Darth Vader #24
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Salvador Larroca and Edgar Delgado
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The penultimate issue of the Sith Lord’s solo title reveals the dark heart beating underneath his cybernetic armor. As writer Kieron Gillen continues to wrap up any loose threads of the final arc, he sends the former 'Chosen One' on a vision quest of sorts which provides the issue some truly heart-wrenching moments. This walk through Vader’s past also allows the art team of Salvador Larroca and Edgar Delgado a chance to display a more trippy style than we are used to seeing from the team. With a monster cliffhanger and a trip into the twisted mind of its lead, Darth Vader #24 continues the title’s string of quality issues heading into its endgame.
Last month, the villainous Cylo-V revealed his secret weapon; a killswitch that controls the life-giving armor that encases the ruined body of Anakin Skywalker. Now this month is all about the fallout of Cylo dropping the dime on his former ally in evil. Kieron Gillen, a writer known for his focus on character, has done a great job thus far displaying just how ruthless and cold Vader can be. However, in this issue, he explores Vader’s willpower in the face of certain death and just how far removed from humanity he has become since that faithful day on Mustafar.
Gillen does this by returning Vader to the lava planet in a series of fraught psychedelic scenes based around his final duel with Obi-Wan. These scenes really cut to the heart - or lack thereof - of Vader. Gillen explictly states how, at this point, Vader really is more machine than man, as the onetime Anakin Skywalker duels and kills his former persona, only being released from his own mind once he destroys every last vestige of his former self. This includes a grim scene of Vader Force-choking a pregnant Padme to death while he lies chained to the table he received his armor on. While this turn events is certainly bleak, they also showcase Vader’s incredible willpower and mastery of the Force, as he pulls himself from the brink of death in order to exact revenge against Cylo, adding more layers of power and darkness to one of the icons of this franchise.
While Kieron Gillen explores Vader’s state of mind in the form of a Force vision, artists Salvador Larroca and Edgar Delgado take full advantage of this scripted opportunity to provide some clever visuals. While the nightmarish yet screen-accurate version of Anakin and Obi-Wan’s final duel appears here, it is a scene of Vader coming face-to-face with his former self that really steals the show. Starting with a bold hero shot of the Jedi knight that quickly turns into a full-on lightsaber battle, Larroca focuses the panels on certain bits of blocking, while in the foreground, red full body outlines fight for supremacy. The entire page is wordless and almost calm, despite the fury of the fight, but it still hums with energy thanks to the bold reds clashing against the bold background colors of Edgar Delgado. While certain issues of this series have come across stiff, Darth Vader #24 shows that Larroca and Delgado are more than capable of the kind of flashiness that fans want without overdoing it.
With its unexpected journey into the psyche of its lead, Darth Vader #24 puts readers into an interesting place both in terms of plot and theme as this series heads toward its finale. Keiron Gillen has all the pieces in place, with Salvador Larroca and Edgar Delgado firmly by his side, to make “End of Games” a fitting swan song for the Sith Lord’s solo venture. While we know that Vader’s face turn is still coming, Darth Vader #24 shows that there is still fun to be had reveling in the Dark Side.
All-Star Batman #1
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by John Romita, Jr., Danny Miki, Dean White, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
After nearly five years spearing heading DC’s flagship Batman title (and time before that on Detective Comics), you might think that Scott Snyder doesn’t have anything new left to say about Gotham’s Dark Knight - but as he demonstrates with a murderer’s row of artistic talent on All-Star Batman, there’s still plenty of tricks up this writer’s sleeve. Forget everything you think you know about Snyder and company, because All-Star Batman is a book that is all about confounding - and surpassing - your expectations.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about All-Star Batman #1 is how much it departs from Snyder’s traditional voice as a writer. Whereas many of his Batman stories were built on a foundation of novel-style narrative and the deep history of various neighborhoods and landmarks, to paraphrase the Wizard of Oz, we’re not in Gotham City anymore; instead, Snyder channels the action-packed rhythms of a Rick Remender with his latest story, as Batman is tasked with bringing the murderous Two-Face upstate in a last-ditch attempt to exorcise Harvey Dent of his demons. Unfortunately, as we soon learn with the cheeky caption “Batman: Most Wanted Man in the State,” Two-Face has plans of his own, threatening Gotham with an information leak of Edward Snowden-esque proportions - a leak that can only be plugged by clipping Batman’s wings.
To that end, All-Star Batman #1 features the Dark Knight taking on comers from all sides, sometimes with a wink, other times winding up on the receiving end of some pretty brutal beatings. But through it all, Snyder balances this story with both some deeply insightful angles as well as some darkly funny beats - his new spin on Two-Face, for example, is a wonderful idea, with the character using people’s secrets to make them as corrupted as he is. (One particularly nice detail Snyder includes in the mix is that Harvey’s scarred eye is colorblind, giving him a literal as well as metaphorical perspective that runs contrary to Batman’s ideals.) But unlike the super-serious badass of the "New 52," All-Star Batman is also, dare I say it, actually funny - there are some Quentin Tarantino-esque moments of black comedy here, from Bruce threatening the Tarantula with a chainsaw (don’t worry, he only cuts off the villain’s cybernetic arms, not his real appendages) to him telling Killer Moth that his only job is to “shut up and die” while he pins him with a knife… similar to a bug collector.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss John Romita, Jr., who is vitalized by the inking style of Danny Miki and the colors of Dean White. Miki's contributions to All-Star Batman cannot be understated - unlike the stiffer geometry of Romita’s previous compatriot, Klaus Janson, Miki’s inks are a bit rounder and more fluid, giving Snyder’s action-packed script a bit more speed during moments like Batman being thrown through windows and barn doors. Having worked with a kinetic artist like Greg Capullo all these years has given Snyder real insight into writing for bombastic artists - Romita takes to this script like a fish to water, with his sturdy panel layouts yielding some really striking compositions even in Snyder’s more talky sequences. (And even small beats like Batman and Duke Thomas sharing a quiet fist-bump turns into an endearing moment thanks to Romita’s skills with characterization.) Meanwhile, Dean White continues to outdo himself here, as he’s able to balance his hot greens, yellows and magentas in this rural setting without this world looking alien - indeed, repeat reads wind up becoming very rewarding once you realize he occasionally portrays the world through Two-Face’s black-and-white perspective.
Speaking of the unexpected, though, Snyder’s back-up story with Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire might be All-Star Batman’s biggest surprise of all. Even compared to Shalvey’s recent work with Nick Fury over at Marvel’s Civil War II: Choosing Sides, this back-up is a quantum leap ahead of anything this duo has done before - Shalvey and Bellaire especially give the visuals such a smoothness, as Shalvey constructs his characters with deliberately placed shadows and geometry as Batman begins Duke Thomas’s training in earnest. Snyder’s story here neatly ties into the previous sidekicks over the course of Batman’s career, and while it might be considered counterintuitive to not have a solid concept for Duke’s vigilante career just yet, it’s actually quite fun as a reader to watch Duke grow into this new role in real time. As Snyder takes a morbid spin on a color wheel to lay out Duke’s training, Bellaire winds up utilizing this multi-colored motif in some truly interesting ways, with Shalvey giving her distorted circles of yarn and patches of paper to show the insanity that the jet-black Batman often has to navigate.
To misquote a famous song, Scott Snyder’s got a brand-new Bat, and better still, his artistic team is going above and beyond alongside him. All-Star Batman #1 is an exciting and well-constructed debut that juggles non-stop action with some truly sharp twists and turns. Pitting Batman against one of his greatest foes - as well as a cavalcade of potential threats from both the supervillain and civilian communities - this comic ramps up the tension and the stakes. If Snyder, Romita, and company can keep this momentum going, there’s going to be a new flagship title in Gotham soon enough.
Written by Phil Jimenez
Art by Phil Jimenez, Matt Santorelli and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
There’s always a bit of trepidation when a creator known primarily as an artist jumps over into the writer’s chair, but it’s easy to forget that the people that do it have usually been in and around comic book for a number of years - and to that end, Phil Jimenez makes a pretty seamless transition back to writing with Superwoman #1. Obviously, he’s picked up a thing or two from the number of great writers that he’s worked with, and with Lois Lane’s debut as a superhero, he turns in a pretty triumphant tale that features a very effective surprise. And while Jimenez certainly deserves the praise as an up-and-coming writer, it’s a testament to his skills that Superwoman is also one of the best-looking books that he’s worked on in recent memory.
The fallout from the death of the "New 52" Superman continues to ripple out into "Rebirth." We’ve got doubles (and in some cases, triples) of characters from across DC history but we’re slowly gaining some clarity. Superwoman’s premise seems pretty clearly from the cover - Lois Lane has been imbued with Superman’s powers as a result of being caught in his nova blast, and has since gone on to moonlight as Metropolis’s newest caped crusader. But instead of framing the story from Lois’s perspective, Jimenez uses Lana Lang as his entry into the story. It’s not only a great bit that allows another major Superman character to share some of the spotlight, but a smart reminder that the Man of Steel has a history of being surrounded by strong female characters, and that DC would be remiss not to utilize them.
But despite their common connection, Lois and Lana could not be more different, and Jimenez uses their differences to build to create a fun dynamic. Lois wants Lana to teach her what it means to have her powers and how to best use them, just like Lana did for Clark. Meanwhile, Lana’s more analytical approach to emergency situations plays well against Lois’ brute strength, but Jimenez is sure to show us that she’s more than capable in her own right. There’s a lot to like in Jimenez’s plotting and execution, while the appearance of certain, seemingly bizarre big bad brings a lot of questions to the final pages.
As for Jimenez’s art, it’s pretty much a classic approach for the veteran artist. His character renderings are spot-on. Lois and Lana both have distinct looks that characterize them effectively visually and the expression work with both is really great. The overarching problem with femme-presenting superheroes and characters in general still exist - their proportions are unrealistic (even if Jimenez himself is much better about this than others) and their body types are exactly the same. But their looks are well-designed and don’t feature any unnecessary details that would be absent on their male counterparts (such as random cutouts in the costume for the sake of showing skin). Jimenez obviously wanted to draw a dynamic book in service of the story, and he really achieves that here. He’s respectful of the characters and their stations in their lives. The visual storytelling and pacing is quite brisk as well, making Superwoman an easy read that still has weight. With many collaborations, you get a few “dead” panels where exposition makes the art secondary, but Jimenez never runs into this problem.
All in all, Superwoman #1 is a great outing with a bit of a surprise ending. The Superman family of titles might seems a bit crowded at times, but I like this as a way into the mythology. It’s a totally different flavor than what we’re getting in the other Super-titles, lending DC the kind of variety that was lacking in the "New 52." Some may argue that imbuing so many characters with Superman’s gifts might make him less special, it does allow for DC to touch on a few different aspects of the idea of Superman without having to cram it all into one book. In the same way that it’s felt like there’s a type of Batman title for many different readers, this is a way to make the Superman concept broader and potentially more palatable, as Jimenez is able to utilize some supporting characters in a way that enriches Clark Kent’s world. Superwoman isn’t your average Superman title, and that’s its biggest strength.
Deathstroke: Rebirth #1
Written by Christopher Priest
Art by Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Willie Schubert
Published by DC Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
After a long hiatus from 'Big Two' comic books, acclaimed writer Christopher Priest returns to the medium with Deathstroke: Rebirth #1. Along with artist Carlo Pagulayan, inker Jason Paz, and colorist Jeromy Cox, Priest pulls back the curtain a bit on the assassin as readers discover more about his past as it informs his present. Warlords and supervillains and cruelty to children are no strangers to Deathstroke in this anticipated debut.
Readers familiar with Priest will find some similarities to his previous work here, such as the black and white panels that title each sequence. The panels do a nice job with separating the past from the present, keeping the reader in the know without tasking Pagulayan with creating two drastically different styles within the book. These title cards also help to build tension: a segment titled “The Bear” leaves the reader anticipating danger just as the issue cuts to a new segment, carrying that buildup through the issue before Priest makes the reveal.
Because the story is set in two different time periods, Priest is able to give readers a bit more insight into Slade’s character and development than one might expect for a debut. The younger Slade is harsh and stubborn, almost egging his son on so that he can whip him into submission. The older Slade is just as violent, but seems far more willing to negotiate and bargain in order to get what he wants. Artist Carlo Pagulayan nicely contrasts their physiques as well. The young Slade is clean-shaven, with bright blonde hair while his present-day self has aged tremendously, white hair and weathered features belying a still-muscular physique.
The issue’s main plot involves Slade dealing with the Red Lion, a warlord who is harboring one of Slade’s targets. Priest’s dialogue between the two men is fascinating, as they speak casually enough about their business, one might forget they were talking about murder. Deathstroke has had his own book before, but it’s nice to see the dialogue between two villains handled as a normal conversation rather than a testing ground for how “edgy” a book can be.
Pagulayan’s artwork, whether depicting Slade interacting with his children or cutting through a hideout of his enemies, is dynamic and brutal. The hard lines, further bolded by inker Jason Paz, create a rugged feel for the book that fits Slade and his world. A lavish bedroom appears, but only as a temporary respite, the one scene implying comfort takes up only two panels. Colorist Jeromy Cox employs a muted and more natural palette that helps to place Deathstroke: Rebirth #1 in as realistic a world as possible. Deathstroke may have a costume, but in this world the mask is a callsign and the word supervillain is only spoken in affected accents.
Deathstroke: Rebirth #1 is a solid prelude to the main series, giving the audience a good idea of how Christopher Priest intends to tackle the character, while still telling its own story. Carlo Pagulayan’s artwork builds a world for the hardened assassin to explore, and makes sure that the supervillain is able to live up to his reputation. By covering two time periods, Deathstroke: Rebirth #1 is able to squeeze quite a bit of character into its twenty pages, giving readers a strong hook as the series begins.
Wonder Woman #4
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Nicola Scott and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Letters by Jodi Wynne
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Diana’s epic origin continues in Wonder Woman #4. Standing as a Shakespearean contrast to the gritty yet emotional story “The Lies,” Greg Rucka this week highlights the internal turmoil of Steve Trevor’s arrival on Themyscira. Rucka also organically reintroduces some of the more fantastical elements of Diana’s life, like her bulletproof armor bands and invisible jet, while also furthering the title’s commitment to developing strong female relationships. Along with more smooth and vibrant artwork from the art team of Nicola Scott and Romulo Fajardo, Jr., Wonder Woman #4 continues to stand as one of the Rebirth era’s best offerings to date.
By crash landing on the Amazon’s island paradise, Steve Trevor inadvertently set in motion events that would change the DC universe. While the implications of Steve’s arrival are discussed throughout the issue, it is Rucka’s lyrical style in these “Year One” issues that really sells the story. Though “The Lies” have been mainly focused on Diana, Cheetah, and Steve’s mission in a more tactile action-oriented story, Wonder Woman #4 slows things down and focuses more on the emotional state of the characters in the wake of Steve’s arrival. #4 is filled with stirring and earned moments of vulnerability from the characters, like Steve silently crying in Diana’s arms when he learns his crew has died, Philippus and Hippolyta tenderly touching foreheads as they share concern for Diana, and the Queen and her daughter solemnly coming to an understanding about what must be done.
Amping up the emotions of these scenes are artist Nicola Scott and colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr. Scott's attention to little moments and her ability to know which scenes need a background or just a stark white or nondescript set dressing sell these moments and the emotions felt therein. Take for instance the scene between Queen Hippolyta and Diana as they discuss the upcoming games. As the two speak, Scott blocks the women well and fills the background with sumptuous details like the Grecian-inspired architecture and the glassy ocean waves behind them, which Fajardo drenches in eye-catching colors that convey warmth, both in the setting and between the two women. However, once the scene ends and the two are engaged in a motherly embrace, Scott casts a mere white background behind them, allowing the reader to only focus on them and their emotional state. It is well-constructed work from an already consistent art team.
These scenes also speak to just how organic this new origin from Rucka has felt. Though the outcome is a foregone conclusion, his classic literature-inspired scripting of Diana’s origin, the lack of winking toward the more unbelievable elements of the title, and focus on developing each member of the cast on Themyscira allows this issue to expand on the world he introduced in the first part of this concurrent storyline. The development of the women in “Year One” is also refreshingly robust, with a number of well-rounded female characters with strong points of view and motivations that are independent from one another. It isn’t often you get a female-heavy cast like this in superhero comic books, but Wonder Woman #4 shows that it is going to make the most of it while it can.
Diana may be headed for the man’s world, but Wonder Woman #4 makes the most of her final days on Themyscira. With a a focus on character, an organic take on a familiar origin, and backed by smart and striking artwork, Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott, and Romulo Fajardo, Jr. revitalize Diana and her family, side-stepping what could have been a rote recollection. Wonder Woman #4 shows that sometimes, narratively, you can have your cake and eat it, too.
Detective Comics #938
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Marilyn Patrizio
Published by DC Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
With the squadron of heroes reunited, Detective Comics #938 sees the Bat Family take the fight to their heavily armed opponents. Writer James Tynion IV and artist Alvaro Martinez do a great job creating an action-packed issue, but at the same time show that the best action comes when the audience cares about the characters involved. This balance is carried throughout the issue, helping Detective Comics stay as one of the better books of the DC "Rebirth" initiative.
While other characters get their moment to shine, Tynion’s script largely remains focused on the relationship between Kate Kane and her father. A flashback reveals just how deep Jacob Kane’s military ties are, as well as creating an emotional backdrop for the rest of the issue as father and daughter find themselves on opposite sides of the action. Tynion never loses sight of the fact that Detective Comics #938 is a team book, and makes sure that other characters are given a chance to shine. Clayface, Orphan, and Spoiler all get good action beats, while Red Robin gets to have some face-to-face time with his competitor, “The General.” Tynion recognizes that Batman, as a character, is automatically given importance by readers and lets him remain a supporting player so that the rest of the cast isn’t lost in his shadow.
However, while Tynion’s characters are strong, the plot here leaves a little to be desired. It’s not completely routine - there are some twists to be had - but at the same time, it feels like Detective Comics spins its wheels just a tad in this issue. It’s not a huge issue though, as Tynion’s grasp of the characters keeps everything running.
Alvaro Martinez once again shows off his great illustrative skills in this action-packed issue. Whether it’s the flirtatious back-and-forth between Spoiler and Red Robin, or the silent menace of Orphan arriving to meet a room full of Colony soldiers, Martinez knows how to capture the best moments from the story. Throughout the action, there was never a sense of being lost as to what was happening, as Martinez maintains a strong scenic geography, allowing the reader to enjoy the mayhem. At the same time, Martinez excels at capturing the more emotional beats of the flashback with Kate and Jacob. The subtlety of the body language in the characters allows the images to speak for themselves.
During this scene, inker Raul Fernandez uses a lighter touch to help the panels appear more faded. It’s a nice touch, that contrasts well with the crisper inking and heavy shadows that make up the rest of the issue. Colorist Brad Anderson rounds out the art team and does a fantastic job with the action. The base of the Colony is filled with computer screens, and Anderson does a nice job using the brighter blues to contrast with the darker shadows. Anderson also makes the costumes of the character pop off the page, keeping this makeshift team as the visual focus of the book.
With solid character moments, and exciting action, Detective Comics #938 continues the title’s success. James Tynion IV has found a nice rhythm in rotating focus between the cast members and shows how much emotion can be added to a book in just a few pages. The art team of Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, and Brad Anderson keep the book’s visuals dramatic and stirring. Detective Comics isn’t necessarily doing anything new with its story, but it’s still a terrfically entertaining book worthy of readers’ attention.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #1
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Dexter Soy and Veronica Gandini
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
After re-positioning Jason Todd as a flawed hero in last month’s Rebirth one-shot, Scott Lobdell and Dexter Soy establish Black Mask as Red Hood’s nemesis in Red Hood and the Outlaws #1. It's a strong formal first issue with much the same strengths as the duo’s Rebirth one-shot, but also the same core weakness; it frustratingly neglects to introduce us to the Outlaws of the title’s namesake.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 opens with Red Hood’s rescue of obscure Batman Z-Lister Ma Gunn, a character that Lobdell uses to make subtle but effective parallels between her M.O. (indoctrinating orphans into a life of crime) with Batman’s own fostering habit. In flashback, Batman and Ma Gunn tussle over her unscrupulous use of children, and the reader can’t help but make an uncomfortable connection between Gunn's crimes and Wayne's continued creation of Robins when Batman spews dialogue like “They aren’t your little soldiers - or weapons to aim at your enemies.” It's an obvious undertone that isn't too heavy-handed, gently nudging the reader to connect the dots that form Jason's current state of mind.
Lobdell focuses on the elements of the Rebirth issue that worked well here, tastefully flashing back for a panel or two to show Batman’s positive and educational influence on Jason’s current persona, while also keeping his eye on accessibility by using Jason’s makeshift Batcave imitation to provide a solid introduction to Black Mask. What could have been an info dump in less capable hands turns into a character beat: Jason’s trying to prove to himself that he’s just as good as his ex-mentor, as if to say “This might not be the Batcave and I might not have a Bat-computer, but ten monitors stuck next to each other in an underground cave does the job just as well.”
While Scott Lobdell has written a characterful and absorbing debut issue for a 'Jason Todd: Red Hood' solo series, he has also roundly ignored his own premise for this book. The climactic splash page of Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 marks Artemis’ arrival, but it’s nothing more than a single page. The “Next Issue:” blurb in the bottom right-hand corner promises a battle, confirming that Lobdell’s going for the slow-burn approach to establishing the team proper. There’s zero mention of Bizarro, the last member of the group, and it just begs the question: how does he fit into all this? As a result, this first issue finds itself tarnished by its own title. Perhaps Lobdell should have shrugged off the bad feelings attached to the dodgy "New 52" Outlaws series and simply titled the series “Red Hood”? Frustratingly, only the quality of the next few issues can say.
Visually, Dexter Soy continues the strong work he turned in for Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth #1, rendering detailed, accurately proportioned figures and emotive facial expressions. Soy delights in capturing every tiny shard of glass, every nick and imperfection in his heroes’ costumes and every crumbling piece of drywall. Soy’s Black Mask is a toothsome Man in the Iron Mask, replete with gimp-style zipper mouth. His whole visual approach is very Gotham City, and it makes for a very polished comic book.
Colorist Veronica Gandini enriches Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 with a desaturated palette dashed with bright red. Everything from Robin’s domino mask to Black Mask’s glass of wine jump off the page, injecting some eye candy into the otherwise drab and depressing view of Gotham at midnight. There’s a tiny panel of Batman and Robin on Page 13 there’s positively framable thanks to Gandini’s excellent use of red and monochrome, her entire treatment showing the benefits of a simple, consistently applied and thematically appropriate color scheme.
Scott Lobdell and Dexter Soy are immensely comfortable in Jason Todd’s shoes, and it shows. Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 fulfills the first half of the issue’s title, comfortably establishing the series’ main threat and demonstrating Jason’s new-found approach to a more ethical brand of crimefighting than he’s used to. Irritatingly, there’s still a massive question mark hanging over the series’ long-term viability, as we have not yet been introduced to the last two thirds of the title’s ensemble. Although it is yet to satisfy as a team book, Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 is one fantastic Jason Todd comic book.