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?]
ACTION COMICS #23.3: LEX LUTHOR/ Written by CHARLES SOULE/ Art by RAYMUND BERMUDEZ/ Inks by DAN GREEN/ Colors by ULISES ARREOLA/ Letters by DEZI SIENTY
What really stands out is how well Soule presents Luthor’s cold, calculating obsession with both power and Superman. The lengths Luthor takes throughout the issue to control everything around him is very well written.
Bermudez’s sketches are crisp and clean as he portrays Luthor’s refined sense of nobility. Luthor’s disgust for failure and hunger for dominance come through well in his stature and calculated emotional responses.
BATMAN #23.3: PENGUIN/ Written by FRANK TIERI/Art by CHRISTIAN DUCE/ Colors by JASON FABOK & NATHAN FAIRBAIRN/ Letters by TAYLOR ESPOSITIO
In Detective Comics, Ignatius Ogilvy tried to overthrow the Penguin’s reign as one of the most feared crime lords in Gotham. Frank Tieri, however, does an excellent job of showing just how diabolical and powerful the Penguin truly can be.
Instead of taking a tired biographical route, Tieri forwards the development of the character as he fends off threats to his criminal empire. While this may seem standard, the lengths to which the Penguin goes to restore his empire are more diabolical and twisted than readers have seen in Detective Comics.
Duce’s art is detailed and matches the dark tone of Tieri’s story very well. The emphasis on minute detail when constructing Penguin’s physical appearance reveals the experience and fiendish nature that years of controlling crime in Gotham has provided him.
BATMAN AND ROBIN #23.3: RA’S AL GHUL AND THE LEAGUE OF ASSASSINS/ Written by JAMES TYNION IV/Art by JEREMY HAUN/ Colors by JOHN RAUSCH/ Letters by TRAVIS LANHAM
This is an interesting issue because the story and art are solid, but there just isn’t anything memorable in the issue to make it stand out. The story hinges on Ra’s accepting or declining an invitation into the Secret Society. With his high level ego firmly intact, however, Ra’s refuses to bow to the Crime Syndicate.
Tynion IV does an excellent job of creating flashbacks that illuminate Ra’s rise to power as well as strong connections to the events of Batman Inc. The story, unfortunately, feels like a simple review of events in anticipation for upcoming story lines in the Red Hood title.
Haun’s art is decent, yet some of the character depictions seem awkwardly over-exaggerated. There are times when the boredom or anger Ra’s expresses or the pain of his victims just seems overdone. This combined with the unimpressive, standard story make this an issue that can be skipped.
BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #23.3: CLAYFACE/ Written by JOHN LAYMAN/Art by CLIFF RICHARDS/ Colors by MATT YACKEY/ Letters by STEVE WANDS
Clayface has been getting a lot of attention lately in Batman: The Dark Knight, and this issue continues developing his criminal motivations. This issue places Clayface directly in the crosshairs of the Crime Syndicate as he tries to impress them into granting him membership in the Secret Society. His violent irrationality, however, makes him less than desirable.
The overall story doesn’t really promote any forward progress of the character. Instead, Layman attempts to add Clayface into the rogue’s gallery that have a beef with the Crime Syndicate, yet he falls short of making that development interesting enough to care.
Clayface should be a very pliable character to portray (yes, the pun was intended), yet Richards makes him seem very rigid. The image provided on the cover by Guillem March and Tomeu Morey conveys Clayface’s horrific, malleable physical appearance well, but Richards’s portrayal is very solid and brick-like. Overall, the cover might draw the reader in, but everything inside the issue feels very standard and disappointing.
DETECTIVE COMICS #23.3: SCARECROW/ Written by PETER J. TOMASI/Art by SZYMON KUDRANSKI/ Colors by JOHN KALISZ/ Letters by DEZI SIENTY
This issue is really mis-advertised. If you’ve been reading the Villains Month titles you already know some of the stories are origins and some of them are building up the Forever Evil story. This is, however, is more of prologue to the Arkham War mini-series that will spawn out of Forever Evil.
Tomasi shows that Gotham has been divided between Batman’s rogue gallery as the Crime Syndicate forces chaos to reign. For much of the issue, Scarecrow wanders around the different territories informing his compatriots about an impending war with the escaped, venom-filled prisoners of Blackgate prison.
While the overall story is just setup and introduction, Tomasi does an excellent job of portraying Scarecrow’s fondness for psychologically games, Riddler’s maniac quest for dominance through knowledge, and Killer Croc’s primal sense of seclusion. His portrayal of Mr. Freeze, however, is a letdown. Instead of finding a distinct voice for the villain it seems that Tomasi just took a standard psychopath route with him.
The art impressively conveys the descent into darkness that the world is faced with. There is a surprisingly eerie panel where Killer Croc comes out of nowhere to attack a Blackgate escapee. The animalistic nature that Kudranski captures in the panel is truly frightening.
Overall, there are definitely problems with the issue, yet if read as a prologue to Arkham War, it shouldn’t be too disappointing.
FLASH #23.3: THE ROGUES/ Written by BRIAN BUCCELLATO/Art by PATRICK ZIRCHER /Colors by NICK FILARDI/ Letters by TAYLOR ESPOSITO
As with the other Flash one-shot this month, Buccellato develops The Rogues from a place of experience. Throughout this issue it is clear that Buccellato has a clear vision for the villains. The story fits well into the ongoing Flash continuity by unveiling the history between each member of the Rogues while staying connected to the events of Forever Evil.
Buccellato excels at showing the emotional depth that exists between Captain Cold, his sister Golden Glider, Mirror Master, Heatwave, and Trickster, as each character is faced with existential developments.
Zircher’s art increases the depth of the entire story by capturing the wide range of attitudes and emotion that comprise the group of diverse villains. Filardi’s color choices for the issue also compliment the overall atmosphere of the issue very well.
GREEN LANTERN #23.3: BLACK HAND/ Written by CHARLES SOULE/ Art by ALBERTO PONTICELLI/ Inks by STEFANO LANDINI/ Colors by DANNY VOZZO/ Letters by DAVE SHARPE
In yet another issue from the mind of Charles Soule, Black Hand is dropped directly into the chaos of Forever Evil, yet takes his own demented path. Soule picks up Black Hand’s story directly after Hal Jordan vaporized him during the Wrath of the First Lantern story line. William Hand rematerializes out of the ashes of cremated psychiatric patients and begins trying to piece together his history.
Black Hand eventually turns up at a familiar gravesite where he has a conversation that will undoubtedly have lasting ramifications on the Green Lantern universe. Soule shows both a love for continuity and an appreciation for long time fans of the Green Lantern story lines by creating these impactful moments
The artistic team also contributes to the overall tone and impact of the story by maintaining a shadowy, decayed atmosphere within each panel. Everything from Black Hand’s rotten stump of an arm (thanks to Hal) to his undead minions help instill a creepiness that one might expect out of a Swamp Thing or Animal Man story, instead of a Green Lantern tale.
JUSTICE LEAGUE #23.3: DIAL E/ Written by CHINA MIÉVILLE/Art by MATEUS SANTOLOUCO, CARLA BERROCAL, RICCARDI BURCHIELLI, LIAM SHARP, JOCK, TULA LOTAY, MARLEY ZARCONE, BRENDAN MCCARTHY, EMMA RIOS, EMI LENOX, JEFF LEMIRE, FRAZIER IRVING, DAVID LAPHAM, CARMEN CARNERO, SLONE LEONG, KELSEY WROTEN, MICHELLE FARRAN, ANNIE WU, ZAK SMITH, ALBERTO PONTICELLI, & DAN GREEN/Colors by EVA DE LA CRUZ, FRAZIER IRVING, ANNIE WU, & ZAK SMITH/ Letters by TAYLOR ESPOSITO
What’s going on with that incredibly long list of artists, you ask? Each of the listed artists tackles one page of the 20-page issue that highlights the maniacally dialing of a group of kids. While this might seem like an exciting way to show off talent, it actual ends up to be utterly chaotic if each page isn’t viewed as its own separate entity.
There is some great art in the book. How can there not be with such a long list of both new and veteran talent? There so much style diversity from page to page that it’s hard not to pore over each panel and page. Every thing from the dark, shadowy sketching provided by Jock to the childlike and playful drawing of Emi Lenox draws attention to a bright creative future in comics.
The story is minimal and focuses mostly on the frenzied changes the teens endure as a result of their dialing. Miéville completely disregards an exposition to focus on the frantic menagerie of villains. Fans of the now canceled Dial H series will find the minimal story entertaining, but to those picking the title up based on the Justice League title will feel utterly lost.
Together the diverse, rapid-fire changes in artwork combined with the minimal story will make this issue a tough sell for anybody but Dial H fans.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #7.3: SHADOW THIEF/ Written by TOM DEFALCO/Art by CHAD HARDIN/ Colors by CHRIS SOTOMAYOR/ Letters by TAYLOR ESPOSITO
The New 52 incarnation of Shadow Thief first appeared in the pages of Savage Hawkman, which was cancelled back in May. In an attempt to remind readers about the villainess, Tom DeFalco develops a tale that uncovers many of her motivations. This is a narration heavy story as Aviva recounts her previous life as a Mossad spy and her distaste for extraterrestrials.
At its core DeFalco’s story is interesting. Moments of heroism are uncovered as Aviva recounts her patriotism, the death of her mother and brother, and her relationship with the shadow suit. She truly seems to be doing valiant work trying to eliminate the alien presence in the world. However, her processes in dispatching those aliens leans more towards villainous intent. This juxtaposition of ideals makes the character intriguing.
The downside to DeFalco’s story is that it is incredibly wordy, yet quickly paced. It feels like the amount of content he builds into this background story could span a couple of issues. Due to over-development feeling, there are some key aspects to Aviva story that just get glossed over.
Hardin’s art is excellent throughout. There is a nice comparison between Aviva’s interactions with and without the shadow suit that really helps build interest into the character for more than just her powers.
SUPERMAN #23.3: HE’L/ Written by SCOTT LOBDELL/ Art by DAN JURGENS/ Inks by RAY MCCARTHY/ Colors by HI-FI/ Letters by TAYLOR ESPOSITO
If you pick this issue up you better have read Lobdell’s He’l on Earth story arc that crossed all of the Super titles a few months back. Even then, the story contained within this issue is confusing and convoluted. We see He’l comatose in an observation tank, several years before the destruction of Krypton.
Jor El is studying the scientific marvels contained within He’l’s genetic structure. This is where the story really starts going off the rails. He’l, though unconscious, is psychically following and narrating Jor El’s scientific leaps of discovery. Jor begins to piece together that He’l must be from the future, that Krypton will be destroyed, and the only way to combat the apocalypse is to explore space against Krypton law. Each of these revelations seem to just come to Jor, which goes against all we know of his love for scientific inquiry. As a further insult, Lobdell creates a chaotic series of events as the climax of the issue where He’l apparently realizes what he thought about his own existence is all a lie. What happens exactly is lost in terrible dialogue, which ends up seeming like He’l created himself by going to Earth, trying to save Krypton, and traveling back in time. How that leads to an origin only Scott Lobdell understands at this point.
Dan Jurgens does a great job of drawing the comic. There are some epic moments of sci-fi goodness throughout as Jurgens fills Jor El’s secret lab full of intriguing artifacts. Sadly though, Jurgens can’t rescue this disjointed, poorly developed story.
SWAMP THING #23.1: ARCANE/ Written by CHARLES SOULE/Art by JESUS SAIZ/ Colors by MATTHEW WILSON/ Letters by TRAVIS LANHAM
Anton Arcane hasn’t had much of a role in Swamp Thing since the Parliament of Decay, in the Rotworld storyline, stripped him of his connection to the rot. Soule, however, extends his exile by drawing Abigail, the new avatar of decay, into Arcane’s suffering.
As Soule reconstructs Abigail’s childhood through Arcane’s recollections, the sadistic horror that permeates from him becomes clear. Soule emphasizes Arcane’s obsession with death by uncovering some brief, yet incredibly twisted scenarios involving murder, decay, and experimentation with his powers that will linger with the reader.
Saiz’s art perfect compliments the twisted nature of Soule’s story by accentuating Arcane’s decayed physical appearance and the violence that surrounded his rise to power.
TEEN TITANS #23.2: DEATHSTROKE/ Written by COREY MAY & DOOMA WENDSCHUH/Art by MORITAT, ANGEL UNZUETA & ROBSON ROCHA/ Inks by MORITAT & ART THIBERT/ Colors by PETE PANTAZIS/ Letters by TRAVIS LANHAM
Here is a DC villain who has already had a prominent focus in the ongoing continuity that didn’t really need an origin one-shot. May and Wendschuh chaotically flashback into Slade Wilson’s past to show that, in his heart, he’s a family man. He trains and works side by side with his son Grant, until they get ambushed, and then he comes home to hide his secret assassin life from his daughter, Rose. That’s pretty much the gist of the issue, and for fans of Deathstroke’s role with the Teen Titans , Team 7, or even the conclusion to The Ravagers series know that’s just not the character. If this development choice is in anticipation for some new role in the post-Forever Evil DC universe then it should be obvious the role won’t last.
There are a few brief panels that unveil a past relationship between Deathstroke and fellow assassin, Deathblow that should have been the focus of the issue. The interaction and background that is briefly exposed between the two assassins is far more interesting than the family-man aspect.
In addition to the poorly constructed story, the team of pencillers take what seems to be similarly chaotic approach to the art. There is nothing to make Deathstroke seem villainous or imposing. He just seems like any other generic assassin that takes very little chance on moving away from the standard archetype.
WONDER WOMAN #23.1: CHEETAH/ Written by JOHN OSTRANDER/Art by VICTOR IBANEZ/ Colors by WIL QUINTANA/ Letters by TRAVIS LANHAM
Barbara Minerva is arguably an interesting villain that never really gets a chance to move into the A-List ranks of DC Villains, yet John Ostrander proves that she’s interesting enough to make it to that level.
The issue expertly combines a traditional origin story, development of the character’s motivations, and new material to make this one of the best issues from this week’s issues. Ostrander expertly develops Cheetah as a formidable villain who is motivated by pure bloodlust, but does not rely on her relationship with Wonder Woman to do it.
Ibanez’s art is spectacular as he accentuates Cheetah’s haughty self-righteousness along with her feral obsession with the Goddess of the Hunt. Each panel visually showcases some aspect of Cheetah’s personality or physical nature that draws the reader into every aspect of the story.