Saturday, May 28, 2005

SPOILER Review: THE OMAC PROJECT #2

Greg Rucka and Jesus Saiz bring us the second installment of THE OMAC PROJECT, the INFINITE CRISIS lead-in mini-series following most closely the primary story in COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS. In this issue, Batman’s investigation into the death of Blue Beetle heats up, Maxwell Lord makes a vicious and daring move to take control of Checkmate, and the JLA begins to disintegrate under the weight of events in IDENTITY CRISIS< COUNTDOWN and other stories leading into INFINITE CRISIS. Dense (in a good way) and story driven, OMAC #2 delivers in every way and drives us ever closer to the coming CRISIS.

One thing to note here is that for the first time in one of the lead in mini-series, we are given all the information we need to enjoy this title. While not a big deal for obsessive DC fans, the lack of sufficient background information on characters and plots in the inaugural issues of DAY OF VENGEANCE, VILLAINS UNITED, and RANN-THANAGAR WAR made those books less than accessible to someone just returning to or discovering DC during this summer’s lead in to the fall’s main event. If THE OMAC PROJECT suffered from the same problem in its first issue, then the problem was solved thoroughly in #2. I commend Rucka and editor Joan Hilty for making sure new readers can come on board and hope that the #2 issues of the other three lead-in minis do the same . Having read DAY OF VENGEANCE #2, though, it doesn’t look like it is going to happen.

If the art in OMAC #1 seemed a little muddied by the colors and paper, the problem seems to have cleared itself up in this issue. Saiz’s work is clearer and just looks better, and we get a lot more expressive close ups for our characters. Given the emotional nature of the story and dangling plotlines it follows, this is a very good thing. Not much can be said for Rucka’s writing that I didn’t say in my review of #1; his characterization and dialogue are spot on and the story moves briskly forward.

Now, on to the spoilers.

After a brief review of the events in IDENTITY CRISIS that started all the trouble -- these are same pages that appeared in the preview -- we are witness to a meeting between Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and Booster Gold on the JLA moon-base headquarters, the Watchtower. Batman admits to creating, and then losing control of, the Brother I satellite. When he informs the others that the search for Blue Beetle has gone from a missing person’s investigation to a murder investigation, there is a tense stand-off between Booster and Batman. Who knew Booster had the intestinal fortitude not only to get in the Bat’s face, but take a (high powered) poke at him, too? Superman intervenes to save Batman -- who, by the way, stands stoic throughout the entire exchange -- and presses Batman for information. Batman knows Checkmate stole Brother I, and that Checkmate isn’t the organization it purports to be.

All the while, Maxwell Lord, the Black King of Checkmate, is watching. Exactly how the Brother I works and how it can view any conversation anywhere is still unexplained, but it is a power that Lord uses to full advantage throughout the story. He knows someone inside Checkmate leaked information to the heroes and sets about discovering who. There is a little red herring moment where it looks like Sasha Bordeaux’s cover is blown -- she is, after all, Lord’s right hand Knight , but is working against him and was the one to send a message to her old flame Batman that Blue Beetle had been killed and Brother I was in Checkmate’s hands. Even as Lord sets up a “meeting” with the other Kings and Queens of Checkmate, he sends one of the OMAC units -- there seems to be quite a lot of them -- to take out yet another B-lister: Overthrow. A quick check on The Unofficial Guide to the DCU Universe says Overthrow is an old Blue Beetle villain. The reason for his elimination is a little unclear, but my guess: DC is killing off all the Charlton related heroes and villains in order to re-boot that little universe on its own after INFINITE CRISIS. Maybe I am full of bunk, but that’s the call I am making right now -- which means Booster isn’t likely to be standing by the end.

When we return to Lord, he has gathered the Kings and Queens of Checkmate together and promptly outs Jessica Midnight -- the Checkmate Knight who revealed herself as a traitor to Sasha last issue -- and then mind-controls her to kill the Kings and Queens. In a nice little twist, Lord keeps Jessica alive to use her as a scapegoat for the killings. “We’re going to need someone to blame for this bloodbath, after all” indeed. It is a little thing, but it is a nod by Rucka toward a realization that there is a larger world out there and no matter how much Lord may control the inner workings of Checkmate, there is some sort of accountability.

Afterwards, Lord orders -- threatens, really -- Sasha to clean up any evidence Blue Beetle’s may have left behind that would lead to Checkmate. Batman finds her there and instead of sharing a few punches, they share a kiss. Of course, Lord is watching and that’s when not one but three OMAC units break in. Given that one OMAC unit went toe-to-toe with Superman, exactly how Batman and Sasha are going to survive and escape should prove interesting -- or make issue #3 fall flat, if it is too contrived 9which is the danger of creating threats equal to every scale of power in the DCU).

I give THE OMAC PROJECT #2 a 9 out of 10, not only because it moves the story forward -- which is always a good thing in this day and age of decompression-to-fit-the-trade-market -- but because it makes sure the reader, new or returning, is able to jump right in. Remember, writers, ever issue is someone’s first issue.

Friday, May 27, 2005

CRISIS Sightings Week of 05-25-05

It was a busy week for DC readers trying to keep up with the countdown to INFINITE CRISIS. Not only did issues of both THE OMAC PROJECT and DAY OF VENGEANCE come out (which we will get to in due time), but pretty much everything else on the shelf tied in in one form or another. Thankfully, we were spared any official tie-ins. Rather, the feeling that ‘a crisis is coming’ is permeating the whole universe and can be found throughout the DCU titles.

FLASH #222: The Rogue War is still on and Wally West is caught in the middle as the ‘reformed’ rogues battle the not-so-reformed rogues. Then, the Top shows up and throws everything into a tizzy, as it were. In case you missed the Flash IDENTITY CRISIS tie in, it was revealed then that the Top, who possesses mental powers on top of his whirling super-speed, followed in the footsteps of Barry Allen and the rest of the JLA -- and Barry has the Top rewired like other villains -- and started forcibly reforming rogues. So, all those rogues that have gone legit and teamed up with the Flash? Yup. No more. Soon, though, it became less about reformed rogues versus not, but generation versus generation as the old school rogues go head to head against the new school like Tar Pit and Girder. While nothing was revealed ina big way about INFINITE CRISIS, a couple things of note did happen. 1) The top gets himself killed by Captain Cold, and 2) Zoom -- the Reverse Flash -- has entered the fray. Remember, if the past is any indication, as goes the Flash, so goes the CRISIS.

OUTSIDERS #24: Following fast on the events of both the previous issue of the outsiders and Teen Titans #24, this issue is best described as a Villains United tie-in. Really, what that means is it shows us more of the very angry, very powerful villains at the top tier of the Society, and the titular heroes can only suffer for it. Why exactly the Titans and Outsiders are such targets in the coming CRISIS remains an open question, but you can’t argue with the results: Outsiders team member Indigo, a cyborg from the future, reveals herself as Brainiac8 and attacks the team and proves herself to be pretty much unstoppable. Indigo appeared way back in GRADUATION DAY, the Titans/Young justice mini-series that paved the way for both the Outsiders and new Teen Titans books, as well as ended the life and heroeing career of Donna Troy (more on that in a minute). Indigo ‘accidentally’ activated one of Superman’s android replacements -- from back when he decided to be everywhere at once -- which went on a rampage. It turns out, that wasn’t an accident at all. As Brainiac8, Indigo is a cyborg from the future on a mission to destroy Sarah Connor -- er, all the heroes. In any case, it is revealed that she is working with Luthor and her ‘grandfather’, another Brainiac. I am not sure whether this is the current DCU version of Brainiac, or another one from the future (‘grandfather’ would indicated Brainiac6). What is really important here is that the biggest of the big guns are interested in taking down even the second tier teams like Outsiders and Titans.

DC SPECIAL: THE RETURN OF DONNA TROY #1: Wow. This book, just so you know, reads like a missing issue of RANN/THANAGAR WAR written by Homer, and not the Simpson One. Donna Tray -- aka Wonder Girl, aka Troia -- was a member of Teen Titans (and later just plain old Titans) that died at the hands of a rogue Superman Android (see above). Her continuity has always been confusing, as she is the Wonder Woman equivalent of Power Girl. As we have seen in JSA and from press about the upcoming JSA CLASSIFIED, Power Girl is about to get retconned *into* continuity and it looks like the same may be hppening to Donna Troy here. The short of it is that Donna Troy was taken from the field of battle where she fell and transported to New Cronos, the world-ship where the titans of Greek mythology -- who, at least in Donna Troy’s most recent origin, raised her along with other ‘adopted children’ throughout the cosmos -- command a war over a planet called Minosyss. It seems that the Titans have garnered armies of Tamaraneans, Khunds, and others in order to prevent the Rann-Thanagar war from consuming all of the cosmos. However, Minosyss has a secret that the other Titans don’t want Donna Troy to discover, but eventually -- unable to accept the slaughter of those who serve her and the Titans any longer -- she defies the Titans and goes to the surface, where she watches one of her ‘sisters’ die and must battle a ‘brother’. The story isn’t bad, but it is a little dense and while Jiminez must be commended for trying to bring a casual/new reader up to speed in the first issue -- something lacking in other tie-in mini-series -- it slows down the pacing of the story. By the end, though, we have a solid handle on who Donna Troy is -- or, at least, who she thinks she is -- and an idea of how all this ties into the larger universal conflict. This will be an interesting mini-series to follow, as I imagine it will serve as something of a lynchpin for the countdown to the upcoming CRISIS.

JLA #114: The last issue for the ‘official’ INFINITE CRISIS tie-in story arc finishes up the battle with the Qwardians and the Crime Syndicate of Amerika from Earth-2. It has been a good story, though somewhat out of place feeling in the ‘new’ DCU, much like Busiek’s other epic, cosmic story recently: JLA/AVENGERS 9which this arc has been a sort of sequel to). While not expressly tied to INFINITE CRISIS, the end of this arc does offer a tantalizing clue as to how it might all pan out: at the very end of the story, we see Metron in care of an “cosmic egg”, going so far as to send false information to the JLA monitoring the egg to make them think it is stable. Instead, it looks like it is about to hatch. And what will it hatch? Who knows, but a new multiverse seems like a reasonable guess. This is especially true since the name of Krona -- the architect of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS as well as JLA/AVENGERS -- is invoked. If INFINITE CRISIS truly is an event of the scale of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS -- a fact of which we cannot yet be certain -- then this is a likely candidate for the seed of that event.

GREEN LANTERN #1: Actually, the new GL #1 doesn’t seem to tie into INFINITE CRISIS at all. I just wanted to point out that it looks a like a solid start to a new series, with Johns’ signature style of writing and great art by Pacheco and van Sciver. Pick it up, if it isn’t already sold out. For the various Gls and how they fit into the upcoming CRISIS, follow RANN/THANAGAR WAR and the “Crisis of Conscience” arc in JLA, since Johns has said his new GL will remain CRISIS-lite for its first arc or two.

That’s the rundown. Upcoming will be spoiler reviews of both THE OMAC PROJECT #2 and DAY OF VENGEANCE #2, as well as a look at what goodies have appeared in news, press releases, and Wizard Magazine.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

SUPERMAN #217: An OMAC PROJECT Tie-In

One of the complaints often levelled at the mega-crossover is the tendency to slap a logo or blurb on the cover of a regular title, call it a "tie-in" and thereby increase sales without any real advancement in the overall plot of the event itself. I had hopes -- given the four mini-series, related story arcs in ongoing titles, and specials like the RETURN OF DONNA TROY -- that INFINITE CRISIS wouldn't suffer from this problem, especially since much of what constituted a "tie in" was just a change in the tone of the DCU and some continuity between titles regarding the nature of some villains and organizations. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

SUPERMAN #217, "THE OMAC PROJECT Tie-In" logo and all, is a perfect example of the kind of crossover/tie-in I hope we don't see throughout the run up to INFINITE CRISIS. While it is a decent Superman comic -- I haven't really been following the title, but I gather that Supes has switched up the Antarctic Frtress of Solitude for one in the South American rain forest -- it is a dismal tie-in. We get a random attack by the OMAC unit -- whatever it is -- and an equally random end to the fight. The "tie in" serves only to show that someone is watching the Man of Steel and to suggest that the OMAC unit can go toe to toe with Supes, for a moment or two at least. There is no sign of Checkmate or Maxwell Lord, and most of the story revolves around Superman's attempt to fit in in the Amazon Basin.

Here's hoping that future "tie-in" issues of the various ongoing titles are less overt "Buy me!" issues.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

First Look: THE OMAC PROJECT #2 Preview

Buzzscope has a preview of THE OMAC PROJECT #2 up. unfortunately, these four pages offer very little aside from Saiz's moody, excellent artwork as it is mostly a recap of the events portrayed in IDENTITY CRISIS -- wherein Batman, walking in on the League as they 'adjust' Dr. Light's personality, gets a few moments stolen from his memory. Don't get me wrong -- it is nice to see this again, expecially since the INFINITE CRISIS lead-ins have been a little short on exposition in places, but it is more of a recap than a preview. I will say that Saiz captures Zatanna's reluctance and guilt over this choice beautifully, and Batman's narration is a punch in the gut. Otherwise, though, it is just a teaser and we'll have to wait till next week to find out more.

Next Up: OMAC PROJECT ties-in with the Man of Steel.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

SPOILER Review: RANN-THANAGAR WAR #1

RANN-THANAGAR WAR #1 is the first issue of the fourth and final INFINITE CRISIS lead in mini-series -- ignoring, of course, the vast number of story arcs in ongoing titles linked to the upcoming CRISIS. It is written by Dave Gibbons, penciled by Ivan Reis, and inked by Marc Campos. First and foremost: the answer to the most pressing question to be asked since the preview appeared:

No. Despite what the preview pages may have led you to believe, the Dark Phoenix of Marvel’s X-MEN is not, in fact, invading the DCU. In case you missed the preview, the first few pages of R-T WAR #1 show Hawkman and Hawkgirl going wing to wing with a fiery bird -- which turns out to be a run of the mill, old fashioned phoenix of, apparently, the usual mystical variety. It also seems to have nothing to do with the larger story of R-T WAR #1, but appearances can be deceiving. I’ll reserve judgment or comment on it for now, but I will say that mythical monsters do suggest a link to the DAY OF VENEGANCE side of this INFINITE CRISIS countdown.

In any case, Adam Strange -- Defender of the planet Rann and recent star of his own mini-series -- arrives to solicit help from the Hawks, given a rather dire scenario: events have conspired to relocated Rann from its own star-system to that of Thanagar, which orbit’s the star we call Polaris. Thanagar is the home world of the previous incarnations of Hawkman and Hawkwoman, who were alien policemen stranded on Earth, rather than the continuously reborn doomed lovers we know and love from the current HAWKMAN title. Don’t think too hard on it, since the Hawks have the most convoluted continuity in all of the DCU. Instead, run out and buy the RETURN OF HAWKMAN trades, which not only clears up much of that mess but is also a damn fine JSA story to boot. I myself am familiar with Adam Strange only through a few brief appearances in books like JLA in recent years, but my lack of expertise did not diminish my enjoyment of R-T WAR #1 at all -- Gibbons does a fine job of filling you in on the essentials and hinting at the larger story, so that you might make the effort to go out and get more information (which I did -- I just purchased all 8 issues of the ADAM STRANGE mini-series, and once they are digested, I will post a follow up review as it pertains to INFINITE CRISIS in general and R-T WAR in particular).

Adam Strange’s exposition follows for a few pages, basically coming down to this: The Rannians and the Thanagarians are now sharing a world, and the Thanagarians are being preyed upon by a militant cult within its own society called the Cult of the Seven Devils, which appears to be your standard ‘mwa-ha-ha’ style evil organization. Both Rann, whose technology is considered the best in the galaxy, and Thanagar, whose soldiers are unparalleled, have alliances all across the cosmos, which means a conflict between the two will create a massive Galaxy wide war. We are told explicitly that both the Tamaranians -- of which the Teen Titan Starfire is a member, and whose evil sister is queen of the survivors of their lost home world (planets do seem to be rather fragile in the DCU) -- and the Khunds -- one of those ubiquitous “warrior races” we see a lot of in pulp science fiction -- have battle fleets revved up and ready to go. By the time Adam Strange and the Hawks make it back to Rann via Zeta Beam -- a nifty teleportation system that has the unusual side effect of rather randomly returning its users from when they came -- war has already broken out in the streets and much of the planet has already fallen to the Thanagarians that support the Cult of the Seven Devils. Strange and his allies will have their work cut out for them.

We get relatively few cameos in R-T WAR #1, at least relative to the other INFINITE CRISIS mini-series (but it is early yet). Hawkwoman -- the Thanagarian cop, not the habitually reincarnating Hawkgirl -- tries to contact Hawkman, apparently in order to warn him about what is happening, when her ship is boarded by one who must be the head of the Cult of Seven Devils. Her fate is not revealed, but the order for her arrest is given -- of course, the evil cult leader only has two guards with him, which means we’ll likely be seeing Hawkwoman on the lam but free nonetheless in issue #2. We are also treated to the brand spanking new Green Lanterns Kilowog and Kyle Rayner -- well, not really new so much as recently re-commissioned with the finale of the GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH mini-series -- as Kyle is ordered not only to go ‘remove’ a Khund blockade in an outlying system, but also to steer clear of the Polaris system, which of course means that we should be seeing Green Lanterns in action on Rann/Thanagar any moment now.

We are left with a tried and true cliffhanger -- Adam Strange’s headquarters being breached, with bodies flying and children screaming -- at the end of the issue, thereby staying true to the pulp sci-fi nature of the entire issue. While it isn’t fair to classify R-T WAR #1 as a ‘throwback’ or even as ‘retro’ in its style and approach -- both the story and the art are too modern for that -- the book certainly embraces its roots in the old science fiction comics of yesteryear. While there is plenty of fighting and explosions in this issue, the action doesn’t drive the plot as much as the exposition does. Given that these worlds and characters may not be familiar to the more casual reader, of those that prefer to stay more earthbound in their DCU reading, it is understandable. Compared to the complete lack of exposition in VILLAINS UNITED #1, it is in fact commendable. Nonetheless, it keeps the pace a little on the slow side. However, this is hands down the most beautiful of the four mini-series. While each of the others had character, and this one does too, R-T WAR #1 is just plain pretty to look at on top of it. I am still not a huge fan of how the slick paper accepts the coloring, but it isn’t as blurred or sloppy looking as THE OMAC PROJECT #1 was.

I am compelled to give R-T WAR #1 an 8 out of 10, but am going to settle for a 7 because of the slow plotting. Slow plotting isn’t always bad, and action sequences that are expository in nature certainly make up for some of that, but when the book in question is supposed to be a break-neck, damn near incomprehensible pulp sci-fi yarn in the vein of Star Wars and Perry Rhodan, I think the reduction is valid. Here’s hoping that issue #2 confounds and delights.

Friday, May 06, 2005

SPOILER Review: VILLAINS UNITED #1

Writer Gail Simone and artists Dale Eaglesham and Wade von Grawbadger bring us the inaugural issue of the third mini-series leading up to INFINITE CRISIS, VILLAINS UNITED. Loyal DC readers have seen this coming ever since IDENTITY CRISIS, and perhaps before. For ages now, Lex Luthor, former president and all around bad guy, has been manipulating circumstances and people to create a “society” of super villains. With VILLAINS UNITED #1, we get a glimpse into that society -- or, at least, its early membership.

For those that haven’t been keeping up, Lex Luthor, finally tired of putting on a public smile, has gone all bad. While his motivations have shifted over the years, from “bwa-ha-ha” evil to merely “misguided”, one thing has remained the same: his hatred of super-heroes and Superman in particular. Luthor is a humanists in the same way the Nazi’s were nationalists, and though he is forced to align himself with powerful met humans such as Black Adam and Deathstroke, we’ve seen previously that he would happily kill them all and leave humans in charge of the destiny of humanity -- namely himself. Luthor disappeared way back in Batman/Superman #6, threatening a coming “Crisis“ no less. His name was mentioned pretty blatantly in IDENTITY CRISIS, the prologue to the prologue of INFINITE CRISIS, and by the time COUNTDOWN came out he was essentially chairman of the board of the new Society of Supervillains. He is joined by Calculator (the villainous version of Oracle, Batman’s info dump), Black Adam (the ‘evil’ version of Captain Marvel, though his portrayal of late has been that of nobility and cruelty directed toward the greater good ), Death stroke (the world’s best mercenary and perennial enemy of current and former Teen Titans), Talia al Ghul (daughter of Ra’s al Ghul and former CEO of Lexcorp while Luthor was President), and finally Doctor Psycho (a psychic dominator of short stature and huge ego; he is the only cardboard villain on the ‘board’ and one wonders why he is there at all). These six villains, under Luthor’s direction, off the rank and file villains of the DCU something that they never had: organization and a clear goal.

Very early on in VILLAINS UNITED #1 something becomes clear. The story isn’t about the Society, or even the membership drive. It is about what happens when you say “No” to the Society, and how short you can expect your life to be upon doing so. And the villain bold enough, skilled enough, and powerful enough to stand up to the Society?
Catman.

(Go ahead, read it again, just to be sure. Yup. Catman.)

For those not in the know, Catman is Thomas Blake, a perennial loser who happens to both a poor man’s, cat-themed Batman as well as the DCU’s third rate answer to Marvel’s second rate Kraven the Hunter. Here, however, he has been remade as a confident, apparently skilled huntsman. And the change isn’t just from the reader’s perspective: the other villains of the DCU, including Doctor Psycho and Talia who are sent to recruit Blake, are surprised by his demeanor. Talia even goes so far as to compare his presence to that of Batman, albeit without actually saying that. When Blake turns the Society down, most of the board believes he should be killed as an example (most of all Psycho, who is insulted that someone like Catman, rather than Darkseid, turned him down). Luthor, for reasons not yet clear, decides to “be gracious” and leave Blake alone. Something tells me that Luthor is playing any number of sides here.

We are then introduced to the group of villains that will defy the Society throughout this series: Cheshire (an assassin and terrorist, as well as the mother of ex-Green Arrow sidekick Arsenal), Deadshot (best shot in the DCU, recently off his own mini-series that showed he might have a feeling or two left in his cold heart), the “new” Rag doll (a new version of an old Flash and Starman villain, I think), Scandal (who?), and Mike the Para demon (bwuh?). The Fiddler is also a part of the original lineup of this Secret Six, but a failure to be an effective member of the team earns him a bullet between the eyes by Deadshot. The villains are apparently on a mission to… do something nefarious (it isn’t quite clear what their goal is, other than to set up some sort of evil machinery) for a mysterious benefactor (malefactor?) named Mockingbird and wind up unsettling a “nest” of H.I.V.E agents (one of many Bond-esque evil organizations in the DCU -- power armor and jet packs must come in Cracker jack boxes in the DCU). It is the Fiddler’s inability to use his musical abilities against the H.I.V.E. agents that earns him an extra eye socket and thereby opens up a spot on the team for Catman. Catman agrees almost immediately. However, before leaving Africa, he gives an apparently trusted ally a note to be forwarded to Green Arrow.

Once Catman has agreed to leave Africa and sign up with the Secret Six, he is brought back to their HQ -- a big, dilapidated mansion, the location of which is never revealed. There, all six villains are greeted virtually by Mockingbird, told their losers and that even the other villains are going to be hunting them. When Cheshire gets uppity, mockingbird reveals that she(?) has chosen to use both the “whip” and the “carrot” to motivate this team: Mockingbird has something over each villain (in Cheshire’s case it is the life of her daughter) and at the same time offers them each a continent. What exactly it is they are supposed to do (other than “eradicate this Society”) and how that is going to give them dominion over the world is unknown.

Simone’s writing is good, with only a few places where the dialogue doesn’t necessarily match what we know about the characters (Black Adam doesn’t make threats -- he kills people when he wants them dead). The story is paced well, never lingering too long on one scene and providing enough information to pull you along. My only real complaint is that anyone new to the DCU is going to have trouble identifying who the players are. Sure, their names are spoken for the most part, but their backgrounds and even which hero’s rogues gallery they belong to is stated for none of them. I like the art: it isn’t hyper realistic, but it is fun and Eaglesham’s storytelling is smooth and carried you easily from panel to panel. The coloring is better in this book than in THE OMAC PROJECT -- it doesn’t get muddy on the slick paper.

I give VILLAINS UNITED #1 an 7 out of 10. It would have been a 9 had we gotten a little more identification of our key players. Hopefully, for the sake of those that don’t obsess over DC Comics and create blogs for big events, that is rectified in coming issues.

One final note: I am going to call it right now -- Mockingbird is in some way linked to Luthor and he is using the Secret Six to do his dirty work, probably so that he can eliminate all the ‘big guns’ he has on in Society board. Luthor is smart enough to know that some villains just wouldn’t take the deal, and also smart enough to turn that to his advantage. If it turns out Mockingbird is really Oracle, and the Secret Six were set up by Batman -- make mine Marvel.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

SPOILER Review: DAY OF VENGEANCE #1

A NOTE TO MY LOYAL READERS (both of you): The practical realities of having a tiny person living in my house has led me to realize that I just don't have time to do both a First Look non-spoiler review of books and a spoiler version in any timely fashion. So, I am dispensing with the former to get the latter to you as quick as I can. First up, I'll be playing catch up with last week's INFINITE CRISIS tie-in mini-series: DAY OF VENEGANCE.

Second in the cycle of mini-series meant to lead in to this fall’s INFINITE CRISIS, DAY OF VENGEANCE is the story that focuses on the magical and mystical characters of the DCU. I must admit off the bat that this is an area with which I am only moderately familiar: DC’s mystical characters are best taken as part of larger heroic communities, like Dr. Fate in the JSA and Zatanna in the JLA for example, in my opinion. So, if I get some names wrong or some facts confused, don’t stick an angry Spirit of Internet Vengeance (also known as “The Flamre”) on me.

DAY OF VENGEANCE #1 is written by Bill Willingham, with art by Justiniano and Wong. The art is crisp and moody and while altogether different from the art in THE OMAC PROJECT, fits the story equally well. If VILLAINS UNITED and THE RANN/THANAGAR WAR are given the same treatment, I will have to guess that DC went through a great deal of trouble to get the right teams on these books. If not, we’ll call it a fluke. Willingham’s writing is better in the narrative captions than it is in the dialogue, but he does a decent job of bringing someone like me who doesn’t know most of these characters up to speed relatively painlessly. I think, though, that a book about the crumbling of the mystical center of the universe and a rampaging fist of god shouldn’t be as light and quirky as this book is. Not being particularly familiar with Willingham’s other work, I don’t know if this is a trademark of his style or something specific to DAY OF VENGEANCE. Don’t get me wrong -- it isn’t like we are in the hands of Giffen here. Nor am I suggesting that the book would benefit from the kind of overblown verbiage that has plagued most every mystical super-hero comic since Dr. Strange first invoked the Flaming Manacles of the Seventy Lords of the Pit.

DAY OF VENEGANCE #1 opens with Jean Loring -- ex-wife of the Atom and murderer of the beloved Sue Dibny -- getting possessed by Eclipso -- the Spirit of Vengeance before he went nuts and got replaced by the Spectre -- and breaking out of Arkham Asylum. We are then introduced (or reintroduced for those that even remember this character) to Ragman, yet another divine avenger. He has a pretty neat shtick, however -- his tattered clothes are made up of the souls of the wicked, from whom he draws strength to fight evil and punish the guilty, who are in turn made part of his clothing. Apparently, ragman is also regularly teleported to where he needs to be in order to exact retribution. In this case, he ends up in a bad place -- that is what I guess you would call an other dimensional battlefield where the Spectre is beating the life from one Blackbriar Thorn (a quick Google tells me he is an evil druid). There he meets up with the Enchantress, who takes him, of all places, to an one-dimensional bar in order to enlist his aid -- along with pretty much every third string mystical character in the DCU that you never heard of -- in fighting the Spectre.

Why a bunch of third stringers, you ask? Partly because the big guns like the Phantom Stranger have apparently been turned into mice, and partly because a talking chimp (a Detective Chimp to be exact) who has been on a bender for literally 50 years tells them to. Yeah, that’s what I said. There are more cameos by minor DCU mystical characters here than anyone can list off -- though I am sure some fan’s site has done just that -- and, as it is with the rest of the INFINITE CRISIS lead in mini-series, DAY OF VENGEANCE is set to focus on a few of them.

In the end, we see the mighty wizard Shazam, from who all of Captain Marvel’s immense power comes, asking his champion to go toe to toe with the Spectre to ‘slow him down’. I guess that means it is serious.

All in all, I give DAY OF VENGEANCE #1 a 6 out of 10. It is a little quirky for my tastes -- or, rather, I wasn’t expecting quirky, I was expecting big budget mystical kung fu fighting. Now that I know, I am sure that the series will grow on me, but only time will tell. If you like third stringers and/or the DCU’s mystical side, this is a must read for you. If not, and you are just trying to make it through this INFINITE CRISIS thing with your sanity and credit rating intact, you might want to give it a pass.

Monday, May 02, 2005

SPOILER Review: THE OMAC PROJECT #1

Hopefully, you have managed to get your hands on THE OMAC PROJECT #1. It seems from various message boards that the book was under printed for the demand, even though DC did a 50% overprinting, and some people didn’t get copies at all. If you are one of those people, and are planning on waiting for the second printing, you might want to skip this one.
My First Look review gave an overview of the book and my general impressions. I won’t repeat myself here, so if you want to know what I think outside this issue’s revelations about INFINITE CRISIS, skim down a couple of entries and read that review. This one is going to be more of a laundry list of spoilers.
So let’s get to it.
1) Max lord is a bad, bad man. Having become Checkmate’s Black King, he has (according to Sasha Bordeaux, Checkmate Knight and former love interest of Batman) taken complete control of the organization and is a murderous bastard. The implication is pretty clear that he has killed more people than just Blue Beetle, and plans to take out more of them. The “Brother I” -- created by Batman and stolen, somehow, by Lord -- has the capability to keep tabs on metas around the world. Exactly how this works isn’t entirely clear, but it does seem to include agents on the ground (but whether these are normal humans, some sort of robots, or something in between is unclear). Of course, there’s also cameras in Wayne Manor, so whatever the extents of surveillance, they are quite serious.
2) Sasha Bordeaux isn’t happy about what max lord has done to Checkmate. It is obvious that she has traitorous thoughts, but she is making every effort -- including setting up another agent to look like a traitor and maker herself look like a good soldier -- to appear on the right side. So far, it looks like she is doing a good job, but how long can that really last -- especially since the “big reveal” of the issue is a note from Sasha to her old flame telling Batman that he is no longer in control of “Brother I’ and him making the leap that Blue Beetle has been killed.
3) Wonder Woman and Booster Gold are on the trail! Well, sort of. As the only one of the Trinity to give Beetle the time of day during COUNTDOWN, the Amazon Princess comes looking for Booster -- who happens to be getting punked by a disappointed fan boy at the time -- when Beetle fails to resurface after beginning his investigation. WW believes something horrible has happened to Beetle (I think having one’s grey matter spread across the floor of a super secret government agency stronghold at the hands of a formerly trusted ally counts) and she and Booster begin the search together.
4) Not really a spoiler so much as an idea -- we are shown a full view of the “Brother I” satellite in space at the end of the issue. Is it me, or does that thing bear more than a passing resemblance to the insane, intelligence sun from DC ONE MILLION from a few years ago? If so, expect it to morph into a Superman/JLA level threat by the end of the series.
As a first issue goes, I give it a thumbs up. Enough is revealed that you don’t feel like you wasted your money, but not so much that further issues seem redundant.