Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Superman #23.1: Bizarro
Written by Sholly Fisch
Art by Jeff Johnson, Andy Smith, Javier Mena and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

While most people will have their eyes on Geoff Johns and his epic crossover Forever Evil, the best Big Two book of the week has to be Sholly Fisch's Superman #23.1. Introducing Bizarro into the New 52, Fisch delivers a tense, smart action romp that pits the Abomination of Steel against Superman's greatest foe, Lex Luthor.

What's great about Superman #23.1 is that Fisch not only encapsulates Bizarro's origin, but places it squarely in the context of the New 52 version of Superman. Bizarro, in many ways, is a physical product of Lex Luthor's hatred and envy of Superman - what Lex can't have, he must create, and he must control. Fisch's liberal use of pseudo-science provides a nice set of rules for this story, particularly when he cranks up the tension when Bizarro runs amok.

The other thing that might surprise you, given the cover of this book, is that this is really Lex Luthor's story rather than Bizarro's. But considering that Lex might be leading Earth's most unlikely resistance over in Forever Evil, that might not necessarily be a bad thing. Fisch's enthusiasm is infectious once the action starts, as Lex throws kryptonite, specialized robots and other weapons of mass destruction at his Frankenstein monster. Without giving too much away, Fisch's solution is simple yet perfect, and is exactly the kind of one-shot I want to see more of at DC.

The art by Jeff Johnson is also superb. Johnson reminds me a bit of Pete Woods, with a bit more of a bouncy, expressive style. Andy Smith's inks also keep the pages looking lush, even as Johnson's faces occasionally get a bit distended. (Considering Bizarro's fluid physiology, however, that stylistic quirk can be forgiven.) Occasionally the colorwork by Javier Mena and Jordie Bellaire can seem a little too light, and the initial all-red and all-blue flashbacks wind up looking a bit flat. Still, for a relatively known art team, Johnson and company do excellent work, particularly the ultra-detailed rendering of Bizarro as his body grows out of control.

I'll be the first to admit I was skeptical about DC's line of Forever Evil tie-ins, as I thought they would be frivolous fill-in books. Yet the standalone nature of these tie-ins also lends the opportunity to showcase some lesser-known talents, and Superman #23.1 is a prime example of this. Sholly Fisch and Jeff Johnson deserve some major kudos for this book, and I hope to see them take on some more big-name books in the months to come.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

The Victories #5
Written by Michael Avon Oeming
Art by Michael Avon Oeming and Nick Filardi
Letters by Aaron Walker
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Oeming wraps up the first arc of "Transhuman" in Issue #5 of The Victories, and this issue proves to be the strongest of the new series through focusing the majority of his story on the individual heroes being targeted by the government crackdown on the superhuman population. We also see the failures of DD Mau's personal life beginning to take their toll on her superhero persona during this epidemic. I've maintained one of Oeming's strengths as a writer lies in his ability to tell the stories of broken heroes, and this issue reinforces my point with DD's role in the issue.

Oeming and Filardi's technical skills are on full display in the smart approach to panel composition they use, which underscores the state of their characters' minds. In one page, Oeming uses a mind-boggling twenty nine panels – twenty six of which depict various close ups and angles on a single image as the panels grow increasingly smaller while continuing to shift positions. It is a brilliant an example of how the use of changing camera angles and overall panel composition can evoke the feeling of a world spinning out of control and represent a character retreating into herself. Filardi adds to this experience through spraying color across the panels, which effectively blurs the borders from one panel – or moment in time – to the next. Combined with DD Mau's continued inner monologue of "I am not safe" throughout this series of panels, it calls to mind how one might envision a panic-stricken person sitting in the fetal position, rocking back and forth and in their own world.

Another sequence in which Oeming and Filardi capture the essence of the internal conflict within DD is towards the end of the issue where, after making a soul-crushing discovery, her retreat is complete. Although she is shown escaping down the side of a building into the obscurity of night, it is emblematic of her mental and emotional withdrawal from the world around her. The way in which her body is depicted is markedly different as well connoting a sense of defeat. Even the textboxes provide visual cues to guide the reader along the downward decline that finds this struggling superheroine in a pit of blackness. Set against a blood-red background indicative of the bloody events taking place from which she has fled, it is a dark and depressing place that Oeming and Filardi create. More importantly, we are faced with the problem that this isn't how superheroes are supposed to look nor is it how they are supposed to behave. Amidst all of the conspiracy theories and depictions of sex and violence in The Victories, this is perhaps those most interesting aspect to the series. Deconstructed superheroes aren't at all an uncommon device today as the anti-hero is arguably more common than the archetypal "boy scout" variety. However, Oeming offers a vision of a superhero who not only knows fear but also is overcome by it. This is not the normal approach comics take when dealing with "grittier" versions of costumed "do-gooders," and in spite of adopting many standard conventions of the postmodern superhero, this is a refreshing change of pace.

The "Transhuman" arc may be complete, but it is clear this is just the set up to a larger storyline for Issue #6 and beyond. Hopefully, Oeming will continue to focus more on providing the type of character study within the future issues of The Victories as he does here given that issues of body image and superheroes failing to answer the call to heroics out of fear are not the subjects of many writers tackle in the comics genre. At the least, I know those are the types of different stories I am most interested in reading, and I suspect others are as well.

Mouse Guard Legends v2 #2
Mouse Guard Legends v2 #2
Credit: Archaia

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, Vol. 2 #2
Stories and Art by David Petersen, Christian Slade, Rick Geary, and Jemma Salume
Published by Archaia
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

David Petersen returns again with the second installment of Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard with and with him comes a new slate of creators. This issue is particularly interesting as each creator handles all aspects of the story: writing, art, and lettering. And while the fruits of their collective labor are noticeably different from one another in both artistic and narrative style, what they all have in common is the ability to tell an engaging story that readers of all ages and backgrounds will enjoy.

As in past issues of the Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard series, David Petersen provides both the story and art for the framed narrative which provides the context for the rest of the stories– the promise of a bar tab being settled for the winner of a tale-telling contest. Perhaps the only complaint I have is that Petersen's art is so well done and his stories so compelling that I could always do with more from him. However, he also serves as the editor for this issue as in past MG: LoG issues, and his ability to bring together a talented group of comics storytellers to create a cohesive collection of inter-related stories continues to stand out.

Christian Slade's story, "Love of the Sea," is an intricately drawn, silent story that tells of monsters, mer-mice, bravery and love. I really enjoy how Slade tells a story that it is simple enough for a small child to understand; yet, the painstaking detail he applies to each panel delivers the level of complexity many adult readers will appreciate. Rick Geary follows with his short story, "Over the Falls," which has a markedly different look and feel when compared to "Love of the Sea." It takes a much more cartoonish approach to the art using a softer and lighter color palette that conveys a more youthful tone as it tells the story of a young mouse coming to the rescue of her village. The final story in the issue is Jemma Salume's "The Shade." Like Geary, Salume's story uses a more cartoonish and less detailed approach than what Petersen and Slade use; however, this story does take a darker turn at its conclusion. I was most impressed with the use of color in the story as Salume shifts palettes to not only cue readers into a shift in location and tone, but also the very nature of the characters the two guards encounter during the course of the story. And it's certainly not an ending readers will expect.

I've said this in past reviews of Petersen's work, and I will say it again: Whether he is penning and drawing the story or bringing in other creators to participate in fleshing out his world, this series is one that readers of all ages can enjoy. Issue #2 is no exception.

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