Comic Review: ‘Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps’ #37

Will the iconic Green Lantern be forced to kneel before Zod?

Hal J GL Corps #37

Rafa Sandoval’s evocative cover for DC’s ‘Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps’ #37 (image belongs: DC).

Written by:  Robert Venditti / pencils by:  Rafa Sandoval / inks by:  Jordi Tarragona / Colours by:  Tomeu Morey

What’s it about?

“Zod’s Will” Part One : Hal Jordan investigates unauthorised mining on the planet Jekuul only to find that General Zod has claimed the world for himself…

In review

Kicking off a new story arc, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #37 once again proves that this is one of DC’s strongest titles and has been since it launched during their Rebirth initiative.  Like most opening chapters, this issue is a little light on actual story but by its closing pages sets things fully in motion for what looks like another promising arc for Hal and his fellow GL Corps members.

This issue opens ominously with a bloodied and beaten Hal Jordan, seeming virtually helpless at the feet of General Zod, banded together with his wife, son and the Eradicator Superman.  It’s quite a powerful and disconcerting opening (beautifully realised by penciller Rafa Sandoval, but more on the art later) that immediately grabs the reader before writer Robert Venditti circles the narrative back to preceding events – not an original method of story execution but necessary in order to deliver the cold shocks of that opening.

Part of the appeal of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps is that, as the book’s title suggests, it doesn’t reserve all of its focus for Hal Jordan himself and Venditti has always taken time to explore and develop the other principle Green Lanterns, particularly Corps leader John Stewart who, following the events of the previous arc has lost faith in the Guardians and his place as a Green Lantern.  It’s a tight and dramatic sequence that whilst heavily dialogued, allows Venditti to quickly explain the current status quo and discuss the virtues of the Green Lantern Corps, their achievements and how much the Guardians value Stewart and entrust him with the leadership of their intergalactic police force.

With some closure given to the “Twilight of the Guardians” arc, Venditti neatly moves along as Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner are sent to investigate unauthorised activity on the planet Jekuul…to discover that Zod has claimed the world as his own ‘New Krypton’ (thus tying into events over in Action Comics).  The threat of the Kryptonian General has been building gradually since his appearances in Suicide Squad and Action Comics and Robert Venditti doesn’t disappoint in presenting the reader with a powerful and imposing villain who doesn’t hesitate to ‘deal’ with Jordan and Rayner as trespassers, providing an exciting and action packed close to the issue that pays off those opening pages.

The art by Rafa Sandoval is, simply, amazing and probably his best work on Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps thus far, with bold characters, detailed space/landscapes and energetic action scenes that provide the book’s visuals with a rich, cinematic quality, embellished by Jordi Tarragona’s inks and Tomeu Morey colours.  Like Tom King’s Batman this is one of DC’s more visually consistent titles which is no mean feat considering numerous other twice-monthly shipped DC books fall victim to frequent artist rotations or generally lacklustre art (something that’s certainly afflicted sister title Green Lanterns), but with the likes of Sandoval and Ethan Van Sciver working regularly on Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, partnered with writer Robert Venditti it’s always a solid read.

The bottom line:  Robert Venditti and Rafa Sandoval deliver an exciting and tense issue of one what continues to be one of DC’s best comics, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #37 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

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Comic Review: ‘Batman’ #36

Tom King dives deep into the heart of DC Comics’ most complex and enduring friendship…

Batman 36

Clay Mann’s striking cover for DC’s ‘Batman’  #36 (image belongs: DC).

Written by:  Tom King / pencils by:  Clay Mann / inks by:  Seth Mann / Colours by:  Jordie Bellaire

What’s it about?

“Superfriends” Part One : for many years Batman and Superman have fought alongside each other and even against each other…with Bruce Wayne’s engagement to Selina Kyle, the two heroes explore what they truly mean to one another…

In review

Whilst there has been an absence of an ongoing Batman/Superman title during DC’s Rebirth (now rebranded under the ‘DC Universe’ banner) both characters have still played a part in each other’s storylines as well as appearing together in the likes of Justice League and Trinity.  The history and dynamics of the relationship between DC’s Dark Knight and Man of Steel is a complex one, both fight for justice but their methods somewhat differ as do their morals – this has often lead to conflict between the two characters but there’s always been the notion that their core values are in alignment and a sense that they share an unspoken brotherly connection.

In Batman #36, writer Tom King takes the simple premise of a parallel narrative as the story jumps between Batman and Superman’s current crime thwarting efforts and uses it to flesh out and provide a deeper and more personal understanding of a complicated ‘friendship’ (as Superman finds himself questioning whether Batman really wants or needs a friend) between two men, born of different worlds – literally and figuratively.  With the world of Batman comics shaken by the recent engagement of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, this seems the perfect time to tell such a story where Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman agonise over whether one should call the other to discuss the news.  It’s a straightforward concept but it’s in the execution where King excels and having each hero’s respective partners in crime fighting and life – Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Lois Lane – function as the voices of reason is the genius stroke, whereby Bruce and Clark are able to divulge their true feelings of respect and friendship.

“Superfriends” is elevated further by returning artist Clay Mann (aided by inker Seth Mann) who’s powerful, attentive and intricate visuals are of great benefit.  His style has a sort of scratchy and nourish look to it that would generally seem a stronger fit for the dark and gritty world of Batman, but Jordie Bellaire’s well utilised colour palette makes it work equally well for the brighter and more optimistic world of Superman.

Tom King’s run on Batman has been a highlight of DC’s Rebirth and beyond, and whilst some arcs have been stronger than others (how could “Rules of Engagement” have hoped to top “The War of Jokes and Riddles”?) it’s been a consistently strong title and right now, DC’s best comic – if you’re not reading it, you really should be.

The bottom line:  Tom King delivers one of his strongest issues of Batman yet and together with artist Clay Mann gives readers a compelling insight into the bond between two of DC’s finest.

Batman #36 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ #1

IDW launches its latest Star Trek title…

Spoiler-free review

ST Discovery #1

Main cover art by Tony Shasteen for IDW Publishing’s ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ #1 (image belongs: IDW)

Written by:  Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson / pencils and inks by:  Tony Shasteen / colours by:  J.D. Mettler

What’s it about?

“The Light of Kahless” : the Battle of the Binary Stars is over and T’Kuvma is dead…but what drove the Klingon warrior to pursue conflict and his desire to forge a new era of glory for his people?

In review

For those who have been enjoying Star Trek: Discovery and eagerly await its return from hiatus in January, IDW Publishing’s new ongoing tie in comic is an essential read and an ideal way to get your Discovery fix in the absence of any new episodes.

Written by Trek comics veteran Mike Johnson and Discovery writer/Star Trek novelist Kirsten Beyer, with art from Tony Shasteen (Star Trek: Boldly Go), Star Trek: Discovery #1 kicks off Klingon-centric story arc “The Light of Kahless”.  Doing what the very best Trek comics and novels have always done, IDW’s Discovery title fills in the gaps of what we’ve seen on screen, adding background and depth as well as fleshing out character, delivering a satisfying missing chapter to the story being explored by the television series.  Opening in the wake of the Battle at the Binary Stars (as depicted in the show’s opening two-parter), the comic takes us back into the past as we learn of the troubled upbringing of T’Kuvma – ill-fated warrior and ‘saviour’ of the Klingon Empire – on the Klingon homeworld of Qo’nos, his discovery of the ancient sarcophagus ship and the forging of his path to glory.

Johnson and Beyer’s script hits all the right notes, effortlessly capturing the tone and ‘voice’ of the television series whilst expanding and enriching the mythology of Klingon culture as it is in Discovery, providing a deeper exploration of the themes of religion, tradition and war touched upon in the show together with a more detailed understanding of T’Kuvma’s motivations in his quest to bring about a new age for the Klingon race.

Unsurprisingly, the art by Tony Shasteen is phenomenal with the expected high quality and strong, meticulous detail that’s a faithful representation of Discovery as well as expanding the universe by giving readers a look at the home of the Klingon Empire as yet unseen in the series.

Some readers may be disappointed by the absence of any Starfleet/Federation presence and the main characters of Star Trek: Discovery but there’ll surely be opportunities to tell those stories further in the title’s run.  Right now, this is the sort of arc needed to embellish the narrative of Star Trek: Discovery’s journey on the small screen.

The bottom line:  A perfect companion for fans of the television series, IDW’s Star Trek: Discovery comic delivers an engaging and visually appealing look into some of the show’s backstory.

Star Trek: Discovery #1 is published by IDW and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘Doomsday Clock’ #1

DC’s Rebirth collides with the world of Watchmen…

 

Spoiler-free review

Doomsday Clock #1

When universes collide: Gary Frank’s beautiful variant cover for DC’s ‘Doomsday Clock’ #1.

Written by:  Geoff Johns / pencils and inks by:  Gary Frank / colours by:  Brad Anderson

What’s it about?

In an alternate 1992, as the U.S. is on the verge of nuclear war, the vigilante ‘Rorschach’ sets about assembling a team to save the world…

In review

Here it is – the much mooted (perhaps feared) collision of the current DC Comics universe and the alternate world of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s undisputed and eternally celebrated series Watchmen.  First teased in last May’s DC Universe: Rebirth #1 and touched upon further in the brief Batman/Flash crossover “The Button” from earlier this year, Doomsday Clock #1 begins the culmination of one of the most daring projects DC Comics has ever attempted to tackle.

The first chapter of a twelve issue maxi-series, Doomsday Clock #1 is both a beautifully constructed homage to the original Watchmen and a worthy successor.  There could be no better creative team to bring this story to life, Geoff Johns – DC’s premier writer – and Gary Frank – one of the most exciting artists working in comics today – (both of whom have collaborated before on the critically acclaimed Superman stories “Secret Origin” and “Brainiac”) are a match made in heaven.  Whilst this first issue takes a slow-burn approach that doesn’t immediately thrust the narrative into the impending conflict between two universes, it’s a welcome one as Johns takes the time to immerse the reader in the gloomy dystopia of the world created by Moore and Gibbons and remind us of those elements that made that particular series such a masterwork, it’s simple, yet effective panel construction, focused dialogue and narration and political and social commentary faithfully replicated.  It’s seven years since the end of Watchmen as we follow Rorschach (who of course died…so how does he exist here? You’ll have to read to find out) as he seeks to assemble a new team to once again save a world that’s still under threat from crime, international conflict and a U.S. President driven by ego and his own interests (Johns’ substitution of President Redford for Trump being glaringly obvious).

The writing is great and the strong, cinematic visuals are the icing on the cake, Gary Frank’s realistic and detailed layouts enhanced by the rich and moody palette of Brad Anderson’s colours.  It’s a comic that looks and feels like the true Watchmen sequel this is, as for how things tie into the main DC universe, Doomsday Clock #1 provides a small but significant taste of what’s to come…we yearn to see the inevitable confrontation between Superman and Doctor Manhattan but good things come to those who wait and Geoff Johns clearly wants to take us on a journey and one that has the potential to become a modern classic in its own right.

The bottom line:  A gripping and compelling read, Doomsday Clock gets off to a strong start thanks to a phenomenal creative team.

Doomsday Clock #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘Dark Days: The Forge’ #1

DC lift the veil on Rebirth’s next big mystery…

Spoiler-free review

Written by:  Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV / pencils by:  Jim Lee, Andy Kubert and John Romita Jr

What’s it about?

Batman is suspected of hiding a dark secret that could spell disaster for all…

In review

Not long after Tom King and Joshua Williamson delved briefly into the mysteries of DC’s Rebirth in “The Button” readers are thrust into another enigma as Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV present us with Dark Days: The Forge #1, the first of two one-shot titles serving as a prelude to the forthcoming Dark Nights: Metal event which will see Snyder reunited with his Batman collaborator, artist Greg Capullo.

Dark Days: The Forge #1 may be billed as a prelude to Metal but this one-shot could very easily have been a ‘zero’ issue as it really does feel like the opening chapter of something grand, setting the stage with epic scope and hints of looming threats that are more than adequate in whetting the appetite.  Framed by the narration of Carter Hall – aka Hawkman – Snyder and Tynion IV weave an intriguing tale that draws connections between the earliest ages of the DC Universe, Snyder’s New 52 Batman run and beyond.

The script is rich with atmospheric mystery, crazy action and drama with reliably strong characterisation as the story moves between the pairings of Batman and Mister Terrific, Batman and Superman (teasing the return of a long absent DC hero) and Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Batman protégé Duke Thomas, the latter matchup providing some particularly fun moments with Thomas befuddled at Jordan’s ability to miraculously combat the colour yellow and Jordan’s retorts at Thomas’s current lack of a name for his ‘not Robin’ superhero persona.  Both Snyder and Tynion IV are veterans when it comes to the Dark Knight but in these moments demonstrate their ability to write characters in general, whether they are long-established DC heroes or more contemporary ones.

In the end it’s the apparent ties between Metal and Snyder’s Batman arcs that are the most satisfying elements of the story, the relationship between Thanagarian Nth Metal and the Court of Owls being the most tantalising…but the biggest punch of The Forge is rightfully reserved for its denouement as the truth behind Hal Jordan’s mission to the Batcave is revealed, setting up potentially hefty stakes for the second part of this prologue in next month’s Dark Days: The Casting.  Despite all these connections though, Dark Days: The Forge #1 is accessible enough that it can be enjoyed without the need to be overly knowledgeable of DC Comics lore and past storylines – it merely sweetens the deal for those readers who are.

Art duties are divided between Jim Lee, Andy Kubert and John Romita Jr, with inks by Danny Miki, Klaus Janson and Scott Williams and colours by Alex Sinclair and Jeremiah Skipper.  It’s a little problematic as there’s no clear narrative break in the change between the three pencillers, leading to some slight visual inconsistency.  The transition isn’t quite as jarring as it could have been (mainly thanks to the cohesion between inks and colours) but it’s a shame that Jim Lee couldn’t have pencilled the entire issue on his own or at the very least with backup from Andy Kubert as John Romita Jr’s style doesn’t quite fit with theirs, his more cartoonish and blocky figure work at odds with the powerful characters and detailed environments Jim Lee excels at.

The bottom line:  A tantalising introduction to DC’s next big mystery, despite some slight issues with the art Dark Days: The Forge is a decent and enjoyable prologue to the larger event to come.

Dark Days: The Forge #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Dark Days the Forge

DC Comics teases forthcoming event “Metal” with ‘Dark Days: The Forge’ #1.

Comic Review: ‘Secret Empire’ #1

Hail Hydra-Cap?

Written by:  Nick Spencer / pencilled by:  Steve McNiven

What’s it about?

Hydra has taken control with Steve Rogers as its leader…can the remnants of the superhero community prevail and restore hope before all is lost?

In review

Building on the prelude chapters in Secret Empire #0 and the Free Comic Book Day issue (and spilling out of the pages of Nick Spencer’s Captain America: Steve Rogers series), Secret Empire #1 thrusts readers into the midst of Marvel’s latest comics event.  You’d be forgiven for finding the word “event” wearying, especially with the disappointment of Civil War II still lingering in the thoughts of many, but with this opening salvo and the shocking revelations of issue #0 it seems that writer Nick Spencer is stirring up a rich brew that will truly shake up the Marvel Universe.

As even the most casual comics reader will by now be aware, Secret Empire is the culmination of Hydra’s plans to seize control of the United States – and the free world beyond – with Steve Rogers’ Captain America as their leader.  The reveal of Rogers’ Hydra allegiance (thanks to some reality altering meddling via a sentient cosmic cube named Kobik – see the Avengers: Standoff crossover) way back in the premiere issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers caused significant controversy, with heavy ripples of discontent still reverberating throughout fan circles.  To see Marvel’s greatest patriot become a symbol of evil is understandably distressing and although Spencer has not been restrained in this regard, he has managed to construct a compelling arc that any true fan of comics should approach with an open mind.

With Secret Empire #1, Spencer keeps the controversy flowing as we skip ahead some months after issue #0 with citizens of the U.S. under the rule of Hydra and kept in check by Steve Rogers and his forces.  With the bulk of the superhero community either stranded in space battling endless hordes of Chituari or trapped beneath a Darkhold ‘bubble’ over Manhattan, it’s left to an underground resistance lead by Black Widow and Hawkeye to plot Hydra’s downfall.  Whilst new readers will likely be lost (luckily Marvel have just published catch-up collection The Road to Secret Empire), having the story told mainly via the perspective of a young schoolboy named Rayshaun helps to ease us in without an overload of exposition as images of schoolchildren raising a ‘Hail Hydra’ immediately establish that there is an ominous shift in the Marvel U’s status quo.

What Spencer does with Steve Rogers is not to make him purely evil in a one dimensional sense, whilst he may not be the hero we’re familiar with there are layers to the characterisation as he paints a man who feels he is simply doing what is right in the circumstances of his altered history.  Despite the revelations of issue #0 as to the nature of these ‘alterations’ it’s unlikely that Marvel will facilitate a complete and permanent perversion of such a beloved and treasured character.

Secret Empire also has some definite parallels to the current political climate and tenuous international situations we see playing out in the news every day.  To Spencer’s credit it doesn’t feel totally overt or unnecessarily forced in the face of the reader but it’s there as much or as little as any individual might wish to read into it.

It might be dark and pessimistic stuff but there’s still a layer of hope and even fun as the younger, brighter Marvel heroes of the resistance, including Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, Amadeus Cho’s ‘Totally Awesome’ Hulk and Riri Williams’ Ironheart take the share of the action and together with the ever-loving blue-eyed Thing provide some much needed beats of humour and optimism.

Visually, Secret Empire #1 is solid albeit the usual sharpness and detail of Steve McNiven’s pencils are a little muddied by the dark, washed-out colours by Matthew Wilson.  It’s by no means as stunning as McNiven’s work on the original Civil War or Old Man Logan but decent enough and a good fit for the overall tone of the book.  It’ll be interesting to see how much consistency can be maintained with the rotation of numerous different artists on the nine issue series.

Controversies aside, Secret Empire is making for enjoyable reading and will surely pave the way for the hope and heroism promised by Marvel’s forthcoming Legacy initiative.

The bottom line:  A strong ‘start’ to yet another Marvel Comics event but one that builds on an already solid foundation as Nick Spencer presses forward with Hydra’s domination of the Marvel Universe.

Secret Empire #1 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Secret Empire #1

A new has risen as Marvel Comics event ‘Secret Empire’ commences (cover art by Mark Brooks).

Comic Review: ‘Batman’ #21

DC Comics’ greatest detectives open the casebook on the mysteries of the DCU’s Rebirth…

Spoiler-free review

Written by:  Tom King / pencils and inks by:  Jason Fabok

What’s it about?

“The Button” Part One : Batman enlists the Flash to aid in his investigation into the mysterious smiley button found in the wall of the Batcave…

In review

Almost a year on from DC’s relaunch initiative under the now iconic (and for the most part creatively successful) Rebirth banner, one of its most tantalising mysteries is about to be explored in “The Button”, a four part crossover playing out across Batman and The Flash.

For this opening chapter, writer Tom King takes a simple and steady approach to a slowly unfolding narrative that spends a chunk of its page count depicting a violent brawl between Batman and a returning villain long thought dead.  If this sounds like a criticism, it isn’t, as Tom King masterfully eases the reader in to a story that answers little about those lingering threads from Geoff Johns’ triumphant DC Universe Rebirth #1 but manages to remain non-the-less intriguing whilst setting the stage for what’s to come.  If there’s any concern at this point it’s that four issues may not be long enough for this particular arc, given the potential ramifications it may have for the overall DCU.

As regular DC Comics readers will know, DC Universe Rebirth #1 established a startling and enigmatic connection to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal masterwork Watchmen, the discovery of a certain blood-stained yellow smiley button embedded in the Batcave wall leaving the Dark Knight Detective with the promise of the most challenging investigation he’s likely ever to face.

Tom King (whose run on Batman is only getting stronger) makes good work out of a minimal narrative, throwing in a few shocks and surprises that help hold the reader’s interest through to a feverishly good cliffhanger.  King realises that the strengths of Batman #21 lie in its visuals – so thank the stars Jason Fabok is on hand to provide the art here.  Fabok has been sorely underutilised since Geoff Johns’ pre-Rebirth run on Justice League wrapped and it’s a real treat to see his meticulous, powerful and lavish layouts on show (Howard Porter will certainly need to up his game for The Flash issues), particularly during those pages in which Batman fights for survival against his opponent, whilst the Flash speeds his way through a fight of his own (King proving he has a good handle on the Scarlet Speedster in these moments as he dashes and quips his way through the action) before racing to the Batcave and into the heart of this mystery.

To say too much specific about Batman #21 would spoil the fun but it’s rewarding to see this story have ties to not only the DC Universe Rebirth special but also to DC’s earlier continuity twisting and New 52 birthing event, Flashpoint and of course, Watchmen, which King and Fabok pay homage to with some nifty panel construction that’s pleasingly reminiscent of that classic piece of work.  Although it may seem there’s little narrative progression in Batman #21, it’s via these connections that it actually offers far more than casual readers will appreciate but still provides enough visual thrills to keep any comics fan happy.

The bottom line:  Tom King delivers an intriguing and surprising opening to “The Button”, made all the more enjoyable by the exciting visuals of the stellar Jason Fabok.

Batman #21 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Batman #21

Jason Fabok’s incredbile art adds to the excitement of DC’s ‘Batman’ #21.