Batman #24: Whoa. I did not see that coming. To be honest, I didn't really enjoy this issue. As I mentioned in a previous review, we've never really gotten resolution when it came to Claire's story. She's allegedly healed here, so we're left to assume Bruce's plan to use Psycho-Pirate to take away her fear worked. But, she still seems...off. Her side of the conversation with Bruce doesn't sound the way an actual human would speak. It's full of oddly timed emotional moments followed by robotic repetition of stilted phrases. But, if you put aside the script, the point of the conversation is important: Claire asks Bruce what he wants as he presses her to decide what she wants. When he essentially admits he's scared of getting what he wants, she gives him permission to be scared. It's an unexpectedly powerful moment. He realizes he wants Selina, and the issue ends with him proposing to her with the diamond she stole when they first met. I remember reading with awe "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne," the story that concludes the first volume of "Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told." (Google tells me it's actually "The Brave and the Bold" #197.) In it, the Bruce and Selina of Earth-Two finally dedicate themselves to each other after facing their fears during a fight with the Scarecrow. (When else would you face your fears?) I'm not sure if King is intentionally paying homage to that story, but this one has the same feel. "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne" is still one my favorite Batman stories after all this time, because it shows him finally allowing himself to be a real boy. I can't explain how excited I am of the possibility of seeing that story become the actual status quo in the main universe, even if the script that got us to this point was poor. I'll take it.
Dark Knight III: The Master Race #9: I wasn't even going to bother to review this issue, but it felt wrong not to do so, like I was rewarding DC for the cynicism that brought this series into existence. I try not to be the type of fan who expects too much from the companies that produce the comics we read. I get it's a business, and I try not to make their money grabs into an issue except when they cross the line, like when they charge $9.99 for a regular issue with just a few pages of extra "stories." (I'm looking at you, "Amazing Spider-Man" #25.) After several years of reviewing comics, I also feel like I'm better about acknowledging that just because a comic doesn't work for me means that it's "bad." In cases where I see obvious plot holes or terrible line work, I recognize someone else finds mystery in those plot holes and beauty in those jumbled lines. (I admit in not always succeeding in this endeavor; I still feel bad for what I said about Matt Fraction during "Fear Itself.") But, it feels like DC has gone beyond the pale with this one. The story has been remarkably simple, even less complicated than the plot of "Man of Steel." It's essentially a "Transformers" movie at this point: an alien race -- the Kandorians -- invades, Lara betrays humanity and joins the Kandorians, Lara's love of her family turns her against the Kandorians, Clark lets loose like never before, and the alien race is defeated. The End. Everything else is essentially filler. In fact, it's hard to see what role Bruce even played in this issue. Nothing he does has any impact on the inevitable conclusion. In the rare instances where Miller and Azzarello had the opportunity to give us some more emotional insight into a character, they didn't. For example, Atom wordlessly saves the day here, but we have no chance for him to express the regret he feels for unleashing the Kandorians on Earth in the first place. We just have to assume he feels relieved, if not vindicated. Emotional insight is implied with long stares and nothing more. Including "Dark Knight III: The Last Crusade," this series of ten issues cost $59.90. It's hard for me to accept that, that I spent that amount of money on this series. To put that in perspective, you can buy the premium edition of "Batman: Arkham Knight" and its hours of play time for $39.99. DC obviously feels justified in charging $59.90 because of the legacy of a four-issue series published 32 years ago. But, I have to wonder if anyone paused at the price. Did the editor at any point remind the creative team we were paying $59.90 for their story? Did they ever ask Kubert to maybe spend a little more time depicting the guy with the melted face so it doesn't just look like he has a poor handle on perspective? Did anyone ask Azzarello to spend maybe just a little bit more time getting us to care about the characters rather than just assuming we did? Did anyone think about us, the reader, at all?
Darth Vader #1: I thought this series was going to take place in the same timeframe as the rest of the ongoing "Star Wars" series, making me wonder why they started with a #1 issue (yet again) instead of continuing the numbering from Gillen's series. But, we're not in Kansas anymore. Soule takes us to the moment Anakin becomes Vader, and it's as startling as expected. The Emperor launches Anakin...er, Vader...right into his training, explaining that he has to steal a lightsaber from a Jedi and make the Kyber crystal "bleed" with his rage. (The crystals are apparently alive, so the rage a Sith feeds into his stolen lightsaber is what turns the crystal red, giving the Sith's lightsabers their distinctive color.) The Emperor then abandons Vader on a planet to accomplish his quest, an admittedly difficult one since the Emperor has already killed virtually all the Jedi. I don't know where we're going, but I'm hoping Soule doesn't really give us classic Vader here. Ideally, we'll see some of Anakin shine through Vader's demeanor, something we admittedly don't really see here as Vader slaughters a group of thieves. Sure, Anakin killed all those younglings at the Jedi Temple, so it's not like he's an innocent. But, Anakin's sudden embrace of slaughtering innocents was one of the most poorly explained parts of the prequel trilogy. Soule has a chance to correct that here. After all, we've seen plenty of bad-ass Vader. Vulnerable Vader? That would be a story worth reading.
Hawkeye #7: Whoa. Just...whoa. I thought we were going to have to wait a while before Kate had time to delve into the mystery of her father. But, Thompson gets right to it, as Madame Masque sends Kate the necklace her mother wore to signify her love for Kate and her sister. Did I mention said necklace was covered in blood? You think we're starting down the road of getting more information about Kate's dad as she makes her way through Madame Masque's penthouse. But then she finds her dad sitting in Madame Masque's chair? Apparently it's not as long of a road as we thought. Meanwhile, Thompson continues to give Kate one of the strongest personalities in comics: you can predict what she's going to say before she says it. I can hear her voice so clearly in my head. (Finger guns!) Really, I'd read this series just to see Pizza Dog (yay!), but Thompson makes Kate so damn irresistible. It's really becoming one of the best series on the stands. What is it about Hawkeyes?
Iceman #1: I admit I was nervous about reading this issue. In fact, "trepidation" is probably the right word. As a kid, Bobby was always my favorite X-Man because he seemed to be carrying the same indescribable weight as I was. I know most authors weren't writing Bobby as gay then, but Bendis obviously picked up the same cues as many of the rest of us when he had young Bobby come out (or, at least, accept Jean outing him). To see Bobby begin to enter the world as a gay man: it's almost too much. After reading this issue, I would say my main emotion is that it's mostly a relief to have it done. It's uneven, particularly in terms of the art, and odd, but Grace has a very good read on what makes Bobby tick and, at the end of the day, that part is the most important. Moreover, Grace makes the key decision to show not tell: we get all the information about where Bobby is mentally through his interactions with his friends and family. It's nice to see him have a relationship with his younger self, though Grace makes it clear how awkward it is. Younger Bobby leans too heavily into teasing Bobby about being a dad, but it also is a pretty good description of their relationship. Moreover, Grace's sense of history is impeccable. Bobby starts the issue by writing his dating-website profile, where he says his friends are his family. When his father has a health scare that sends Bobby running to his hospital room, we're reminded just how much his biological family isn't his family. Grace doesn't let Bobby off the hook either: although he's mad his parents moved without telling him, he also forgot his mother's birthday. Their dysfunctional relationship is a two-way street, and the most poignant part is Bobby imaging conversations with the parents he wishes he had after leaving the hospital. Every gay kid has had those conversations. For me, it allowed me to relax, knowing Grace knew what he was doing here. That said, it's not smooth sailing throughout the issue. The art leaves a lot to be desired. Vitti is a pretty established artist, so I just don't know if he didn't have a lot of time here or what. But, his lines are hurried, making characters gain and lose 100 pounds between panels. (Seriously.) It's disappointing, to be sure. Moreover, Grace himself makes some odd choices, like when the mutant Bobby saves randomly uses British English despite being a New Yorker. Overall, it's probably a B-. But, I really just needed it not to be a disaster, and Grace delivers that.
Nightwing #22: This arc is essentially our first real story where Dick is firmly planted in Blüdhaven. After all, "Nightwing Must Die!" had him trolling around France pretty quickly after he arrived in town. But, now he and Shawn have settled into a solid routine and Dick is ready to get a job. (Shawn has apparently gotten back her job at the center, something Seeley doesn't really explain here. But, it never made sense to me that they fired her in the first place, so I'm just going to view it as correcting a wrong.) However, Dick is distracted by his sense that something big is going to happen soon, and he's right: he stumbles upon a Metropolis-based gang trying to clear out a local one, and we learn it's because they have a deal with Tiger Shark to give him some privacy to operate at the port. (Yeah, I'm not sure why Tiger Shark didn't just make the deal with the local gang either.) Tiger Shark is worried Dick is going to spoil his plan to smuggle into Blüdhaven whatever it is he's smuggling, so he hires Blockbuster to take out Dick. However, Blockbuster makes things all the curiouser when he doesn't take out Nightwing, but offers him some sort of job. It's an interesting twist, and I'm legitimately intrigued to see what Seeley has planned here.
Nova #7: I have to admit, I'm having a hard time with Marvel's new approach to series, where you get emotionally invested and then they end them after seven issues. (At least "Moon Knight" made it to 14 issues, I guess.) It's so clear Loveness and Pérez had other stories to tell, and it hurts my heart they won't be able to tell them. Although long-time readers of this blog know I'm a huge Rich Rider fan, I became a fan of Sam -- a character I previously disliked -- because of this series. Their relationship brought out the best in both of them, and Sam proves his hero chops here. I loved Rich warning Sam he might've sacrificed his life to try to save him from the Cancerverse and Sam responding, "Yeah, well, I talked to some girls." Marvel has promised some sort of relaunch in the fall that we fans of the classic stories will appreciate. I worry that sounds a lot like stripping out the diversity they've infused in their line, and I hope it's not the case. Rich and Sam together shows why we're better for this diversity. It's not just because people see themselves in the stories in a way they didn't previously (though that's obviously important). But, it's also opened up new stories for established characters. Rich has always been a lonesome guy, and something about his partnership with Sam gave him a spring in his step and a smile on his face that we don't often see when it comes to him. I hope we see both of these guys soon and that we see them together. We can't go back, but only forward. Novas gotta step up.
Reborn #6: In the end, this story isn't all that complicated: it's ultimately about Bonnie finding the courage to die. As she and her dad confront Golgotha, she returns to "reality" when she somehow returns to life. (Doctors don't seem to be performing CPR or anything, so it's a little unclear how she suddenly returned.) However, she knows that she has to return to destroy Golgotha, not only to save her dad, Harry, and Roy-Boy, but also to save Earth itself. After all, Golgotha plans to use her blood to fully energize the machine he's constructed to breach the wall between their realm and Earth. Realizing she's needed more there than here, she returns, defeats Golgotha, and becomes queen. I have to be honest and say I'm disappointed Millar makes it so easy. After all, Golgotha has his minions allow Bonnie and her father to waltz into his castle. We could have watched them fight their way into it over the course of several issues, giving us some sense of satisfaction when she finally confronts Golgotha. Instead, she reminds us the prophecy says she'll defeat him, and she and everyone else essentially surrender to it. You wonder why Golgotha didn't just shoot himself. It's like Fizban handing the Heroes of the Lance the Dragonlance in the Inn at Last Home and transporting them to Neraka to defeat the Dark Queen. The only hiccup is when Bonnie returns to life, but she resolves that challenge fairly easily. It takes a story that started with so much promise for complexity and nuance and reduces it to a Saturday morning cartoon. But, that said, I also like Saturday morning cartoons. I'm sad we didn't get "Mistborn,' but I can live with "The Pirates of Darkwater." Millar teases a TV series and a standalone novel in his column after the issue concludes. If that happens, this series may really just prove to be a quick introduction to a much more complicated world. Millar himself says he has five volumes of the comic planned. I would've happily taken a more immersive twelve-issues series in lieu of five volumes. (Have we learned nothing from "The Mummy" and "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword?") But, I'm also happy to revisit this realm, whatever the circumstances.
Spider-Man #17: I have to say, at some point here, I'm Team Hammerhead. He's just minding his own business, shaking down the Vulture's brother for money he owes Black Cat, when Bombshell decides to stop him. He tells her he doesn't hit girls or kids, she persists, and he beats her into a coma. Then, the hospital texts Miles to tell him and he comes after Hammerhead at his own bar. (Hammerhead was in the middle of lamenting to his cronies that the capes always make everything worse.) Bendis almost makes you think he's got a point. But, Bendis also uses Miles' unrestrained pummeling of Hammerhead to emphasize Miles' concern about his dark side. After he pummeled an entire bar last issue, he's sensitive to it, and Hammerhead wondering aloud if Miles is on the right side is enough to distract him. Don't get distracted with Hammerhead, Miles: it usually doesn't end well.
Youngblood #2: Bowers begins to flesh out how the team came together, and it all more or less makes sense. (For a "Youngblood" issue, that's an accomplishment.) The new Vogue approaches a guy named Durante Murray, who offers "hero how-to" videos on the Internet. He idolized Sentinel back in the day, and his suit is based on a schematic Sentinel sent him after Durante wrote him a fan letter. Vogue wants to re-form Youngblood in order to gain the world's attention and then use said attention to spread word about Man-Up. (We learn that Man-Up himself didn't just physically disappear; every record of him everywhere has also disappeared.) Durante agrees to help, but refuses to be called Sentinel, a sign of his disappointment over the revelations that broke Youngblood in the first place. (We also learn he was the Bloodstream person who helped reveal all their crimes to the world.) In the present, Jeff manages not to get himself killed as the kids still suffer from the hallucinogenic gas Crime Condor used on them. He delivers the "cease and desist" letter from President Diehard and slinks into the night. When he awakens in Badrock's bunker, Badrock reveals the truth: he helped assemble the team in the first place. All that said, Bowers still has some steps to show us in how we got here. For example, Shaft knows the woman called Doc Rocket on the team, possibly because her father was on the original team with him. But, we don't know anything about the white-haired woman who serves as the fourth member. We also don't know how Badrock found all of them in the first place. But, Bowers is clearly getting there. In the meantime, he's telling an interesting story that DC or Marvel couldn't tell. After all, this series takes place in a world where the public has no faith at all in government or heroes. With DC and Marvel, they often pretend people feel that way after whatever the most recent event is that destroyed a major city, but everyone usually forgets about it after four or five issues. Here, it's real. Bowers really sells it, and the success of the series is going to depend on him maintaining that sentiment, that we're not just reading a DC or Marvel series about a superhero team. As President Diehard himself says, the do-it yourself movement the Help?! app is spreading hearkens to a more innocent time, and it's going to be interesting to see these kids try to change the world's perceptions about what it means to be a hero. Of course, we also learn the brothers who designed Help?! are trying to take over the United States. Isn't it always the way?
Also Read: Amazing Spider-Man #28, Champions #9; Deathstroke #20; X-Men Gold #5