Whether you love him or just think he’s a joke, the Penguin is easily the second most recognized Batman villain. I’ve never been particularly fond of the character myself because at the end of the day, he’s just a crime boss with a gimmick; a particularly lame gimmick at that. This is why I was a little surprised to see the appearance of a new 5 issue limited series featuring the Penguin.
It’s nice to see DC publishing some new limited series for characters who were markedly absent from the relaunch; they also released a 6 issue series this week featuring Huntress. Given the hype surrounding the relaunch I think this represents a nice opportunity to introduce new readers to some of these iconic characters. That being said, I wouldn’t have chosen the Penguin as one of these characters but regardless of my personal attitude towards him, this book does some things really well and I think it’s worth talking about.
First and foremost, this book gives us something that a lot of books in the relaunch completely ignored: an origin story. The Penguin’s origins have been slightly rebooted with some interesting changes, but his background has been kept more or less intact. Essentially, the Penguin is born to an upper class family; he’s marked with a beak shaped nose which makes him disliked by his father and brothers. As he matures, his peers all tease him over his appearance and overall awkwardness, which causes him to become a withdrawn loner obsessed with birds.
We see a lot of Penguin’s childhood in this book, quite possibly too much, but it really cements our understanding of the character. The Penguin as a child is really a frustrated and lonely boy who’s only real friend is his mother.
When we see the Penguin as an adult, they really do a fantastic job painting him as the most detestable kind of villain. We see him as a man obsessed with appearances; he maintains a respectable business in the form of his nightclub, The Iceberg Lounge, while operating a vast number of criminal enterprises in secret. While the Penguin doesn’t commit a single crime himself in this book, we see his orders result in multiple homicides and at least one high profile jewel heist. We see the Penguin as he should be: not as a gimmicky cartoon or carnival freak, but as an untouchable criminal mastermind.
While we do see Penguin’s vicious and calculating nature, the scenes of his childhood remind us that the root of his behavior really comes from the fact that he’s incredibly insecure. A good example is when he flat out murders someone’s entire family because the man almost called him a fat ass after bumping into him.
Another very human element of the Penguin that the writer has decided to expand upon is his relationship with his mother; she seems to be the only person in the world that he genuinely cares about other than himself. In a very odd change of character, we see the Penguin lovingly take care of his elderly mother; he bathes her, helps her get dressed and even arranges for his gang to steal priceless jewelery just so she can have it. What makes this even more tragic is the fact that his mother is probably suffering from dementia because she doesn’t seem fully aware of her surroundings.
Admittedly, this is a side of the Penguin that hasn’t really been explored like this; it definitely adds a layer of humanity to him. While I still hates his guts, I can understand why he acts the way he does. In this way we get an interesting portrait of the Penguin as a flawed human being as opposed to an over the top supervillain.
At its core, this book is a very morose and introspective character study and the artwork contributes to this quite a bit; it’s dark and very stylish. If you’re expecting a lot of supervillainy and matching wits with Batman, you might be disappointed. Batman does appear in this book, but it’s yet to be seen if this contact will be adverserial in nature. Overall, it’s a good read and if you ever thought the Penguin was one of Batman’s lamest villains, this book might just make you reconsider.
Well, this is our final wrap up; below are the last comics I didn’t review from Week Four of the DC Relaunch.
Batman: The Dark Knight
All right, I know I’m just repeating myself from last week’s Batman #1 review, but I mean it this time: enough with the goddamned Batman books! Seriously, three ongoing Batman series is more than enough and four is clearly too many. I’m also singling this one out for being the least interesting of the four. That being said, nothing from this book is memorable.
All that happens is that Batman monologues for several pages and Bruce Wayne flirts with an Indian socialite at some event. Towards the end we get a breakout at Arkham Asylum which Batman seems to immediately connect to Two Face despite him not being mentioned anywhere previously in the comic. I’m seriously scratching my head over this whole breakout because all of the escaping villains look crazed as if they were extras in 28 Days Later; somehow this feels like a tie in to the Arkham Asylum video game and nothing really makes sense or follows a cohesive narrative. Again, if you want to follow one Batman book, just stick with either Batman or Detective Comics; this one is just confusing, unnecessary and just not interesting.
Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of the Flash; I have nothing against the character, I just never really got into him. This book didn’t really help change those impressions either; it’s not bad, it just doesn’t really stick out for me. It’s a good starting point for new readers as we get a great introduction to Barry Allen and the supporting cast. We get to see the Flash in action as both a superhero and a forensic scientist. The artwork is nice and the writing is pretty good. While I wasn’t particularly enamored with it, I give this one a good recommendation for new readers and Flash fans alike.
Green Lantern: New Guardians
I feel as if I’m repeating myself yet again when I say that this will be a little confusing if you’re not already familiar with some of the newer concepts of the Green Lantern mythos; specifically, the concept of the other Lanterns in the emotional light spectrum. This book is essentially going to chronicle Kyle Rayner as he leads a team composed of each type of lantern from the emotional spectrum: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.
This concept is set up pretty well and we do get a new origin story for Kyle Rayner; this makes the whole set up a little more palatable for new readers. Much of this can be figured out pretty easily and will hopefully be better explained as the series goes on. Overall, this one is pretty good, but not much really happens in this first issue. I give it a fair recommendation and it is one of the more accessible Green Lantern titles. Give the first issue a look and see what you think.
Justice League Dark
I was actually quite disappointed in this one because I was actually looking forward to it; I really like the concept and the characters being brought together for it. This is essentially the Justice League for magical and paranormal heroes. Madame Xanadu has foreseen a great calamity that seems to be connected to the villain known as Enchantress. After the combined efforts of Superman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg fail to defeat Enchantress, Xanadu recruits a team of mystic experts to fight her and prevent the end of reality as we know it. We get to see the coming together of Shade, Deadman, John Constantine and Zatanna in this first issue, which is pretty awesome.
Now, while I do love the concept, the execution isn’t the greatest in this first issue. Everything is overly vague and cryptic and not a whole lot actually happens; we haven’t even seen the team come together by the end of the book. The fact that the characters aren’t given much backstory will also make this one confusing for new readers. As an aside, I also have to say that I hate Zatanna’s new costume. I have no problem with her wearing pants instead of fishnets, but nothing about her costume communicates the fact that she’s a stage magician. You know, the entire point of her character? I’m going to follow this one because I love these characters and want to see where they go with it, but it doesn’t get a strong recommendation.
The Savage Hawkman
Another terrible choice for new readers and something that could be called a missed opportunity. Hawkman is already a pretty obscure character for many people and this book doesn’t really make any effort to explain who he is or where his powers come from. All we learn is that Carter Hall has decided to stop being Hawkman so he tries to burn the Hawkman wings and armor. The armor is made of the Nth Metal, which grants Hawkman his powers, and for this reason it isn’t destroyed. Rather, it burrows into Carter’s skin and fuses with his body. It seems that now Carter can transform into Hawkman when he needs to. This is an interesting development for the character but the book is still confusing as hell; we have no idea what brought Hank to this point and why he would want to destroy Hawkman. We get a “new” villain who is kind of a Venom rip-off and he fights Hawkman towards the end. Overall, the book is well-written and gorgeously drawn; you might want to check it out but I can’t really recommend it for new readers and nothing about it made me really want to follow it.
This book gives us the Superman that Action Comics #1 seems to be leading up to. Superman is no longer an inexperienced social crusader and has become Metropolis’ champion. We get an interesting development in this book as the Daily Planet is bought by a large media conglomerate. Clark Kent has a lot of issues with the company’s new direction and this plays out well between him and Lois, who are inexplicably not married at this point. I won’t fault DC for breaking up Lois and Clark as part of the relaunch, but I don’t see it serving much of a purpose; it’s not like they won’t wind up together, so their developing relationship doesn’t really add tension. This book boils down to your standard fare as Superman fights some alien made out of fire. If you already like Superman, you’ll probably like this one. I didn’t care for it myself, but I wouldn’t discourage new readers from checking it out; if you’ve been alive in the last 80 years, you probably know enough about Superman to follow this.
This is a book I was looking forward to seeing if only to get some answers about what the hell happened to Starfire between leaving the Titans and joining the Outlaws. We don’t get any answers as this seems to be a completely new team that is being formed by Tim Drake, former Robin and current Red Robin. This book seems to take place pretty far along in the new DCU timeline and suggests that superpowered teenagers are cropping up in large numbers around the world. These teenagers are also being inexplicably targeted by N.O.W.H.E.R.E, the evil secret organization we saw in Superboy #1. Robin decides to recruit the newly empowered teens and teach them to work as a team so that they can take down N.O.W.H.E.R.E.
Overall I don’t really have anything bad to say about this book. The art is all right and the writing is pretty strong. If you’re not familiar with the Teen Titans then this might be a good book for you to pick up. If you were hoping to see some of the more iconic Titans like Raven or Beast Boy, you might be a little disappointed. If I do have one gripe, it’s that the cover features an entire swath of characters we don’t even see yet. We only meet Red Robin, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl in this book so it feels like kind of a gyp to see a bunch of characters that aren’t even part of the team yet. Regardless, this is a pretty good book and it gets a strong recommendation for new readers.
Well, it’s been four weeks and along the way I read some good comics, bad comics, mediocre comics and even a few fantastic comics. This was an interesting journey for me and I will say that while it wasn’t everything I hoped for, I found some great books to follow and that’s all that really matters. Later this week I’ll put up some final thoughts on the whole relaunch but until then it’s Wednesday so I’ve got some new comics to read. Will you be reading anything good this week?
This is by far the most baffling series in the relaunch who’s existence can only be explained by DC’s desperation to pad their catalog to 52 books. The original I, Vampire was a 24 issue series that ran from 1981-1983 in DC’s horror anthology, House of Mystery. Why they suddenly decided to relaunch this as an ongoing series in the mainstream DC Universe is really beyond me. Even the cover kind of turns me off from this book; it’s really easy to miss this one if you’re browsing the racks at a book store. Something about the cover art just screams bad vampire fan fiction and the contents of the book aren’t that much better.
Our comic is the story of Lord Andrew Bennet, a man who was turned into a vampire centuries ago and turned his lover, Mary Seward, into a vampire as well to apparently share his immortality with her. After turning her, Andrew is shocked to find that Mary is now an evil creature of the night whose only desire is to feast on the blood of the living! Maybe this is just me, but aren’t vampires generally evil by the very nature of their curse? What did he expect to happen? Also, why isn’t Andrew evil? Did he learn the error of his ways somehow? They mention that he drinks the blood of animals to keep him alive but why he made that choice isn’t really elaborated upon.
Mary ultimately wants to raise an army of the undead to wage a holy war on mankind. After reasoning with Mary fails, Andrew decides that he must take arms against his former lover.
This is the basic plot and while it’s not badly written, I just found it incredibly derivative and unoriginal. It really tries hard to stand out as some kind of deep and involved vampire epic, but it’s really no different from any other vampire story published in the last 30 years. The only thing I found somewhat interesting was the vampire’s bestial transformations; this is an aspect of vampires that often gets ignored in modern vampire fiction, so it was nice to see them get creative with this.
There’s also the question of how this fits into the mainstream DC Universe, especially since they make mention of Superman, Green Lantern and other superheroes. Are they really going to make appearances in this series? At the end of this book, Mary’s army slaughters an entire subway train full of innocent people in Boston. Is that going to go completely unnoticed? I know vampires are powerful, but I think the combined efforts of Earth’s superheroes can take on a few thousand vampires in scattered cells.
If I had anything positive to say, the artwork is pretty stylish and appropriate in tone for a horror series. However, it should be noted that the palette consists mostly of brown, red, black and gray. There’s also the irritating choice to use two similar shades of red for Andrew’s and Mary’s dialogue boxes. It took me a while to realize that two different people were talking at first; this just seems really sloppy on the colorist’s part and was a little distracting.
Overall, this book just isn’t anything we haven’t seen done before and done better. Frankly, I feel like the DC editors just wanted a vampire series in their lineup to try and cash in on the most recent vampire fad. This just makes the series feel very shallow and forced.
If you like moody vampire stories then maybe you’ll enjoy this; it’s better than Twilight, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
It’s been a long ride but tomorrow we finish things with my last reviews for the following series:
- Batman: The Dark Knight
- The Flash
- Green Lantern: New Guardians
- Justice League Dark
- The Savage Hawkman
- Teen Titans
Blackhawks represents another interesting attempt by DC to revive one of their previously discontinued properties. The original Blackhawks squadron was an elite team of operatives active in World War II. This was an alternate history of sorts where the Blackhawks regularly fought Nazi superweapons and the like. The squad members were also fairly diverse, representing different European nations such as Sweden and Poland. There was also an offensively drawn Chinese member named Chop-Chop who served as a comic relief sidekick; an unfortunate reminder that this series premiered in 1941.
The Blackhawks have also had a number or reboots over the years that mostly kept them as a WWII squadron but made some changes; most notably, Chop-Chop was redesigned and made a full-fledged member of the team. The token female Blackhawk, Zinda Blake, was also sent forward in time and became a member of the Birds of Prey, hence why I was even a little curious as to how this newly relaunched Blackhawks franchise would play out.
Our new Blackhawks have been modernized and serve as a covert military arm of the United Nations. They seem to be called on to pacify advanced threats involving dangerous technology and superhumans. We open with the team taking out a group of highly advanced terrorists who have seized control of an airport in Kazakhstan. We get decent introductions to some of the team members, most notably Kunoichi, The Irishman, Attila, and Wildman. We get a good look at how the team operates as well as their distinct temperaments and fighting styles.
Afterwards we get a tour of the group’s headquarters when they’re visited by a U.N. delegate. This scene provides some good exposition on the Blackhawks’ purpose and their leadership structure. This also provides excellent background on the kind of threats they need to deal with and ties nicely into the book’s ending.
Overall I felt this was a pretty good book; as far as military comics go it isn’t as “realistic” as something like Men of War but that’s always been the point when it comes to Blackhawks. I should also note that I enjoyed this one a lot more than Men of War and it doesn’t come across quite as obnoxious or preachy. If you like your military comics with a grain of salt, then you’d probably like this book; think Metal Gear Solid but with better and less pretentious writing.
We get a good introduction to the core team members as well as the establishment of a relationship between Kunoichi and Wildman. I would have liked some more development to this relationship, but I think that will be expanded on later given they fit quite a bit of action and exposition into this first issue.
We get a decent look at our villain and how she operates but we don’t learn much about her or her motivations. She’s still quite villainous and I definitely want to see where they go with this.
Okay, the full title for this one threw me off a little; admittedly a title like The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men doesn’t sound particularly deep. If anything, it just makes me think of Nuclear Man from Superman IV and that’s not a good association to make. I’m also completely ignorant about the Firestorm character outside of the old Superfriends cartoon. What surprised me about this book is that Gail Simone is the head writer. At this point, I would read just about anything if it was written by Simone; if she wrote Twilight fan fiction, I would probably read it. That being the case, let’s crack this sucker open and see if it’s worth reading.
Our comic starts with a group of mercenaries terrorizing a family in Istanbul. They’re trying to get the son in the family to provide the name of a man that was in communication with him. They manage to get the information from the boy after torturing his family and proceed to frame the boy as a terrorist in order to cover their trail.
After that bit of brutality, we’re taken to a football practice at Walton Mills High School. We meet Ronnie Raymond, the star quarterback; he admits to the reader that while he isn’t the smartest person, he’s good at what he does and has a bright athletic future ahead of him. Someone obviously neglected to tell Ronnie that being a successful athlete in the DCU is just asking for some personal tragedy.Next, we meet Jason Rusch, a top student and writer for the school newspaper. He’s doing an interview of Ronnie for the paper and isn’t too thrilled about it; he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to jocks.
The interview doesn’t go well and turns into a heated argument between the two. Ronnie resents Jason making assumptions about his intelligence and gets angry when he makes claims of racism against the football team and Ronnie himself. This argument is later followed up when Jason and Ronnie discuss the incident with their parents at dinner that night. This angle works very well because we get a good idea of where both characters are coming from; we see that neither one of them is completely “right” in this situation. This is another step up from Mister Terrific #1’s approach to race; we see it as a more complicated issue and the dialogue reflects that it’s something bigger than the conflict between two teenagers.As the book advances we see more of the mercenaries and eventually learn that they’re searching for a group of “Magnetic Bottles”; these are vessels capable of safely isolating and containing a Higgs Boson particle. This particle is apparently capable of allowing transmutation and the mercenaries want it on behalf of their corporate employer to ensure that it does not become publicly available. There’s a lot of theoretical comic book super science involved which doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense, but at least the writers have admitted to not taking it too seriously and just having fun with it.
Overall, this comic works very well as a first edition because we get great introductions to our two protagonists, the supporting cast and our villains. The dialogue and story are expertly written and the artwork is dynamic and well executed. I would highly recommend this book for new readers because we get a fresh start with the Firestorm character and the book requires zero previous knowledge to get into. I’d also recommend this for veteran readers because there’s also a lot of new concepts and developments for the Firestorm character that have not been previously explored. The book also throws us some nice foreshadowing when one of the mercenaries is also exposed to the opening magnetic bottle.
In short, this is a great book and I highly recommend it for new and veteran readers alike.
Okay, this one seriously begs the question of why? If you’re wondering who the hell Voodoo is, then you’re not alone; she is in fact another property of DC’s former imprint, Wildstorm, and was a recurring character in the WildC.A.Ts franchise. Why they decided to give this character a solo series in the relaunch is beyond me, but it might have something to do with her secret identity being a stripper. That being said, let’s see if this character was worth reviving.
First, let’s discuss this cover. It’s honestly a little boring since it’s little more than a static portrait of our title character. She’s seductively toying with her fingers and yes, those are her fingers. While this cover doesn’t really have much to offer it is really well drawn and the detail put into Voodoo’s expression is actually quite nice. We have Sami Basri to thank for all the artwork that appears in this book. Basri first caught my attention when he replaced Amanda Connor as the artist for Power Girl and while he’s not my favorite artist, I do think he has a lot of talent and I genuinely like his style.
That being said, it’s a good thing they got Sami Basri to draw this because the book is quite frankly, full of scantily clad strippers from the very first page. Our comic opens in the Voodoo Lounge, a popular strip club in New Orleans. The star of the lounge, Patricia Kitaen, goes by the alias Voodoo and is giving a performance on stage while the DJ offers obnoxious narration; already this is pretty similar to a real strip club except that every single dancer is gorgeous without a caesarean scar or cold sore to be seen.
As Patricia performs she’s being watched by Jessica Fallon and Tyler Evans. The two are agents whose employer is never really established; all we learn is that they’re monitoring Patricia because they believe she may be a potential threat to global security. Jessica, is understandably irritated that her partner has dragged her inside a strip club to watch their target when they’re supposed to keep their distance from her.Jessica finally has enough of Tyler’s behavior and leaves the club; she then proceeds to easily defend herself against some punks in the parking lot, further cementing her as the more capable agent of the two.
This is a very hard book to review without giving everything away because not a whole lot actually happens until the very end. That being said let’s discuss what works and what doesn’t. We are introduced to our protagonist but her character has practically zero development and we don’t really learn a whole lot about her personality or motivations; this is most likely on purpose because Patricia is meant to be ambiguous. It isn’t really established whether or not Voodoo is supposed to be a hero or a villain but her actions in this book suggest the latter. It should also be noted that the only character we really get a good feel for is Jessica, and it’s likely that she might be the real star since the reader can relate to her more than Patricia.
This one is a hard call because I genuinely liked reading it but I don’t know if I’d really want to keep reading it as an ongoing series. The art is fantastic and the writing was pretty good for the most part. I’m just not particularly sold on this one because of the protagonist.
I honestly don’t feel any sympathy for Patricia and I don’t really care what happens to her. If there was any indication in this book that she has any personality that doesn’t revolve around self-preservation, then maybe I’d be more interested. As it is, the only thing that would interest me in reading more is to find out what happens to Jessica; I really think she’s the more interesting character.
Overall I just thought this book was very average but with some potential. I can’t really give it a strong recommendation but if you like a good fugitive story with a sci-fi twist, you might like it. I’ll probably check out a few issues off the rack to see where it goes, but I’m not really enthusiastic about following it.
Admittedly, I thought it a little curious that DC would bring back its classic Western anthology series, All Star Western. Somehow, I don’t think the demand for Western comics has increased much since the series finished its second run back in 1972. Even though it had a good run the only really enduring character the series produced was Jonah Hex and, despite that atrocity of a film adaptation starring Josh Brolin, he’s not exactly a mainstream character. Still, I personally like the Western genre and was interested to see what kind of book this was going to be.
So the main star of our all star western is none other than the tough-as-nails bounty hunter and frontiersman, Jonah Hex. If you don’t know anything about Jonah Hex then don’t expect this book to explain anything to you. Admittedly, a character like Hex doesn’t really need an origin story and I actually think it’s a good move for this book to ignore his origins for now; ignoring them doesn’t really make the book any less accessible for new readers and would just slow things down. All you need to know is that he’s rough, tough and uglier than a horned-toad what met the underside of a wagon train.
What’s truly surprising about this book is that our story is actually set in 1880s Gotham City, which technically does not make this a Western. Now granted, Jonah Hex has regularly had storylines in places far away from the frontier like South America and China. So long as they stick to the time period, I don’t see a problem but this is also the first issue of DC’s new Western comic. Shouldn’t the first issue actually take place in a traditional Western setting? I’m not saying that the setting of 19th Century Gotham isn’t effective, but it doesn’t really scream Old West adventure. In fact, the tone of this comic feels more like a Gothic horror story than anything else.
Overall I really did enjoy this story, but there are a few things that need to be addressed. First, there’s the fact that this really doesn’t qualify as a Western. For one thing, it’s kind of light on elements like gunfights and horse chases, but to be fair it does throw us a barroom brawl and a lot of hookers.