DC Comics’ Villains Month is upon us. We’ve read for months about the 3D covers and DC’s financing woes, but what really matters is the content. Each issue this month deals with the background story of a DC Universe villain. So what is worth checking out and what should be passed up? [Missed week one? Week two? Week three?]
ACTION COMICS #23.4: METALLO/ Written by SHOLLY FISCH/ Art by STEVE PUGH/ Colors by BARBARA CIARDO & DAVID CURIEL/ Letters by TAYLOR ESPOSITO
Sholly Fisch does an excellent job of building off of Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics throughout the Metallo one-shot. Fisch builds a little bit of origin by developing how John Corben was revived after his battle with Superman and Braniac. Fisch then dives into Corben’s descent into villainy through his use of excessive force during a military campaign.
Fisch combines the themes of a fall from grace with a classic lust for revenge to make Metallo both wickedly imposing and emotionally interesting. Through the emotional ups and downs that Corben faces as a living weapon and the decisions that he makes Fisch helps push Metallo into relevancy.
Steve Pugh’s art combines darkness and vibrancy to make the action and emotion jump off the page. As Metallo lumbers towards the target of his revenge, Pugh uses gloomy shadows to produce terror, while during the climactic battle the Metallo’s rage pops off the page with lively explosions.
Fisch and Pugh take a fairly one-dimensional villain and shows that Metallo can have an interesting physical and psychological role in Forever Evil and in the Action Comics ongoing.
AQUAMAN #23.2: OCEAN MASTER/ Plot by GEOFF JOHNS & TONY BEDARD/ Written by TONY BEDARD/ Art by GERALDO BORGES/ Inks by RUY JOSE/ Colors by ROD REIS/ Letters by TRAVIS LANHAM
Like the Black Manta one-shot, Johns and Bedard unveil how Ocean Master handles his freedom after the Crime Syndicate destroys Belle Reve Penitentiary. Bedard does an excellent job of remaining consistent with Ocean Master’s sense of superiority and nobility that Johns has established throughout the main Aquaman title. Unlike the Black Manta one-shot, however, Ocean Master has some unique moments of character development that draws the reader into the character.
The good moments throughout the story highlight Ocean Master’s hatred for the surface world and his intense militaristic ideology. A key moment arises Ocean Master gives a prison guard who treated him well in prison an honorable, yet unwanted death. While there are great moments the resolution to the story is very rushed. It almost feels like Johns and Bedard had planned several more panels yet ran out of time.
Borges’s art excels at showing how out of place Ocean Master is on land. He combines clear emotional development throughout his sketches that portray both Ocean Master’s discomfort and hatred for the surface world and his strength when back in his environment. To compliment this Reis’s dark color palette matches that of the ongoing series and compliments both the chaos of Forever Evil and the darkness that surrounds Ocean Master’s overall development.
Though the ending is rushed and choppy, the character development and excellent art make this a good jumping on point for readers who want to begin reading Aquaman and enjoyable for those who already enjoy the ongoing series.
BATMAN #23.4: BANE/ Written by PETER J. TOMASI/ Art by GRAHAM NOLAN/ Colors by JOHN KALISZ/ Letters by CARLOS M. MANGUAL
As with Scarecrow last week, Tomasi uses this one-shot to build up his upcoming mini-series, Arkham War. As Bane begins to rally his troops and move against an unprotected Gotham City, the legend of his domination is retold from the perspective of his minions.
Tomasi creates some great moments for Bane that really helps solidify supremacy, yet there are also several moments that are overdramatic and overwritten. Bane’s rallying monologue awkwardly portrays him as both power hungry and a savior to his followers. Due to the attitude that is portrayed Bane comes off a little too egotistical, which may telegraph his role in the upcoming mini-series.
Nolan’s art captures Bane’s massive physicality and his cold disregard for everything outside his intended results. There’s a clear challenge in visually portraying emotion in a masked character, yet Nolan conveys it well with subtle posture changes.
People who have followed along with Bane in the Talon title as well as those looking forward to Arkham War will be able to look past the overly dramatic sequences in Tomasi’s writing and enjoy the tension and terror Bane creates.
BATMAN AND ROBIN #23.4: KILLER CROC/ Written by TIM SEELEY/ Art by FRANCIS PORTELA/ Colors by TOMEU MOREY/ Letters by JOHN J. HILL
Killer Croc is a horrific genetic mutation with a comparable horrific taste for murder and power. With Tim Seeley’s background as an author of horror stories, one might expect a gruesome portrayal of the villain. Unfortunately there’s a lot of background and motivation development in this issue that sidelines Croc’s true potential.
There are a few good moments where Croc shows off his animalistic nature, yet Seeley develops alienation from society theme that seems fairly standard for the character.
Portela’s art is okay. There’s a lot of detail involved in portraying Killer Croc’s massive, scaly appearance, and the cops that he hunts are vibrant and lifelike. The disappointment again may arise in that Croc isn’t as horrific as he should be. There was a great panel by Szymon Kudranski in the Scarecrow one-shot last week that captures Killer Croc’s physicality a lot better.
BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #23.4: JOKER’S DAUGHTER/ Written by ANN NOCENTI/ Art by GEORGES JEANTY/ Colors by MICHELLE MADSEN/ Letters by DEZI SIENTY
At the conclusion of Death of the Family, Joker’s fate was shrouded in mystery. His amputated face, however, apparently has been floating around in the Gotham Underground just waiting to be retrieved by a bat-crap crazy teenage girl.
Nocenti’s plot is unoriginal and just awful. The main character, known only as Duela, searches the Gotham sewers for a community of human Arkham Asylum escapees with the intention of reenacting the Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes. Her only sense of power comes from her decision to wear Joker’s desiccated face around. If that isn’t contrite enough, all the escapees seem to believe Duela’s new adornment gives her the power to rule as well.
Duela’s back story tries to be creepy, but one can’t help but recall similar development in Batman: The Dark Knight #23.1 where Gail Simone uncovers The Ventriloquist’s screwed up experiences during childhood.
Jeanty’s art is disappointing because his depictions of Duela’s past and present seem to fit that crazy for sake of craziness that Noncenti establishes in the story. The panels featuring Duela’s childhood are blotchy and minimal, while her present story line is chaotic and rushed.
There’s really nothing to like about this issue. The fact that there’s no connection to Batman: The Dark Knight or Forever Evil makes one wonder why Nocenti didn’t just develop Duela in the Catwoman ongoing instead of wasting a one-shot on her.
BATMAN/SUPERMAN #3.1: DOOMSDAY/ Written by GREG PAK/ Art by BRETT BOOTH/ Inks by NORM RAPMUND/ Colors by ANDREW DALHOUSE/ Letters by CARLOS M. MANGUAL
Greg Pak proves once again that he knows what should go into a Superman story, even if Superman isn’t the focus. There is a distinct subtly in Pak’s Doomsday story that provides a lot of intrigue for Pak’s future plans for both Zod and Doomsday.
Pak’s narrative is focused on Zor-El telling Kara an age appropriate tale of one of Krypton’s darkest moments. The juxtaposition of the filtered truth and the harsh reality comes crashing down on the future Supergirl to create a plot line that will be interesting to see developed.
Booth’s art is crisp and vibrant. While Doomsday is not really the central focus in the story, his depiction of Doomsday’s animalistic nature, works perfectly into Pak’s story of deception and struggle for dominance on Krypton. Rapmund and Dalhouse help emphasize the raw vitality of Booth’s art by creating an emotional atmosphere that is both dark and instinctual.
DETECTIVE COMICS #23.4: MAN BAT/ Written by FRANK TIERI/ Art by SCOT EATON/ Inks by JAIME MENDOZA/ Colors by JEROMY COX/ Letters by STEVE WANDS
Tieri’s take on Man-Bat isn’t so much as an origin story as it is a development of his motivations. The main character sees an opportunity with the Justice League and Batman missing to become Gotham’s protector. He tinkers with the serum that transforms him in to a man-size bat in an attempt to become strong enough to succeed in his goals.
Tieri does a great job of mixing heroic ideals with villainous actions throughout the issue to create a dilemma within the reader. Do we want Man-Bat to succeed in becoming a protector, even if his methods are murderous? This, however, creates a resemblance to other scientist turned animal comic characters that may turn some readers off.
Eaton and Mendoza do a great job of supporting the animalistic instinct to prey on the escaped convicts that Tieri sets up in the story. The defined musculature rendered throughout each Man-Bat panel is impressive.
Though the story may lack originality it is interesting, and when combined with the excellent artwork makes this a decent entry into the progression of Villains Month titles.
GREEN LANTERN #23.4: SINESTRO/ Written by MATT KINDT/ Art by DALE EAGLESHAM/ Colors by ANDREW DALHOUSE/ Letters by ROB LEIGH
It’s a lofty task to shed light on a character that is as loved, hated, and essential to the Green Lantern continuity as Sinestro. Matt Kindt gives it a noble try by summarizing every major event in Sinestro’s background through the eyes of Lyssa Drak, the once guardian of the Book of Parallax. As she recounts everything from Sinestro’s humble beginnings as an archeologist on Korugar to the events of the Wrath of the First Lantern story it becomes clear that any new developments for the character will have to come in future issues of Green Lantern.
Eaglesham’s art is excellent throughout the issue. Eaglesham frames each memory from Sinestro’s history with detailed borders that are eye-catching and help maintain flow throughout the story. His character work conveys the emotions of Sinestro and immense cast that share his history extremely well.
It is unfortunate, but not overly surprising that the story doesn’t provide anything new to the history of Sinestro, and for that reason someone who has followed the villain during Geoff John’s run won’t find many reasons to invest in this story. New readers will, however, find this as a great jumping on point for a single, yet crucial component of the Green Lantern universe.
JUSTICE LEAGUE #23.4: SECRET SOCIETY/ Written by GEOFF JOHNS & STERLING GATES/ Art by SZYMON KUDRANSKI/ Colors by JOHN KALISZ/ Letters by TAYLOR ESPOSITO
This issue really feels like a direct continuation of Forever Evil as well as a bookend for Villains titles. The Outsider recounts the destruction of his world, Owlman’s motivations for taking on his costumed role, and his own motivations for standing by Owlman’s side.
What is most interesting throughout this issue is the Outsider’s perspective on Owlman’s desire to find someone who he can trust and open up to. Johns and Gates develop a lot of juxtaposition between Owlman and Batman as the reveal a heavy loss in Owlman’s history and connect it to a major development/reveal within the Forever Evil storyline.
Kudranski and Kalisz flex their artistic muscles throughout this issue. Most of the panels are saturated with shadow as Kudranski relies on silhouettes to portray the action. He also uses detail close-ups of the characters to relay intense emotion. This combination of approaches creates equilibrium within the visual story that matches the story extremely well. Kalisz emphasizes that equilibrium by employing a dark, emotionally appropriate color palate that leads the reader right into the shocking revelation on the last page.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #7.4: BLACK ADAM/ Story by GEOFF JOHNS & STERLING GATES/ Written by STERLING GATES/ Art by EDGAR SALAZAR/ Inks by JAY LEISTEN/ Colors by GABE ELTAEB/ Letters by STEVE WANDS
Throughout Khandaq anxiety and violence are the status quo, as Khandaqis have to fight against the oppressive tyranny of their ruler. A group of freedom fighters that believe in the ancient power of Black Adam uncover a spell to resurrect him after his destruction in Justice League #21.
There are a lot of connections to the previous development of Black Adam in the Justice League title, yet very little connection to anything else that has already been established. By leaving Black Adam’s role in Forever Evil a mystery, Johns and Gates allow the character to have an individual defining moment. That moment, rising up as the protector of Khandaq and releasing its citizens from the grip of tyranny, shows that Black Adam may not be quite what the reader expects.
Salazar’s art is expressive and detailed as he portrays the violence surrounding the Khandaqi people. There is an excellent full-page panel when Black Adam is resurrected that combines the environment and the various characters involved into a dramatic and beautifully drawn moment.
The issue blurs the lines of the character’s role well and it will definitely be interesting to see how Johns plans to develop Black Adam as Forever Evil marches on.
SUPERMAN #23.4: PARASITE/ Written by AARON KUDER/ Art by AARON KUDER/ Colors by TOMEU MOREY/ Letters by ROB LEIGH
Many of the Villains Month one-shots have tried to depict the subject of the issue as a threatening, terrifying threat to the DC Universe and failed (miserably in some cases). Aaron Kuder, however, creates an interesting and visually stunning tale for a little used Superman villain.
As both the writer and the artist for this issue Kuder excels at conveying Parasite’s emotional development through some unique panel layouts. Kuder’s Parasite looks like a nightmare and acts like a confused, lonely, and disgruntled human turned toxic, life-draining monster should.
Through these aspects Kuder shows what a psychologically damaged and frightening monster should look and act like.
WONDER WOMAN #23.2: FIRST BORN/ Written by BRIAN AZZARELLO/ Art by ACO/ Colors by MATTHEW WILSON/ Letters by JARED K. FLETCHER
While Villains Month has been about seeing interpretations of characters from new creators, many series like Flash and Detective Comics have had one-shots developed by the ongoing writer. Wonder Woman gets added to list as Brian Azzarello unveils the back-story of the First Born. Azzarello does an excellent job of balancing the back-story with future intrigue to grab the attention of new and old readers alike.
Readers will enjoy the epic drama that surrounds the First Born’s growing hatred for the gods of Olympus as he tries to garner their attention through violence. Azzarello also continues to show a strong connection to Greek mythology as the narrative unfolds through the visions of Apollo’s Oracles and much of the Greek pantheon finds a role to play within the First Born’s bloody past.
Aco does an excellent job of maintaining the gritty surrealism that has been established by Cliff Chiang in the main title. Aco transitions seamlessly from the urban landscape of modern LA to the desolation of the First Born’s earthbound kingdom in the past.
Fans ranging from Wonder Woman veterans to those looking to jump onto the title will find both the story and the art highly enjoyable.