Wednesday, April 25, 2018

52 Week Eight

History of the DCU Part 7

Dan Jurgens: Writer/Layouts
Andy Lanning: Finishes
Nick J. Napolitano: Letters
Jeromy Cox and Guy Major: Colors
Berganza, Cohen and Schaefer: Editors

Our cover by J.G. Jones gives Steel the spotlight, showing him being influenced by Superman and his niece, Natasha, on the right, and the devious Lex Luthor on the left. It is a nice composition, but the only aspect of it we care about is the little note advertising the backup story. (Unfortunately, Norm Rapmund was given credit instead of Andy Lanning.)

Infinite Crisis was the biggest continuity-altering event since Zero Hour (Genesis also technically qualifies, but everyone seemed to make a pact to pretend that never happened). There are a lot of questions as to what officially "counts" now, so DC wisely threw together a series of short stories to explore the new history of the DC Universe. And 52 is the perfect series to host this story. And the perfect character to tell this story is Donna Troy, with the aid of her trusty Harbinger Orb, which contains information on all possible realities.

We pick up after Zero Hour with the formation of the new Justice League of America, Hal Jordan sacrificing his life to defeat the sun-eater in Final Night, Connor Hawke becoming the new Green Arrow, Superman getting married to Lois Lane and briefly gaining new electrical powers, and the Atom forming the new Teen Titans. We then move on to the earthquake that hit Gotham City, creating No Man's Land, and Impulse, Superboy and Robin forming Young Justice.

Wally West helped form the Titans (not to be confused with the Teen Titans) and Jay Garrick was part of the new Justice Society of America, as Hal Jordan became the new Spectre. After Lex Luthor was elected president, Imperiex attacked during Our Worlds at War. Batman learned of the possibility of Jason Todd's return during the Hush storyline. And Donna Troy was killed by a Superman robot, causing the formation of the Outsiders and new Teen Titans, starring Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Beast Boy, Robin, Superboy, Starfire, Cyborg and Raven. Our story concludes with Donna learning about the destruction of San Diego, the arrival of Supergirl, the death of Stephanie Brown and the death of Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis.

I don't think Infinite Crisis changed the continuity that much, but it is still nice to get a periodical reminder of what are the major events in DC history. You'll note that this story did not mention Genesis, and I'm pretty sure that was intentional. In any case, it seems that all of Bart's major moments still matter, and that's a good thing.

Next time, it's the moment I've long dreaded, Bart will get his second solo series, the obnoxiously titled The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive. But I'm actually going to use this milestone as a chance to take a break. You see, I somehow convinced a beautiful woman to marry me next month, which means I'm going to be pretty busy for the next couple of weeks. I should be back here in June, cataloguing all the misadventures of Bart's tenure as the Flash!

52 Week One

Golden Lads & Lasses Must ...

Written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid
Art Breakdowns by Keith Giffen
Pencils by Joe Bennett
Inks by Ruy Jose
Colors by Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano
Assistant Editors Jann Jones & Harvey Richards
Edited by Stephen Wacker
Cover by J.G. Jones & Alex Sinclair

Our cover shows the abandoned relics of DC's Big Three — Batman's cowl, Wonder Woman's sword and lasso, and Superman's cape. It's a haunting image that effectively shows us this series isn't going to focus on those heroes, but the "C-list" heroes in the background — Steel, Ralph Dibny, the Question, Booster Gold and Renee Montoya. It's cold, bleak and captivating.

One interesting thing of note with this cover is that it includes the actual date it was published: May 10, 2006. This bucks the decades-long trend of putting the publication date on comics two months later than when they actually came out. For example, Teen Titans #36 came out on May 24, 2006, but the date on its cover says July 2006. I've been organizing this blog by publication date for convenience, but now this 52 series is going to mess with me slightly.

Our story begins with an abstract image of significant moments in DC history represented as shards of glass swirling and converging into the one remaining Earth after Infinite Crisis. These moments include Barry Allen turning into the Flash, a young Dick Grayson being kissed by Starfire, and Superboy kissing Wonder Girl.

We then dive into the first week between Infinite Crisis and One Year Later. Ralph Dibny, the former Elongated Man, is still mourning the murder of his wife, Sue, in Identity Crisis. And now that his home has been destroyed during all the recent chaos, Ralph is suicidal. Detective Renee Montoya is mourning the death of her partner, Crispus Allen, who is now the Spectre. Renee is trying to drown her sorrows with copious amounts of alcohol, but she has attracted the attention of the Question. Steel has been spending his time with first responders around the country, helping clean up and rebuild all the cities that were practically leveled recently. He's disgusted with his niece, Natasha, who hasn't spent any time helping clean up and is trying to join the Teen Titans. So Steel deactivates her armor and tells her build her own.

But the most relevant story to us involves Booster Gold. He seems to have relaxed quite a bit since the defeat of Brother Eye and is all about self-promotion now. He's placed a few sponsorship ads on his outfit like a NASCAR racer, and is staging a very public battle against Mammoth. After he defeats the villain, Booster makes sure to pose for the cameras with a refreshing can of Soder-Cola. His robot Skeets reminds him that the world is still mourning the death of Superboy, so Booster puts on a show of weeping for the fallen hero.

Booster Gold flies away, excitedly looking forward to tomorrow's Superboy Memorial. Booster knows from the history books that this event is the defining moment of the century. Superman will give a speech that will be taught in schools for the next 500 years and Jimmy Olsen will win a Pulitzer for his photo of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman announcing the new Justice League. And, to make things better for Booster, Skeets has told him that he will be a member of this new JLA, which means Booster will likely gain even more sponsors.

Finally it's the day of the big memorial, and everyone who's anyone shows up. Green Arrow and Black Canary greet the Ray, rejoicing that he has survived, while lamenting the loss of the Freedom Fighters. Ray also reports that Uncle Sam still hasn't been found. In the big group shot, we see Empress and Beast Boy comforting a weeping Wonder Girl. (We also see Nightwing in the crowd, even though I thought he had already begun his trip around the world with Batman.) Bart Allen, who now has red hair, is talking to Jay Garrick and Wildcat. Apparently Wally's doing fine, but he and Linda just decided to spend some time away. Their twins are growing quite a bit and, according to Bart, are kind of annoying.

Bart reiterates the fact that his speed is gone and Jay is the only Flash now. Bart says he wishes he was fast enough to save Conner, and Jay says they all wish they could have saved him. Booster Gold is excitedly counting down the arrival of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Beast Boy asks him where those heroes are, and Booster smugly tells him to relax. He then turns to the podium, placed right in front of the gold statue of Superman with an eagle on his arm (erected after he was killed by Doomsday) and the new gold statue of Superboy standing right next to him. Booster shouts out "Ta-daaaaaaa" but the heroes don't arrive.

Everyone gives Booster Gold the stink eye, and Skeets begins to malfunction. Booster has a panic attack, shouting that the future depends on this speech that inexplicably isn't happening right now. He spots Jimmy Olsen and angrily demands that he take the picture of the missing heroes. Martian Manhunter and a few others try to retrain Booster, including reporter Clark Kent, who tells Booster that Superman isn't coming. Booster hits Clark in the face, giving him a bloody nose and asks how he knows this. Clark simply replies, "I just know. And I'm sorry."

This series was pretty remarkable. Guided by four amazing writers, who each shared a love of comic book history and brought something different to the table, 52 provided a creative anchor to help guide readers into the post-Infinite Crisis world. And in a delightful change of pace, we got to see the DC Universe change and adapt through the eyes of the lesser known characters. Unfortunately for us, Bart Allen was not one of these lesser known characters to receive the honor of being written by Johns, Waid, Morrison and Rucka. Bart instead got his own series, which is an incredibly odd thing to complain about, but there you go.

In this issue, we got a couple of more little clues about Bart's time spent in the Speed Force. There are still a million questions about it all, like are Wally and his family still living in the Speed Force? But I guess those questions will have to wait. For now, I'm a little disappointed we didn't see Bart interacting with his old friends, especially Cassie, who is in the most grief after Conner's death. I'm also very concerned that a trend has already begun to make adult Bart look too much like Wally.

Next time, we'll get a quick reminder of Bart's days as Impulse and Kid Flash in the backup feature of 52 Week Eight.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Infinite Crisis #7


Geoff Johns – Writer
Phil Jimenez, George Pérez, Ivan Reis & Joe Bennett – Pencils & Layouts
Andy Lanning, George Pérez, Ivan Reis, Jerry Ordway, Sean Parsons & Art Thibert – Inks/Finishes
Jeromy Cox and Guy Major, Tanya and Richard Horie – Colors
Nick J. Napolitano – Letterer
Jeanine Schaefer – Asst. Editor
Eddie Berganza – Editor
Special thanks to Joe Prado

This time around, the George Pérez cover gets top billing. It is a fantastic, crisis-level smash-em-up involving just about every major hero and villain in the DC Universe. It's fun, exciting, and everything an event of this magnitude should be. I do see one little flaw, though. On the right-hand side of the Daily Planet sign, it looks like Jay Garrick is fighting Wally West (or even Bart Allen at this point). The only explanation I can come up with is that Jay was supposed to be fighting Zoom, and the colorist just made a mistake.

The Jim Lee cover also follows the same general idea as Pérez's, although it focuses on the other massive battle in this issue — the Green Lantern Corps vs. Superboy-Prime. The great thing with this cover is seeing all the different type of Green Lantern aliens. It also is a powerful visual of just how powerful Superboy-Prime is. It takes this many heroes to contain him, and even then, they might not have enough.

Our story begins at the death of Superboy. Alexander Luthor's tower has been destroyed. All the different Earths have been fused back into this Earth, creating some specific changes to history. The Ray, Power Girl and everyone else hooked up to the tower are fee. Batman is back from defeating Brother Eye. The two Supermans and Wonder Woman are present, as is Wonder Girl, who apparently did make that deal with Ares. And now, all these heroes are gathered around Superboy's body, mourning his death and vowing to never let this happen again. Robin got a ride from Hal Jordan and screams when he sees Conner, collapsing over one of his oldest friends.

Alexander Luthor and Superboy-Prime escaped during the attack on his tower, and Hal Jordan reports that they and the Society have freed every super villain on Earth, launching one last, desperate attack against this Earth's heroes. They have started their assault in Metropolis, believing that if Superman's city falls, the others will follow. And we're treated to page after page of intense fight scenes, reminiscent of Pérez's cover. Just about everyone you can imagine is there, including some you may have forgotten about. (I was surprised to see Klarion the Witch Boy, looking a bit older than he did in Sins of Youth.)

Superboy-Prime disagrees with Alexander's plan to conquer this Earth, saying he wants his Earth-Prime brought back. But Alexander can't do that without his tower anymore. Doomsday suddenly arrives, cornering Green Arrow and Arsenal. But the two Supermans of Earth-One and Earth-Two make it back just in time and are able to swiftly put Doomsday down with their combined strength. They then take on Bizarro together, while Batman, Nightwing and Robin battle Deathstroke. Hal Jordan and John Stewart subdue Sinestro. The Ray helps the good Dr. Light take down the bad Dr. Light. Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl team up against Cheetah, and the remaining members of the JSA take on Zoom.

The older Superman confronts Alexander, who initially tries to blame Power Girl for betraying them. But Superman sees through him and demands to know why Alexander caused all this. Alexander coldly says he's just like his father was — the only hero in a world full of villains. Superboy-Prime saves Alexander, still complaining that he doesn't want this Earth. He picks up Wonder Girl, saying he doesn't want anything that imposter had. But before Prime can kill Cassie, he's attacked by the Flash, who says, "Because the guilt is still in there, isn't it? I know you well enough to know that. You killed Conner! You killed my friend!"

Bart asks Prime if he still has Flash Phobia, and Superboy-Prime confirms this by begging Bart to stay away from him. Cassie is shocked to see Bart is older and the Flash, so Bart quickly explains: Barry's uniform was the only thing that could survive the trip back to the real world, and Bart was the only one who could still run. He came back to warn everyone, but he collapsed and passed out in Tokyo. Bart says he didn't know Superboy-Prime would go after Conner again, and now he's determined to take Prime down.

So Superboy-Prime goes to the one place Bart can't follow — up in the sky. He takes off, saying he'll fly through the planet Oa at light speed to initiate a new Big Bang and once again be the only hero in the universe. Martian Manhunter alerts all the nearby heroes who can fly, but none of them can keep up with Prime. As he heads into space, Hal Jordan calls in the entire Green Lantern Corps.

Back in Metropolis, the Bat family defeats Deathstroke, but Alexander Luthor fires a blast of purple energy at Batman. Nightwing steps in the way and takes the full brunt of the attack in the chest. But that seems to be the last bit of his power (Alexander lost a finger last issue thanks to Donna Troy and her team in space). As Robin tends to Nightwing, Batman charges after Alexander, but gets knocked away by the gigantic brute called The General.

Out in space, Superboy-Prime encounters a 300-mile-thick wall of pure willpower created by the Green Lanterns. He does break through this, but it slowed him down long enough for the Supermans, Power Girl and Martian Manhunter to catch up. However, Superboy-Prime does kill several Green Lanterns before the Supermans manage to grab him and start pushing him away.

On Earth, Batman now has Alexander defeated and on the ground. Alexander lectures Batman for thinking too small, saying instead of saving street corner by street corner, he needs to take shortcuts to justice for the entire universe. Batman punches Alexander to shut him up, then angrily picks up one of Deathstroke's pistols. Robin is too distraught over Batman's body to notice. Saying that Superboy didn't deserve to die, Batman aims the gun at Alexander's head. But before he pulls the trigger, Wonder Woman gets his attention. She pulls out her sword, then smashes it on the ground, saying it's not worth it. Batman sadly, angrily realizes she's right, and he tosses the gun to the side. Alexander begins lecturing them again, but a large pile of debris seems to fall right on top of him.

Superboy-Prime is meanwhile mocking the two Supermans, saying they're not fast enough to send him back to the Speed Force. They then pass through the remains of Krypton, and he laughs, saying the kryptonite in this universe doesn't affect him. But the Supermans keep pushing Superboy-Prime, right through the red sun and onto the nearby sentient planet Mogo. The trip through the red sun melted Prime's Anti-Monitor armor, and he starts to lose his powers. But the old Superman was also weakened by this, and our Superman was hurt by both the red sun and the kryptonite. Prime beats the old Superman to a bloody pulp, before our Superman manages to pull him off. After a lot of punching, yelling and screaming, Superman finally knocks Prime down, saying being Superman has nothing to do with where you were born, what powers you have or what you wear on your chest. It's about about you do — it's about action.

The Green Lantern Corps quickly shows up, removing all the nearby kryptonite and placing Superboy-Prime in a large cage. Power Girl rushes over to the old Superman, who is sadly drawing his final breaths. He tells Kara it's going to be OK, and he finally understands Lois' last words. He'll always be with Kara, even if she can't see him. It's not going to end — it's never going to end for them. The Superman of Earth-Two looks at the stars, says Lois' name one last time, and dies.

A few days later, the cleanup in Metropolis has begun with people coming from all over the world to help. Donna Troy returns to Earth, but she doesn't have her full team with her. Satisfied that Blue Beetle is now a hero, Booster Gold begins making more plans to change history. Power Girl comforts Wonder Girl in a cemetery, while plans are being made for a memorial ceremony for Superboy next week in Metropolis. Crispus Allen struggles to accept his role as the Spectre. And Bart Allen is having an important conversation with Jay Garrick.

Bart says Wally disappeared with Linda and the twins, and he spent the last couple of years in a place that's not easy to explain. Jays says he thought he felt the Speed Force be destroyed, and Bart explains that it was, but he still had some residual speed inside him. But he apparently used up all that speed in the battle in Metropolis, and now he's not fast anymore. Jay still has super speed, apparently thanks to his metahuman gene, but he can only go at the speed of sound now. Bart takes off the tattered remnants of his grandfather's uniform and hands it to Jay, calling him the fastest man alive again.

In Gotham City, Alexander Luthor is lurking around some back alleys, making new calculations for a new plan. He hears some laughter, and suddenly a flower squirts acid all over his face. A hand-buzzer electrocutes him, and the Joker laughs maniacally as Alexander writhes in pain, begging for someone to help. Our Lex Luthor steps out from the shadows, telling his doppelgänger that he made a lot of mistakes — underestimating Superman, Superboy and himself. But the biggest mistake he made was singling out the Joker as the one villain to not be involved in the Society. Joker pulls out a large gun and laughs even more as he kills Alexander, while Lex asks, "Now who's stupid?"

Later, Diana, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne meet in Gotham. Clark explains that his ordeal with the red sun and kryptonite seems to have temporarily stripped him of his powers. Diana says she's going to take some time off as Wonder Woman to find out who she is. Bruce is essentially doing the same thing, although he's going to be traveling the world with Dick and Tim. The three heroes wish each other well and head off in separate directions. Lois asks Clark what he's going to do now with his spare time, and he says he's sure he'll figure it out. But in the meantime, he's confident the world is in good hands, as we are treated to a two-page spread of dozens of heroes (ironically, Bart is shown here wearing Barry's outfit).

We end on Oa, which is once again the center of the universe. Superboy-Prime apparently killed 32 Green Lanterns in his rampage, the worst massacre to hit the Corps since Parallax. He's now in a green cell surrounded by a junior red-sun eater, courtesy of Donna Troy, which is encased in quantum containment fields. Plus, 50 Green Lanterns are watching him at all times. But even with all those precautions, the Corps can only pray it holds. Superboy-Prime, meanwhile, has gone completely insane. With an evil look in his eye, and drool dripping from his mouth, he uses his finger to carve the Superman logo into his chest, saying, "I've been in worse places than this this. And I've gotten out."

In 1985, DC celebrated its 50th anniversary with Crisis on Infinite Earths — an event that gave all the major characters a chance to shine, while condensing the multiverse into one planet to try to clean up continuity problems. In 2005, DC successfully pulled off a sequel to it, including epic moments for so many characters and, while sticking with just one Earth, still left things open for continuity adjustments. In the first Crisis, Supergirl was the major casualty and Barry Allen disappeared, opening the door for Wally West to become the new Flash. In this Crisis, Superboy died and Wally disappeared, leaving Bart Allen to take over.

But Infinite Crisis was more than a mere retelling of a 20-year-old classic. It was also a great commentary on comic books in the modern age. DC did grow noticeably darker in the early 2000s, causing many people (myself included) to yearn for the "good old days." But we often view the past with rose-tinted glasses, forgetting that things weren't always quite as perfect as we sometimes believe. Conversely, just because we might not like some of the changes going on in comics right now, that doesn't mean that everything is bad. If you look for the good, you're bound to find it. Infinite Crisis teaches us that even though the current stories might be different, the old ones will always live on inside us. Even though the original Superman died, we can always go back and re-read his adventures (and the adventures of Impulse).

Infinite Crisis #7 had the most changes made in this series for the trade paperback. A couple of those 50-character two-page spreads were simply not finished in the regular issue. The trade also added two new pages. The first expanded the Deathstroke fight, adding the detail that Deathstroke has sunk to this depravity only because his daughter, Rose, has left him. The second page showed Dr. Mid-Nite tending to Nightwing, assuring Robin that he'll be alright. A Q&A in the back of the trade was surprisingly candid in admitting that Dan DiDio initially wanted Nightwing to be killed in this issue. And when reading the original copy, it looks he does die. And story-wise, it makes more sense. Batman would only be pushed to come so close to breaking his one rule about guns if his original sidekick, Dick Grayson, was killed. The hasty retraction of this death made for some very awkward pages. Everything looks like it's laid out to show a dead Nightwing, but then a few speech bubbles squeezed in here and there unconvincingly tell us he's alright. And in the trade, we see Dick with his arm in a sling, even though he was shot in the chest. Whatever.

Let's talk about Bart. His arrival in this issue was awesome. Bart is furious at Superboy-Prime for killing Conner, and he doesn't hesitate in taking the fight directly to him. Prime is now terrified of Bart, and even considers his Speed Force prison to be worse than the prison the Green Lanterns designed for him. Bart's fight was so powerful, but it sadly ended as soon as it began. And then the issue ended with the confusing talk with Jay Garrick. Nothing Bart said to him makes any sense. We will eventually flesh out some more details on this whole ordeal, but never enough to my satisfaction. Sadly, The Flash series ended, so we didn't have the opportunity for a crossover issue to even give us a glimpse of what was going on in the Speed Force. For example, how come Bart aged during the time spent there, but Superboy-Prime didn't?

All in all, Infinite Crisis was an amazing, but not perfect story. It's greatest weakness was its brevity. Despite all the prelude comics and crossovers, the main series only lasted seven issues, when it easily could have gone 12. (Ironically, I've felt that many of Geoff Johns' later events, such as Blackest Night and Forever Evil, unnecessarily drew out the stories longer than they needed to be.) When you're dealing with so many characters, lots of little things fall through the cracks. One of them was the fate of Zoom. He was practically unstoppable against the Flash, so I want to know how he was defeated in that final battle in Metropolis. And there are dozens of little oversights like that throughout this story. But that doesn't lessen the enjoyment of Infinite Crisis. It was an amazing achievement.

Next time, we'll begin filling in the gap between Infinite Crisis and One Year Later with new series, 52.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Teen Titans #34

New Teen Titans Part I: One Year Later

Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Tony Daniel
Inks: Kevin Conrad & Art Thibert
Colors: Richard & Tanya Horie
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano
Asst. Editor: Jeanine Schaefer
Editor: Eddie Berganza

Our cover by Tony Daniel shows what the Teen Titans look like one year after Infinite Crisis. Frankly, they don't look that different. Wonder Girl, Robin and Cyborg are still here, wearing only slightly different costumes. Rose Wilson, now Ravager, was once a Titan way back in the day, so she's basically just returning to her roots. The biggest difference is Kid Devil, who now has the body of an actual devil. What is interesting, however, is how these heroes are charging over the statues of some of their former teammates — Superboy, Kid Flash, Beast Boy and a headless female that I believe is supposed to be Raven.

My digital copy includes the sketch variant, which is very interesting because it includes the head of the Raven statue. For some reason, that head was replaced with a random hand in the final version. I wonder if they thought it was too busy. They shouldn't have thought it was misleading or confusing, though, because the Teen Titans have an established tradition of building statues of their former teammates whether or not those teammates are deceased.

Our story begins with Cyborg waking up to find Ravager and Kid Devil in the kitchen. He recognizes Ravager and remembers her as a villain; he doesn't recognize Kid Devil, but understandably considers him to be a villain, as well, and immediately attacks. He even lashes out at two non-powered individuals, Wendy and Marvin. Luckily, Robin steps in before too long and explains everything. Wendy and Marvin are the new caretakers of Titans Tower and have been repairing Cyborg for the past six months. Kid Devil is Eddie Bloomberg, Blue Devil's sidekick. And Rose Wilson has abandoned her father and become a good guy ... even though she still dresses like Deathstroke.

Robin and Cyborg take a walk in the gardens to briefly recap the past year. Cyborg was severely damaged in space, which is why it's taken so long for him to wake up. Starfire has been missing since Infinite Crisis, Speedy is apparently training on an island with Connor Hawke, Bart is "kind of retired," Raven quit the team after breaking up with Beast Boy, and Beast Boy has rejoined the Doom Patrol.

Robin then sadly leads Cyborg to a large, beautiful statue of Superboy, saying Conner died saving the universe. (In Infinite Crisis #6, which came out this month, Conner died while helping destroy Alexander Luthor's gold tower and fighting Superboy-Prime once more.) Cyborg sheds a tear for Conner's death, then asks where Wonder Girl is.

So the whole team heads out to downtown San Francisco to confront Wonder Girl, while she's battling a villain called Gemini. Cassie gives Cyborg a big hug when she sees him, but she refuses Robin's offer to return to the team, accusing him of leaving her alone for months after Superboy died to travel the world with Batman. Robin tries to explain that he was training, but Wonder Girl flies away in disgust.

When they get back to the tower, Cyborg complains that this team isn't the Teen Titans, and he tries to call up Beast Boy to bring the real Titans together. He dials up the Doom Patrol, which is currently headquartered in Prague, but he only gets an answering machine left by Bumblebee. Cyborg can tell something is wrong with Robin, but he insists he's fine. However, later that night, Robin enters a secret cave underneath the tower, where he is working on his 97th attempt to create a new Superboy clone.

The idea for DC was to conclude Infinite Crisis by having all their regular titles skip ahead one year and then fill in that missing year with a weekly series called 52. Unfortunately, they couldn't quite wait for Infinite Crisis to end before jumping ahead. I would have preferred pushing this story back one month and spending this issue to show what the Titans were doing during Infinite Crisis #6. Go more in depth on Wonder Girl's relationship with Ares, show more of Beast Boy and the Doom Patrol, explore Cyborg and Starfire's adventure in space.

In any case, this issue wasn't too bad. I found it interesting that Robin said Bart has retired, but neglected to tell Cyborg that Bart is now four years older. I guess that's still a surprise for Infinite Crisis #7. Beyond that, it is compelling, yet depressing to see Robin slipping into an obsessive madness. Wendy and Marvin are already pretty annoying, as is Ravager, although Kid Devil has the potential to pick up the levity left behind by Beast Boy and Kid Flash. But none of that really matters to this blog, anymore. Bart Allen is no longer a Teen Titan, and we won't be seeing much of them for a while.

Next time, we'll finally conclude this massive event with Infinite Crisis #7.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Teen Titans #33

The Brave and the Bold

Marv Wolfman & Geoff Johns :: Script
Todd Nauck :: Pencils
Sean Parsons, Norm Rapmund & Marlo Alquiza :: Inks
Richard & Tanya Horie :: Colors
Nick J. Napolitano :: Letters
Jeanine Schaefer :: Asst. Editor
Eddie Berganza :: Editor

Our cover by Tony S. Daniel shows Nightwing and Superboy launching the only mission that matters in Infinite Crisis — taking down Alexander Luthor at the Fortress of Solitude. The rest of the Teen Titans are making very grim faces in the reflection of the ice, but for reasons I'll never fully understand, the only heroes willing and able to do this are Nightwing and Superboy. This is a pretty decent cover. I think Superboy's red eyes are a bit unnecessary. But I am glad that Todd Nauck got his credit on the cover this time.

Our story begins with Superboy arriving at Titans Tower. Once he's assured Nightwing he has recovered enough to help him, Nightwing puts on his old glider suit, reminiscent of his original Nightwing outfit with the yellow feathers. They then head to the Batplane to fly to the Arctic, while the sky is full of hundreds of worlds colliding with each other in violent explosions.

In Smallville, Cassie has stepped outside into a big thunderstorm to find a body of water from which she can summon Ares. The God of War quickly appears and tells Cassie she's lost her powers because the gods are retreating from this plane, and Zeus is taking all his power with him, including the power he granted to his mortal children. Ares says he foresaw all this and he offers to give Cassie some of his power, making her even stronger and faster. Cassie asks what the catch is, and Ares removes his helmet, saying she needs to accept him as her brother and be his tether to the mortal world.

As Nightwing and Superboy fly over Vancouver, they spot a sinking ferry full of people trying to escape the intense storm. So our heroes stop to save the people, but Superboy quickly becomes winded by the effort. Nightwing sees this, and he offers to go to the Fortress of Solitude alone, but Superboy says that even though he's not 100 percent yet, he'll never give up again. A blast of lightning knocks Nightwing into the water, and Superboy is able to save him and helps him take off his wet and heavy glider suit. As Nightwing puts his regular outfit back on, another strike of lightning destroys the Batplane.

Superboy says he'll fly them the rest of the way. Nightwing lectures Conner on trying too hard to prove himself. As he talks, he holds the blue crystal from Lex Luthor, which seems to react to Nightwing's emotional memories and fills the sky with images of his past career as a Teen Titan. Dick tells Conner that he needs to stop being so hard on himself. Nightwing says he trusts Superboy, and now Superboy needs to trust himself. Superboy then takes the crystal, treating us to some memories of the beginning and ending of Young Justice, as well as other critical moments in Superboy's life.

As Conner explains his journey from being too arrogant to being weighed down by self-doubt, he remembers the Titans of Tomorrow and realizes that this must be the crisis that turned him and most of his friends into bad guys. Conner points out that right now, the Titans are scattered all across the universe. Cyborg and Starfire are off in space, Wonder Girl is stuck powerless in Smallville, Kid Flash is missing, and Robin and the others are in Blüdhaven. Nightwing tells Superboy he's had his own experience with time travel and prophets, and the one thing he's learned from all that is the future isn't written in stone. So the two heroes take off, and an hour later, they arrive at Alexander Luthor's golden tower.

This issue was OK. It felt a little bit like it was stalling, since it wasn't allowed to show anything from Infinite Crisis #6. I would have liked to cut down some of the repetitive talking scenes between Nightwing and Superboy, and spent more time showing what the other Titans were doing. But I did enjoy the highlight of this issue — the flashbacks of Superboy and Nightwing's lives. Todd Nauck got one more chance to draw the whole Young Justice crew — even Slo-Bo. I imagine those flashback pages required a lot of reference work, undoubtedly slowing Nauck down and requiring him to use three inkers. Sadly, none of them were as talented as Lary Stucker, but they still got the job done.

Next time, we enter the publication month of May 2006, which unfortunately saw the premature release a bunch of stories that take place after Infinite Crisis. We begin this clunky time jump — one year later, to be precise — with Teen Titans #34.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Teen Titans Annual #1

Love & War

Marv Wolfman – Plot
Geoff Johns – Dialogue
Ed Benes, Dale Eaglesham, Tom Grindberg, Elton Ramalho – Pencils
Eclair Albert, Mariah Benes, Alex Lei, Drew Geraci, Wayne Faucher – Inkers
Rod Reis – Colorist
Rob Leigh – Letterer
Jeanine Schaefer – Asst. Editor
Eddie Berganza – Editor
Special thanks to Chris Castallo & Wellington Alves

This month's cover by ... Ed Benes and Mariah Benes, color by Rod Reis. I'm not the biggest fan of this cover. I don't like the style. I don't like Wonder Girl's star belly-ring. I don't understand why Wonder Woman and Superman are giving Cassie and Conner the stink eye, or why Lex Luthor is giving them an evil grin. The bottom half makes a little more sense. Robin and Raven are battling OMACs in a burning city, while two of their teammates are too busy kissing each other to help.

Full disclosure: Bart Allen doesn't technically appear in this issue. But he does show up on a photograph, and since I'm having so much fun with Infinite Crisis, I decided to review it anyway. We open with Superboy recovering in the Empire Strikes Back bacta tank (which is apparently in Titans Tower), while Lex Luthor pays him a visit. We get some flashback scenes as Lex ruminates over Superboy's creation, lamenting that the clone didn't fully age to adulthood, and how he himself waited too long to activate Superboy's programming.

Before Lex can leave, though, he's spotted by Wonder Girl and Robin. Cassie warns Lex to not hurt Conner, but Lex responds by asking where Superman was when Superboy needed him most. Cassie moves in to attack, but Robin stops her, saying that Luthor provided him with critical information to save Conner's life (because Robin was put in charge of healing Superboy for some reason). Beast Boy and Speedy hear the commotion and enter the room, prompting Luthor to teleport away.

Robin says Luthor isn't behind the disasters and their priority should be helping clean up Blüdhaven. Raven, meanwhile, is meditating and seems to hear the Superman of Earth-Two crying over the loss of his Lois Lane. Raven says, "A great love is dying. And it could destroy us all." Everyone takes off except for Cassie, who says she's essentially lost her powers since Paradise Island vanished, and she wants to be here when Conner wakes up. Cassie pulls out her scrapbook and laments the simpler times of the past. Eventually Conner does wake up and Cassie advises him to take it easy until his strength returns.

In Blüdhaven, the rest of the Titans join with dozens of other heroes in rescuing survivors, putting out fires and dealing with lingering radiation. Nightwing is seen watching all this from a distance, but he doesn't engage in the cleanup efforts. Raven, who had been struggling with her powers at the Superboy fight, is having an even harder time, as the old Titans villain Psimon is overwhelming her mind with thoughts of Trigon.

Psimon is leading a small group of villains sent by the Society to gather up Chemo and drop him on Gotham, but Psimon notes there's not much left of Chemo now. Robin confronts them, asking if they're doing this for money or power, but Psimon darkly says they're only doing this for fun. Superman suddenly arrives and knocks Psimon out by blowing him into a wall. He asks the Titans how they're doing, and Robin stuns his teammates by angrily giving Superman a list of complaints about the lack of organization with the cleanup efforts. Robin vows the Teen Titans will take charge, and Superman agrees. He still needs to finish gathering up the rest of Chemo, but for all other matters, he tells everyone to listen to the Boy Wonder.

Back in Titans Tower, Cassie cooks Conner some eggs, and as they reminisce on the past, she shows him her scrapbook, flipping to a photo of one of their first adventures together.

You might recall this image as the cover of Young Justice #12, which sent our heroes down to a hellish underground cavern controlled by a villain named Dante. So I have no idea who took this photo or how Cassie acquired it. But that's beside the point.

Conner teases Cassie for her old wig and goggles, and she gets him back for his old haircut and earring. But she does admit that even back then, Superboy was hot, which he attributes mostly to his leather jacket. Cassie says she never thought they'd grow up so fast, and Conner says he thought they'd never grow up. (And for quite a while, the story of Superboy was that he'd be stuck at 16 forever.) Cassie says everyone said Bart would never grow up, then suddenly grows said at the thought of Bart and hopes he's OK. Conner believes Bart is OK, citing his ability to bounce back and run with a smile even after Deathstroke destroyed his knee.

The young couple flips through a few more photos, including one of the two of them kissing. They talk more about their relationship, and Cassie confesses she doesn't know what to do if her powers never come back. Conner tenderly holds her and says he's with her not because she's Wonder Girl, but because she's Cassandra Sandsmark. He then takes her hand and flies her off to someplace where they can be two regular kids.

In Blüdhaven, Robin surprised that all the other heroes — including many he's never met before — are actually listening to him. But since Superman vouched for him, everyone has given Robin their trust. Robin says this is the first time he's felt comfortable leading and the first time he thinks he might want to actually lead — completely negating the bulk of his time spent leading Young Justice. And among the heroes helping out, we see the female Dr. Light, indicating that she stopped by here to help before heading off to Tokyo to deal with the volcanoes.

Conner and Cassie arrive at Smallville, flying over the wrath of destruction the Superboy fight caused, which Conner blames himself for. They eventually reach the Kent farm, and even though the sun hasn't set yet, Conner claims Ma and Pa are probably asleep, so he just takes Cassie into the barn. They talk late into the night about life, the terrifying encounter with Superboy-Prime, and their desire to return to Young Justice. Believing this could be their last night on Earth, the teenagers decide to go all the way and ... well, have sex.

In the morning, Conner rejoices in the strength he receives from the rising sun, and Cassie awkwardly walks out the barn and right into the Kents while wearing Conner's shirt, making it pretty obvious what the two of them were doing last night. The teens awkwardly try to come up with a story, but the Kents decide not to make a big deal of it and offer them breakfast.

In Blüdhaven, the Titans have finally rounded up all the Society villains and shipped them away with a government task force. Our heroes are exhausted, having worked through the night, but Robin urges them to keep going until the job is down. He's happy that Raven, Beast Boy and Speedy don't hesitate to follow him, but he feels like something is missing without Cassie, Conner and Bart.

During breakfast, Conner receives Nightwing's call and decides to head out, saying he's almost fully recharged now. The Kents agree to let Cassie stay with them for a while, and she says it'll just be until she gets her powers back ... somehow. Conner thanks the Kents for giving him a family, then thanks Cassie for giving him someone to care about. They both say "I love you," and Superboy flies off to Titans Tower.

I have problems with this issue. First, the art. Infinite Crisis is the rare exception that is able to get away with an art-by-committee approach because they're using the best of the best. No offense to the four pencillers and five inkers who worked on this issue, but they're not the best of the best. This issue had disjointed, and even grotesque art at times. I don't know who drew the bulk of the Conner-Cassie talking scenes, but they drew the creepiest, ugliest eyes I've ever seen in a comic. Luckily, the one shot we had of Impulse was a Todd Nauck image.

Now let's talk about continuity. It does seem possible that during that Adventures of Superman issue, Superman wasn't able to get all of Chemo out at once, requiring him to go back for the last few glops. This does mean, however, that our heroes spent a lot of time traveling back and forth from Blüdhaven, especially Beast Boy, who went there for the initial cleanup, then ran down to Florida to find the Doom Patrol, went to Keystone City to help Superboy, went back to San Francisco, participated in the memorial in a cathedral somewhere, then finally returned to Blüdhaven to finish the cleanup. Sure, it's possible, but ...

Then there's Nightwing, who, if you remember, had such a hard time trying to contact other superheroes that he felt compelled to journey all the way to Titans Tower to use their communication systems. Yet here he was, one day before sending out that message, watching about 30 superheroes cleaning up his city. Why didn't he try to talk to them then and there? Why didn't he tell them all that if they don't help him take on Alexander Luthor, then there's no point in cleaning up Blüdhaven?

On an unrelated note, I'm surprised Marv Wolfman would write a plot that made Psimon so ineffectual. I named him Impulse's top villain in 1994 because he was a massive, major threat. He destroyed an entire planet and single-handedly crippled the Titans. But now he's just a nobody, easily dismissed without a second thought.

Now I guess I need to talk about the elephant in the room, er ... barn. I can't complain that the sex scene was obscene in any way. You didn't see anything graphic or inappropriate. But the act itself was inappropriate. These are two underage teenagers taking things too far. Yeah, you could say it's realistic and even a little understandable — they do both have good reason to believe the world could end any day now. But it still makes me uncomfortable. And that's all I have to say about that.

Now let's lighten things up with some ads:

Bust it up! DC HeroClix.

In this galactic battle arena, only one will survive. Ratchet: Deadlocked for PlayStation 2.

Bartimaeus is back! The Bartimaeus Trilogy books.

Discover the secrets that couldn't be revealed ... until now! Rann-Thanagar War: Infinite Crisis Special.

JSA #82 — a crucial Infinite Crisis tie-in, and JSA #83–87 — a five-issue storyline where the future is now!

Teen Titans Pizza & Play sweepstakes. Grand prize is a special pizza party for you and 50 friends, $500 cash and the Teen Titans video game.

The secret origin of the Red Hood. Batman Annual #25.

Discover the secrets that couldn't be revealed ... until now! The OMAC Project: Infinite Crisis Special.

DC in Demand previews this very issue (I think someone messed up). It also talks about Impulse creator Mark Waid working on the Legion of Super-Heroes.

First and nine. Milk's number one in my playbook. It has the nine essential nutrients I need to go all the way. So ask somebody to pass the milk. It's your best call. Got milk? with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

All that pressure — the pressure to fit in, look perfect, get high, to be accepted — if you let it push on you too much, how will you change?

Next time, we'll follow Superboy and see another quick memory of Impulse in Teen Titans #33.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Infinite Crisis #5


Geoff Johns – Writer
Phil Jimenez, Jerry Ordway & Ivan Reis – Pencillers
Andy Lanning, Jerry Ordway & Art Thibert – Inkers
Jeromy Cox, Guy Major & Rod Reis – Colorists
Nick J. Napolitano – Letterer
Jeanine Schaefer – Asst. Editor
Eddie Berganza – Editor

Our cover by Jim Lee shows the new Blue Beetle boldly charging forward with Booster Gold and Batman by his side. Behind them, we see Earth-One and Earth-Two apparently splitting into even more Earths. And looming over everything is Wonder Woman of Earth-One (the one we know and love, on the right) and the Wonder Woman of Earth-Two (the older, original one, on the left). The Infinite Crisis logo at the top made it hard for me to initially identify these women, but luckily my trade paperback has a textless version of the cover.

The George Pérez variant cover shows the old Superman of Earth-Two punching our Superman of Earth-One through the crystal wall of reality ... I think. I don't know, I'm pretty unclear with all that. So that vagueness, and the oddly muted colors really hurts what should be an amazing cover. I mean, it's pretty tough to mess up a cover of two Supermans fighting each other, and this cover came very close to messing it up.

My digital copy also included Pérez's sketch variant, which shows how much this cover relied on that computerized rendering of the stars and Earths to carry the image. But then again, I kind of like it this way because it lets me pretend that Superman is being punched through an ordinary wall — a concept I have a much easier time wrapping my mind around.

Our story picks up with the creation of Earth-Two and the subsequent disappearance of so many heroes. Lost and confused, many of the heroes on Earth-One gather in a cathedral for a memoriam of everyone who disappeared. Meanwhile, on Earth-Two, we see that most of the JSA has arrived there, including Jay Garrick, as well as the entire city of Keystone. Sand performs a soil analysis and finds all the elements in perfect balance, free of pollution, leading him to believe this Earth was manufactured. Over in Earth-Two's Metropolis, Superman and Lois Lane rejoice in finally being home again.

Back on Earth-One, Booster Gold brings Jaime Reyes to the Batcave. Batman is naturally suspicious by this, until Booster explains that he learned from historical records that Batman assembled a team to try to find Brother Eye, but they failed. However, Booster Gold knows that Jaime, the new Blue Beetle is the only person on Earth that can see Brother Eye.

We then cut to Superboy, who has been placed in a rejuvenation tank like Luke Skywalker to recover from his fight with Superboy-Prime. Lex Luthor pays the unconscious Conner a visit, complaining about their respective doppelgängers. He says he went through some trouble, but managed to get a look at their technology. Lex pulls out a blue crystal and puts it into Conner's jeans, which are lying on a nearby table. He once again calls Conner his son, at which Conner opens his eyes, but Lex is already gone by then.

On Earth-Two, the elder Superman's celebration is cut short by Lois collapsing. He believed bringing her to Earth-Two would heal her, but it hasn't. He begs his wife to not give up, and she says she isn't, but it is time for her to die, all the same. Clark starts rambling, saying that Superman always saves Lois Lane, and he can't be the sole survivor of another dead world. Lois begins speaking cryptically, saying she sees the truth now — something even Alexander Luthor didn't see. But before she can elaborate, Lois passes away in Clark's arms. Superman lets out a scream so loud, it shatters all the nearby windows and somehow, someway, is heard by our Superman on Earth-One, who immediately flies toward the scream.

In Boston on Earth-One, Wonder Woman tries to stop some looting, but nobody will listen to her. Suddenly, an invisible jet arrives, and out steps the older Wonder Woman of Earth-Two. Our Superman quickly arrives on Earth-Two and asks the older Superman if he needs help. The old man, however, accuses the young one of bringing corruption that spreads like a disease, and he immediately smashes him with a green car, mimicking the image of Action Comics #1.

Alexander Luthor and Psycho Pirate are watching this from the golden tower. Alexander says he knew Lois would never survive and that he'll miss her, but Psycho Pirate senses very little sorrow in him. He asks Alexander if he's worried about the disappearance of Superboy-Prime, but Alexander says he has served his purpose.

We return to Wonder Woman, who has climbed aboard her doppelgänger's jet to journey to Earth-Two. The older Diana explains that she was granted entry to Mount Olympus when the Multiverse collapsed, and now she has been granted a blessing to briefly return to this world to help our Wonder Woman. The older Diana encourages our Wonder Woman to remember her humanity — that she doesn't need to be perfect. She wants Wonder Woman to pass this message on to Superman, and says he needs her help, even if he doesn't want it.

Wonder Woman jumps right into the Superman fight, and wraps her Lasso of Truth around the older one. She tells him to stop fighting and start talking, so Earth-Two Superman launches into a diatribe about how their version of the Justice League lobotomized their adversaries, how Batman created an evil satellite that commands a murderous army, and how Wonder Woman killed Maxwell Lord. But worst of all is how Earth-One's Superman didn't stop any of this when he should have. The old Superman blames the young one for wasting his potential, which is why he had to bring back his perfect world. But both Wonder Woman and Superman see the flaw in this argument. If this older Superman was from Earth-Two, then it couldn't be perfect because a perfect world wouldn't need a Superman. The older Superman thinks on this for a minute, then sadly realizes that they're right.

Back at the tower, Alexander Luthor explains that each of the heroes and villains attached to the machine will help him bring back a different core world, but he ultimately needs thousands and thousands of worlds to sift through until he finds the perfect Earth. He fires up the machine again, and his giant golden hands reappear on the hole in space. Psycho Pirate asks why Alexander bothered playing such a long con on Superman for this. Alexander says for reasons he can't fully explain or understand, he needs Superman to be alive for this plan to work. Somehow, everything comes from Superman. Alexander shoots up a huge beam of energy from the tower, which goes right into Brother Eye, before being redirected right on top of Superman of Earth-Two. The original superhero screams out in pain, as dozens of other Supermans on dozens of other Earths appear next to him and his Earth.

On Earth-One, Nightwing has finally reached Titans Tower to call out to all other heroes to join in one last stand to save the entire planet. Some heroes in Chicago hear his call, but they're too busy dealing with what appears to be a massive volcano. A few others are dealing with flooding in New York, but some of them — Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. — disappear with the creation of another parallel Earth. Robin, Raven, Beast Boy and Speedy are back on cleanup duty in Blüdhaven, and it seems like they didn't hear Nightwing's call, as Robin complains of communications being down in the city.

So Nightwing is left alone in Titans Tower, sadly believing that this is the end of the world. He looks outside and sees the sky filled with dozens of new Earths, some of which are colliding with each other, causing massive explosions. Finally, one hero does answer Nightwing's call, our little old Superboy. He asks what's going on, and all Nightwing can say is the Superboy who attacked Conner was involved in a plot to replace this Earth. Superboy adds, "Before the Flashes kicked his ass and disappeared." He then pulls out the blue crystal Luthor gave him and says he knows where these "psychos" are. Conner asks if any other heroes are with them, but Nightwing sadly says it's up to just the two of them to shut those guys down.

We then cut to Tokyo, where the good, female Doctor Light (long story) is dealing with a volcano of her own — apparently the entire Ring of Fire around the Pacific Rim is erupting. Suddenly there's a big flash of light, and a Flash struggles to emerge from it. He finally collapses on the ground, amazed that he made it back. Dr. Light approaches him, and Flash instantly grabs her, incoherently telling her to warn the others that they couldn't hold him and he's escaped.

Dr. Light has no idea what he's talking about, so Flash points behind him and shows her Superboy-Prime, who is now wearing armor reminiscent of the Anti-Monitor and looks pretty upset.

The lightning surrounding Flash's face perfectly obscured his identity. Because Barry and Wally basically wear the same costume, the best way to tell them apart is the color of their eyes. When the colorist is on top of things, Barry has blue eyes and Wally has green eyes. But Bart has yellow eyes. And, spoiler alert, this Flash is actually an older version of Bart Allen. We'll explore this mystery in later issues.

As for this issue, I have to make my first major complaint with this story. And that's the cathedral scene at the beginning. That place was filled to the brim with heroes. The trade paperback even added a two-page spread showing all the Teen Titans, Doom Patrol, Outsiders and many others in attendance. Even our old Young Justice buddy Empress made an appearance. But here's my issue: How did all these heroes know to gather at that cathedral? Previously, Batman had asked Nightwing to tell everyone about the Crisis, but he said all communications on the East Coast were down, so he journeyed to Titans Tower to send a message out. But somehow, someone was able to get out a message to everyone, telling them to stop dealing with all the disasters around the world and come mourn the heroes who vanished. And Nightwing wasn't on this guest list? This gathering would have been the perfect opportunity for Nightwing to tell everyone what was going on and amass a huge army to take on Alexander Luthor. Everything about this scene contradicts the main story of Infinite Crisis.

Beyond that, I loved everything else about this issue. I liked the Superman fight and the realization that the "good ole days" weren't always perfect. I liked seeing our Superboy return to bravely face an impossible feat with only Nightwing by his side. And the frightening realization that even the Speed Force isn't strong enough to contain Superboy-Prime.

I do have some mixed first impressions about Bart becoming an adult so quickly. On one hand, it was always his destiny to take on the mantle of the Flash. And Bart has sadly fallen out of place on the Teen Titans over the past couple of years. He just didn't fit in anywhere as Kid Flash (thanks to Geoff Johns' writing). So it seems like Bart could enjoy a sort of revival as the Flash. Unfortunately, I know the stories that will come from Bart's run as the Flash, and they are not good. So what should have been a breath of fresh life to the character will sadly become the kiss of death.

Next time, we'll briefly remember Bart's time as Impulse in Teen Titans Annual #1.