Best Shots Comic Reviews: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #5, BATMAN ETERNAL #19, More

Marvel Comics August 2014 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics

Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Ready for the big column? Best Shots has you covered, as we take a look at the latest big books of the week! So let's kick off today's column with Mischievous Michael Moccio, as he takes a look at Batman: Eternal...

Credit: DC Comics

Batman: Eternal #19
Written by Tim Seeley, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes and John Layman
Art by Emanuel Simeoni and Blond
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

One of the benefits of being a weekly series is that Eternal can explore many storylines at once and have readers still remember things from week-to-week. In writer Tim Seeley’s case, he uses this to his advantage by devoting this issue to explosive action scenes and setting up for what seems to be like an even better issue next week.

A main success of this issue is that there’s one character that gets a chance to shine in each part of the story. Jason gets all the best lines in the scenes fighting Batgirl, and it’s touching to see him reach her, even through the mind control. Seeley plays perfectly on their dynamic, especially with Batwoman thrown into the mix - it keeps things moving. Artist Emmanuel Simeoni really knows how to do fight scenes without taking up too much space in the issue. Jason and Barbara’s fight really only lasts about four pages before it’s done - not counting the introductory two pages - and he ends with one page that brings us, and Barbara, back to reality.

It’s easy to get caught up in the fast pace of a fight, and Simeoni embraces that rather than slowing things down. This is consistent throughout this combat-heavy issue, especially in Blackgate: it takes one page for Gordon to take down an entire hall of inmates. The only thing that really detracts from those scenes at Blackgate is Seeley’s heavy reliance on dialogue to push the story forward. There’s too much exposition going on in Gordon’s scenes from other characters, which ultimately detracts from that part of the issue.

Part of the problem about a storyline that tries to do so much is that you have to keep all the balls in the air. The entire issue devotes only one page to Tim and Harper’s story, which makes the scene feel more obligatory than necessary. Besides the fact that Harper appears to understand everything a bit too quickly, there’s just not enough impact made by that scene to make it feel warranted. This is the case for most of the issue. While it was nice to see a break in the exposition and see some action, it was hard to feel like anything was accomplished. Our heroes in each storyline essentially progressed from Point A to Point B to set up the next issue when things finally come to a head.

The art in this issue also felt off. While the breakdowns and pacing of the story were fine, the actual design and composition of the characters felt haphazard and out of place with the previous Eternal issues. The first few pages give plenty of examples: Red Hood’s oddly shaped helmet that seems to fit more to the contours of his face than before, shading that makes it feel like everyone has something on their face, characters that feel static in their panels and actions, and odd choices in character positioning, like with Batman facing up in on the third, two-page spread, page. While these little nuances in the art don’t make or break the issue, it certainly detracts a bit from the reading.

Where Simeoni does succeed is in the scarier visuals, like when Batwoman uses the fear toxin or when Killer Croc shows Batman the living corpses. Those other-worldly entities that don’t have to subscribe to what we think is “normal” in appearance give Simeoni the opportunity to go all out and he really does deliver, especially when partnered with an experienced colorist like Blond who knows how to complement and adjust to the art style.

While this issue was mostly set up veiled by well-done action, Seeley still managed to let some heart shine through by letting characters have their moments in each separate storyline. Similarly, although Simeoni’s art throughout the issue is haphazard, there are several moments where he more than succeeds, which is enough to keep the reader satisfied. Batman: Eternal hasn’t wowed yet, but it appears to be on its way.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #5
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Who says two spiders aren't better than one? With the high-flying Silk running tandem with the Amazing Spider-Man, Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos have delivered one of their best issues in a long time, spinning together a fast-paced story with action, romance and some old-fashioned bad luck from a ticked-off Black Cat.

In a lot of ways, this issue winds up being the double date from Hell - on the side of the angels is Spider-Man and Silk, tied together by a radioactive spider and some copious amounts of pure animal lust, and on the other side is the Black Cat and Electro, two bad apples thrust into further villainy during Otto Octavius's actions as the Superior Spider-Man. Writer Dan Slott gives all four of his main characters some real energy, as they each have some very concrete directives: Spidey wants to stop Electro and clear his name; Silk wants to explore the world (and maybe her new Spider-beau, as well); Electro wants a cure to his uncontrollable condition; and the Black Cat wants to lash out against the man who once and for all settled the question on whether or not she was a bad seed.

With that sort of dynamic, sparks fly - and it makes for some particularly vivd action sequences. And in this case, "action" in every possible meaning. It's an interesting tension, watching Spider-Man and Silk wrestle between their own senses of responsibility and their own uncontrollable attraction towards one another - but to Slott's credit, it never feels particularly exploitative, just funny. You know that's what happens when you meet someone exactly like you - the passion is intense, but the fallout even moreso. But for now, it's funny, whether it's them "Googling" each other on the ceiling or Spidey calling Cindy "the Spectacular Spinning Jenny" on live television. The actual fight sequence featuring them is another great bit, lasting only four pages but feeling oh-so-substantial. It just goes to show that when you get the readers invested in the characters, any fight seems great.

The artwork from Humberto Ramos is also at a high point - between him and inker Victor Olazaba, this is probably the cleanest issue of Amazing Spider-Man I've seen in at least a year. While Ramos's heads occasionally will shift in size and shape, he still provides some energetic and expressive pages. Ramos's Black Cat looks appropriately sultry and confident, as does Silk, as she breathlessly eyes Spider-Man. Spidey himself, even though he's only in a handful of pages in costume, looks as clean and powerful as ever, particularly a panel where he hunches over to try to tell the entirety of New York that Doctor Octopus had taken over his mind.

It's clear that the old Parker luck will fall sooner rather than later, and with the threat of Morlun over the horizon in "Spider-Verse," I imagine that Silk will either be destined for a heroic sacrifice or a turn to villainy. But that doesn't stop Slott and Ramos from making her a welcome addition to the cast of Amazing Spider-Man for now. Slott and Ramos are hitting their stride once more, hitting the perfect balance between action and melodrama. For the first time in a while, it feels like Peter Parker has really, truly returned.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #34
Written by Scott Snyder and Gerry Duggan
Art by Matteo Scalera and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

As hard as it is to follow a defining story arc like “Zero Year,” it’s especially when followed with a self-contained, single issue story acting as a palate cleanser. Batman #34 brings us back to the present as Batman deals with the events from Batman: Eternal. The special thing about tonight, however, is that he puts all that aside in search of a serial killer murdering Dr. Leslie Thompkins’ patients. This is in no way a bad story; it has all the ingredients for a successful Batman and detective story but doesn’t spend enough time tying it all together to make a lasting impact.

Take the opening sequence: all the elements point towards a successful opening the pulls the reader in, but it just fails to do so. The narrative opens with Thompkins’ diaologue, telling Bruce about the new substance Vantablack; we see images of a frightened woman in her apartment, her drowned cat, and the killer before she’s murdered. The images are frightening and produce that dark and suspenseful tone that’s needed in these detective stories. Artists Matteo Scalera and Lee Loughridge work incredibly well together to paint that picture for us.

With all of that, it’s clear Duggan is trying to drive a thematic point here, how the staring at the killer is like staring at Vantablack, looking in a dark hole. But he doesn’t tie it together because we don’t know why the Doctor is telling Bruce this, and the story moves on before we can understand the point or importance of the event.

The pacing in this issue is incredibly fast. By the time we’re on Page 14, the murderer makes an attempt on Leslie’s life after killing three patients. To be fair, Batman doesn’t start the actual investigation as the murder kills his second victim. This doesn’t seem to be the fault of the artists, as they consistently deliver fantastic artwork throughout the issue - it stems from trying to fit too much into this one issue. It doesn’t help that Duggan avoids any real detective work (besides the truck) throughout the story: a hound from the second victim leads Batman to the third and Duggan refrains from explaining how Batman finding a bottle of pills prescribed by Thompkins leads him to believe she’s the next target. This brings us back to how Duggan doesn’t tie the narrative together strongly enough, how we, as readers, can only see what’s happening on the surface level because the writer never lets us in on the story.

This is particularly frustrating with the killer himself. All the credit to Scalera for making him look the part of a killer: every time we see him or glimpses of him, we know someone’s about to die. Hiding his face and showing only his eerie grin only added to the overall demeanor of the character. For all that good, however, it was still frustrating because there were clear parallels between the killer and the Joker: the focus on his grin, the lack of a motive, and Batman purposefully putting him in the Joker’s Arkham cell. It’s like Duggan throws all these points out there, drops the mic, and then walks away. Since we know the title will jump forward in 5 years and then enter into “Endgame,” it’s frustrating that we probably won’t revisit this until significantly later.

All points considered, this story still has all the components necessary to be successful. It’s a good comic that doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is: a straightforward, detective story in which Batman quickly catches the criminal. Between following “Zero Year” and the fact that Duggan simply tries to do too much in one issue, this issue fails to make waves, serving only as a placeholder to move on into “5 Years Later” and then “Endgame.”

Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain Marvel #6
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by David Lopez and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Captain Marvel #6 has one superhero but many heroes. Carol Danvers finally gets to use a little more firepower, but the issue doesn’t quite have the spectacular visual release of the big battle we were promised. Instead, the issue divides itself between military tactics, an uprising, passive resistance, and what’s left of diplomacy for the struggling peoples of Torfa. It’s a solid ending to the first arc, and sets Captain Marvel up to fight another day.

In this issue, Kelly Sue DeConnick continues to balance gravity with a sense of play, and makes the limitations of the standard six-issue story structure look easy. She neatly ties together all the threads of her story, as Captain Marvel and the people of Torfa have their showdown against the Spartax emperor J’son, and the problem of Torfa being a poison planet is resolved. With fun details and carefully chosen moments, DeConnick has made us care about a lot of new characters in just six issues, and this arc ends as it began - with Carol saying a tough goodbye to good friends.

David Lopez’s lines are as clean and classic as Captain Marvel’s flight suit. His visual storytelling makes room for DeConnick’s abundant use of banter and throw-away gags. Lopez helps to establish comedic timing and lets physical comedy and dead-on facial expressions flicker through his panels. The flip side to his sensitivity to humor is an ability to convey more serious feelings, and Lopez’s art comes to the fore at moments when DeConnick’s writing quiets down. One of these times is when the Torfan leader Eleanides commands the civilians around her to disobey the Spartax soldiers by sitting down. When a prominent Torfan dissenter accepts this command, the reader feels the quiet, serious significance of her compliance.

Loughridge’s colors highlight the contrast between a lone superhero holding off space ships above, and the muddle of people down on the surface of Torfa. The shadows of the figures show that it is the golden hour, with thick sunlight coming in sideways. The skin tones and clothing are mostly dull greens, grays and yellows against a yellowish earth and sky. There is a scuffle of diplomacy, fear, defiance and passive resistance. It’s not as obviously heroic as what’s happening above, where Loughridge uses bolder colors and more contrast for Carol’s maneuvers against the Spartax fleet. The battle colors echo the red, blue and gold of Carol’s suit, and each color is fortified. The red is warm, the blue is deep, and the gold is thick and yolky. It might be a suicide mission, but it looks gorgeous, noble, and exciting.

Even though we see Captain Marvel heroically buying time for Torfa by keeping Spartax ships at bay, we never feel immersed in her action scenes. The story always cuts back to other places and events too quickly. In some ways this feels like a missed opportunity for such a muscular creative team, but the story has been about a lot more than action. In the most dynamic panel, Captain Marvel bursts skyward with an explosion behind her and she thinks “this is the closest we get to closure.” She's referring to the deaths of everyone on the Ring World, and J'son's willingness to sell out Earth to the Builders during Infinity. Even in the heat of the most climactic moment of this climactic issue, she’s acknowledging it’s not closure, and there might not ever be closure.

The good news is that Captain Marvel is still just getting started on her restless space adventure and now that she’s thwarted the Spartax emperor, we can expect some dust ups down the road. Hopefully some of her new friends will be along for the ride, as they are as good a ragtag interspecies team as there ever was. DeConnick, Lopez and Loughridge work well together to show how people work together, so I think we’ll see more space camaraderie. I hope we see Carol change as a person - her decision to go into space was somewhat escapist, but I have a feeling DeConnick will keep putting her in the middle of situations that feel a lot like real life.

Credit: DC Comics

Superboy #34
Written by Aaron Kuder
Art by Jorge Jimenez, Richard Horie, and Tanya Horie
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Sometimes all you want from a comic is a slugfest poured across 20 pages in glorious colors. While Superboy #34, the final issue of this run, certainly moves quickly and features an inordinate amount of face-punching, the issue ends right as the momentum starts to build into something really fun, making the issue feel more like the first part of a finale instead of a complete experience. This stumbling point aside, Aaron Kruder, Jorge Jimenez and Richard and Tanya Horie give Kon-El a decent enough send-off with an army of Superboys from across the multiverse and enough fisticuffs to make Tony Jaa beam with pride. Superboy #34 may not be a perfect final issue, but it at least send the title out with a vibrant bang.

Superboy #34 deposits readers directly into the action from page one with a quick bit of exposition before getting to the real fireworks. After inhabiting the body of a pocket universe’s Cosmic-Boy, the Kon-El of our universe plus the Jon Lane Kent of another universe are pitted against the murderous Jon Lane Kent of another universe, as well as a myriad of other Superboys that have broken the seal and now inhabit the pocket universe that Kon, Jon, and their ragtag group of friends now make their stand in. Confused? Don’t worry, because Aaron Kruder smartly contains this large amount of information to the first page of the comic in tight, concise bits of dialogue in order to skip straight to the chasing and the punching. What follows is a tense battle which stops only to deliver yet another one-page info dump detailing how Kon, Jon, and his group of friends now occupy this pocket universe. Spoiler alert: Temporal loops.

While Kruder has clearly put some thought into just how he can tie up the many loose ends that make up Superboy’s dimension-hopping plots and time-travel shenanigans, it all really doesn’t add up to much as the solution, ultimately lies in punching the face off of the evil Superboy-Prime like Jon Kent. The real fun of Superboy #34 rests solely on the shoulders of the issue-long chase sequence which is filled with fun little shout-outs to the multitude of looks that Superboy has rocked across the ages. While this could be seen as a positive, #34 ends right before things can truly get interesting as the chase really just climaxes in a telegraphed sacrifice right as the momentum has built to a fever pitch. Kruder does an admirable job making Superboy #34 feel like a finale, but really the comic almost feels four pages too short. After the battle is won, #34 really just ends, and the hopeful (and gorgeous looking) final page sadly falls flat. If there has possibly been some sort of coda tacked onto the end of the set piece then perhaps the issue as a whole wouldn’t have felt short changed, but a whole Superboy #34 only feels half done.

Doing their best to distract from the incomplete feeling script is artist Jorge Jimenez and colorists Richard and Tanya Horie, and distract they do with flowing manga-like pencils coupled with vibrant colors. While some may turn up their noses at the style, that attitude would keep you from seeing the amazing-looking pages contained within Superboy #34. Jimenez makes every single page feel kinetic, whether it is a page of Niti using her newly acquired Green Lantern powers to send spheres of energy barreling through the NOWHERE facility or a page using Chibi-Superboys to illustrate just how they got to where they are now. Jimenez makes every panel of Superboy #34 feel energetic and highly readable. Assisting in heightening the energy of #34 is colorist team Richard and Tanya Horie who soak each panel with bright, metallic looking colors. The Hories make the lead Superboys crackle with energy as they clash against one another, each punch carrying with it a flash of yellow, red or white that permeates through the panel.The Hories's colors send a bolt of concentrated energy throughout Jimenez’s pencils and make it look even more like a manga, embracing a style that Western comics tend to shy away from.

Superboy #34 isn’t a perfect finale by any means, nor will it stand the test of time against other finale issues when compared to them. That said, that doesn’t mean that it is a bad comic or unworthy of fan’s attention. Superboy #34 gets a great many things right on top of looking great throughout, but its truncated script holds it back from being a truly great finale and leaves it being just merely a fun and breezy single issue. And so the New 52 Superboy title dies as it lived; punching enemies so hard that they break the sound barrier, and for that, I thank it. Superboy #34 isn’t ground-breaking or essential, but it is entertaining, tightly written, and it looks great, and that’s all we can really ask of it and its creative team.

Credit: DC Comics

Futures End #15
Written by Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen
Art by Scot Eaton, Drew Geraci and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Unlike DC's other weekly, Futures End is more like four disconnected vignettes per issue. When we leave one group of characters, they aren’t revisited, which can really hinder an issue as a whole if one story is more compelling than the others, or if one is weaker than the others. In this issue, each storyline seems to be equal parts good and boring.

We finally get to see Superman and Lois with a private and prolonged interaction. While the dialogue between them doesn’t accomplish much beyond asserting the fact that this really isn’t the Superman we know, Lois still got her moment in the spotlight by being the hero we all know she is. Although she was pretty blunt with Superman during her conversation, she was able to seamlessly pivot her accusations into humanizing Superman, how the war changed everyone. It’s that kind of ability that lets Lois Lane be the best reporter we know she is and it was gratifying to actually see it happen in front of us, especially after a lackluster fight scene between Superman and Rampage.

It’s a shame that the fight wasn’t prolonged either, because artist Scot Eaton does a great job in keeping everything clean and straightforward, even though it takes place during a storm. The visuals had that nice balance between realism and cartoon, especially in showing Superman’s super speed, which adds another depth to what would have otherwise been a boring two pages.

The issue wastes a lot of time in the banter between Amethyst and Hawkman, especially since Amethyst takes the time to point out how ridiculous and cliché they’re being. It’s unfortunate that the focus is predominantly on them, when Frankenstein’s one page is much more interesting than their four. The main problem is that their dialogue really doesn’t do much: Amethyst speculates about potential culprits when we, as the reader, already know what’s behind this and their conjecturing doesn’t move the plot forward.

The dynamic between Slade and Grifter, similarly, gets old. It’s been clear that Slade doesn’t like Grifter too much, but this interaction just drives the point home that’s already been proven. The interaction wastes time in the narrative and doesn’t illuminate anything further, as Slade is unwilling to share any information with Grifter. It’s frustrating to be completely outside the know, but that changes towards the end of the scene when it’s revealed Mr. Miracle is free.

He’s included at just the right time to ease the frustration of being kept in the dark - that, and it was just extremely gratifying to find out that the man who can escape anything really isn’t in his cell. If Mr. Miracle represents anything, it’s how to use a character well: he comes in as late as possible, gets out right after his piece is said, and though his time is short, he delivers an incredibly important message to the other characters and the reader about what Cadmus is doing to them. Although it isn’t explained further, we’re now more interested in the happenings at Cadmus Island, especially now that we know a hero is investigating.

The final vignette has Constantine enter the mix as well, as what appears to be Fourth World technology. The scene clearly functions as entirely set-up, and it doesn’t give us a clear indication as to what might happen next. The art in this section in particular was lacking, especially since the characters weren’t really doing anything - they were just talking. Although dialogue and conversation dominated this particular instance, the characters were at least on the move or had some kind of action sequence in their narratives. In this case, it’s just esoteric back and forth that leaves the reader totally in the dark and confused as to what’s going to happen next, which ultimately leaves the issue on a flat note, which emphasizes Terry’s absence in this issue.

All in all, this wasn’t the most stellar issue of Futures End, and the successes weigh evenly with the faults. For anyone who’s already reading this series, it won’t cause any negative feelings, especially since it gives hints and nudges towards the future. Anyone looking to jump on to this series should do soon, as its most likely about to get more complicated as different facets of the DC Universe start to get involved.

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New X-Men #30
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli and Marte Garcia
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

There's a scene in All-New X-Men #30 where Emma Frost goads Jean Grey into hitting her. Keeps pecking away at her, hoping to get the time-lost original X-Man to throw a punch. She's basically daring Jean to stomp on her.

I kind of felt that way reading All-New X-Men.

There's no denying that Brian Michael Bendis is a good writer - that is, when he puts in the elbow grease. You see it in Ultimate Spider-Man, you can see it in Guardians of the Galaxy - you often even see it in this series. But there's no denying it - there's almost zero plot progression in this comic. It's all interlude, but with very, very little character development. It's almost aggressive in how little it tries to accomplish, and that's what bugs me about this issue. You could skip this issue of All-New X-Men and not miss a thing.

For those who kvetch about Bendis's legendary penchant for decompression, this comic feels like Exhibit A. Considering the amorous cover featuring Angel and X-23 locked in a match of aerial tonsil hockey, the actual chemistry in this issue between the two is pretty lacking. Perhaps this is because Bendis lets four pages - a solid 20% of his book - go almost completely silent. Ultimately, yes, Bendis does explain why Angel and X-23 are shacking up together... but it doesn't really go anywhere. Things don't improve that much more when Emma and Jean throw down at the Secret Xavier School - namely because beyond the exposition between Emma and Jean's history, again, it doesn't really go anywhere. (Aside from a gag at the end that isn't tremendously funny.) It's a bad enough trend in comics these days, but it's even worse when you know a writer can deliver more than this. It's downright infuriating.

In terms of the art, Sara Pichelli's style meshes well with people like Stuart Immonen, Dave Marquez or Valerio Schiti - her characters look gorgeous, and she really plays up the sexuality of these characters, all hormones and abs and pants hanging off their hips. That said, Pichelli does stumble with her panel-to-panel storytelling, particularly with the composition. In particular, the double-page silent sequence featuring Angel and X-23 dealing with some anti-mutant sentiment in a nightclub takes several attempts to get, as the two most important panels are tiny and hard to read. Additionally, Pichelli's faces look a bit overinked, especially in the Emma-Jean sequence - a problem, since half of that sequence is just facial expressions.

The highlight of this book on both the writing and artistic fronts has to be the interlude featuring All-New X-Men's most unexpected new couple, Kitty Pryde and Peter Quill - that's right, of Guardians of the Galaxy fame. Perhaps it's because there's a little bit of relatability in the long-distance, Skype-by-way-of-a-hologram nature of their relationship, which allows Bendis to flex those dialogue muscles. It's also Pichelli's best showing in the issue, as she manages to make Kitty seem completely charming and adorable as she flirts back and forth with Quill. It's basically the most fully fleshed-out dynamic in this entire issue, and it's the only one that really justifies itself.

The problem is, one out of three ain't great. There's something to be said for interludes and the like, but people aren't buying All-New X-Men just for the convos. They're looking for action, for drama, for stakes, for laughter and tears - not for silent sequences that feel begrudging and obligatory, and not for exposition-laden showdowns that take place largely off-panel. The thing that bugs me the most is that Bendis is working with some A-list characters. He's an A-list talent. He's got an A-list artist.

So why isn't this an A-list book? Perhaps it's because even A-listers can fall back on some bad habits. But after seeing those bad habits repeated again and again, it's almost like this book's daring us to lash out.

Credit: DC Comics

New Suicide Squad #2
Written by Sean Ryan
Art by Tom Derenick, Scott Hanna, Mark Irwin, Norm Rapmund, Batt and Blond
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Jeff Marsick
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Anthologies aside, it’s typically a troubling sight when there are more than three names on single issue’s cover; this one has seven. Though the title is New Suicide Squad, that’s false advertising since, at two issues in, it’s actually The Not Much Different From Last Time Squad, delivering on the promise made by the Secretary of Defense in Issue #30 of the prior volume that the Squad would take on international missions which, to the world - and thusly, the reader - would “appear to be just more of the same meta-human senseless violence.” In other words, the only thing “new” about this iteration is the stage it plays out on; every other hallmark that crippled this title remains in place.

What gave the Suicide Squad its longevity in the DC Universe was the reputation the pre-Crisis team built for itself in undertaking high-risk missions set against the backdrop of contemporary political theater occurring around the world. The modicum of dysfunction inherent to and between each character - because the trope says that bad guys can’t ever completely get along - was enough to instill a “will they or won’t they?” uncertainty to each mission’s successful execution. Sometimes they didn’t all come back, and even though they were villains, we missed them because we had actually cared and had started rooting for them. They were each written with enough drama and ego to keep the team from being Justice League caliber, yet it could still stand toe-to-toe with the Justice League’s weight class. Each villain had a place on the team, and even if they didn’t like each other, it was respected that they were all in it together, and the mission needed to be completed no matter what.

But despite a pedigree of 66 issues and a multitude of cross-overs from that Ostrander era, the New 52’s reboot - aside from a brief flash from writer Ales Kot - never caught the footing it needed to really deserve a place in this new universe. It reeked of aspiring to be somewhat Secret Six-ish, but without being as smart and the characters being one-note and one-dimensional. Laid to rest probably 30 issues too late, they’re back again after a hiatus with a new creative team and a new roster, both seemingly out to do their best to prove that the DCU is better off without a Suicide Squad.

This isn’t a team. It’s a loose collection of individuals thrown together, every person for themselves, all set upon the completion of a task - it’s insulting to call it a mission - that doesn’t have stakes or importance. They’re currently in Moscow to kill some Russian officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and put an end to a new top secret project they’re working on. Do we know what the project is? No. What about the ramifications of the Squad’s failure? Nope. In other words, if the team succeeds, great; rinse and repeat next issue. If they fail, great; rinse and repeat next issue. The only purpose their tasking seems to fill is allowing the writer, Sean Ryan, a chance to play the characters for yuks and let them indulge their baser instincts, each time trying to outdo himself for how idiotic he can make them act: Deadshot runs at the first sound of incoming fire, Harley has a mad-on for Joker’s Daughter, who herself serves zero purpose other than sadistic slapstick, and Slade is selfishly opportunistic. It defies all laws of logic that a reader could suspend their disbelief enough to swallow the premise of this group of Benny Hill bumblers effectively quelling any form of Russian aggression greater than a fistfight.

There’s a fundamental rule in storytelling: if you can remove a character without substantially changing the plot, then that character is not necessary to the story - I'm looking at you, Harley Quinn and Joker’s Daughter. It’s stomach-churning how much of a coward Deadshot’s allowed to be portrayed. In a collection of alpha types, Deathstroke is arguably the group’s apex predator, and if anyone should see opportunity in being a part of this team, he’s the one. Instead of being self-serving by entertaining an offer from the Russians of a “lucrative deal,” Slade should be maneuvering himself to hone the Squad into his own weapon that he can one day wrest from Amanda Waller’s control. That should be relatively easy, given how ridiculous and ineffectual Waller and her new partner, Vic Sage, sound in co-leading this unit; the latter’s purpose in this book specious at best. Surprisingly, the only one who seems to be taking his gig seriously on the team is Black Manta.

While the easy target is Sean Ryan or the platoon of artists who delivered this book, a truer culprit is whoever in editorial took their hands away from ten and two on the steering wheel and allowed this vehicle to veer off a cliff. Things should happen in a comic book, in particular, characters should change from the beginning of an issue to the end; the plot should be advanced. Neither of these things occur in this chapter. There’s fighting, in-fighting, running away, more in-fighting, and Waller not knowing what’s going on. But it’s not just the rampant character assassination or the inane plotting that calls into question why good trees were sacrificed in order to get this on the shelf, there is also weak dialogue, goofy panel layouts, and the inconsistencies in art from page to page. When the artwork is being done by committee as occurs in this issue, it’s no wonder that things like Manta’s helmet expand and contract from panel to panel or that there seems to be little care for backgrounds or sight lines or anatomical ratios.

I miss the days of yore when the Suicide Squad was a compelling team, when I was led by the heart of the story to actually care for these disreputable DCU denizens. It's only two issues in, but already this book needs new leadership, both on the creative side as well as in the actual story. More, though, it needs an editor, someone who sees the Suicide Squad as the rightful - and in several ways, better - DCU response to Marvel’s Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers. Because right now, this title lacks a purpose or a need to exist.

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