Aquaman #20 (Abnett/Elateb/Briones): The “Dead Water” storyline has horror movie aspects to it, with the ordinary turned into the unpleasant and a mystery killer lurking at every turn. Abnett and Elateb still manage to keep this story within the realm of superheroics, not letting things get too gory despite the Alien overtones here. The only problem is that this particular arc isn’t contributing to the larger narrative of the human/Atlantean tensions or the prophecy about Mera. Rating: Three tuna out of five.
Batman #20 (King/Finch/Scott/Miki/Bellaire): Argh. I am very torn on this issue. Tom King unveils his grand thesis statement of Batman, at least insofar as his three arcs have gone so far, and it’s well-done. Everything Batman has been doing with Gotham Girl makes total sense in light of the character, and in doing so, King makes wonderful reference to many of his Bat-predecessors, including Frank Miller, Scott Snyder, and even Neil Gaiman. The bad news is that it’s all run against a basic smashy-smashy fight between Batman and Bane which comes down to who can hit who the hardest. It would have been nice if the narration had been an epilogue story following a climactic triumph over Bane, but this is what we got, and next issue starts “The Button.” I’m giving this a reluctant three and a half bats out of five, because the art, narration, and concept are wonderful—but the backdrop of the very basic fight hurts the story.
Cyborg #11 (Semper Jr./Conrad/Denerick/Kordos/Nunes/Major): This issue diverts from the existing rat storyline to take another stab at Cyborg’s lost past and whether he’s the same person now that he’s half-machine. Right now, Cyborg has the opportunity to play with some of the themes raised in Ghost in the Shell which didn’t translate to the live-action movie because of…other…problems…with it. However, that opportunity is blown by having Cyborg fight a villain with the cheesiest name conceivable in a live-version of Minecraft. So: good ideas, not-so-great execution. Rating: Two and a half bits out of five.
Flintstones #10 (Russell/Pugh/Chuckry): Over and over, Flintstones has been reminding us that the things that should matter to us don’t, and the things that shouldn’t, matter far too much. We seek comfort in the mundane while reality passes right in front of us. So, as Flintstones comments on the role of film and art in society, things that should be commenting on life too often focus on mere appeasement—hence, porn and violence dominate our media, while our political system goes down the tubes. A tragic death happens in the most undignified way possible (try not to think too hard about what happens in this issue), and it’s ultimately as unnoticed as the homeless who die in our streets, which we’ve missed because The Walking Dead is on tonight. The only thing this issue misses? The opportunity to meta-comment on this message being conveyed in a comic book. Rating: Four yabba dabbas out of five.
Green Arrow #20 (Percy/Carlini/Andolfo/Prianto): No pun intended, but this issue’s off-target. Speedy’s origins and a bad encounter with a villain in his youth are intermingled with his present-day team-up with Ollie. It’s hard to enjoy either the past or the present where we get jumbled shards of each, coupled with one of them being a poor modernized copy of the classic “my partner is a junkie” story. Rating: Two and a half quivers out of five.
Green Lanterns #20 (Humphries/Pansica/Ferriera/Blond): This issue’s a little unfocused, as it repeatedly flips between Simon’s past issues with his brother and the contrast of Dr. Polaris’ own sibling history. Then Polaris’ other personality keeps talking to him. If you missed the last issue (as I did), jumping into this one is going to be a little rough. Also, Jessica is in the comic, but otherwise sidelined with the exception of a nice inner monologue in the opening pages. Like Dr. Polaris, this issue is just a little too unbalanced. Rating: Two rings out of five.
Harley Quinn #17 (Conner/Palmiotti/Timms/Deering/Sinclair): Harley’s a loon, but she’s also got heart, as this issue shows. New York’s homeless are disappearing, and Harley goes on a quest to find the forgotten. Actually, for all the socio-political issues that comics hit on, homelessness tends not to be one of them, so it’s good to see a spotlight here. On the other hand, this issue features a lot of Red Tool—the open Deadpool expy—and it’s still hard to figure out what to make of him.
Harley Quinn also has a Paul Dini-driven backup about “classic” Harley and Joker in something resembling their BTAS era. It’s a remarkable contrast to modern Harley, and the two incarnations are so different that they’re practically distinct characters. The backup steers mostly clear of the domestic violence aspect of Joker/Harley, instead treating them as a little more madcap with a Rocky and Muggsy relationship—slightly abusive, but cartoonishly so. In other words, much more palatable than, ahem, other Joker/Harley relationships we’ve seen of late. Rating: Three and a half mallets out of five.
Justice League #18 (Hitch/Pasarin/Ryan/Anderson): I’m not sure there’s a lot new to say here: the art is pretty, the League is working together throughout history, and Superman is still being a bit of a dick in light of “my family above all else!” being taken too far. In other words, this story is starting to needlessly stretch, the negative side of having a cast of eight characters plus all the guests. “Timeless” may read well in trade, but this particular chunk feels a little padded. Rating: Three leagues out of five.
Nightwing #18 (Seely/Fernandez/Jung/Sotomayor): Eh, this is arc is starting to lose me. Sean’s endangerment was pressing last issue, but this week, it’s lost against the endless punching and the usual twisted handiwork of Professor Pyg. There’s a surprise villain on the last page, but it’s only going to impact relatively longtime Bat-readers who know who this guy is. Rating: Two batons out of five.
The Rise and Fall of Captain Atom #4 (Bates/Weisman/Conrad/Nunes): Captain Atom is suffering from a certain blandness that wasn’t there a few issues ago. The earlier issues of this series played with his “man out of time” concept and gave a logical look at the character in the pre-superhero DCU. Now that he’s back in the present, it’s kind of dull, with the mystery of his lost son not really going anywhere even though it was the big cliffhanger last month. Rating: Two and a half quantum fields out of five.
Superman #20 (Tomasi/Gleason/Gray/Kalisz): The full ramifications of “Superman Reborn” aren’t clear yet—but apparently even Clark and Lois realize that. We do get hints of the new status quo, as it appears that “Superdad” will be continuing even as the New52’s past has been worked into his history. But otherwise, Tomasi and Gleason continue to expand upon Superman as a guy whose heart is with his family, even if that family is subjected to weird superhero matters involving nefarious cows and Batman and his son dropping in. Rating: Three and a half capes out of five.
The Winner: It’s not a “Rebirth” book, but The Flintstones stands out as the winner. Even if the humor is a little on-the-nose, the death scene in this issue is like a gut punch, and the casualness by which the main cast treats it even more so.
The Loser: Green Lanterns is generally a good book, but this issue was really jumbled and unfocused. There’s shades of the book’s upcoming crossover with the Hal Jordan title, and maybe that will get it back on track. Cyborg was also problematic this week with a silly villain and a distraction from the ongoing story–this issue may as well be skipped if the villain never comes back.