Aquaman #16

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Paul Pelletier, Sean Parsons and Rod Reis

Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Even though it says Aquaman on the cover, Geoff Johns really has put together a Justice League story in the latest installment of his "Throne of Atlantis" crossover. And you know something? I don't really mind that — with tons of action, loads of characters and some great twists, this event is starting to really heat up.

Considering the central premise of this crossover is the Justice League — the single most powerful collection of superheroes ever assembled — versus the forces of Atlantis — who are clearly so powerful that they need constant hydration or they will suffocate and die — you might be skeptical. I know I was, at first. But Geoff Johns succeeds where others would fail because he gives this story a sense of scale. With Justice League reserves, psychological fantasies on the edge of life and death, and a growing war that has more sides than anyone might have understood, "Throne of Atlantis" is conceptually bigger than I think I could have ever given it credit for.

The reason I described this book as more of a Justice League book is that Aquaman's teammates actually do get a large chunk of the book — again, not a bad thing. Batman remains DC's best supporting character, giving Arthur someone to give exposition (with a couple of surprises to keep the scene interesting), while Cyborg continues to steal the show with his heartfelt sacrifice — giving up even more of his physical humanity to dive into the deep and save his friends. Even the Justice League reserves, who only briefly appear in the book, bring a sort of popcorn-flick sensibility to the book. But as for the core team, it's ironic that it's outside of their own book that the Justice League actually gets their best character moments yet.

Artist Paul Pelletier is an inspired choice for this arc, with his clean, expressive artwork meshing nicely with Justice League artist Ivan Reis. There were plenty of panels, to be honest, that I thought I was looking at Reis — they have the same widescreen sensibilities here, the same use of letterbox panels, the same use of group shot splash pages that look incredibly iconic. But Pelletier is more comfortable using shadow than Reis, giving the underwater scenes a bit more atmosphere and danger. That said, Pelletier does occasionally stumble under the sheer weight of Johns' verbosity — one panel of Batman trying to use a blowtorch on his underwater tomb is almost impossible to decipher, it is so bogged down by word balloons.

While the occasional disconnect between the art and dialogue might slow down this comic — as well as the lack of a distinct theme to make this a little more evergreen — Geoff Johns is bringing us the Justice League we've always wanted... just not in their own book. Aquaman may be a less-than-compelling lead this month, but as a team player, this book manages to keep moving swimmingly.


Superior Spider-Man #2

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Ryan Stegman and Edgar Delgado

Letters by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

One has to imagine that the script for Superior Spider-Man #2 was written well before the release of Amazing Spider-Man #700, which makes Dan Slott's ability to so perfectly capture — and personify — the response of many fans to the issue's developments all the more... well, amazing. It's easy to imagine the ghostly presence of Peter Parker echoing the thoughts that many readers must have while seeing Otto Octavius gallivanting around in Pete's body, practically embodying the giddy, mischievous Dan Slott as he plays with your toys without your permission.

There's a brilliance to the way Slott has immediately turned the concept of Superior Spider-Man on its head, casting its reborn hero simultaneously as its villain, while immediately bringing the previous owner of the mantle back in what some might call the ultimate expression of the "Parker luck." It could be read as mocking, particularly of Peter Parker, but also of those readers left unimpressed by Slott's radical changes to the status quo, but it honestly seems more like the kind of story Stan Lee would've told — digging Peter into a seemingly inescapable hole, and then letting him prove why he is, to borrow a phrase, the "superior" hero he is.

On top of that, Superior Spider-Man is just plain fun. Peter's running commentary juxtaposed with his frustration that, sometimes, Doc Ock does have better ideas than he does makes for a pretty entertaining read. Moments like Peter exasperatedly realizing that nearly everything Ock says sounds exactly like something a super-villain would say are hilarious, and this issue is chock full of them. On the other hand, Peter's presence only lends to the sense that, despite what changes may come of the switch, and despite what Slott and others may say, the Superior Spider-Man's status quo is almost certainly temporary. But, as the saying goes, why not enjoy it while it lasts?

As for Ryan Stegman, he honestly doesn't fare quite as well as Dan Slott in this issue. While his storytelling is solid, his characters are often a little too sketchy, too rough around the edges to match the charm of Slott's script. There are bright spots - his work is positively kinetic during the issue's action scenes — but the subtler moments lack the simplicity they almost crave. It may be that he could benefit from someone else inking his work, but some of it may also be that he's trying to hew too closely to colorist Edgar Delgado's work with one of the book's other pencillers, Humberto Ramos, rather than Delgado adjusting to match Stegman's lines. The art works, but it's not the star of this book.

It's easy to see why so many fans were incensed by Slott's handling of Peter Parker's apparent demise, especially with Peter himself laying those feelings out so perfectly, but those fans that have chosen to stick with Superior Spider-Man may already be finding validation in their viewpoint. While it's true that Peter's presence in the book undercuts some of the dread that accompanied the change-over, it's almost necessary, if only to show that Slott and co. aren't quite as heartless as some would make them out to be. And, by turning Peter's relationship to Doc Ock into a kind of psychic Odd Couple situation instead of the traditional hero/villain dynamic, we're treated to insight into the minds of both men; what made one of them a hero, and the other a villain, and, in the end, what may make Peter Parker the Superior Spider-Man after all.


Batman and Robin Annual #1

Written by Peter Tomasi

Art by Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes and John Kalisz

Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Don't judge this book by its cover — while Andy Kubert's cover foreshadows Damian Wayne's dark future as the Batman of a ruined Gotham, Peter Tomasi's story is actually much more lighthearted. Unfortunately, that winds up feeling like an incredibly wasteful opportunity, with the tone of the piece not justifying the use of such a big continuity gun.

In a lot of ways, Tomasi's story is a lot like Home Alone, with Damian leading his father on a chase through Europe while he secretly moonlights as Batman Jr. in Gotham. Tomasi's grasp of Damian is the highlight of the book, as this bratty yet effective kid tries oh-so-cutely to emulate his Dark Knight dad. The enthusiasm Damian brings to the role is pretty infectious, bringing just the right amount of sass as he tells his dog Titus "you didn't really think I'd let you stay in a kennel?" He's the perfect mix between the ambition of a sidekick with the dialogue of a pint-sized supervillain, and that makes Damian's heroics so compelling.

There are two problems, however. The first is the use of the future Batman suit from Grant Morrison's Batman #666. The implications here — deals with the Devil, a ruined Gotham, Joker viruses, not to mention the deaths of Batman's supporting cast — are too weighty to shrug off. It's like driving a hearse to a children's party: No matter how many balloons you have attached to it, it's going to be unsettling. The other, bigger issue is Tomasi's side plot with Bruce — learning more about his parents is a pretty threadbare pursuit, given how we just take it at face value that he loves them enough to become a vigilante. Learning how Martha liked to paint or how Thomas proposed doesn't feel like a big enough reveal to justify all those pages, and the dialogue and dynamic between Bruce and Alfred just seems a little too hokey to be from Gotham's dark vigilante prince.

The artwork is an interesting mix. When he's drawing Bruce, Adrian Syaf tends to veer towards that Kubert style of oval-ish eyes and square jaws. But when he draws Batman (Sr. or Jr.), he actually takes that looser, sharper style of Greg Capullo. It's pretty uncanny how well Syaf can replicate those mannerisms, but what's weird is that he doesn't do that all the time — there's one page that looks just like Kubert, and the very next page doesn't have any of that level of detail or panache with the emotions. That said, Syaf also acquits himself well with his splash pages, whether it's Damian congratulating himself in the cave with Titus, or a two-page spread where Damian literally bursts from the panels as he takes on Gotham's criminal underworld.

Ultimately, this reads like half a good comic — Damian Wayne's Day Off is as good a concept as any (even if the Bat-suit throws off its balance wildly at first), but the subplot feels like a waste of space. That said, if you're looking to get your fix of Damian, this is a great place to check in, and easily more accessible than Morrison's more convoluted Batman Incorporated. A mixed bag for sure, but one that ultimately is a worthy effort. 

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