Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1

It amuses me how The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is still influencing the naming of “secret agencies”, so many still have periods after every letter, sometimes meaning each letter represents a word, sometimes just making fun of the trope. They’ve combined a few DC institutions in this new series, the agency S.H.A.D.E which is a fairly recent creation, Frankenstein and his wife, also fairly recent creations (and this is starting to sound like the Gilligan’s Island theme) and the Creature Commandos from back in the 80s era war comics. I had thought the Creature Commandos were older.

This is a fairly straightforward monster vs. monster book so far. There’s a team of monsters, Frankenstein and the Creature Commandos, working for S.H.A.D.E. and they’re sent out on a mission to stop an infestation of monsters in a small town from spreading. Could be amusing. It’ll be interesting to see if they keep the cast of commandos stable or if they frequently kill off the characters and have them replaced by different monsters or different types of monsters. I’m betting they’ll keep the lineup of the team with occasional “new members” who’s purpose it is to be killed off on dangerous missions.

 Strangely, this comic also introduces Ray Palmer apparently before he becomes the Atom, but after he’s invented shrinking technology. He’s created a miniaturized headquarters for S.H.A.D.E. that flies around the world. This miniature world was in the Atom comics in the pre-reboot universe, but had been recently introduced by a relative of Ryan Choi, the latest Atom. They’re talking about superheroes like they’re a new phenomenon, but the organization, and the unusual agents are implied to have been around for awhile. Perhaps operating in secret or hidden from the world in another way.

The leader of the organization is Father Time, sort of a morally ambiguous counterpart to Uncle Sam, or at least that’s how I’ve perceived him since his introduction. Father Time has recently re-incorporated in a new body, this one being a 10 year old girl, possibly only 8. Sure, fairly amusing, but the explanation is off. Father Time states “Every decade I randomly generate a new body to act as my host. The old one was past due.” Unless this body ages at an accelerated rate, this body will be discarded when Father Time is only 18 to 20, which makes little to no sense, even in an over-the-top monster-hunting fantasy world. I’m hoping the character ages noticeably between missions, but I’m betting the image of a little girl in a domino mask with a gun ordering monsters around and talking like an old man while going on the occasional field mission is going to be too hard for the writer to resist.

This one is going to take several issues before I decide if I’m going to continue getting it, maybe more than one story arc, if it lasts that long.

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Grifter #1

I never read Grifter before this issue. It was a Wildstorm comic and I didn’t read many of those. Grifter was a character I only encountered when he appeared in other titles, and I didn’t start reading any Wildstorm titles until late in their run.

I have the same problem with this character that I mentioned in the review of DeathStroke, he’s a guy with guns who wanders around shooting people. Is that a fair assessment? I have no idea. The cover of this issue strongly implies it and the contents do little to dispel the impression.

The character design does little for me too. His mask is really annoying to me, it is a tied on bandana with holes cut for eyes. It seems too easy for it to flip up and show his face or shift slightly and obscure his vision. And the kneepads and flak jacket with no helmet seems poorly thought out. Of course, horrible designs have gone the other way as well, like the issue of one of the Batman limited series a year or two ago where a guy shoots Batman point blank in the face with a .44 while Batman is lying on his back on a concrete floor. He’s only dazed because the author had an invisible shield lower over his face at the exact moment of the shots, which is one of the stupidest plot devices I’ve seen. The level of technology for something like that is completely out of the blue. At least this isn’t that bad.

The other thing about this series that just isn’t grabbing me is that the reader has no idea what’s going on. Neither does the main character. This can be a valid way to present an origin, but this jumps around too much. He seems like a normal grifter, if that’s possible. He’s a normal human who happens to be a con man. He starts hearing voices and people are attacking him, we see his reactions, but his reactions seem like those of someone who’s already been a hero/villain/vigilante. He thinks nothing of jumping from an airplane in flight and snapping a man’s neck on the way down into the ocean. At the end of the issue, he’s tying on the ridiculous mask, but it isn’t like there’s a costume or a reason for him to have this piece of fabric that’s clearly designed as a mask.

Maybe if I’d read the original series I’d understand all this better, but the whole point of this reboot was supposed to be attracting people who hadn’t been reading. I doubt I’ll be continuing with this series beyond the second issue. I’m only getting the second issue because I want to give the new titles a chance and because I’ve been reviewing the first issues too slowly.

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Demon Knights #1

Etrigan the demon gets his own series. Paul Cornell is writing it, so that is in its favor. If anyone can write this as more than just the mystical blather the character has been infused with since his creation, it is Paul Cornell. I like that at least for the beginning of the series they won’t have to worry about modern continuity or what other characters are doing as it all takes place not long after the mythical fall of Camelot. Likely a hundred years or so later.

Etrigan is a complex character and combined with needing to set up a mostly mythical England in which to tell the stories, most of this first issue is just background. We see Merlin combine Etrigan with his apprentice or page or other lackey Jason of Norwitch, soon to be known as Jason Blood. Jason still has the ability to call Etrigan forth, but doesn’t seem to have control over him once he does. One change that I greatly appreciate, though it has been such a part of the character they may bring it back, is that Etrigan is no longer a “rhyming demon”. It will be so nice and so much easier to read if he isn’t constantly in verse. Etrigan seems to fight for good, or at least against Morgan, because Jason’s companion is the magical Xanadu and she is Etrigan’s lover.

They seem to be keeping the character of Madame Xanadu as she would have been at this point in history according to her own recent title, now cancelled. I hope they do, it was a good backstory and she was a powerful non-human in this era. They’re also throwing in some other characters that would have been around then like Vandal Savage, though he’s unlikely to stay allied to either side for long, and The Shining Knight, though he is now a she.

They also add some new characters that are likely to be long term allies like the Shining Knight is likely to be, at least I think they’re new. There’s Al Jabr who seems to be a gadgeteer of sorts, though I’m basing that entirely off his introduction where he states “I bring mechanisms that can make you rich”. There’s also a woman named Exoristos that I’m betting is an exiled Amazon of the era. Finally, there’s an unnamed bowman or bowwoman, woman now that I look at the silhouette more carefully, who is unnamed and unintroduced. She slays several of Morgan’s minions in her appearance, so I’m guessing she’ll be an ally as well.

There’s one other major character introduced here and I find it an odd one. Mordru is Morgan’s Lover/Consort/King. He’s the incredibly powerful wizard that fights the Legion of Superheroes in the 30th century, so I’m not sure what he’s doing in the 7th or 8th century. This might be part of his new origin or he might have gone back in time, you never know with this kind of thing. Even without his presence, the setup has me wanting more, but with it I’ll certainly keep getting the series.

The series has begun with a traditional epic fantasy beginning. Or, if you like, a traditional beginning to a D&D campaign. Most all of our heroes are gathered in an inn for some rest and refreshment and to get the campaign hook. There is a mighty evil on the land and one of its expeditionary forces has made the mistake of smashing into this inn. Now the heroes will fight them together and bond and become the adventuring group.

There’s a catch though, Paul Cornell is writing this. He’s a very capable writer, good at humor, plot, dialogue, characterization, drama, everything you’d want in an epic fantasy comic. He also knows the history of the characters and the DC universe. He’s familiar with the tropes, fantasy and SF. He’s capable of either going with the traditional beginning as I’ve laid it out above or standing it on its ear and making it an enjoyable, engrossing tale either way. I look forward to seeing what he does and reading what stories he has to tell.

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Deathstroke #1

I don’t really like Deathstroke. He’s one of those villains that should be fairly easily beatable when he goes up against groups like the Titans and his threat level always seems contrived. I could understand if he was going up against unpowered heroes like Batman or Nightwing or Green Arrow, but Kid Flash, Wondergirl, Raven, Superboy and most of the other Titans shouldn’t have much of a problem with him at all.

In this new series, it looks like they’ll be focusing on the character without him necessarily fighting heroes. He is an assassin for hire and occasionally a bodyguard for other “evil” people. The first storyline is going to be about the villain-community thinking he’s gone soft because he’s been doing the bodyguard gig and he’s going to rescue his reputation.

Meh. I’ve never been a big fan of characters like the Punisher or others who just run around shooting people, hero or villain. Deathstroke has a handler in this issue, someone who gets him his jobs and handles payment and the handler thinks he’s got a great idea, a support team for Deathstroke. He does the mission with them and they do a great job, so naturally he kills them. Seems forced and gratuitous to establish he’s a loner, but again this really isn’t my kind of comic so maybe there’s a market for this.

The only thing that’ll keep me reading this, and I don’t see how they could make this character interesting for long, is what the unrevealed surprise in this issue turns out to be. After he gets on the target’s plane in mid-flight, the target seems to be the one that hired him and hands him a briefcase with “items” in it in order to “send a message”. They don’t show what the items are, tell him what the message is, though he asks “Is this a threat?” or have a chance to reveal anything else because he immediately blows up the plane. There’s a slight chance the items will lead into a plotline that is interesting to me, but I doubt it and they’d better reveal what it is quickly ’cause I’m not sticking around long.

If he’s nothing more than an assassin or bodyguard for hire, I’m not sure why anyone would be interested in “sending him a message” unless they’re competitors and the target didn’t seem to be someone who would care about that kind of thing. It also wasn’t someone who’d be targeting people he was protecting or protecting people he was targeting, it just doesn’t make sense yet and I’m not sure it ever will.

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Swamp Thing #1

Swamp Thing was not what I was expecting. Of all the titles to reboot from the beginning of the character, I was sure this would be one. Instead, we get Alec Holland having already been Swamp Thing and having had his humanity restored with no memory of his time as Swamp Thing. We also get a guest appearance from a Superman who is well established as a hero, so very much later in the timeline.

 Swamp Thing is a strange enough character that I would have thought they’d want to start with some kind of origin tale, instead we get lots of hints of what’s happened and one of my favorite parts of the issue, Dr. Holland still has some kind of residual powers. It is revealed as his ability to tell if wood is at all rotted. The way it is shown, you might think it is all in his head, but the “thought balloons” imply that it isn’t.

There’s a really creepy “evil” established in the issue, killing some archaeologists and taking possession of their bodies. It feels like it’ll tie into the Animal Man storyline with the “Hunters Three” antagonists, but I can’t be sure. At the end they show the Swamp Thing separate from Dr. Holland, perhaps about to rejoin with him, perhaps as an ally, perhaps as an adversary, there’s just not enough shown in the brief appearance at the end of the issue to know.

Superman implies there’s some recent disaster associated with Swamp Thing which might or might not be connected to the pre-Flashpoint “Brightest Day” storyline. I hope it isn’t, I really hated that storyline. This hasn’t been a character I’ve ever really been interested in, the early comics were more of a horror comic than I tend to like and later they seemed to think being obtuse was the equivalent of being artistic. That impression could be entirely because I didn’t follow the character consistently and they had many writers that all seemed to want to go their own way. Strangely in a reboot, they may be trying to tie together all the major character developments from all the writers changes.

I don’t think I’ll be sticking around to find out unless it turns out it is strongly linked to the Animal Man title, then again that might get me to dump Animal Man despite my love of Animal Man.

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Batwoman #1

Batwoman is a relatively new character, only a few years old. This incarnation anyway, previously Batwoman was a 1950s character that was referenced over the years, but was mostly discarded and forgotten. She’s a popular new character though and so DC gave her her own series after the reboot. The interesting thing is, apparently all of her previous stories made it through the reboot intact.

There are a number of references to incidents that occurred just before the reboot and all of her backstory is referenced as well including her relationship with her dad and that she used to date Renee Montoya. Renee is now either dead or is still the new Question. Which is not made clear in this issue, but I’m sure we’ll find out soon.

A new addition is Flamebird, Bette Kane, apparently Kate Kane’s (Batwoman) cousin. This implies that Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman is the new Batwoman’s aunt. Or maybe mother? Most likely Kathy Kane was neither in this universe as it would have been too long ago for her to have been a superhero, but the connection is still amusing.

Batwoman has agreed to train Flamebird and take her on as a sort of Robin-esque sidekick, but she’s more harsh and military about it. She’s destroyed Flamebird’s old costume, given her a drab uniform and bandanna-mask and dubbed her the completely unimaginative “Plebe”. Flamebird might or might not continue this training, but if she didn’t it’d be a loss for the title. Batwoman needs a Robin-like foil to humanize her when she’s in hero mode. Without that, she’s a soldier-like, almost machine-like Batman. With Flamebird or “Plebe”, she has a foil, someone to explain things to, someone to reveal things to and someone that will hopefully help her becomes more than just a female Batman.

The one problem I have with the art in this book is that Kate and Batwoman are given the same ashen, almost deathly pallor. This should give away her secret identity immediately as soon as someone sees Batwoman. No-one else has this coloring. Why a beautiful socialite would have this pallor goes unremarked. Perhaps it will be explained later, but it is a very unusual complexion, and if unique would immediately identify her as Batwoman. I understand that it works very well with the red hair and black costume, but as Kate Kane it is just weird.

Finally, back to the link to Kathy Kate. This character’s backstory really brings home that there is no more Golden Age in the DC universe. No Jay Garrick, no Max Mercury, no Wildcat or Hourman. I’m hoping they’re all on Earth 2 somewhere and DC hasn’t completely abandoned their “52 universe” idea from a few short years ago. I have to think they’ll have occasional alternate universe stories with them at some point. DC has made it almost a compulsion to keep bringing back older and minor characters to keep them in copyright, it’d be strange indeed if they let them lapse now.

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Batman and Robin #1

Batman and Robin #1 is, in its way, one of the stranger reboot titles. Mostly because it doesn’t feel like a reboot at all. Like the other titles in which Batman Inc. exists, it feels like there’s continuity with the pre-reboot universe. Clearly this title is many years down the line from say, Justice League or even Detective in that Damian, Batman’s Son, is Robin. Batman has to have existed for at least as long as Damian has been around, plus 9 months, plus time for Talia to have become infatuated with Batman.

Tim, Jason and Dick are all referenced as previous Robins, so there has to have been time for each of them as well. Sadly, Stephanie’s brief time as Robin was not referenced. It’d be sad if they got rid of her stint, but kept Jason’s in canon. Jason’s only alive because Superboy Prime got mad and punched the multiverse. The sooner that’s done away with the better. If they did get rid of that nonsense, then either Jason never was killed by the Joker, removing his best moment, or he’s dead, which would be fine with me. They haven’t seemed to know what to do with him since he came back. He’s Red Robin! No, he’s Red Hood! No, he’s just a jackass! Cut him loose and be done with it.

They have some new, invisible supervillain kill off the Russian Batman in the opening pages, evidently just to establish that this villain is badass and sick. I’m hoping the villain is revealed to be Vladimir Putin, but I doubt DC has the guts to do that. Sad, it’d be funny. Despite the lengths they go to to show how bad this bad guy is, and despite a possibly related heist gone wrong that Batman and Robin mostly foil, the real focus of this issue is that Bruce is Batman again and Damian is a handful.

Despite Damian’s time with Dick, he’s still impulsive, arrogant and makes bad decisions like any pre-teen would. The problem is his arrogance and anger and much of his training comes from his mother and her army of ninjas. Batman is going to be spending much of his time teaching Damian right and wrong. Much of the early part of the issue deals with Batman introducing Damian to his world and being frustrated that the kid doesn’t want to listen, show reverence to the things Bruce has reverence for or admit that Bruce knows best. In other words, a normal parent-child relationship, this one is just played out in life-threatening ways every day.

That’s the other reason this doesn’t feel like it is part of the rebooted universe: In addition to the litany of all the previous Robins and how Damian isn’t like them, Dick was also Batman for awhile. Was Bruce still dead/In the past? If he was, then how did Flashpoint, a change in relatively recent history, affect that whole sequence? If the whole Death of Batman thing didn’t happen, why was Dick Batman? This series, perhaps more than most of the rebooted titles, has a lot of explaining to do.

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Omac #1

 OMAC or O.M.A.C. to be more traditional is originally a creation of Jack Kirby when he was at DC Comics. O.M.A.C. stood for One Man Army Corps and took place in a dystopian future. We’ll have to wait to see if it still does.

The new OMAC tries to keep the feel of Kirby’s art, but instead of simply imitating the style, they’ve infused it with Giffen’s style to make it something unique. The two styles really blend well together, but you can still see both in the art. It is unfortunate or maybe appropriate that the entire first issue is one of confusion.

The reader can sort of figure out what is going on, but the main character, the supporting characters, the members of Cadmus and OMAC all seem confused throughout the issue. That seems to be par for the course with Giffen, but I wasn’t really expecting OMAC to be a “wacky” Giffen book.

We do get introduced to Cadmus and the cover organization for Cadmus, but we’re not really given many clues about who or what is behind Cadmus, if Cadmus is good, but subverted or simply bad to begin with. OMAC smashes his way through the cover business and into the underground HQ of Cadmus at the direction of a disembodied voice. The voice says it was once part of Cadmus, but has been cast out and needs access to the mainframe.

It seems quaint that the main computer system would be a mainframe, but I suppose the author needed something familiar and monolithic as a target. This mainframe has more stability and redundancy than any system I could imagine since, when OMAC is denied access through the system’s ports, he rips the top half of the computer off and gains access by plunging his arms into what’s left below. An odd emergency interface at best.

At the end, we see that OMAC is controlled, as he should be, by the satellite Brother Eye. This incarnation has Brother Eye seemingly created by Cadmus and OMAC created by Brother Eye. Origin stories will come later, presumably. I’m glad that this time Brother Eye was not created by Batman, though I suppose that is still a possibility. I’d been thinking it’d be nice if at least one of the new titles started in the middle of a story instead of at the beginning and this one looks like it fits the bill. While I tend to like Giffen’s writing I’m going to want some coherence soon or I don’t think I’ll continue picking up this title.

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Static Shock #1

I’m not sure why, but Static Shock seems much more cartoony than the other reboot titles I’ve read so far. It could be the art or it might be the fact that I first encountered Static through cartoons. Static originally debuted in 1993 and I wasn’t buying comics then. By the time I started buying comics again, Static and the rest of the Milestone imprint had pretty much run its course.

Of all the reboots I’ve read so far, this one is the most like a title in the middle of its run, it feels established. Most everything else I’ve read so far feels like the very beginning of a story. Some, like Static Shock, are well into a hero’s career, but those too feel like the beginning of stories. They’re all very concerned with setup and backstory and establishing scenes. Static Shock feels like the beginning of a story too, but also feels like a new storyline in the middle of a good run.

Leafing through it again, it has the same setup shots and expository dialogue as the other titles, but it feels more natural, more like actual dialogue than heavy-handed “We Must Let The Readers Know” sort of things. It could be great writing or a combination of the particular story with this art, either way it bodes well. Since this is a “cartoon title” to me, like Batman Beyond was, I wasn’t sure I was going to bother with more than one or two issues, but after this first issue, I think I’ll give it a chance.

The villains have  a mid-90s cheese feel about them, but they could still turn out interesting. I like that there’s several groups already in place and working together, this gives Static things to figure out and he’ll have to defeat more than just one bad guy. They also have a sort of anti-Power Rangers thing going on with one of the groups that could be different enough to become the main Static foe. I like the high-tech aspect of the entire series. Static and the anti-Rangers both have tech beyond the general populace, but in several scenes the general populace seems completely non-plussed by the use of this tech around them.

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Stormwatch #1

Stormwatch seems to be a reboot of the title The Authority. They’ve monkied around with it a little, throwing in the Martian Manhunter for some reason. I suppose they didn’t want the Martian Manhunter in the Justice League because he’s too similar to Superman, so they put him in The Authority where he’s too similar to Apollo.  I’m guessing they’re going to use the Authority characters in the Stormwatch role, but the original Stormwatch was UN supported and that role has already gone to Justice League International.

The setup in the first issue seems to be The Authority Characters (plus the Martian Manhunter) as The Authority. They’re a group of ultra-powerful people who seem to be looking to protect the world from heroes and villains both. Why they’re calling themselves Stormwatch this time instead of The Authority is a mystery. Paul Cornell writes this and he’s one of my favorites, so he’s going to get some leeway from me, but so far I’m confused as to why they’d want to make this part of the main DC universe.

DC just spent over half a decade establishing “reboot” for their entire universe. They started with Infinite Crisis which went straight into 52, then went to Countdown and from there to Final Crisis. From there they went right into Blackest Night which ran into Brightest Day. Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne is thrown in at the end there, mixing imperfectly with everything after Final Crisis, which should have had the subtitle (Not Really Final). One of the things I really loved about the endless Crisising was that they seemed to be undoing, at least in part, the collapse of all the universes into one that was the result of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

I loved the parallel Earths of the DC universe. I grew up an SF fan and this was the link between it and comics. Superhero comics back in the 50s and 60s were much more SF oriented than they are today or were even in the late 80s or through the 90s. Green Lantern and the Flash spent most of their early Silver Age careers battling aliens and other-dimensional creatures, they weren’t tied to fighting supervillains all the time, though they existed too, but even they were more SF than you might think. Most of the Flash’s iconic villains were SF scientists who’d come up with ways to harness cold, heat, weather, etc… They became more traditionally super-villainy as the years went on.

When the original Crisis wiped out the multiverse, I was saddened. When DC brought it back with the 5 years of Crises, I was very excited. DC had a few other “universes” in the meantime, primarily Milestone and Wildstorm. Milestone didn’t last very long, and Wildstorm seemed like a separate universe, not intended to ever interact with the main DC universe. The Authority, for example, seemed primarily to be a weird take on the Justice League. Apollo = Superman. Midnighter = Batman. Swift = Hawkgirl, etc… As such, it was fine that they were in this separate universe, never to come into contact with the main DC universe. They were trying to tell different kinds of stories.

Shortly before the endless Crises, there was some crossover. There were stories about the Bleed, which was the space between the universes. There were some “What if” sort of stories and some Otherworlds sort of stories, but nothing like the Earth One/Earth Two stories that I’d loved so much as a kid. As Countdown came to a close, I was pleased to see that they were indeed restoring the multiverse, 52 universes in which they could tell stories. 52 universes that seemed likely to interact and have their own kind of heroes. Now that they’ve done all this setup, now that they’ve closed down both Milestone and Wildstorm, what do they do with the characters from those universes?

They place them awkwardly in the primary DC universe. Brightest Day swept without pause into Flashpoint which seemed to be saying primarily “We don’t know what to do with all the setup we’ve just spent 5 years on.” All that setup, all that storytelling, all that buildup and they wipe it out with a rather half-assed New Crisis that rebooted the universe AGAIN. Are there still 52 universes? Who knows? Dan Didio and Geoff Johns probably have lost track somewhere and don’t know either. They’ve got 52 universes to play with and the imaginary tales of Otherworlds, so naturally, they squash everyone into one ill-fitting universe.

To be fair, Stormwatch itself is a decent comic. The art is good and fantastical, the storyline looks like it could hold some promise as long as the final page of the Midnighter showing up and asking Apollo to go wipe out the human race with him isn’t too ridiculous in the long run. And as I said, Cornell is one of my favorites, I just hope it rises above the unfortunate editorial mess it has been splashed down in.

One other thing, Midnighter and Apollo seemed to be DC’s highest profile gay couple. I really hope they fall in love again in this new series. It would be a shame for DC to throw away that kind of established relationship.

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