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?]
ACTION COMICS #23.2: ZOD/ Written by GREG PAK/ Art by KEN LASHLEY/ Colors by PETE PANTAZIS/ Letters by STEVE WANDS
After this summer’s Man of Steel blockbuster and Zod’s treatment in 1980’s Superman II, there’s not a lot that could be uncovered about General Zod, right? Greg Pak does an excellent job of combining everything we already know while uncovering small details to continue character development. Pak frames the issue with a childhood trauma and then reveals the true nature of the trauma. This development convention works well with the development of Zod’s military career on Krypton which comprises the bulk of the story.
Lashley’s art compliments Pak’s story well. Everything from the Kryptonian backdrop and wildlife to Zod’s evolution from child to power-hungry general is portrayed with sharp detail. Pantazis’ coloring accentuates Lashley’s attention to detail through vibrant Kryptonian backgrounds and gritty, shadowed action sequences.
AQUAMAN #23.1 BLACK MANTA/ Story by GEOFF JOHNS and TONY BEDARD/ Written by TONY BEDARD/ Art by CLAUDE ST. AUBIN/ Colors by BLOND/ Letters by CARLOS M. MANGUAL and TAYLOR ESPOSITO
Johns and Bedard take the opportunity to use Black Manta as a stepping-stone for the ensuing conflict between the Crime Syndicate and the villains of Earth-1. The first few panels of the issue actually come directly from Forever Evil #1, yet through Johns’ plotting and Bedard’s writing, the impact of the Justice League’s defeat becomes apparent.
Black Manta, who is fueled by revenge against Aquaman for the murder of his father, takes the opportunity to escape Belle Reve penitentiary to track down Aquaman. When he realizes that his quest may be over, Manta finds a new quest for violence.
At times the artwork seems rushed, but overall seems to fit the chaos that fills the world of the Crime Syndicate. It’s also slightly disappointing that many of the panels are reused or different angles of events from the Forever Evil title.
As a one-shot this is an issue that is definitely avoidable, yet fans of Aquaman and Forever Evil may feel compelled to include Black Manta’s viewpoint and involvement into their collections.
BATMAN #23.2 RIDDLER/ Story by SCOTT SNYDER and RAY FAWKES/ Written by RAY FAWKES/ Art by JEREMY HAUN/ Colors by JOHN RAUSCH/ Letters by TAYLOR ESPOSITO
After being captured by Batman during the Zero Year storyline, the Riddler breaks out of Arkham Asylum when the Crime Syndicate arrives. Scott Snyder’s role as a co-plotter for this issue is very apparent as it expertly starts in the past, which Snyder is currently dealing with in the main Batman title, yet shows how the villain is impacted by the actions of the Crime Syndicate.
Fawkes’ writing combines the classic riddle posing antics that fans love about the villain with a gritty sense of violence that catapults the Riddler into the modern continuity. With Snyder’s guidance and Fawkes’ excellent story telling, this issue helps the Riddler become a more serious threat in the Batman world.
BATMAN AND ROBIN #23.2 COURT OF OWLS/ Written by JAMES TYNION IV/ Art by JORGE LUCUS/ Colors by DAVE McCAIG/ Letters by STEVE WANDS
As the Crime Syndicate inspires chaos throughout Gotham, the Court of Owls take refuge within their underground network of hiding places. This, however, is not an act submission, but one of survival. The story is mainly developed through a past and present juxtaposition that shows how influential the Court has been and how they have always survived adversity. There are also several memorable and spine-chilling moments throughout the issue, as the Talons and their masters prove time and time again they control the evil darkness that surrounds Gotham.
The combination of Lucus’ art and McCaig’s coloring emphasizes both the darkness that has descended on Gotham and the evil the Court represents. Most of the issue takes place in the gloom, yet there is so much detail hidden within the shadows. Lucus’ portrayal of the Talons is very menacing, while the Court with their simple owl masks still inspires a few chills.
This issue is a perfect combination of flashback, forward progression, and atmospheric artwork, and is probably my favorite out of all the issues this week.
BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #23.2 MR. FREEZE/ Written by JUSTIN GRAY & JIMMY PALMIOTTI/Art by JASON MASTERS/ Colors by DAVE McCAIG/ Letters by JARED K. FLETCHER
As seems to be the trend with the New 52 villains – particularly those of Gotham – DC is going out of their way to hammer home the point these guys and gals are total psychopaths. In this issue it becomes abundantly clear the same can be said of Mr. Freeze. No longer having the tragic motivation of a man trying to preserve his dying wife, he is now a child of a broken home, cursed with ice powers, and seeking revenge.
His unfortunately warped origin aside, the story Gray and Palmiotti provide in this book is a little predictable, but interesting. The time skips can be slightly jarring, but overall the inner monologue of Freeze throughout is captivating. (And impossible not to read in Batman: The Animated Series’ actor, Michael Ansara’s voice.)
The artwork is of good quality, and somehow, Masters and McCaig manage to make Freeze’s new costume look chilling. (Pun 100% intended.) There’s some really neat work done with Freeze’s goggles, and as they are one of the few things not rendered in a blue color scheme they really pop.
Warning to those who are fans of Freeze’s former origin, you probably won’t appreciate the change, but to those looking for a new twist on the coldest of villains this book gives an intriguing spin.
DETECTIVE COMICS #23.2 HARLEY QUINN/ Written by MATT KINDT/ Art by NEIL GOOGE/ Colors by WIL QUINTANA/ Letters by TAYLOR ESPOSITO
The New 52 Harley Quinn has run the gambit from evil and maniacal to kooky and comedic. Her bi-polar nature is explained away with, “Hey! She’s crazy, remember!”, but more often than not it reads as if DC has no a clear direction for the character. And this Villains Month issue does nothing to help define her messy motivations.
Kindt has been handling quite of few of these villainous origin stories, usually with success, but even he can’t deliver an enjoyable Harley Quinn origin. Her aggravatingly altered origin has already been covered in Suicide Squad, and now again in this book with extraneous and unnecessary details.
She kills for no reason – at one point bombing children – or for ridiculously contrived reasons – murdering to acquire all the pieces of her hideous costume, for instance. This increased violence seeming to serve no other purpose than to prove to the audience Harley can be fearsome and dangerous. And in the process, losing the silly charm of the character.
From an art standpoint, things could be worse. Googe gives us an adequate Harley, made all the more interesting with over the top expressions and poses that fit in better with the funny, grandstanding Harley of the pre-New 52. Quintana’s loud and outlandish coloring only adds to this, but unfortunately, their art works against the grim story. Thankfully though, we’re spared interiors that look anything Chris Burnham’s awful, awful cover.
EARTH 2 #15.2 SOLOMON GRUNDY/ Written by MATT KINDT/ Art by AARON LOPRESTI/ Inks by ART THIBERT/ Colors by MICHAEL ATIYEH/ Letters by TRAVIS LANHAM
Matt Kindt is really getting a chance to shine during Villains Month as the author of multiple one-shots, and he’s doing some of the best work in my opinion. His take on Solomon Grundy is a simple story of murderous rage that jumps back and forth between the past and the present. While the text within the issue is minimal, Kindt’s portrayal of the differences between human Solomon’s and undead Solomon’s attitudes are convincing. Kindt’s story also does an excellent job of building intrigue for Grundy’s future impact in the Earth-2 title.
Lopresti, Thibert, and Atiyeh do an amazing job of bringing Grundy to life. While in the past it always seemed like Grundy was an exaggeratedly oversized behemoth, these artists maintain his giant stature and his extreme strength without making him seem disproportionate. Their portrayal through careful details and appropriate dismal and violent coloring bring a horrific aura to the character that extends the intrigue of Kindt’s plot.
FLASH #23.2 REVERSE FLASH/ Written by FRANCIS MANAPUL & BRIAN BUCCELLATO/ Art by STEVE HEPBURN/ Colors by BRIAN BUCCELLATO/ Letters by CARLOS M. MANGUAL
While Manapul and Buccellato develop how Daniel West obtained his speed-force powers, the overall focus of this issue is his traumatic childhood which has driven him to alter the time stream. Due to the fact the story is confined to the New 52 Flash continuity, readers who are unfamiliar with the current story line will probably be uninterested in the overall development.
Hepburn’s art should be well received through out the issue. In the few frames where West’s Reverse-Flash persona is seen the layers involved in his costume and his ghoulish appearance will inspire some fascination. That, however, is not enough to draw the reader into the dry plot.
GREEN LANTERN #23.2 MONGUL/ Written by JIM STARLIN/ Art by HOWARD PORTER/ Colors by HI-FI/ Letters by CARLOS M. MANGUAL
This week of one-shots features a lot of veteran writers tackling the origins of some major villains. In this back-story for Mongul, Jim Starlin takes a fairly standard approach to the classic Green Lantern villain.
Instead of showing a true origin, Starlin simply shows what Mongul’s motivations are as a villain. He does back track into Mongul’s childhood, which for some won’t seem very unique. Young Mongul desires domination, kills his parents, and destroys his home world, only to remake it in his perfect image. Yawn.
The art by Porter is beautiful and makes this issue worth the boredom of this standard story. The pencil sketch details that pop out from each character and background provide the reader with a lot to digest as they read through the story.
JUSTICE LEAGUE #23.2 LOBO/ Written by MARGUERITE BENNETT/ Art by BEN OLIVER & CLIFF RICHARDS/ Colors by DANIEL BROWN/ Letters by SAL CIPRIANO
Prior to the release of this issue, Bob Harras at DC Comics announced that the Lobo comic fans have been familiar with is an imposter. In this one-shot, Marguerite Bennett begins to develop that story line with the reveal of a younger, more twisted Lobo. As the story develops, Bennett builds anticipation for a future storyline by developing new Lobo’s motivations and attitude.
The art throughout the issue is stunning. There is clearly a lot of time spent on creating Lobo’s new clean, teenage look, however, the artists still maintain the egotistical, biker bounty hunter aura that fans of Lobo have come to enjoy.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #7.2 KILLER FROST/ Written by STERLING GATES/ Art by DERLIZ SANTACRUZ/ Colors by BRETT SMITH/ Letters by DAVE SHARPE
Dr. Caitlin Snow is a genius that gets assigned to a research facility in the Arctic. When her research team turns against her, Snow’s life changes dramatically. Sterling Gates does an amazing job of showing how an innocent woman becomes a villain due to forces outside of her control. The transition from innocent scientist to a powerful, murderous villainess is done very well. Gates uses the Crime Syndicate’s plot to take away Killer Frost’s main focus as a villain. This draws Killer Frost’s directly into upcoming Forever Evil issues.
The art by Santacruz is crisp and clean throughout the issue, which adds to the overall effectiveness of the story. By combining excellent art and story, the creative team shows that Killer Frost can be an interesting character in the upcoming DC Universe.
SUPERMAN #23.2 BRAINIAC/ Written by TONY BEDARD/ Art by PASCAL ALIXE/ Colors by HI-FI/ Letters by JOHN J. HILL
First off, the cover of this issue does not do this beautifully drawn and tremendously written story any justice. The cover artist, Greg Ha, portrays Brainiac with cartoonish sense of villainy that does not capture what occurs within the pages of the issue.
With that said, Bedard takes the reader through psychologically driven origin story that is as twisted as it is exciting. Bedard clearly portrays Brainiac’s warped sense of universal salvation as he performs experiments on his own son and destroys his own home world. His never ending quest to defeat the Multitude and his eventual battle with Superman are all laid bare through the eyes of a scientist.
While the story is very well developed, Alixe’s art is magnificent. There is so much careful detail in each frame as Alixe ensures every shadow, wrinkle, or robot circuit impresses an emotion into the story.
TEEN TITANS #23.1 TRIGON/ Written by MARV WOLFMAN/ Art by CAFU/ Colors by JASON WRIGHT/ Letters by STEVE WANDS
Marv Wolfman created the New Teen Titans series in 1980 and along with them the demonic super villain, Trigon. Who better then Wolfman to write the villain’s origin, right? Wolfman alters many details of Trigon’s origin from what he originally created in 1981 within this story to a fairly mediocre outcome. The overall story is interesting, but is very slightly reminiscent other super villains. These similarities may strike veteran DC readers as peculiar, but should not stop new readers from finding enjoyment in the issue. Wolfman’s origin still has a very dark edge to it that fans of Wolfman will appreciate, yet it’s just an average story.
Cafu does a decent job of creating a demonic atmosphere through the details of Trigon’s massive stature and the suffering of the individuals in his path. The art, however, like the story is not as impressive as it could be.