Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 6/15/13
This is a big week for Superman. Not only did his super big, important movie come out, but it’s also the launch of the heavily hyped and potentially good Superman Unchained. As you may have seen already, I didn’t care for Man of Steel, but I’m a little warmer towards Superman Unchained, even though it didn’t contain any chains whatsoever. I also enjoyed the first issue of the new Batman: Zero Year storyline. If only DC had put out a new issue of Wonder Woman this week, they would have had strong comics for all three of their major characters.
Though when it comes down to brass tacks, only one of them can come away with the coveted Comic Book of the Week. And even though Superman Unchained had some pretty fancy art, only one comic book this week provided the origin story for Batman’s giant penny. Batman #21 wins!
I apologize for the low number of reviews this week. Between Man of Steel and just a hectic work week at my day job (a double homicide, a single homicide and a missing baby) I ran out of time. Still, all good comics all around.
Comic Reviews: Batman #21, Nightwing #21, Superman Unchained #1 and Wolverine and the X-Men #31.
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo
Does Batman need to have his origin story told again? No, not really. Am I willing to let Snyder and Capullo do it anyway? Sure! I’ve been a big fan of their work on Batman since even before the New 52, and while not all of the stories were my favorite, the pair make a great team for the Caped Crusader. And if this issue is any indication, Zero Year is going to be filled with neat ideas and additions/alterations to the classic origin. I am more than willing to sit back and see what the duo have to offer.
Six years ago, the Red Hood Gang is introducing a new, complex kind of crime to Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne’s career as a vigilante is in its infancy. He is not yet Batman; instead it’s just Bruce and Alfred working out of an apartment in Crime Alley, with Bruce resorting to stage makeup and disguises to try and thwart the Red Hood Gang. Bruce returned to Gotham several weeks ago, but he has yet to announce his return, preferring to let Bruce Wayne remain ‘presumed dead’. But one person has figured out he’s back: Uncle Philip, on his mother’s side. Philip tries to convince Bruce to come back and head up Wayne Enterprises, but Bruce is too focused on his mission and turns him down. So Uncle Philip meets with his business partner – Edward Nygma – who recommends he kill Bruce.
We also get the origin of the giant penny in this issue, as well as the first steps towards what will become the Batmobile. There also a backup story showing us where and how Bruce Wayne learned to drive like a superhero.
Comic Rating: 4/5 – Good.
I liked this issue and the work Snyder is doing to Batman’s origin. Obviously, Batman: Year One is irreplaceable, but Zero Year is going to be very different from Year One. For one thing, Year One focused a heck of a lot on Commissioner Gordon, and intercut his story with segments of Bruce Wayne. Zero Year seems focused on the nuts and bolts of what exactly Bruce Wayne did with his time and how his crime-fighting crusade came together. So far, it’s a fun story. Snyder works in all sorts of cute little nods to the fans, like the giant penny and the Batmobile, while still telling an interesting story. Capullo’s art is as great as ever, so I’m definitely in to see how all this plays out, and to see what other neat ideas Snyder has to add. Plus the backups showing off different forms of Bruce’s training sound like a good idea to me, though I don’t know why Bruce would use his real name.
Writer: Kyle Higgins
Artist: Brett Booth
With Batman taking a year off to explore his origin, I think that means Nightwing will finally get a chance to tell a full, complete story. Higgins is definitely settling into his Chicago storylines, building all manner of subplots with a dozen different interesting characters. It looks like we’re finally going to get a Nightwing story that’s free of all the other Batman books. Considering how much I love Batman and Nightwing together, this is both a good and bad thing. For now, I’m happy to be reading.
Nightwing escapes the Prankster’s trap, then turns right around and helps the Prankster escape the police, who have found the secret hideout. Nightwing enlists the Prankster’s help in tracking down Tony Zucco’s IP address, and they discover that Zucco once served a prison sentence alongside the brother of Chicago’s mayor, which would explain why Zucco now works for the mayor. Prankster is also able to give Nightwing Zucco’s new name – Billy Lester – and his home address. Nightwing thanks the Prankster by handcuffing him to the roof, then takes off to search the home – but Zucco, his new wife and their son left on an impromptu vacation that very morning. At least Nightwing has found the right guy. In the end, Prankster escapes from the police.
Comic Rating: 3.5/5 – Pretty Good.
Nothing about this Chicago story has really caught my attention so far. The Prankster isn’t anything special. None of the new characters have really proven themselves all that interesting. And Nightwing remains his generally entertaining self. So really, this is just a solid Nightwing comic telling a so far interesting story. I hope it picks up and there’s a lot more excitement, but for now, I’m more than happy to read along. I have a good feeling that Higgins is going somewhere good with a lot of his ideas, and the art by Brett Booth remains fantastic. It’s nice to see Booth on a good comic. And it’s nice to see Nightwing with a good comic.
Superman Unchained #1
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Jim Lee
Superman has not fared very well in the New 52. He was one of the characters who could have benefited from a reboot, but DC has totally messed it up. One of his comics, Superman, went through three to four different writers, and even more artists, in less than two years, some of whom were more than happy to decry the horrible editorial environment at DC. Apparently there were so many executive cooks in the kitchen with an interest in the Superman license, from comics to movies to TV, that the writer couldn’t tell a simple story. Then Action Comics had legendary writer Grant Morrison at the helm, but his writing was all over the place, as if no one was reigning in his wilder ideas. I like Morrison, but his Action Comics was too convoluted and weird to be the flagship Superman comic. After Morrison came writer Andy Diggle, whose story was heavily promoted as the Next Big Thing, but he quit before his first issue hit the stands. Now I think Scott Lobdell is writing both comics, and you know how I feel about him.
So here comes Superman Unchained to do…something. I have no idea. I will never understand the thinking behind this comic. Putting Scott Snyder and Jim Lee together on a Superman comic is a brilliant idea. They’re two of the best talents in the industry. But why not put them on Superman or Action Comics? Why create a whole new comic? And for that matter, why name the comic ‘Superman Unchained’? What does ‘Unchained’ have to do with anything!? The first issue is coming out the week of the big Hollywood movie Man of Steel. That is the perfect name for a Superman comic. Why would you not name the comic Man of Steel? How is that not the most obvious thing in the entire world? People can go see Man of Steel the movie, become interested in Superman, then go to the comic book shop to find Man of Steel #1. It’s so freakin’ obvious!
Anyway, on with the comic.
In a flashback to 1945, we learn that the U.S. didn’t actually drop an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. Instead, it was some kind of atomic man who dropped out of the plane and destroyed the city. We’ve all just been led to believe it was a bomb. In the present day, some sinister force is causing satellites to drop out of orbit and crash into the Earth. Is it the new hacker group Ascension? Or is it Lex Luthor? Superman stops the falling satellites, including the Lighthouse, a massive international space station that was also sabotaged. Clark Kent is writing a story on the crashing satellites, only to be told by Lois Lane that there was one more satellite that someone other than Superman stopped. Curious, Superman heads to the bottom of the ocean to look at the wreckage to see what he can learn, only to run afoul of a U.S. military submarine sent to blow up the evidence.
The submarine is under orders from General Lane, who is running a secret government weapons facility, one that is housing the glowing blue atomic man from the flashback. It seems this guy is not only still alive and kicking, but he’s been working for the United States for 75 years.
Comic Rating: 4/5 – Good.
I was expecting something monumental from Superman Unchained, but instead it’s just a pretty standard Superman comic. Entertaining, sure, but nothing that warrants a brand new series. Lee’s art is fantastic, of course, and Snyder’s writing is clever and imaginative, but this is pretty standard Superman stuff. We visit all of his supporting cast, get a glimpse of mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, and pay a visit to Lex Luthor. We also see a ton of Superman superheroics, including a giant fold-out poster/page of Superman saving the Lighthouse space station – though personally, I found the foldout more annoying than cool. If you’ve been burned by Superman and Action Comics and still want to read Superman in the New 52, then Superman Unchained #1 is a good place to start. Just don’t expect greatness. And because of that, I’m still scratching my head as to why Snyder and Lee couldn’t just be put on Superman or Action Comics. Why even bother with those two other comics when clearly Superman Unchained is the important one?
I fully support DC trying to get their act together regarding Superman, but it boggles the mind why they’re doing it this way.
Wolverine and the X-Men #31
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Nick Bradshaw
This is getting kind of silly. Usually I’ve enjoyed the silliness of Wolverine and the X-Men, but now with the introduction of the Hellfire Academy, it’s getting a little too weird, even for me. Aaron has always straddled the line between silly and serious with the title, but this may be the last straw. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, and the comic is definitely entertaining. But whatever line exists between believing the story and rolling my eyes, this issue crosses that line.
Quentin Quire arrives for his first day of classes at the Hellfire Academy, and the issue is mostly about he and his classmates attending classes and meeting their various professors. The issue doesn’t seem like a comedy, but the Evil Academy is just so unabashedly evil that I can’t stand it. Professor Mystique gives a pop quiz in the best ways to emotionally torture your enemies. Professor Mondo (female Mojo) gives a lecture on how to write a proper press release when you commit a terrorist act. P.E. Coach Dog sends the students into a maze filled with lava traps. The issue revels in the idea of the students getting literal Evil Lessons. It’s simultaneously amazing and yet too silly. If this was a comedy, it would be great. But everything else in this issue is so very serious, and it acts like the stakes are dangerously huge.
On the one hand, Wolverine feels so helpless in the face of the Hellfire Academy that he wants to close down the Jean Grey School. On the other hand, Husk is both a foul-mouthed lunch lady and a foul-mouthed librarian!
So there’s a tonal problem between the silliness of the school itself and the seriousness of the stakes it represents. And while I’d love to just give in and embrace the Hellfire Academy, I find myself hesitant. At least the story itself is pretty good. Quentin definitely shines as the protagonist determined to undermine the Hellfire Academy and rescue Idie. He causes enough trouble to get sent to the principal’s office to confront Kade Kilgore directly, only to be completely outmatched against the unbeatable (at least to Jason Aaron) whiz kid and his minions. The issue ends with Kilgore threatening to throw Quentin into the Siege Perilous, a plot device from the 80s that, I believe, boosts a mutant’s powers in weird ways.
Comic Rating: 3.5/5 – Pretty Good.
I talked about it at length in my synopsis, so I won’t dwell on it here, but the issue really hangs on how much you love or hate the Hellfire Academy. It’s basically Jason Aaron’s silly sensibilities pushed to the extreme, and part of me loves it, but another part of me thinks he goes too far over the line of ridiculousness. Considering how serious all of the other characters are taking the Hellfire Academy, it’s just a little too ridiculous. At the very least, artist Nick Bradshaw draws an amazing comic. The pages are just so colorful and full of life and detail, it’s great. I also really like what Aaron might be setting up for Toad. The poor guy gets stuck as the janitor of the Hellfire Academy, and I’d hate to think that’s where Aaron plans to leave him. I’m hoping Toad gets a big moment down the line, but we’ll see. For now, I’m content to keep reading about Quentin Quire’s adventures in Evil Hogwarts.
The comics I review in my Hench-Sized reviews are just the usual comics I pick up from my local shop any given week, along with a few impulse buys I might try on a whim. So if there are any comics or series you’d like me to review each week, let me know in the comments!