant harassment the duo suffered at the hands of editorial, their quitting was a pretty clear-cut sign that this was the end result DC was hoping for, they just didn’t have the balls to outright fire the creative team of their most gay-friendly book.) Hell, if you read the internet, you know MOST comics fans have strong feelings on this. But, based on the writers’ own words in the fallout of the debacle, I was willing to give DC the benefit of the doubt, as according to them, their termination was based not on homophobic sentiment but rather “eleventh-hour editorial decisions.”

Recent events have caused me to rethink my position.

Dan DiDio recently announced at the Baltimore Comic-Con that the outgoing writers were to be replaced by one Marc Andreyko. On the one hand, Andreyko is a decent enough writer whose style is reminiscent of the neo-noir currently working its mojo in Batwoman; his Manhunter series could actually be said to have all the DNA of the current Batwoman book except for the art itself; and he drew Brian Michael Bendis’s stellar Torso true-crime series back in 2000. But on the other hand…

MARC ANDREYKO IS OPENLY GAY. Holy “trying to cover up our boneheaded blunder by committing another boneheaded blunder,” Batman!

Hiring an openly-gay writer when the majority of comicdom is heaving accusation bricks of homophobia through your window is nothing more than a shallow, callous PR stunt. Andreyko didn’t get hired for his talent; he got hired for his sexuality. “Hey look, kids, we’re not homophobic! Here’s a brand-new GAY writer for ya, to prove we aren’t anti-gay marriage!” Mr. Andreyko should be utterly appalled at this transparent misuse of, well, him. He’s being used as a commodity and nothing more. Something to put a bright, shiny, gay-friendly face on the fact that DC put so much concentrated editorial pressure on two writers that they ultimately felt forced to quit rather than continue to battle to uphold the integrity of their lesbian characters getting married. And the fact that the new writer was announced by Dan DiDio himself makes me feel more certain than ever that the genesis of this homophobia can be found in his office.

“Gasp! My secret’s been revealed!” the villainous DiDio (probably) thought. “But if I can just…. lift…. a gay man to… the writers’ chair…. the world will… NOT think I’m… a raging homophobe! Aunt May… Mary… Jane…”

Okay, I made that last part up. Dan DiDio probably hates the elderly and redheads too, and thus would never think of Aunt May and Mary Jane in a time of life-and-death struggle beneath the crushing weight of accusations.

I’m more than a little shocked that Mr. Andreyko doesn’t see how callously he’s being used and has accepted the writing assignment. So either he’s the most bug-fuckingly naive man on the planet, or he’s being paid a fortune not to give a fuck. Either way, he’s a puppet who’s willing to stand on the still-smoldering creative corpses of the men who came before him on Batwoman. Someone had to to it; luckily DC had this monkey in the Rolodex who just happened to be an openly gay man. Cha-ching! Having a gay writer write a book about two gay women who for some as-yet-revealed reason will decide NOT to have a gay wedding is TOTALLY COOL, right?! Even professional moron Sarah Palin would have a problem saying, “You betcha!” to THAT scenario!

But of course, this being DC, it actually gets worse. December’s #26 was originally announced as Williams III’s and Blackman’s final issue, allowing them to wrap their current storyarc. WELL GUESS WHAT, SPORTS FANS?! DC’S SCREWING  THEM OVER ON THAT, TOO!!

That’s right. November’s #25 will be Andreyko’s first issue, meaning DC has completely scrapped whatever ending the previous writers had in mind with something completely new, completely in line with the company standards of homophobia, and in all likelihood, a complete reversal of what was originally intended. Will Batwoman’s fiance Maggie die, thus negating the wedding issue entirely? Will Batwoman suddenly realize she’s straight, and just to prove it to both herself and readers, suck thirty-seven dicks (in a row?) on a street corner? Or will the issue of her sexuality be completely written out of the book, or backburnered to the point of irrelevance? Or, will the entire issue of her sexuality be handled in a completely inept and “safe” way, making it PC and as kiddie-friendly as the Disney Channel? Frankly, this being DC, I can see any of the above happening. In a fucking heartbeat.

There is nothing about this entire sordid story that doesn’t piss me off. Frankly, if you’re not pissed off, you’re probably the type of backwards-ass redneck dinosaur who thinks gay marriage ought to be illegal, and in which case, fuck you very sincerely. Someone at DC needs to be held accountable. Someone needs to be fired. And DC needs to do the right thing and rehire Williams III and Blackman. They’ve done it before with Gail Simone and Batgirl; they can do it here too. Oh, and someone needs to beat the living shit out of Dan DiDio with baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire until he agrees to quit DC altogether.

But hey, that’s just my opinion.

~ILL DIABLO~

When Villains Attack… Your Wallet

On my last post, I reviewed the first Villains Month issue of Detective Comics, featuring Poison Ivy. I was exceedingly angry about the duplicitous nature of the issue, as it was being forced on me as part of the ‘Tec (early ’90s abbreviation shout-out!!) run but in actuality was nothing more than a crassly-marketed filler issue by a no-name writer and artist. There’s no listing of creators on the cover, so I had no reason to assume anyone other than regular writer John Layman was writing the issue! Little did I know it was, in truth, written by a guy with a name that sounds like a vaguely Germanic version of Fritos!

So, yes, shockingly, DC’s pulling a fast one on us readers with this Villains Month crap. It shouldn’t shock me because a) it’s DC, and b) no one writer is going to get four issues of, say, Action Comics out in a month on top of their usual workload (with the exception of Flash co-scribe Brian Buccellato, who did in fact write or co-write all three of his books for this month). So with that in mind, I decided to do YOU a service and find out which books are by fill-in creators and should probably be avoided, and which are real deal. Here’s the thing, though: just because I’m saying to avoid something, doesn’t necessarily mean I think the issue will be BAD per se (there are a lot of decent writers pinch hitting on books they don’t ordinarily work on). My beef is that it’s being unfairly foisted on unsuspecting readers, packaged as one thing but in actuality something else entirely. That’s a completely unfair move by DC, one designed specifically to dig into unsuspecting fans’ pockets. In other words, bullshit. (Something DC’s pretty familiar with by now.)

1. Swamp Thing: Arcane #23.1 by regular writer Charles Soule: REAL DEAL

2. Batman: Bane #23.4 by guest writer Peter Thomasi: AVOID

3. Superman: Bizarro #23.1 by guest writer Sholly Fisch: AVOID (and seriously, “Sholly Fisch??”)

4. Justice League of America: Black Adam #23.4 by regular writer Geoff Johns & Sterling Gates: REAL DEAL

5. Green Lantern: Black Hand #23.3 by guest writer Charles Soule: AVOID (although it’s probably a good idea to avoid the entire GL line right now)

6. Aquaman: Black Manta #23.1 by regular writer Geoff Johns and guest co-writer Tony Bedard: REAL DEAL

7. Superman: Brainiac #23.2 by guest writer Tony Bedard: AVOID

8. Wonder Woman: Cheetah #23.1 by guest writer John Ostrander: AVOID

9. Batman: The Dark Knight: Clayface #23.3 by guest writer John Layman: AVOID

10. Green Arrow: Count Vertigo #23.1 by regular writer Jeff Lemire: REAL DEAL

11. Batman & Robin: Court of Owls #23.2 by guest writer James Tynion IV: AVOID 

12. Justice League Dark: The Creeper #23.1 by guest writer Ann Nocenti: AVOID (also a good idea to avoid ANYTHING Nocenti touches)

13. Action Comics: Cyborg Superman #23.1 by guest writer Michael Alan Nelson (who?): AVOID

14. Justice League: Darkseid #23.1 by guest writer Greg Pak: AVOID

15. Justice League of America: Deadshot #7.1 by sorta-regular writer Matt Kindt (he’s been writing all the back-up stories): REAL DEAL

16. Teen Titans: Deathstroke #23.2 by guest writers Corey Mays & Dooma Wendschuh (they made that up, right?): AVOID

17. Earth 2: Desaad #15.1 by guest writer Paul Levitz: AVOID

18. Justice League: Dial E #23.3 by guest writer China Mieville: AVOID (unless you read the recently-cancelled Dial H series, which was by Mieville)

19. Batman/Superman: Doomsday #3.1 by regular writer Greg Pak: REAL DEAL

20. Justice League Dark: Eclipso #23.2 by guest writer Dan DiDio: AVOID

21. Wonder Woman: First Born #23.2 by regular writer Brian Azzarello: REAL DEAL

22. The Flash: Grodd #23.1 by regular writer Brian Buccellato: REAL DEAL

23. Superman: H’el #23.3 by regular writer Scott Lobdell: REAL DEAL

24. Detective Comics: Harley Quinn #23.2 by guest writer Matt Kindt: AVOID

25. Batman: The Joker #23.1 by guest writer Andy Kubert: AVOID

26. Batman: The Dark Knight: Joker’s Daughter #23.4 by guest writer Ann Nocenti: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE

27. Batman & Robin: Killer Croc #23.4 by guest writer Tim Seeley: AVOID

28. Justice League of America: Killer Frost #7.2 by guest writer Sterling Gates: AVOID

29. Action Comics: Lex Luthor #23.3 by guest writer Charles Soule: AVOID

30. Justice League: Lobo #23.3 by guest writer Marguerite Bennet: AVOID (unless you just HAVE to read the debut of the emo Lobo)

31. Detective Comics: Man-Bat #23.4 by guest writer Frank Tieri: AVOID

32. Action Comics: Metallo #23.4 by guest writer Sholly Fisch: AVOID

33. Green Lantern: Mongul #23.2 by guest writer Jim Starlin: AVOID

34. Batman: The Dark Knight: Mr. Freeze #23.2 by guest writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray: AVOID

35. Aquaman: Ocean Master #23.2 by regular writer Geoff Johns and guest co-writer Sterling Gates: REAL DEAL (even Geoff Johns needs a little help sometimes!)

36. Superman: Parasite #23.4 by guest writer Aaron Kuder: AVOID

37. Detective Comics: Poison Ivy #23.1 by Derek Fridolfs: AVOID

38. Batman & Robin: R’as Al Ghul and the League of Assassins #23.3 by guest writer James Tynion IV: AVOID

39. Green Lantern: Relic #23.1 by regular writer Robert Venditti: REAL DEAL

40. The Flash: Reverse-Flash #23.2 by regular writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato: REAL DEAL

41. Batman: The Riddler #23.2 by regular writer Scott Snyder and guest co-writer Ray Fawkes: REAL DEAL

42. The Flash: The Rogues #23.3 by regular writer Brian Buccellato: REAL DEAL

43. Detective Comics: Scarecrow #23.3 by guest writer Peter Tomasi: AVOID

44. Justice League: Secret Society #23.4 by regular writer Geoff Johns and guest co-writer Sterling Gates: REAL DEAL

45. Justice League of America: Shadow Thief #7.3 by guest writer Tom DeFalco: AVOID (didn’t the end of the ’90s kill this guy?)

46. Green Lantern: Sinestro #23.4 by guest writer Matt Kindt: AVOID

47. Earth 2: Solomon Grundy #15.2 by guest writer Matt Kindt: AVOID

48. Teen Titans: Trigon #23.1 by guest writer Marv Wolfman: AVOID

49. Batman & Robin: Two-Face by regular writer Peter Tomasi: REAL DEAL

50. Batman: The Dark Knight: Ventriloquist #23.1 by guest writer Gail Simone: AVOID

51. Action Comics: Zod #23.2 by guest writer Greg Pak: AVOID

52. Batman: The Penguin #23.3 by guest writer Frank Tieri: AVOID

And there you go, a complete listing of all of the Villains Month crap. Apparently DC didn’t feel like giving all of its titles the luxury treatment of being involved in this shallow, money-raking disaster, because there’s a veritable bumper crop of titles missing from the list: apparently Animal Man, All-Star Western, Batgirl, Batwoman, Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Constantine, Green Lantern: The New Guardians, Green Lantern Corps, The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires, Justice League of America’s Vibe, Katana, Larfleeze, Legends of the Dark Knight, The Movement, Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Red Lanterns, Stormwatch, Suicide Squad, Superboy, Supergirl, Superman Unchained, and Talon weren’t good enough to make the Villains Month cut. Of those comics, only Legends of the Dark Knight is even seeing print this month! Now, add that to the fact that thirty-six out of fifty-two of these books are written by guest writers, many of whom are no-name freelancers, and you suddenly have a situation where it’s very easy to see DC getting to save a buck by publishing a massive amount of books by lesser (read: lower-paid) writers, while simultaneously bringing in more on the bottom line by tricking readers into buying $3.99 comics they wouldn’t ordinarily by not advertising the fact that the most current issue of their favorite book is being written by a guy named “Dooma.” Tricky.

So, then, my advice is this: when in doubt, throw it out. Villain Month is nothing more than a shameless marketing move by DC to steal YOUR hard-earned money for product they KNOW is crap, or at least sub-par. Sure, you’re still getting Wonder Woman by Azzarello and two issues of Aquaman by Geoff Johns. But you’re ALSO being hawked another issue of Wonder Woman by has-been John Ostrander and both of the Aquamans are co-written by hired goons! Even when they get it right, they fuck it up!

But seriously, a lot of these issues–which essentially amount to nothing more than filing cabinet fill-in issues–are written by guys who are in fact talented. I feel bad for Matt Kindt, Greg Pak, and Gail Simone, all talented writers, for getting sucked into this nonsense. But I just couldn’t let DC continue to pull the wool over the eyes of anyone else. Buy all the Villain Month books you want, but remember: DC’s going to be laughing at you all the way to the bank.

What I’m Reading 0011: 9/6/13

Welcome back ME, bereft of my usual punctuality when it comes to getting things posted 3-4 times a week. Hey, working overnights will do that to a guy! September kicked off several stories but also brought another to a close in a bittersweet manner. So let’s start things off with a dive deep into the pool of Peter David. (Note: not as gross as it sounds.)

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1. X-Factor #262 (Marvel, W: Peter David, A: Neil Edwards). So at last it comes, the end of Peter David’s second tenure with the X-Factor crew, a team he basically grew from the ground up, using discarded C-list X-Men characters as the fertile soil to grow something new, personal, and always strong in characterization. The cover shows Jamie Madrox turning over a “closed” sign on the window of X-Factor Investigations, and although this team hasn’t really acted in an investigatory capacity for quite some time now, it’s still a nice little nod to where the book started. We circle back around to where this final arc began, with Layla Miller and her hubs Jamie hiding out at his old family farm. Jamie’s still stuck in demon form (thanks to that asshole Mephisto), with little to no personality left of his old self. Layla, now pregnant, is getting desperate for a way to revert Jamie back to normal, as all attempts thus far have failed. “Knowing stuff” doesn’t really sort this particular problem out for her. Enter a deus ex machina in the form of Siryn, A.K.A. Theresa Cassidy, A.K.A. Banshee’s daughter, A.K.A. some kinda Celtic goddess now. Timely interventions abound as the police close in on Layla, (correctly) believing she’s trespassing on the property. What follows is more than a bit predictable, but nonetheless, it brings a very nice sense of closure to at least one X-Factor plot thread (and ooooo boy were there a LOT of them). Of course, there’s quite a bit David left unfinished, but perhaps intentionally so, as the end of issue 260 and the author himself hinted at in the back of this particular issue. Is there a spin-off in the works? A reboot? David says he’ll have an announcement in about a month or so, so I guess I’ll just have to sit tight. Regardless, this was a solid, well-written, well-paced issue that serves as a firm, but not definitive, ending for this series. Throughout X-Factor‘s run, Peter David has crafted smart, quirky tales of just about every genre under the sun, and populated them with characters that he himself willed into multi-faceted, three-dimensional people. Simply put, there hasn’t been a Marvel (let alone an X-Men) book like it, with a large ensemble cast so masterfully juggled. Whatever Peter David’s future with these characters holds, he ought to be damn proud of what he accomplished here. Score: 7/10.

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2. X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Frank Cho). I’ll say this about Brian Michael Bendis: he may occasionally take his sweet time getting to the damn point, but when he does, it’s typically worth it (notable exception: Age of Ultron). After slogging through the last fifteen issues of his All-New X-Men, and watching his Uncanny X-Men falter at first as it tried to figure out what the hell it’s about, we come to this “Battle of the Atom” crossover, the capper on the first arc of his run. What a way to snap things into focus, too: after Young Cyclops is killed by a Sentinel, and the X-Men watch Modern Cyclops vanish from thin air before reappearing as Christopher Muse resuscitates Young Cyke. The latter-day X-Men then decide enough’s enough and that it’s time to send the young whippersnappers home. But wait! Because this is an X-Men story, things HAVE to get convoluted fast!! And that’s just what happens when… wait for it…. a team of X-Men from the FUTURE shows up to tell the modern X-Men they have to send the youngsters back before irreparable damage is done to their future! That’s a lot of crazy, even for the X-Men. The Future X-Men consist of a still-further mutated Beast, a crazier-than-ever Deadpool, an old Kitty Pryde (“Remind me to moisturize,” her modern counterpart cracks), the grandson of Charles Xavier, some kind of mutant ice-creature that may or may not be Iceman, Molly Hayes from Runaways (yay!), and a mystery chick in a Xorn mask. As I stated, they have one simple message: send the Young X-Men back to where they belong NOW, or the future suffers horribly. This all seems moot, of course, since the Modern X-Men were just about to do that thing, right? Well… this being a superhero comic, things get out of hand rather quickly. The Young X-Men feel the urge to fight destiny by being sent back to undoubtedly have their memories of our time erased by Xavier, condemned to the mistakes and horrors (and in Jean’s case, multiple deaths) that are in store for them. The debate turns into a free will versus destiny argument, which FINALLY gives us a more solid idea of the theme Bendis has been chasing with his X-Men run. After all, if you knew your future involved having your wings amputated and replaced with mechanical death instruments, your skin turned blue, your humanity lost, and your personality completely stripped away, what would you do? You’d fight like hell. But the Future X-Men are now in the mix to say: tough shit. Frank Cho’s art left me in the cold as usual; I simply don’t think he has the best aptitude for superhero comics (unless, of course, it was an all-women comic). But the story holds up, and thank Odin for it giving me some relief where Bendis’s X-tenure is concerned. Now that his long-term game plan is finally bearing fruit, maybe future issues will have more meat to them. Score: 8/10.

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3. All-New X-Men #16 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Stuart Immonen).  The Future X-Men storm the present in part two of “Battle of the Atom.” Whys and wherefores abound after an unfortunately predictable Misunderstanding Fight breaks out between our two groups of heroes. Bendis pulls one of his favorite tricks (read: we’ve seen him do this before multiple times) by having a scene play out, ending with something unexplained happening, and then have the scene play out again from a different person’s perspective so that we glean insight into the unexplained thing that just happened. In this case, it’s Young Jean Grey forcing Wolverine to pop claws and attack the Future X-Men, while she and Young Cyclops decide to fight fate and go on the lam together. I wish a little more forward momentum had been made in this issue, since it’s essentially no more than a decompressed sequence of, “Wha?” “Where?” “Who?” and “Why?” as the aforementioned meet-and-greets between the different X-generations occur. Stuart Immonen is his usual solid-but-not-flashy self, and as I mentioned in the review for X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1, Bendis is finally putting some teeth into his X-Men tenure. This looks to be a fun story overall, and a definite game changer for the foreseeable future (until the next game changer… this is Marvel, after all). Score: 7/10.

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4. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #3 (Marvel, W: Nick Spencer, A: Steve Lieber). First of all: AWESOME cover. The look of abject terror in Ben Franklin’s eyes is absolutely priceless, as is the sheer imaginative effort put into the overall art. Boomerang’s quest to become a respectable super-villain continues here, as he rehashes the urban legend of the head of Silvio Silvermane (an exceedingly lame ’80s/early ’90s Web of Spider-Man villain), to great comedic effect, then immediately flips the script on his own story and tells us what “really” happened to the guy’s head. Both tales are equally ridiculous, but the second has an air of bitterness to it that gives it more legitimacy. Boomerang’s also been saddled with a parole officer in the form of Mach VII, A.K.A. Abner Jenkins, the first Beetle, with whom Boomerang has worked before, most notably in the Sinister Syndicate. Mach VII is depicted here as well-meaning loser who really feels we should all just get along, and decidedly lowers that boom when he drags Boomerang to a Villains Anonymous meeting, which is kind of like A.A. for washed up former super-villains. And then, to make matters worse, the remaining members of the Sinister Six (of whom there are actually only five) fire Boomerang from their gang, since they feel he can’t be trusted with Mach VII hanging around. Of course, he can’t be trusted, as he’s made a deal with the Chameleon that none of them are privy to, but only the Shocker knows about that, and he isn’t talking. Superior Foes continues to be one of Marvel’s finest, a weird mix of humor, hijinks, intrigue, and stolen dogs. There’s no other book like it on the stands, making it a real score for Marvel. My one complaint is that Overdrive and the new female Beetle are pretty underdeveloped, which leads to them feeling extraneous. Although, that said, it takes time to properly flesh out a supporting cast correctly. As long as this creative team is on this book, though, there’s not a doubt in my mind they’ll get there. Score: 9/10.

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5. Infinity #2 of 6 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Jerome Opena & Dustin Weaver). Jerome Opena and Jonathan Hickman stalwart Dustin Weaver take the artistic reigns this issue, shifting the look of the book to a darker, more dire canvas than last issue’s well-intentioned but ultimately miscast Jim Cheung. And what a remarkable difference that makes: suddenly, the dark spaces of war take on a life of their own, as Cap & company turn tail in defeat (something I’m certain the good Captain isn’t very happy about). We’re treated to a two-page recap of events in the most recent issues of Avengers and New Avengers, and then it’s onward and upward to Attilan, to bear witness to Black Bolt’s response to Thanos goon Corvus Glaive, who’s making the downright stupid mistake of threatening the king of the Inhumans for a tribute. That tribute: the deaths of all Inhumans ages sixteen to twenty-two. The alternative is that Thanos will bring war to the Inhuman kingdom to such a degree that none will survive. Fortunately, Black Bolt has a plan involving the Illuminati, who at this point appear to be the key to stopping Thanos’s march to war. This issue is VAST in scope, and we see what happens when the Builders suffer defeat in battle themselves, along with several other things. There’s so much going on, with such a large cast of characters (fifty listed for this issue alone, even if they don’t all appear), it’s simply too much to take in on its own as a single issue. By the end of Infinity, everything should be reconciled, but for now, it’s just a little bit too much to process. Hickman is running the risk of allowing his story to override his character beats, despite strong moments this issue from Medusa, Black Bolt, and Gladiator of the Shi’ar. Anyone looking for a more straightforward Avengers yarn is bound to be disappointed, but those willing to invest the time and patience in Hickman’s method is bound to be fulfilled in the long run. ‘Til then, we’re stuck piecing the puzzle together very… very… slowly. Score: 7/10.

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6. Daredevil: Dark Knights #4 of 8 (Marvel, W & A: David Lapham). Dark Knights moves on to its next showcased creator this issue, with David Lapham taking the reins. Unfortunately, this isn’t Stray Bullets-style Lapham, which would have been a perfect fit for the usually noir-tinted world of Daredevil. Instead he brings a similar sensibility to Daredevil that Mark Waid does on a monthly basis: old school, down to earth, and character-driven as opposed to angst-driven. Maybe a little too much like Mark Waid, though, as the authenticity of the author’s voice is seriously in question for me as I read this issue. We open with a mafia goon being pressed by the police for a murder he didn’t commit, and Matt Murdock acting as his legal adviser (proving this story is actually in perfect sync with Waid’s monthly run, this means Murdock’s been coaching him to provide his own defense). That’s all well and good until… the murder weapon is shanghaied by a tiny man! Wait, what? Seriously. A little man, about the size of a garden gnome, absconds with the gun. Daredevil, taking this weirdness way too in-stride, immediately takes off in pursuit, but is dumbfounded when the little man proves to be incredibly nimble, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and is literally hard to get a hold of since he secretes some kind of grease through his skin (gross). The little man, called Buggit, then leads Daredevil on a merry chase throughout the city before ultimately throwing the gun into the river for reasons only he knows. Along the way they run into the Shocker, here acting more like the third-rate cardboard cut-out loser we all know and loathe (as opposed to the well-rounded character revealed in Superior Foes of Spider-Man) as he robs an armored car and interferes with Daredevil just as he finally gets his hands on the slippery little Buggit. The entire sequence, and in fact the entire issue, has a sort of lighthearted, almost comedy-of-errors feel to it, as one thing after another happens to prevent Daredevil from capturing Buggit. Just when he’s about to capture him again, he runs afoul of the Avengers fighting a giant subterranean monster (um, shouldn’t helping out there take priority for DD, since in that situation THOUSANDS of lives are at stake?) and Buggit gets away again to toss the gun in the drink. Reading this issue, it’s pretty obvious that Lapham was consciously trying to ape the feel of Waid’s Daredevil, but without the writing chops to pull it off, he instead just resorted to an outlandish situation. Not that his characterization of Matt Murdock is bad, or offbeat or anything. But it hands-down reads TOO MUCH like Waid’s voice for the character, and the simplified, smooth art style doesn’t help any either. I don’t really have anything else to say about this comic other than, really: what’s the point? Score: 4/10.

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7. Thanos Rising #1 of 5 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Simone Bianchi). I’m a bit late getting to this party, but DAMN is it worth it. I’ll say right off the bat that if you’re a fan of Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder, this is a book for you. What we have here is a portrait of the monster as a young man, a shy, introverted kid who’s a social outcast for looking different. This is Thanos humanized, empathized, to a degree we’ve never seen. The great villains are those we can identify with: everyone has, to a degree, the ego of Dr. Doom. Everyone can sympathize with Magneto’s suffering at the hands of the Third Reich. Lex Luthor is possessed by a jealousy of Superman that anyone can relate to, whether they want to or not. And now, free of the dated, melodramatic space opera of Jim Starlin, we have Thanos joining those ranks. He’s a kid whose dad is too busy for him, whose mom went nuts when he was born and tried to stab him, resulting in her permanent admittance to the psych ward. He tries to connect to her anyway, fulfilling her role as a different kind of absentee parent than Thanos’ father. There’s so much great character work going on here, I’m almost forgetting to mention the art. Simone Bianchi’s signature dark hues set the tone of the book, creating a world of shadows that fits right in with young Thanos’s destiny. His characters are a little awkward at times, but ultimately, the art couldn’t be a better match for the story. Jason Aaron hit a home run here, proving (alongside his Thor work) he’s more than just Garth Ennis-lite. Anyone who can peel back the layers to find a genuinely sympathetic core to a guy who once killed half the universe is worthy of all the gravitas anyone wants to heap on him. Score: 9/10.

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8. Trillium #2 of 8 (W & A: Jeff Lemire). After a brilliant showing in issue one, Jeff Lemire shows it was no fluke here. Nika and Billy stumble around one another as their initial meeting continues, staring at one another as though they were creatures from another world–which really, they are, despite both being human. Lemire is smart enough to know that language is an ever-evolving thing, so immediately, the 2300-year difference between their worlds means the two cannot understand what the other’s saying, despite our impression as readers that they’re both speaking English. Nika wonders if Billy is speaking “one of those old Earth dialects,” which leads her to believe she’s on some backwater star system. The language barrier plays out for most of the issue, until a sampling of the trillium flower–the one word both Billy and Nika understand from one another–leads to them not only sharing a common language, but intimately knowing each other’s thoughts, dreams, worlds, and pasts. This leads to a beautiful, quiet moment as they silently realize they now know one another more deeply than they’ve ever known anyone else. They may even be in love. Nika, understandably freaked out by the fact that she’s in 1921, immediately bolts back into the temple, where Billy cannot follow. This tense cliffhanger is made worse by what Nika comes home to. This book has such a unique feel to it, almost an indie quality, and definitely not a traditional Vertigo feel. That gives me hope that, as Vertigo diversifies its line, more books like this will populate its output. Jeff Lemire is an artist with a singular vision, one that cannot be duplicated by anyone else. That’s a valuable and rare thing these days, something worth enshrining anywhere it’s found. I don’t know where else Trillium is headed, but there is not a doubt in my mind it will be an exhilarating ride. Score: 9/10.

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9. Green Arrow: Count Vertigo #23.1 (DC, W: Jeff Lemire, A: Andrea Sorrentino). And then we have the other end of the DC spectrum: Villains Month. A month-long gimmick where your normal DC books are subverted and taken over by the bad guys, complete with gimmick 3D covers and multiple copies of certain books throughout the month. (Action Comics, for example, has an issue coming out each week. Way to milk it, bitches.) Fortunately, Green Arrow is only putting out the one issue, so I’m only out the extra dollar I was forced to pay for the 3D cover. This one-off focuses on Count Vertigo’s origins and background, and why he’s such an asshole. The guy is an actual count from the fictional European country Vlatava, and was next in line for the throne, until a coup overthrew his family and he and his mother were forced to flee to the United States, where she fell into prostitution and drugs and ultimately sold her own son to a corporation that performed the experiments on him that gave him his mind-warping powers. That’s cold-blooded, and pretty much justifies CV’s payback once he’s an adult and tracks her down for revenge. This gets back to what I was talking about in the Thanos Rising review: creating realistic, three-dimensional, villains who we can ultimately empathize with. Lemire doesn’t pull it off with the panache that Jason Aaron exhibited with the Mad Titan, but then, Count Vertigo is a whole different ball of wax anyway. Andrea Sorrentino pulls off his usual bang-up job, although in this issue he does feel a bit restrained. I suppose it’s too much to hope he’d pull off something completely mindblowing every issue. The last two pages put a bow on the whole thing nicely, setting up a future rematch with Green Arrow that has the feel of a heavyweight prize fight to it. Kudos to Jeff Lemire for creating not only a legitimate threat, but a legitimate character, out of a guy named Count Vertigo. Score: 8/10.

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10. Detective Comics: Poison Ivy #23.1 (DC, W: Derek Fridolfs, A: Javier Pena). Welcome to the low end of the event comic spectrum: the issue that poses as something else entirely. Why wouldn’t I think I was getting a Poison Ivy-centric tale by regular Detective scribe John Layman, right? Of course, the fact that there’s no cover credits should have tipped me off… Bah. So instead of Layman’s badassery, we get a bland, dull origin story by a guy named Fridolfs, who sounds like he escaped from Middle Earth. Okay, so it’s not very nice to make fun of the guy’s name. He was born with it. He can’t help it. So instead, I’ll just make fun of his rote, boring story. The story takes place during a recent story arc where Ivy let her plants (“the green,” in Swamp Thing terms) overrun the city, turning it into a jungle (see also Swamp Thing #51-53, in Alan Moore terms). In stereotypical flashback style, she’s strolling around, y’know, doing stuff, talking to people, terrorizing police officers, punishing wifebeaters, while her memories replay her “tragic” origin. It’s actually pretty yawn-tastic. Seems her dad used to wale on her mom something fierce, until one day he killed her, burying her in her own flowerbed to try to hide his crime. “A reminder,” Ivy voice-overs, “that a beautiful surface only hides the horrible truths underneath.” Wow, that’s pretty deep. Maybe she should write greeting cards. We learn that Ivy excelled in school but didn’t really earn it, using her skills to concoct man-controlling potions and whatnot to get on the dean’s honor roll and graduate with top honors. We then revert back to modern times, where it’s revealed that New 52 Poison Ivy has the utterly stupid ability to turn her body into plant mass, which in this case means turning her arms into idiotic-looking vines that can whip guns out of peoples’ hands and shoot thorns at ne’er-do-wells. What the hell was wrong with the old Poison Ivy? Why did she have to be given the extraneous power to essentially be an ersatz Swamp Thing? Why does she have this crushingly boring origin story? I don’t even want to finish reviewing this crap. Suffice to say, Ivy killed her old man, got fired from Wayne Enterprises for less-than-ethical behavior (a shock, I know), and got her own chemicals splashed on her, turning her into a salad-headed super-villain. Yawn. The art doesn’t help matters any, as Javier Pena looks as though he spent about five minutes rendering each page. This is bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, a crass, sad attempt to cash in on a) completists who can’t bear to miss a single issue, and b) people like myself who get tricked into thinking they’re buying a story by an actual good writer. Which pretty much sums up Villains Month as a whole. Score: 0/10.

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11. The Massive #14-15 (Dark Horse, W: Brian Wood, A: Garry Brown). Okay, so now that I’ve read an entire arc of Brian Wood’s The Massive, I honestly don’t have a clue what to think. It’s technically well-written, with a great amount of attention to detail in a well-thought-out world. But frankly, it’s the characters who are hanging me up, which is an odd complaint to make on a Brian Wood comic, since characterization is typically his strong suit. But all of the crew members of the Kapital feel the same to me; in issue fifteen there’s a strong bit of foreshadowing about one of them (mainly stating that she’s a manipulative, backstabbing bitch) that frankly I never picked up on throughout the course of these two issues. Now, it could be that the character work is subtle enough that only readers who have been invested since the beginning would pick up on it. If that’s the case, then by all means, my bad. But I would think that I’d be able to pick something up over the course of this “Americana” storyarc to help me reach that conclusion, seasoned vet or not. So, what actually happens here? Well, there’s a rogue nuclear sub still on the loose around New York, and the crew of the Kapital are bound and determined to bring it to heel, since it was stolen by one of their own. There’s a considerable amount of time spent dwelling on the past relationship of the rogue crewmember and Mag, the ship’s second-in-command, and some healthy debate over the growing split in the crew over who’s really in charge, Mag or the captain, Callum. It frankly strikes me that this is a series that is decidedly NOT new-reader friendly, as I found it hard to discern either way who was the better leader. Not a great sign, and I was really hoping for more from Wood. Maybe a trek back to the beginning via TPB will help clarify matters for me, but reading these two issues just left me confused and not caring one way or another. Score: 5/10.

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12. The Star Wars #1 of 6 (Dark Horse, W: George Lucas, Adapted by J.W. Rinzler, A: Mike Mayhew). The cover tagline tells you everything you need to know about this comic: “Longer ago, in a galaxy even further away…” LAAAAAAAAAME. The much-hyped adaptation of George Lucas’s original rough draft for what would become A New Hope is, frankly, a curio for the uber-fan only, and here’s why: as with ALL first drafts OF ANYTHING, it’s NOT AS GOOD AS THE FINAL PRODUCT. Sure, it’s interesting to see the genesis of some of these characters, and how the universe as a whole as originally conceived by Lucas. But frankly, I would be just as happy reading a transcription of his notes or whatever for the first draft somewhere online, instead of having that draft turned into a fully-realized comic. I DON’T NEED to shell out $3.99 for a glimpse at what might have been, had Lucas not tapped into his inner archetypes for inspiration. What I do need is a good story, and this ain’t it. The, ahem, “Jedi-Bendu” have been forced to near-extinction by the empire and their Knights of the Sith, except for one old disciple, Kane Starkiller, hiding out on the fourth moon of Utapau, where he’s raising his kids, Deak and Annikin. (Funny aside: even back in 1974, Lucas found time to have an annoying kid cry out, “Yippee!”) A Sith lord shows up, looking all the world like a cross between the Emperor and the  facemask Lando wears as a disguise in Jedi. But then the Sith manages to kill Deak before getting cut in half himself by the vengeful Jedi (sound familiar?) Kane and Annikin hightail it for a planet called Aquilae, which we later learn is to seek out his Jedi-Bendu brother Luke, so that Luke may finish Annikin’s Jedi training before he dies. Starkiller is dying, apparently, and also about 80% robot now, except for his head and right arm (sound familiar?). Meanwhile, on the planet Alderaan, the Emperor, who looks more like the Hulk villain the Leader but with caucasian skin than the wrinkled old turd we’re used to, is busy propagandizing and selling war to the masses. He wants to conquer the Aquilean System, last known holdout of the rebels, which is coincidentally where Starkiller has just fled to. There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance, but of course the masses go for it. This leads to the introduction of Dark Vader, who here looks like a Nazi stuffed into a barely-realized Vader suit (WITH NO ICONIC HELMET! BLASPHEMY!) And so on and so forth. You get it. “Nothing is what it seems!” “The names are the same, but everything else has changed!” Whatever. If I wanted an undercooked version of Star Wars, I’d go watch the prequels. For die-hards and obsessives only. The one saving grace: Mike Mayhew’s art has never looked better. He has an Alex Ross-ish vibe to him, but with less iconic posing and a brighter palette to work from. Score: 3/10.

And that’s all for this week. Next week better see some Image comics, because too much of the Big 2 without diversification can be a bad thing indeed. Be well and read your funnybooks!

~ILL DIABLO~

DC’s Crisis of Infinite Micromanagement: The Batwoman Fiasco

Today it was announced that DC’s most prominent gay character, Batwoman, A.K.A. Kate Kane, would NOT be getting married to her fiance, despite much long-term planning on the part of writers J.H. Williams III and Haden Blackman. This, of course, brought out the wrath of comicdom near and far, decrying DC as homophobic and anti-gay marriage. It’s a seemingly logical assumption to make; I myself even arrived at this same conclusion when I first heard the news.

But then, Williams III and Blackman both stepped up to the plate and asserted that their decision to quit the Batwoman book over this was NOT due to DC being anti-gay marriage, but rather over massive and ongoing editorial interference that forced them to change their story–plotted out for over a year now, with full DC approval–that caused them to quit.

In a joint letter on Blackman’s website, he and Williams III had this to say:

Unfortunately, in recent months, DC has asked us to alter or completely discard many long-standing storylines in ways we feel compromise the character and the series. We were told to ditch plans for Killer Croc’s origins; forced to drastically alter the ending of our current arc, which would have defined Batwoman’s heroic future in bold new ways; and, most crushingly, prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married. All of these editorial decisions always came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end.

J.H. Williams III took to Twitter to add this:

Not wanting to be inflammatory, only factual- We fought to get them engaged but were told emphatically no marriage can result. But must clarify- was never put to us as being anti-gay marriage.

So that seems to put a damper on any assertions that DC is homophobic. Of course, the possibility DOES exist that homophobia was in fact the motivation behind DC’s decision, but it simply wasn’t vocalized. I’ll let the conspiracy theorists kick THAT one around a bit. In reality,if you look at DC’s track record over the last decade or so, they have been very progressive and exemplary when it comes to LGBT issues: Renee Montoya came out in Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker’s Gotham Central; Rucka’s Batwoman was introduced as a lesbian from the start; the New 52 version of Alan Scott is an openly gay man. The only exception seems to be their boneheaded hiring of noted homophobe Orson Scott Card to write part of a Superman anthology they had planned, and their knuckle-dragging response to the outcry over it indicates that they were in fact too STUPID to realize the controversy hiring that man would bring. But in fact, Batwoman has been the recipient of a GLAAD Media Award and a leading light when it comes to portraying a gay character in an open, honest, and realistic way that doesn’t stoop to crass stereotyping.

So the problem, then, is that DC isn’t anti-GAY marriage, but rather… anti-MARRIAGE?

Strange as it sounds, that might actually be the case. In a Newsarama article reporting on the issue, it was pointed out that, in the wake of the New 52, most of DC’s high-profile marriages have been nullified: Superman and Lois Lane are no longer hitched, the Flash and Iris Allen are only acquiantances, and the non-existent Wally West’s marriage is null and void by default since DC seems to have abandoned the character entirely. DC’s position seems to be that marriage automatically ages a character by locking them into a “set”  older/adult role, as opposed to keeping their status as unaging and essentially nebulous.

But whatever their actual editorial stance on marriage is, homophobic or just plain stupid, DC has a larger crisis on its hands, and Williams III and Blackman’s hasty and high-profile departure, with all of the negative fallout it entails(whether it’s earned or not), is but a symptom of a larger cultural problem at DC.

Because, quite simply, this is only the latest quick departure from a book made by a writer or artist due to massive editorial interference. The trend most notably began when Greg Rucka departed DC after years of service just prior to the inception of the New 52. But in the months that followed, such noteworthy creators as Andy Diggle, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Gail Simone, and yes, even Rob Liefeld either quit or got the boot in the midst of monstrous, last-minute editorial edicts which forced them to make eleventh-hour changes to their stories.

This, obviously, is a problem. Anyone who’s been keeping up with DC over the last couple of years knows that many of their books–particularly in the New 52’s first year of existence–have been on a merry-go-round of creators, with many last-minute changes being made seemingly without any thought or concern for the creators involved. This indicates a culture similar to the heyday of Jim Shooter at Marvel in the ’80s: editoral uber alles. The key difference between then and now, though: back during Shooter’s reign of terror, the edicts and controls were all coming from one man. Today at DC, they seem to be coming from all over the place, to the point that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing in ANY instance, which is a very serious root cause of all of the continuity problems DC’s exhibited in the last two years alone.

Now, in their joint letter discussing their departure from Batwoman, Williams III and Blackman go out of their way to thank every single editor who’s worked on the book, up to and including Batman group editor Mike Marts, which either indicates that these guys are overly courteous even when being fucked in the ass, or that the directives came from someone with more seniority than Marts. The smart money’s on Bob Harras, since he’s the editorial overlord anyway (and has a history as the EiC at Marvel in the ’90s of making very, very bad decisions). But even if it’s not an edict coming directly from his office, the buck DOES stop with him. And Geoff Johns. And Jim Lee. And Dan DiDio. Shit rolls uphill too.

This is indicative of an editorial culture where writers and artists are treated as commodities, rather than living, breathing, thinking creators. The current DC editors clearly have no regard for the creative process, as indicated by how flagrantly they believe they can just swap out writers willy-nilly at a moment’s notice, or how, in Batwoman‘s case, tell two writers at the last minute they must chuck their plans–which, to reiterate, had been planned out for at least a year in advance with DC’s full knowledge–without a care in the world to the creative process that these two men have put into this character, her world, and her book. Batwoman may not have been setting the world on fire in terms of sales, but it IS one of the most important books DC’s publishing right now for its open and mature attitude about a lesbian character. Unfortunately, DC’s staunch editorial opposition to married characters took priority over that.

And yes, yes, the argument can (and should) be made that Batwoman is DC’s property, not Williams III and Blackman’s. But what these two writers were building has been special and unique, and had DC the aptitude to realize this, rather than sticking to an outmoded and confining notion about the “wrongness” of allowing characters to marry, they might have allowed these two creators to carve out their own place in comics history, which DC could, in later years, take full credit for allowing. Too bad their culture of micromanagment put an end to two creators’ vision before it could be fully formed. As it stands, we’ll never know what might have happened after Kate and Maggie got married. As a no-name company stooge takes over their book and takes it in a direction more consistent with DC’s mass-conformity ideals, the readers will no doubt drop the book en masse in protest, leaving the book canceled in no more than a year, relegated to the quarter bins for has-beens.

It’s a sad ending to the story of J.H. Williams III, Haden Blackman, and Batwoman. But perhaps it was inevitable. After all, DC is all about towing the company line now, taking no risks, venturing no gains, forging no new ground. And a book as “radical” as having two women who love each other get married is about as far from that as it gets.