Reviewed! Every Issue of Villains Month, Week Four

Week four wraps up the review copies, with another slightly-uninspiring collection of comics. The first two weeks definitely felt a little stronger, or perhaps that’s just a side-effect from me reading fifty-odd issues of murder and horror in a row. It’s a little desensitising!

There’s more set-up for the Arkham War crossover this week, as well as some new creators debuting DC work for the first time. There’s also a whole lot of murdering going on. Villains Month officially ends this week – but check back next week for reviews of all the straggling issues, as well as an little overview of how the month has gone as a whole.

One thing that you should note is that some of the comics take place as part of Forever Evil – the Batman and Flash comics, it seems – whilst the Green Lantern/Superman issues are more general. So some issues follow on immediately from the first issue of the event, whilst others are more general stories. Keep that in mind as you buy the comics – they’ll all make sense, but some will be directly following on from the main story whilst others are unconnected origin stories.

Joker’s Daughter wasn’t available for review – so you’ll see her, along with Deadshot, Deathstroke, Lex Luthor and Creeper next week.

 

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Secret Society

Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates (w), Szymon Kudranski (a), John Kalisz (c), Taylor Esposito (l), Katie Stewart, Brian Cunningham (e)

This is an issue detailing what happened to the Batman/Nightwing pairing over in Earth 3, which is the newly revealed Earth where everyone is evil. Naturally some evil stuff ensues, involving a version of the Joker. Ignore Mikel Janin’s cover on the front, though – this is all about the Earth 3 version of Alfred Pennyworth. Essentially explaining the bits of Trinity War which were left unresolved, this is an issue which struggles with some phenomenally difficult and obtuse artwork. Kudranski’s work here is not only drowned in shadows and heavy inks – it’s also consistently unable to tell a sequential narrative.

There are a number of close-up panels of faces which the reader can’t tell apart, as well an inexplicable panels where *something* is clearly happening – but there’s no way of knowing what. This has been ridiculously blacked-out and made difficult for readers, and neither the scripting not the colours give any definition of what we’re seeing. This is an issue which I imagine is going to be re-explained in Forever Evil 2, probably within the space of two lines, rendering this entire issue relatively useless.

 

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Black Adam

Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates (w), Edgar Salazar (a), Jay Leisten (i), Gabe Eltaeb (c), Steve Wands (l), Katie Stewart, Brian Cunningham (e)

Geoff Johns doesn’t script any of the comics he’s attached to this week, which does make one wonder where exactly his time is going nowadays – is he setting up a new project of some kind, somewhere? At any rate, that he’s not here to script Black Adam is fairly apparent from the start. Johns is closely associated with the character, especially for the work done during the ’52′ year-long story he collaborated on. Here we have a sort of reunion for Black Adam with several familiar – but needlessly reimagined – faces. And it’s workmanlike, for the most part. It’s interesting to see Jay Leisten jumping to DC for an issue – I can’t remember having seen him anywhere outside of Marvel for a very long time – and he and Edgar Salazar do a decent job with the story.

It’s told well, even if it seems clear that both are working within a pre-established ‘house style’ which weakens the work slightly. But the dialogue feels extremely functional, more than anything else, progressing the story without any flair or spark. And the very final page is inadvertently hilarious for the bizarre change in tone which occurs – and which seems to magically teleport an iPad into Black Adam’s hands from nowhere. It’s such a strange page, setting up an imminent Justice League story I don’t think sounds very interesting.

 

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Doomsday

Greg Pak (w), Brett Booth (a), Norm Rapmund (i), Andrew Dalhouse (c), Carlos M. Mangual (l), Anthony Marques, Mike Cotton (e)

If there’s one thing that Villains Month has made clear, it’s that I still can’t distinguish any of the Kryptonians apart. Doomsday is another issue full of Kals and Laras and Aluras, and I still can’t work out who is who. Anyway, this is a story in which some of the Kryptonians tells a young Supergirl a bedtime story – one about Doomsday. For the second time in a row, Greg Pak’s been asked to give a backstory to a character who has never needed nor required a backstory, and he puts together a workable solution to that problem. He sets up a Doomsday who is still single-minded and dangerous, but also now has a master and an origin-of-sorts. It more or less works.

Booth does an okay job with the story, although he gives everybody strange facial hair and/or sideburns. The most interesting sequence of the story is distinguished, though, by the colouring of Andrew Dalhouse, as the original Superman/Doomsday fight is related as a kind of fantasy dream-sequence. It’s strikingly coloured by Dalhouse with a range of flat colours, which strike off one another to create an unreal, lovely-looking sequence. That aside, this is a strange issue. I understand DC wanted to use one of their better-known Superman villains for a story, but this is still a rather fractured piece of work. I’ve seen so many stories with these Kryptonians this month, and they all seem to contradict one another, and it’s just so confused, editorially.

 

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First Born

Brian Azzarello (w), Aco (a), Matthew Wilson (c), Jared K. Fletcher (l), Chris Conroy (e)

There are two voices in this issue, which is written by Brian Azzarello. The first is the First Born himself, a villain effortlessly created and defined during the course of the issue despite only speaking directly on one page. The other voice is of the modern-day Oracles, who act as narrators. They are far less convincing.

Which is surprising, because Azzarello is well-known as a gifted writer of accent, dialect, and slang. But these three Oracles – young women first seen spray painting Greek imagery onto the wall of Los Angeles suburb – sound off. Their narration is peppered with hedges such as ‘like’, which feel out of place. Rather than settle the narration into a steady voice, it instead exists throughout the issue as a rather jarring reminder that we’re in watching story, rather than immersed within it. It’s a striking origin, however, and Aco’s art is simultaneously brazen, stirring and off-putting. The work is told with a real sense of verve, but things like perspective and proportion – especially of anatomy – don’t look quite right.

It’s half brilliant, and half flawed. An interesting issue, but not one which works as completely as I had hoped for.

 

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Metallo

Sholly Fisch (w), Steve Pugh (a), Barbara Ciardo, David Curiel (c), Taylor Esposito (l), Chris Conroy (e)

Guy Gardner lookalike (and act-alike, based on this issue) Metallo comes across okay in this issue. However, this works much better – and it appears writer Sholly Fisch is aware of this – as a General Lane storyline. Lane steals the issue away from the feature villain, as Fisch does some great work in re-establishing the military in the DC Universe, and their place and status. They aren’t shown to be incompetent, as is usually necessary in shared-universe franchises like Superman. Instead, they have flaws which stand to reason – they stick to duty and honour and patriotism when it doesn’t serve them to.

Lane comes across very strongly himself, especially in his showdown with Metallo. And, in fact, it’s a bit of a shame he couldn’t be the focus of an issue himself (most likely because he’s more an anti-hero than straight-out villain, but still!)

Steve Pugh’s art is as strong as ever, and he does an especially nice rendition of a notable DC villain on the final page of the story. I feel he was a little let down by the colouring here, though, as there’s a little too much gloss in the way faces are presented. Metallo has these shiny cables sticking out his head, but rather than light him up, the colourists – there are two, so I don’t want to presume who did what – tend to make his skin look sweaty and shiny.

It takes away a little from the idea of a human inside a robot suit when the human is actually shiner than the suit he wears. That’s just me, and it’s just a small criticism. This is a decent issue.

 

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Man-Bat

Frank Tieri (w), Scot Eaton (a), Jaime Mendoza (i), Jeromy Cox (c), Steve Wands (l), Katie Kubert (e)

There are a series of stories within this issue, all of which land to some effect. The first part of the story wraps up a dangling John Layman plotline regarding Man-Bat and  his wife, whilst the rest takes place after Forever Evil #1. The first half is decently done, wrapping things up for the time being so readers can get back to the ‘main’ Man-Bat storyline. And what’s interesting here is that Frank Tieri’s decision here is to return to the horror aspects of the human part of the story, which then builds into the Man-Bat part of the character.

I’ll explain that a little, because it probably sounds incoherent. What I find is that whenever a scientist turns into a monster due to their own science – you can see this countlessly with characters like The Lizard at Marvel, and it rolls right back to the original Jekyll/Hyde concept – is that the story almost always becomes a metaphor for addiction. The character starts to become addicted to their own medicine, because it reinforces them both literally and psychologically. They can believe they’re making a difference. And it was an aspect of Kirk Langstrom which was missing prior to this issue.

What Tieri does is insert that addiction angle back into the story, dovetailing the character’s villainy and morality with the breakdown of an addict. And that’s the part of the comic which works brilliantly.

Some technical details are a little off – I found that the rising brightness in the colours during the lab/addict sequences helped raise the tension and pacing nicely, but then actually detracted from the fight scenes, where the same approach is used. Orange and red backgrounds took away from the normalcy of the fighting, over-exaggerating the monster horror – when the human horror is the main draw. And despite drawing a strong issue throughout, Scot Eaton’s last page is somewhat awkward and takes a moment to understand. Good issue, though.

 

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Bane

Peter Tomasi (w), Graham Nolan (a), John Kalisz (c), Carlos M. Mangual (l), Katie Kubert (e)

The second part of Peter Tomasi’s set-up for the Arkham War crossover, this issue highlights Bane as he marches on Gotham, where he’ll be fighting all the other Batman villains. The comic plays up on the idea of Bane as a revolutionary hero, as he was in The Dark Knight Rises – only here he has that damned Venom going on once more, which has always felt to me like a detraction from the character and a complete misfire. The point of Bane is that he wants to better Batman – but I just don’t buy that the original version of him would ever do something he felt was ‘cheating’ the system and giving him an unfair advantage. He’s want to do it clean.

But! That’s not something the comic has any say in. There’s a nice melodramatic edge to the comic, as Bane monologues extensively about himself and Batman, aided by Graham Nolan’s really stocky and well-framed style of art. Carlos Mangual’s lettering is excellent, handling the large amounts of dialogue effortlessly and fitting them tightly to the character. Bane’s origin is outlined via narrative captions in two splash pages, and Mangual follows a neat throughline which connects each part of the narrative to part of the artwork. It’s very effective.

There still feels like something is missing from Bane as a character. He’s crusading against Gotham mainly because the comic wants him to, rather than because we’ve seen any reason for him to want to take over. It’s an issue which never really escapes the shadow of the crossover tie-in it’s here to promote.

 

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Parasite

Aaron Kuder (w, a), Tomeu Morey (c), Rob Leigh (l), Anthony Marques, Eddie Berganza (e)

Written and drawn by Aaron Kuder, who’ll be jumping onto Action Comics later this year, Parasite was a surprisingly enjoyable storyline. When I say surprisingly, that’s not meant to be a jab at anyone – it was just genuinely surprising to find that I liked a comic which had that design on the front. Parasite is, let’s be gentle, a little bit silly.

But Kuder does a great job with the story, making sure we actually loathe the man who turns into Parasite just as much – if not more – than we do once he becomes a monster. There’s also a clever switch with the timings of the issue, revealing that a section of the book isn’t taking place at the time it looks like it is. This leads to a fun knock-down brawl with Superman which cheats the rules and gives Kent one of HIS most fun outings in the new 52 so far.

Kuder’s artwork has a clear Frank Quitely influence, with some impressive things done to make sure that Parasite has a range of expressions. He also has fun with a few pages and sets up one particularly smart free-falling section which leads into a really impressive splash page. The art of this issue is just terrific. This is a really fun issue, right out of the blue, and marked by some really impressive art AND writing.

 

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Sinestro

Matt Kindt (w), Dale Eaglesham (a), Andrew Dalhouse (c), Rob Leigh (l), Chris Conroy (e)

I feel like I’ve read Sinestro’s backstory twenty times over the last five years, but here it is again from Matt Kindt. Drawn by Dale Eaglesham – whose work is always welcome, and here adds a real weight and power to the story – the issue is also very nicely coloured by Andrew Dalhouse. It’s another excellent retelling of a familiar origin, and anybody looking to start reading Green Lantern will find this a good place to start. The premise here is that Sinestro has vanished, so his followers have decided to treat him as a Martyr and rewrite his story so he becomes mythological and powerful in the memory of others.

To that extent, this is a straight origin story, narrated in hindsight rather than told in the present. And as Sinestro’s backstory has been fleshed out more than most villains, there’s still plenty of material for Kindt to dive into. He clears aside the extraneous parts of the character and focuses in on the important moments, giving us a resonant and involving narrative which thoroughly defines who Sinestro is.

Professionally put together in every way, it’s a story which long-term Green Lantern readers may not need to read again – but is the best retelling of Sinestro’s origin DC have done yet.

 

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Ocean Master

Geoff Johns, Tony Bedard (w), Geraldo Borges (a), Ruy Jose (i), Rod Reis (c), Travis Lanham (l), Kate Stewart, Brian Cunningham (e)

I have a definite weak spot for Aquaman villains, it seems, because I liked this issue just as much as I enjoyed the Black Manta issue from a few weeks back. This is likely because Aquaman’s villains so far have seemed pretty sympathetic – all they want is to fix the mess Aquaman caused, and who can blame them?

Here we see another issue following on from Forever Evil, as Ocean Master makes his escape from prison and goes off to find a cause. What follows is a decompressed but interesting story which basically spends most of its time following the character as he walks towards the nearest ocean, getting in various trouble along the way. There’s a fair amount of needless violence in the issue, actually, which is the main detraction. A sequence where Ocean Master performs a mercy-kill takes one page to set up, and then another to slowly depict on-panel. And in fact, the first page does a better job of establishing the scene, and would have likely been stronger if it weren’t followed by a page of choking.

But regardless of that, Ocean Master himself gets a thorough working-over here, and – as with Black Manta – actually receives some development and progression. That’s been very rare over the course of the last month, and so it comes as a welcome surprise here. Having Geoff Johns in your corner seems to allow you a lot more lee-way in developing characters, and here it pays off nicely, as we get a look at the emotion-free villain start to develop a conscience. Sort of.

Still a villain by all accounts, the issue works as a neat appraisal of how the character thinks and moves, and marks him out as someone worth following.

 

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Killer Croc

Tim Seeley (w), Francis Portela (a), Tomeu Morey (c), John J. Hill (l), Kyle Andrukiewicz, Joey Cavalieri (e)

By far my favourite issue of the week, and one of the best of the month as well, Tim Seeley’s DC debut sees him revitalise a character who’d been more-or-less discarded by DC. Although there had been plans for the character to get an origin and backstory in the pages of Batwoman, I’m far happier with letting Tim Seeley control that instead – I trust him far more as a writer, and this issue showcases why.

Seeley manages to make Killer Croc into a fully-formed, three-dimensional personality who can elicit sympathy and terror from readers, often at the same time. His script has a sharp twist on it, and tells a really complete story within twenty pages. There’s humour and empathy, drama and horror, wrapped into a dense and satisfying narrative which springs from personality first, and plot mechanics second.

He’s backed by some really terrific work from artist Francis Portela, whose work manages to tone down the violence – for the most part – and ramp up a feeling dread and fear instead. The pacing is methodical, moving from decompressed sequences into hyper-fast action often within the space of a page. Seeley also throws several gags into the story, all of which Portela manages to nail in the telling.

Letterer John Hill seems to be enjoying himself as well, especially in one particular flashback sequence wherein Robin – in full-on ‘gosh golly 1966 mode’ – gives Croc a thorough telling off. This is an issue which has a lot of fun with the main character, both at his expense and with him, but without making the character look any less threatening. By the end, Croc has been re-established as a really strong threat, and Tim Seeley has managed to transform one of Batman’s most predictable enemies into someone new and terrifying. It’s fantastic stuff.

Comments

  1. I love this feature, thanks for putting it out there, Steve. It’s a real pity, though, that we’ll have to wait for your opinion on Joker’s Daughter. Go on, buy a copy with the Beat petty cash!

  2. Spike says:

    The Jokers daughter will be an interesting character, unfortunately her origin issue was a mess. It was all over the place and seemed rushed.

  3. Spike says:

    Oh and nice that you missed the point of the Sinestro story. It was being told from the view of a loyal follower and so what we read one way in the GL books we get from another point of view. His loving wife is now a shrieking harpy. It also elaborates on how he recieved his ring and the choice he made in not saving the GL.

  4. That’s…. what I say in the review? That they’re spinning his story so he sounds like a sainted hero rather than a villain.

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