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Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings welcome you to the first comics round-up for October.
“As expected, and inevitable, DC’s Villain’s Month ends on a mixed note.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
“The first volume of Injustice: Gods Among Us is flawed but fun, however the first volume of Shazam knocks it out of the park and proves why the next announcement that DC makes should be to confirm a new Shazam ongoing series.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk (All Villain’s Month titles): Action Comics #23.4: Metallo by Sholly Fisch, Batman #23.4: Bane by Peter J. Tomasi, and, Green Lantern #23.4: Sinestro by Matt Kindt.
This issue wasn’t high on my list of Villain’s Month issues to read, but then again, this was a bit of a thin week in that respect, so I thought why not check it out after all. The various de.pictions I’ve seen of the character over the years, whether in the animated series or elsewhere, they were quite decent, certainly not bad at all. Of course, Metallo is also one of those few supervillains who can go toe-to-toe with Superman, and that in itself is quite the feat for one such as him. Part of the charm of the character of course.
Off the top of my head, most of the Villain’s Month issues are origin stories that tell of how the supervillains became who they are today. Metallo #1 is no different, except for the fact that it is set in between an origin and whatever current incarnation of the character now exists in the New 52 version of the DC universe. I’ve heard from a friend that, to be exact, this story here takes place between Grant Morrison’s arc on Action Comics and the “present time”. The Metallo that we see here isn’t powered by kryptonite initially, but he does get it later, and that starts off the “real” story here.
One thing that I positively disliked about this issue was Metallo’s character design. Frankly, it is a completely daft design for a character like him. It makes him out like a man in a box, and/or a very cheap imitation of Lex Luthor’s own armour. It is bulky and inconvenient, so much so that John Corben looks as if is piloting a mech-suit. And the story itself is quite a bit boring. Its fully cliched and without any kind of redeeming features.
It was definitely the disappointment that I expected it to be, but even then, it wasn’t too bad really. I kind of had fun regardless, although not much admittedly. The art itself is decent, no great shakes. Steve Pugh does a fairly good job at making Metallo comes across as a big threat and a serious villain, but its the script that mostly lets the issue down. Its just not good enough.
More Action Comics: #23.1.
Thanks to his work on Batman and Robin in the New 52, Peter J. Tomasi has become one of the biggest writers working for DC right now. I don’t know what he’s worked on before, but he’s certainly one of the top writers at the company. As such, he’s been entrusted with telling the Forever Evil: Arkham War mini-series, which begins this month and is the tale of the crime war in Gotham while Batman and the Justice League are all absent. Even a lot of the secondary heroes. To tie-in to the mini-series, Tomasi has worked on a few titles for Villain’s Month, notably Two-Face and Bane, which help explain some of the story of the mini-series before it hits stores.
Bane is one of Batman’s most iconic villains, very notable due to his more-than-stellar appearance as the big bad villain of the Bat-verse in the Knightfall arc from almost 2 decades ago. And he was most recently featured as a primary villain in the third Christopher Nolan Batman movie. So he isn’t exactly a villain who’s story needs to be retold, and Tomasi gives us a story that sets up Arkham War and shows how Bane arrives in Gotham at the head of an army of thugs from the island of Santa Prisca.
This issue was a bit dull, through and through, and I enjoyed it less than I did Tomasi’s Two-Face issue. Part of it is because Bane’s motivations here are spurious at best and it was really tough to connect with the character on any level. The characterisation just didn’t work. I know that he is a threat to Gotham, but I don’t really know the why. Tomasi does give some explanation, but its very low-brow and seems rather… childish. And we don’t get to see Bane at his worst, completely fuelled up on his drug-of-choice, which was a bit of a personal disappointment.
As with Steve Pugh’s artwork above, Graham Nolan does a decent job here as well. His Bane looks pretty badass, but since we don’t get to see him at his worst, there is a big lack in this issue, and prevents Nolan from really going over the top. John Kalisz’s covers on the other hand make for a decent experience, which is all I could have asked of in any case, given that I don’t enjoy Tomasi’s writing all that much.
If there is any big negative of the issue, its that while it references Forever Evil #1 by showing an eclipsed sun, it doesn’t address the fact that Ultraman moved the entire moon and that there should be tidal waves going on. This was addressed back in Geoff Johns’ Black Manta issue, but that is the only one where it is mentioned.
I had extremely high expectations from this issue, particularly since it was being written by Matt Kindt, a writer I’ve really enjoyed of late, but who has also turned out the inexplicable mess that was Earth 2 #15.2: Solomon Grundy. Unfortunately, it turns out that this issue is really boring. It is nothing but a recap of Sinestro’s story, in a dispassionate exposition-y narrative kind of way. It just didn’t work for me at all.
The art here, by Dale Eaglesham, Andrew Dalhouse, and Rob Leigh, is really good. There is an extremely cinematic and eye-catching feel to it, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We get to Sinestro at various points in his life and I got to say that the artists really know how to deliver a kick-ass rendition of the greatest Green Lantern ever, second to none. Special mention has to be made of the detailed gold/yellow metallic borders for this issue, which helped the panels to really stand out. Since the story is as told by Lyssa Drak, the Keeper of the Book of Parallax and an ally of the Sinestro Corps, this particular visual reminder works really, really well.
However, the same cannot be said for the story. Its not bad by any means, its just boring. There’s nothing new to learn here, no big twist, no nothing. And it is an origin story couched in the context that Sinestro has been missing since the end of the First Lantern arc in the Green Lantern books and that his… rebirth is imminent, an outcome that must be sought after actively rather than let happen, whether it will or not. I just didn’t enjoy it on any level as far as the story goes.
This issue could really have been much better, but its not. Its what it is.
Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: New 52: Shazam Volume 1 by Geoff Johns (DC Comics), and Injustice: Gods Among Us Volume 1 by Tom Taylor (DC Comics).
Art: Gary Frank
The World’s Mightiest Mortal is reborn in The New 52 in this incredible tale from JUSTICE LEAGUE #7-11, 0, 14-16 and 18-21! Young orphan Billy Batson has bounced from foster home to foster home, but when he’s drawn to the Rock of Eternity, he is imbued with powers beyond those of any mortal man! But can he learn how to handle those powers in time to defeat the villainous Black Adam?
Having read most of the Justice League issues that contained the Shazam backup story, I strongly believe that the backups presented here were probably better than the entirety of the main comic, as this was before it started to pick up for Trinity War, where most of the Justice League issues from Volume 2 were pretty much a disappointment. However, Shazam Vol. 1 for me is probably one of the most fun reads of the year, and whilst I have read each of the backups individually, I thought that this is a series that would read much better in trade, so I decided to test it out as a collected edition via NetGalley and see how Johns handled the character who I knew next to nothing about before the New 52, and I was glad that the backups here told an origin story so that I could be up to date with the character, and I wasn’t lost out as to what was going on.
Material from several issues later, including two dedicated Shazam-centric issues (Justice League #0 & #21), I was hooked. Shazam has rapidly gone from being someone who I wasn’t familiar with at all to among my Top 5 favourite DC characters, and I would really love Johns and Frank to be the creative team behind an ongoing Shazam series in the New 52, with this hopefully being more possible by the fact that Johns is no longer writing as many titles as he was at the start of the reboot, having left Green Lantern earlier in the year and is shortly departing Aquaman. Whilst it’s a shame to see him leave those two books, particularly Aquaman – I would love to see Johns take Shazam into a long-running series and seeing where he takes the character from here. After all, Shazam actually played a surprisingly big role in the start of Trinity War – and with a character playing such a big role in an event without his own ongoing, it’s only a matter of time before he gets one, right?
I’ve been talking about how let-down I was by the below par artwork in Injustice: Gods Among Us and I’m happy to say that that’s not the case with the first Volume of Shazam, with Gary Frank’s artwork being superb. Right from the front cover to the last page, the artwork is one of the highlights of the volume and I’m looking forward to seeing what Frank does next – and depending on who the writer is, I will be picking it up based on what I’ve seen here. Some of the pages are literally draw-dropping and out of the graphic novels that I’ve reviewed in this roundup, I think Shazam has by far and away the best artwork. It’s absolutely stunning.
Switching focus from the artwork to the character himself, Shazam, or Billy Batson as we first know him – isn’t the world’s most likeable character. He starts out as someone who gets on the wrong side of people and is a pretty troublesome character, but he’s one that grows on you over time. And the script itself brings some area of innocence to the table as well so as a result, it’s not all as gritty and dark as one might expect. We also get a look into Shazam’s presumably main nemesis, Black Adam here – a character that I’d never heard of before the New 52, but when combined with the characters’ villain’s month issue and this trade, I’ve really started to get to grips with the character more. Like with most of Johns’ villains, the lines between good and bad are not fully applicable to Black Adam here, as the character seems more like an anti-hero with a misguided sense of justice than an full villain, and I’m looking forward to see Black Adam return with Shazam if Johns chooses to make the series an ongoing.
The first volume of Shazam then, is a very fun series. It’s probably one of the better first volumes of DC’s books out there at the moment, and if you’re unfamiliar with the character and have not been keeping up with the backups in Justice League, then the first volume of Shazam is a must-read. This is a fantastic collection that really deserves a brand new ongoing and I hope that DC can deliver on that soon, and if Johns and Frank are announced as the creative team behind it, then Shazam is going straight to the top of my monthly pull-list. Highly recommended.
Art: Jheremy Raapack and Mark S. Miller
From the makers of Mortal Kombat comes the critically acclaimed prequel comic to the smash hit fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us!
Things in the DC Universe have changed after Superman is tricked into destroying the one thing he loves the most. Now unwilling to let crime go unpunished, the heroes of our world must choose if they are with Superman or against him. But not every country will submit to his new world order and neither will Superman’s greatest threat—Batman!
I’m a massive fan of the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game, so it was kind of a no brainer that I’d get around to reading the first volume of the companion series by Tom Taylor at some point, and for the most part – it did not disappoint. The first collected volume of the trade is delightfully fun, relinquishing in all the unpredictability that an alternate universe can provide, but prevented from becoming entirely unpredictable because for those who have played and completed the game’s storyline (like myself) a few otherwise shocking moments aren’t as surprising as they could have been because I already knew it was coming.
A collection of six issues of the print comic series, which originally collected multiple issues of the digital first series, Injustice: Gods Among Us is set in a world where the Joker, having got bored of playing with Batman, has turned his gaze onto the Man of Steel – and in a single act, manages to kill off not only Lois Lane, but also Metropolis itself. This finally breaks Superman – having decided that mankind is no longer capable of ruling the planet, sets off to rule it in his own way. Right from the start, stuff that we’d never ever see in the current continuity explodes into an action-packed sequence that will have most readers on the edge of their seats. As this is set in a parallel world, pretty much no character, be they an A-List or a D-Lister hero, is safe, and the results as the characters come to blows are a lot of fun to read about, as Taylor, a new and recent addition to the ranks of DC Comics’ writers (look out for him taking over from James Robinson in Earth 2 after #16) has really impressed with this series, and despite a few flaws that prevent it from being great, he’s certainly made himself a name to watch, and I for one – am interested to find out where Taylor takes Earth 2 from here even though I am unhappy about Robinson leaving the book. I’m willing to give him a chance because based on what I’ve seen in Injustice: Gods Among Us, Taylor now seems to be the go-to-guy for comics set in alternate dimensions.
The artwork doesn’t really work as well as it should though, and one of the things that lets the book down. Jheremy Raapack and Mark S. Miller don’t really bring some strong artwork to the table here and I wasn’t really a fan of both of their styles. I felt that for a book that’s quite strong, Injustice deserved a better artistic team, but then again, it’s not just Injustice: Gods Among Us that suffers from poor artistic choices from the ranks of DC – the recent issues of Talon have suffered from declining art and there are several other DC books that also suffer from this problem.
Tom Taylor has to deal with a lot of characters in this comic and for the most part, he pulls them off well. Harley Quinn gets several key moments including some nice interaction with Green Arrow following the death of the Joker. She’s a character who I’ve never warmed to before but after Injustice: Gods Among Us, she’s starting to improve to the extent where I’m actually considering checking out Harley Quinn #0, a new DC book that’s hitting stands soon, as it has the potential to be a lot of fun. All the A-List characters get plenty of page-time here, with Batman and Superman obviously having the most important roles to play, but not only does Taylor have to juggle appearances from these two giants, but also Flash, Green Lantern and many others.
Of course, with a high number of dramatis personae, there is a chance that not all characters may not be pulled off as exactly as they should be, and perhaps the most notable case is Wonder Woman. As a fan of the character despite not keeping up with Brian Azzarello’s current ongoing series and not happy with the direction that it has been taking, I was hoping that Taylor would make the character more interesting and awesome here. However, this is sadly not the case, as the panel on the right helps illustrate, especially when you take the scene with Wonder Woman and Ares into consideration as well, it comes across as entirely out of character for Diana- who we see setting her up as already willing to submit to whatever Superman wants her to do, which at least in my opinion, doesn’t fit the Wonder Woman that we know, who is arguably the most powerful and iconic female character in the entirety of the comics genre, and to make matters worse – the full scene also hints at it only being a matter of time before she tries to take Lois’s place as Superman’s next love interest.
Whilst Taylor does indeed get most of the characters, he doesn’t seem to get Wonder Woman, which is a shame – as this was one of the things that helped prevent this comic from being great. It was a lot of fun, sure – and when Taylor handled characters right, he really handled them well – the emotional scenes with Superman is handled really well following the death of Lois and it make him a lot more sympathetic than the video game did. And of course, the Green Arrow/Harley Quinn interactions that I briefly touched upon earlier are probably the highlight of the book for me, as Taylor pulls of the sequence pretty well indeed as Harley learns the various different types of arrows that Green Arrow has up his sleeve.
The action was mostly fun and I never felt like I was getting the re-hash of the same fight scene over and over again with different characters. Taylor made each scene feel fresh and exciting, and managed to tell the first volume in a pretty grimdark way, so don’t go in expecting everything to be all fun and games. I can’t wait to see where Taylor takes this too, the first volume was very much establishing this new world and who stands on what side. I can’t wait to see what happens further down the line though, and you can count me interested to see how this develops in the future as despite a few flaws, Injustice: Gods Among Us Vol. 1 has kicked off the series to a pretty promising start.