Thursday, September 30, 2021

Supergirl Show 613: The Gauntlet

Supergilr episode 613, The Gauntlet, aired this week and was one of the more enjoyable episodes of the season. This was a high point.

We got progression of the main plot, Nyxly trying to unite magic totems to create a super-weapon. There is a fair amount of action and Supergirl is part of it. The show, as it has done this whole season, leans into its continuity heavily. That all works.

This also is the last chance for these actors to play these characters. So this episode also allows our characters to break from their mold a little bit. They all get courage but it effects them all differently. If you have followed these characters for 6 years, this almost felt a little like comedy. I loved that too. In particular, and in what is becoming a sort of weekly statement, Jesse Rath as Brainy just slays. And, as always, Melissa Benoist is wonderful as Supergirl and Kara, showing hope and relying on her family and friends. Wish we saw some of this in the comics.

And I have to admit that I was wrong in thinking that the characters themselves are the totems. But I will hold on to the hope that I will end up being right in some way. 

On to the details!

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Review: Phantom Zone #4

Today I review Phantom Zone #4, the final chapter of the mini-series which introduced teh concept of Aethyr the Oversoul into the DCU.

As I have said in prior reviews of this mini, this is about as crazy a Superman story as you are going to read. We go to Hell and back, from the lurid to the psychedelic, and then back to Earth for a slugfest. I don't know if I have ever read something quite like this before. And certainly as a 12 year old reading this off the rack, I was both confused and elated.

Writer Steve Gerber does a great job of mixing a weird, almost horror vibe to the story as Superman travels through Aethyr in hoping to get to Earth. Last issues trip through the layers leads to the monster's lair. But, as usual, Gerber provides us with oddly paced side scenes to flesh out the story. From the opening 5 page scene of the nihilistic Nadira and Az-Rel destroying a punk rock club to Faora Hu-Ul doing what she does best, a lot of pages are spent making sure we know who these villains are and what they would do if left to tromp around Earth.

Artists Gene Colan and Tony DeZuniga are on art again and really have had to stretch themselves this whole series. We are in the dingy back streets of Gotham and the surrealistic landscapes of Aethyr. I can't imagine anyone better suited for the job.

And as a side note, once again Supergirl is treated with tremendous respect getting into the main action sequences and quipping her way through clobbering the villains. Just great stuff.

Settle in once more for the weird!

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

DC Comics December 2021 Solicits

The DC Comics solicits for July came out a while ago and as usual, there are some highlights and lowlights. As usual, I advise you take a look at all the solicits to see the whole docket. Here is a link to Newsarama's coverage:

The Elseworlds (are they still called that?) titles sound very interesting. And I continue to be impressed with the Philip Kennedy Johnson Action Comics series and this solicit sounds great. No surprise, the Supergirl solicit has me intrigued and concerned.

Let's get going.

Written by TOM KING
Art and cover by BILQUIS EVELY
Variant cover by STEVE RUDE

The traumatic secrets of Supergirl's past are revealed as our heroine races to the edge of the universe to escape Krem and his latest weapon! The murderer of young Ruthye's father has gotten his hands on a Mordru globe and plans to use it to make our hero disappear forever. Can she save herself and the young girl's future in the process? She'll need the help of her trusty steed, Comet the Superhorse!

Just what we needed, more trauma in Supergirl's past. Tom King certainly knows one note and he sings it well. I just don't understand it. 

Frankly his track record makes me worry that his incarnation of Comet is either going to be something icky or is headed to some depressing end. You know Comet, the goofy part of the Silver Age Supergirl? Let's see if we can make him dark. 

The last issue was just so shockingly depressing that I have little optimism left for this. 

Let's look at the rest of the Super books.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Review: Supergirl Woman Of Tomorrow #4

Supergirl Woman of Tomorrow #4 came out this week and was the best issue of the series and also the worst issue of the series. 

I have talked in the past about my issues with this series. The overly dramatic prose of the narrator. Ruthye as the point of view character in a book which is supposed to star Supergirl. The overly dark and depressed Supergirl, cursing and drinking her way through the book en route to a destiny where she apparently kills someone. 

Writer Tom King likes nothing more than emotionally broken, despondent characters and his Kara fits that same demographic as Mister Miracle, The Vision, and Adam Strange. Heck, even his Wally West was a traumatized murderer until wiser minds retconned things. 

The crazy thing about this issue is that the first half reads much more like the classic Supergirl that I am looking for. You know the Supergirl who wants to help people as much as she can so that they don't suffer as much as she has. Yes, there is trauma in her past but she has moved through it. She isn't wallowing in it. She fiercely wants to stop it from happening again. And for a while, King gives us that Kara.

But about halfway through the issue we take a hard turn into that darker material, And this back half I see a Supergirl I simply don't recognize. And I have been reading her for more than 40 years. I have been a fan of hers for that long. And I have celebrated her her for 13 years. I don't know who this Supergirl is. That saddens me. Because as this is a Tom King book, the (as he put it) 'the little trade that shows you how great she is', I don't know if we will move away from this. I mean when will we see Scott Free Mister Miracle again?

One thing I have never complained about is  the art. Artist Bilquis Evely has serenely powerful strokes,  a sort of  ornate penciling that just sings. Her Kara is angelic. The expressive work is powerful. The alien worlds are unique and odd and well, alien. Add to that Matheus Lopes wonderful color palate, a mix of peaceful oil paintings when needed and garish neon when necessary, makes this book one of the more beautiful books on the racks.

If only I could get behind this story. But I simply can't. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Supergirl Show 612: Blind Spots

Supergirl episode 612, titled Blind Spots, aired this week and dealt primarily with racism, discrimination, and the difficulty people of color have getting others to see the problem. Blind Spots is an appropriate title.

As a middle-aged white male, it is hard for me to comment on the topic too much. I try to be the best ally I can be. But obviously I can't empathize with the issues being discussed here. And it will be hard to criticize the execution of this episode with it potentially sounding like I am criticizing the message. I would never do the latter. As such, don't expect too much commentary here. It will me more like a plot synopsis rather than a deep dive.

I will say a couple of things up front. 

This was definitely a 'tell me' social episode, not a 'show me'. There are actually some nice subtle ways that disparity and inequality are shown in this episode, like the councilwoman literally siphoning off the life of the disenfranchised. But a lot of this is in your face. That can work sometimes. 

Second, the Super Friends aren't aware that Nyxly's powers aren't working. They are trying to stop her from putting together a potentially universe-destroying weapon, trillions of lives at stake. So while noble, Kelly yelling at her friends for not helping the 20-odd people sick in the hospital seems a bit short-sighted. But I guess that was the point of this episode. That sometimes you need to see the trees and not the forest.

This was thought-provoking, and maybe conversation-provoking for families watching it. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Review: Phantom Zone #3

I continue my look at the origin of the Aethyr concept with this review of Phantom Zone #3.

It is hard to know where to begin in this introduction. In earlier reviews of this book, I have been saying that this book makes a big turn from superhero action to psychedelic insanity. And this is that book. 

That isn't to say that we don't get great hero action. Supergirl again is on the main stage as is Batman. They are trying to thwart the the freed Phantom Zone villains from running roughshod on the Earth.

But the main part of this book is Superman working his way through the unknown layers of the Phantom Zone. Writer Steve Gerber breaks out his E. Nelson Bridwell, working in some Kryptonian history and some prior stories as we get dive from one bizarre landscape to another. 

Gerber's delve into miasma gives art team Gene Colan and Tony DeZuniga the space to use their skills. Nothing says Colan more than the weird and he uses all the tools in his toolbox. Even the cover, showing a red masked woman becoming a planet that explodes, let's the reader know that this is going to be a wild ride.

And here is the kicker. It was incredibly hard to limit what to post here artwise because every page has something special. There is something incredible and warped on almost every page. I hope everyone can read this in floppy or trade or on the DC app (where I pulled the panels from).

Settle in folks. Things are gonna get nutty.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Review: Challenge Of The Super Sons #6

The Challenge of the Super Sons #6 came out this week, the penultimate issue of this fun mini-series. This is before Jon was aged. This is before Damian went even crazier. This is when two tween heroes could just have some silly fun. 

Writer Peter Tomasi has had a great understanding of these two boys, making me laugh as they bicker and joke their way through their adventures, inspiring each other along the way. This issue has all of that as our heroes escape from the distant path to get back to the 'present' day. I do think this mini-series could have easily been 6 issues, not seven, This side adventure in the past has gone on for maybe just a little too long.

Some of that feeling might come from the art in the last few chapters. Evan Stanley has a nice, fun, cartoony style. But it is hard to jump to that after getting more standard superhero fare from artists like Max Raynor. I wonder how I would feel if the whole book was done in this sort of style. 

Still, there are a couple of great moments in this issue that makes me once again know I will miss it when it is gone. I know I will definitely miss this Jon.

On to the book. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Review: Superman And The Authority #3

Superman and The Authority #3 came out last week and was another tremendous issue in what has been a very entertaining mini-series. Writer Grant Morrison is telling a story of an aging and weakening Superman forming a team to act on his behalf. But as I have said in the past, Morrison is also weaving in comic history, commentary on comic fandom, and a surprising amount of humor. I think Manchester Black is almost a stand-in for Morrison, calling it like he sees it at times.

This issue concentrates mostly on the recruitment of the Enchantress to the Authority. It involves a true laugh out loud moment. It ends with three different cliffhangers, one as the team is trying to recruit their next member, a new Lightray.

The art is by Mikel Janin and Travel Foreman and the book has a very pleasing polished look to it. I love the new look uniforms for the Enchantress and Nat Irons. And I the wild environment of Fort Superman is showcased nicely with great points of view in wide open page layouts.

If there is one complaint it is that we only have one issue left. The team hasn't even been fully formed yet. We have just learned about the threats the world faces. How is this going to wrap up in one issue? Or is the plan for it to end with the actual formation and take it from there. I wouldn't mind a lot more issues of this title.

On to the details.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Review: Justice League #67

Justice League #67 came out this week, wrapping up the Synmar Utopica storyline while further introducing us to the United Order. It also nudges the Checkmate story a baby step down the road. This is an issue that has a couple of very solid moments. But there are a couple of things about the story that don't sit quite right.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis continues to shine when it comes to Superman and Lois. I love the way Superman is portrayed here. He still wants to convince the villain to reform. He doesn't want to make his enemy suffer. And he can still rally the troops around him. But the defeat of Synmar happens a bit too quickly and a bit too familiarly. I still am rubbing my chin about Daemon Rose. 

The art here is done by Phil Hester and there is an appropriate sharpness to the works. Everything is angular and harsh, befitting an issue that is almost entirely a brawl. And he handles the different alien races of the United Order well.

Still, the Superman stuff is solid enough to nudge this book up a but in the grade.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Supergirl Show 611: Mxy In The Middle

Supergirl episode 611, title 'Mxy in the Middle' aired this week. Going in I assumed I was going to like this episode. With Thomas Lennon reprising his role as Mr. Mxyzptlk, it was going to take something dramatic for me not to like it.

This episode propelled the Nyxly plot forward, giving our villain a sympathetic back story and making her a victim of 'the patriarchy'. As such, our heroes keep giving the 5th dimensional imp the benefit of the doubt, hoping they can talk her down from a life of revenger. I suppose this whole back season is going to be a parade of social issues and this one is women being taken advantage of or forsaken by 'the man'. Who would think that the 5th dimension would have such issues.

And as always, Supergirl is only part of the story. Nia and Brainy have as much to do, if not more, than our hero. In fact, in what is becoming an unhappy norm, she barely has any of the big moments in this episode. She continues to espouse hope and self-improvement. But she throws no punch, defeats no monster.

There is a mega-dose of exposition that will pad out the plot of the remaining episodes, explaining what Nyxly will be up to. But I pity our heroes who can't solve the obvious riddle laid out before them.

Still, Thomas Lennon does a great job as Mxyzptlk, although he isn't allowed to do much magic. Still he is frenetic and silly enough to make me hope we see more of him.

On to the details.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Review: Phantom Zone #2

Today I review Phantom Zone #2, continuing my look at the mini-series that brough the concept of Aethyr into the DC Universe.But I am doubly lucky reviewing this issue because Supergirl is really a star in this issue. With Superman stuck in the Phantom Zone, it is up to the other heroes to deal with the repercussions of the Phantom Zone villains being free. Let me tell you Kara and Wonder Woman step up big time.

As I said in the review of the first issue, the pacing of this mini-series is interesting and almost overly deliberate. Writer Steve Gerber has a lot of stuff to cover. He has to cover all the action on Earth and he takes his time. This issue is mostly the villains initial actions, removing as many heroes as they can. But it isn't enough, Gerber throws in some cold war paranoia. In fact, he barely touches on all the wackiness that is going to happen with Superman in the Phantom Zone.

The art is again wonderfully rendered by Gene Colan. I still don't know if he is the right choice for superheroics but there is enough horror for it to be a Colan issue. Tony DeZuniga on inks seems to ground the work making the more JLA pages a bit more solid and less ethereal than the usual Colan fare. Let's start with this eye grabbing cover of Supergirl supposedly dead while the ghostly Superman looks on. Wonderful!

On to the book!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Bullet Review: Suicide Squad Annual 2021

Last month I did a bullet review of Suicide Squad #6. I had been a little confused by the quick change in Superboy in this book given how he had just been portrayed in the Bendis' Superman and Young Justice books. In Suicide Squad #6, we got the answer. The Squad's Superboy wasn't Conner. Excellent turn and certainly one that allayed some fears of mine.

Suicide Squad Annual 2021 came out last week and followed up on that story giving us all the answers behind the Superboys and the Squad. It does explain things nicely, calling back a Superboy villain from the 90s, leaning into the new continuity that everything sort of happened. All this worked for me. 

The art is a mix of Dexter Soy and Eduardo Pansica. There are a lot of splash pages and double splash pages in the book. Given the over the top action, I suppose some of these pages were warranted. But there are so many it made me wonder if they were all there just to pad the page count to bring this single issue script up to Annual length. Soy and Pansica both are solid artists and the action is rough and tumble, befitting the story.

On to the book.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Review: Batman/Superman Annual 2021

The Batman/Superman title is leaving us soon, canceled within the next couple of months. It is a shame because I never tire of seeing these two icons working together as heroes and friends.

In particular, once the Infected storyline ended in this iteration of the title, the book has really soared. In particular, writer Gene Luen Yang has done a great job injecting some life and fun into the proceedings. While I thought his last story arc regarding Auteur.IO went on a touch too long, there is no doubt I liked these alternate versions of the characters.

The Batman/Superman Annual 2021 came out a couple of weeks ago (sorry it has taken me so long to get to it) and gave Yang the opportunity to play with those characters one last time. Given they will most likely be lost to comic limbo and that I enjoyed them, I was happy to read this solicit. The concept of the flip book also was interesting. We have seen split pages used with these characters and Yang himself did a 'choose your own adventure' Terrifics issue. So I liked that idea too. The plots are fine, picking up some threads from the prior arcs and padding out the textures of these worlds.

I also liked the artists on the book. Francesco Francavilla has a very film noir style which worked swimmingly for the Superman tale set in the grungy Gotham of Batman's world. And Paul Pelletier's clean pencils also shine in the Batman story in the clean cut streets of Superman's Earth.

I will say the flip book trick wasn't really necessary as the two sides meet in the middle just for a second and neither really is needed for the others story. This could have been just two chapters in one standardly oriented book.

On to the details.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Supergirl Show 610: Still I Rise

Supergirl episode 610, titled 'Still I Rise', aired earlier this week and was another very solid episode for the back end of this final season.  Once more this is a socially relevant episode covering another important topic of gentrification and affordable housing. But unlike prior seasons, this episode showed us the problem, had a plot around it, and didn't just tell us the problem.

We also get a nice push forward of the Nyxly storyline with the imp becoming a much bigger threat. We also get progress with Nia and her need for closure with her family. I also like the role that Brainy is playing this entire season. Jesse Rath is a delight. 

Kara is the straw that stirs the drink here, being a key part of the storyline in both her civilian and superhero identities. She still doesn't have much action to do here. But Melissa Benoist is just stellar in both sides of the character. I have said it before and I will say it again, she is just perfect for the role.

Lastly, I like how the continuity of the show is being leaned into, both from earlier this season and even from the first season. I'll be sad to see this show leave the air.

On to the show.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Back Issue Box: Phantom Zone #1

In a couple of recent issues, both Action Comics Annual 2021 and Wonder Woman 778, we were reintroduced to Aethyr, the oversoul, the entity who actually is the Phantom Zone. I was blown away. As a long time reader, I knew Aethyr first appeared in one of the most brutal and trippiest mini-series of my youth, The Phantom Zone.

There is a lot to unpack in this mini-series. But the first thing to discuss is the creative team. Steve Gerber was the writer on the book. I think of Gerber mostly as a Marvel writer, and usually on the weirder side of that universe. books like Man-Thing, Howard the Duck, and The Defenders. He certainly brings the craziness to this Superman story. We don't exactly get there in issue one. But hold on to your hats.

Gene Colan is on art. I love Colan's art. But I don't know if I would ever think of him as a Superman artist. I don't even think of him as a super-hero artist. I think he is fine on street level books like Daredevil or Nathaniel Dusk. But he truly shines on horror books like Tomb of Dracula and Night Force. His art here is stunning, especially when we get to the more psychedelic aspects of this story. But we have to get through some standard super-heroics first.

Phantom Zone #1 is also a bit of a vestige of a time when there weren't wikis and internet searches and DC encyclopedias at a comic fan's beck and call. This first issue is a primer on the Zone and its occupants. As a young fan who encountered the Phantom Zone villains here and there, to have this issue's role call hearing about all the prisoners and why they were imprisoned, I was in heaven. More comic knowledge to imbibe. We barely scratch the plot here. But what a delightful info dump. Heck, it was this issue I learned about Quex-Ul, a key figure in this story.

Okay, enough preamble. Let's dive into this issue!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Review: Batman/Superman #21

Batman/Superman #21 came out a while ago, just reaching the top of my review pile today. Pardon for the delay. 

This is the conclusion of the Auteur.IO arc and while I have enjoyed it, I do wonder if this has been padded a bit to fit the trade. I have enjoyed seeing the 'film' versions of Batman and Superman here. This is a classic Batman, actually caring and mentoring Robin. I have liked the this Fleischer-esque Superman. And I have even liked the sort of metatextual look at comics, fandom, and an auteur director trying to force his view of the DCU on everyone. 

But we sort of meandered a bit these last couple of issues. And despite that, the ending in this issue just sort of happens. I don't know if I exactly know who this being is or why what happened happened, despite the expositional origin earlier. 

No complaints about the art. Ivan Reis has crushed it this whole arc. I have loved his rendition of different worlds. The whole film borders and burning panels has been sharp. I'll never complain about Reis' work.

On to the book.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Review: Superman '78 #1

Superman "78 #1 came out last week and it definitely lived up to the hype.

I was a kid when Superman the Movie came out and I believed a man could fly. I think Christopher Reeve was a fantastic Superman and Clark; you believed people would be fooled by the glasses and posture, keeping his identity straight. And I believed that a spunky, independent woman like Margot Kidder's Lois was the perfect match for Superman. Add to that a deliciously snarky and slightly overconfident Luthor by Gene Hackman and you had a universe that I loved visiting.

When DC announced this mini-series, I was champing at the bit to read it. I always wanted to see Richard Donner introduce a Brainiac to his vision. When writer Robert Venditti said that the Coluan was the villain of this book, it made me smile.

And then artist Wilfredo Torres began leaking art, I became even more excited. His stuff evokes the actors from the movies perfectly. I mean, when you see his Jackie Cooper Perry White, you'll see.

Of course the story has to be good. And this is a great opening chapter. A nice wrinkle to the origin seen in the first movie has been seamlessly added. This is a world that isn't filled with super-beings, hero or villain. So seeing how the citizens react to the action and how they will react to the upcoming battles will be fascinating to read. As I said, we get Brainiac too. I'm happy. 

On to the book!

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Supergirl Show 609: Dream Weaver

Supergirl episode 609, titled Dream Weaver, aired this week and was a pretty solid episode dealing with a couple of 'real life' stories as well as setting up an interesting plotline regarding the presumed big bad for the back half of the season.

Of all the CW DC shows, Supergirl has definitely veered the most into social commentary. We have seen individual episodes about racism and gun control, whole seasons about immigration, even discussion on isolation via technology. I applaud the show's approach as it makes Supergirl stand out against the others.

At times the execution of these arcs has been a little bit too preachy or over the top. Sometimes things got a little cringey. It felt for me like the topic surpassed the story and so as a whole those episodes didn't work. 

This episode was the opposite. There are social issues being explored here. The corrupt nature of some prisons is here. The overcrowding of the social services system, leading to some unsavory behavior of workers is here. We clearly get what the show is trying to say. But those are baked into the story. None of this came off as a sermon.

A lot of that has to come from the fact that those plots make up about half the episode. The other half is Nia still dealing with the death of her mother and how she is willing to make a deal with the devil to try and move past that. With the space given to Nia, the other plots have to stay tight, without overly long monologues. 

And we finally get to see Supergirl in action, albeit briefly. She even uses her most powerful weapon, a speech about hope.

So far so good for this back half of the last season. On to the details.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Quick Hits: Nightwing #83 And Wonder Woman #778

While I cover the Super-titles here on the site regularly, occasionally something super-centric will happen in another book that warrants a quick look here.

In the last couple of weeks, we have seen a Superman sighting in Nightwing #83 and a Phantom Zone trip in Wonder Woman #778. I collect both books monthly so I didn't need to seek them out. They fell into my laps. And both scenes are worthy of at least quick coverage here.

I started buying Nightwing when writer Tom Taylor started his current run with artist Bruno Redondo. It is an interesting read given Taylor is also writing Superman, Son of Kal-El. Here Nightwing has inherited over a billion dollars from Alfred and plans to use that money to help solve social wrongs. This is sort of a more stable way than Jon's approach. Add to that a nice side plot of Dick suddenly having a half-sister with the last name Zucco and this has been a good read.

I have been collecting the Wonder Woman title for a long time but was interested to see what writers Michael Conrad and Becky Cloonan would bring to the table. With artist Travis Moore, they have been crafting a great tale of Diana recovering from post-Metal amnesia. We have seen her travel from Asgard to Earth to Olympus all in pursuit of the god/dess Janus who split themselves in two.

I'd definitely recommend both books. Let's see what I stumbled across.