A DKIII: The Master Race #9 Review – The Dark Knight Reboots

TITLE: Dark Knight III: The Master Race #9
AUTHORS: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLERS: Andy Kubert, Miller
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: June 7, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well, there it is. May as well have called this one The Dark Knight Reboots. For all intents and purposes, that’s what it was. There’s no official word on a DKIV story going forward. But given what we saw here, it seems pretty damn likely. Between this and the incorporation of Watchmen into the canonical DC Universe, they just can’t help but play the hits. For better or worse…

This issue sees Batman, Superman, Batgirl (Carrie Kelley), Lara the Supergirl, and the other heroes have their final confrontation with Quar and the Kryptonian invaders. Afterward, the Dark Knight Universe has a new status quo. Especially now that Bruce Wayne has been revitalized via the Lazarus Pit. So where do our heroes go from here?

Let’s start with the positives. This issue, and the DKIII main story overall, were really well illustrated. Andy Kubert has been able to meld his style with just enough vintage Frank Miller to make this a unique presentation. Even Miller himself, when working on the mini-comics we got in each issue, was able to settle into a groove. His art has been widely derided in recent years. But while he started off shoddily, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve enjoyed his art this much.

Ray Palmer/The Atom has a really nice moment in this issue where he gets to thwart some of the bad guys. It was clever the way they incorporated Ray into all of this. So to see him “get his win back” in the end was cool.

I also liked what they did with Green Lantern. A little corny? Yes. But he had a great little sub-plot about defeat and redemption. And when you consider one of Green Lantern’s original creators, Martin Nodell, took inspiration from Aladdin and the magic lamp, it makes a kind of sense.

Maybe the reason I’m so into this new take on Green Lantern is because when you close DKIII, it’s one of the few things left that’s really and truly different about this universe. Yes, certain supporting characters are absent. And we’ve got Lara and Carrie in the picture, along with Clark and Diana’s young son. But think about it. We don’t even have that old, gritty, Clint Eastwood-style Batman anymore, now that Bruce has gone through the Lazarus Pit. The Justice League is essentially back together now. What’s left to do in this universe now?

Various points in this story felt like we were gearing up for a passing of the torch. Carrie Kelley becomes Gotham’s protector, while Lara takes over for her Superman. In the end, they pay that off with Carrie becoming Batwoman and teaming with Bruce. Then in our mini-comic, we see Lara is now under the tutelage of her father. This feels like they were didn’t want to remove Batman and Superman, for fear of how it would effect sales going forward. I can understand that. But the ending of this story feels so safe and sub-par anyway, that they may have made that sacrifice regardless.

So why not just go for it? Why not kill the Bruce Wayne character? The Joker had an iconic death scene in The Dark Knight Returns. You can take a crack at doing the same thing with Bruce here. Given how old he is, it’s getting more and more contrived to have him keep coming back in the Batsuit. So have him die in Superman’s arms in issue #6 or #7, prompting Carrie to officially take over for him as Batwoman. There’s an argument to be made for that being the ending DKR should have had.

Then, if you must bring Bruce back via the Lazarus Pit, have it be in DKIV. We can see him challenge Carrie for Gotham City, the effects of the pit having driven him insane.

Many a reader, myself included, has criticized Frank Miller for the bizarre and even offensive choices he made in The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All-Star Batman and Robin. But I’ll always credit Miller with being willing to take risks with his art. In the end, DKIII feels like they went too far in the other direction. The Dark Knight Returns has become a timeless piece of art. DKIII seems mostly like something thrown together by editors so that DC can continue to cash in on the team of Frank Miller and Batman. It’s a missed opportunity. With Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert, and all these other supremely talented creators on board, they could have made something that allowed DC to sell more books, Instead we got something that feels largely hollow.

***For more DKIII: The Master Race, check out our reviews of issues #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, and #8.***

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A DKIII: The Master Race #8 Review – Kryptonians vs. Amazons

TITLE: Dark Knight III: The Master Race #8
AUTHORS: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLERS: Andy Kubert, Miller
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: March 29, 2017

Need to catch up? Check out issues #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, and #7

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Originally, this was supposed to be the end of the line. DKIII was supposed to run for eight issues before a ninth was announced last September. As much respect as I have for all the talent involved here, they should have gone the other way and capped it at seven. DKIII has an okay story, but it’s officially worn out its welcome.

Quar’s Kryptonian forces are at war with Wonder Woman and the Amazons, with Lara the Supergirl caught in the middle. So now the question becomes: What action will be taken by the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman? Meanwhile, the Lazarus Pit has restored Batman. But Quar is preparing to make his final move…

The entire story has been building toward this fight between the Kryptonians and the Amazons. But somehow, like last issue, this still fills like filler and transitional material. Andy Kubert, inker Klaus Janson, and colorist Alex Sinclair get to have flex their muscles by following Wonder Woman through a mildly gory battle sequence. But there’s not much drama in what we’re seeing. It’s just Wondie ripping through the bad guys because of some loophole about magic that isn’t really explained. All with a baby strapped to her back, who is somehow smiling through it all. Quar isn’t there, nor is Lara’s love interest. So these are essentially a bunch of Kryptonian foot soldiers.

This penultimate chapter, and this big battle, might have been the ideal place for Lara to make her choice. Does she side with her mother and the Amazons, or Quar and the Kryptonians? We get no such moment in this issue. Not even a cliffhanger to bring us into the next issue. That might have given this issue the emotional kick it desperately needs.

That’s not to say some of this isn’t fun. While there’s an extremely awkward splash page of Wonder Woman leaping (shown left), our artists do great work with the Amazons. Early on, they answer the Kryptonians’ challenge with a spear in a really cool way. Once we get into the physicality, Sinclair puts a red sky over the proceedings, striking a subtle yet pronounced emotional note. Azzarello also gives Diana a couple of good narration lines about the Amazons being an isolationist society: “Perfection stagnates. Perfection frustrates. Isolation gives to yearning.”

On the subject of Sinclair, this is his first time coloring the main story. You can absolutely notice the difference, everything pops a little more.

So where is Batman during all of this? He’s around. Like all the other characters, he’s being moved into position for the climax. Once he’s suited up, we do get a nice little moment with the Jerry Robinson Batmobile (shown below), its lone fin and big Bat head out in all it’s glory. As a life-long Batman buff, it made me smile.

But it also illuminates a major problem with DKIII. Out of the three chapters in Frank Miller’s so-called “Dark Knight trilogy,” this one may have the least to do with Batman himself. Or even the character’s lore and mythology. This feels less like a Batman story, and more like a Justice League story that Batman plays a big part in. The Dark Knight Strikes Again had a much larger scope than the original. DKIII might have been a good time to tighten the focus again.

There are elements in this story that make me wonder if that wasn’t supposed to be the case at one point. We see Carrie Kelley take up the mantle of Batgirl, the scene she had with Commissioner Yindel on the rooftop in issue #7, and a lot of little moments with she and Bruce. It almost feels like this started as a story where Bruce passes the torch to her, but plans were changed when Miller decided he wanted to do a fourth story. I have nothing concrete to base that on. Just a feeling.

Our mini-comic this month is Dark Knight Universe Presents: Detective Comics. We learn that Bruno, the woman from DKR with the flattop and the swastika pasties, is still alive. We get an incident with her and Commissioner Yindel at a prison, which I assume is supposed to be Arkham Asylum. There’s not much to write home about from a story perspective. But like last month, Frank Miller turns in some surprisingly clean line work. At times he reverts back to more of what he’s given us as of late. We’ll call it “disproportioned.” But by and large, Miller carries his end here.

But man oh man, I wish things would end here. Compared to The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All Star Batman and RobinDKIII is pretty harmless. But from an artistic perspective, it hasn’t been enough to justify dragging the DKR stuff out of the mothballs.

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A Civil War II Review – Lighting Strikes Twice?

Civil War II, coverTITLE: Civil War II
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILLERS: David Marquez, Olivier Coipel, Andrea Sorrentino
COLLECTS: Civil War II #0-8
FORMAT: Hardcover
PRICE: $50
RELEASED: February 1, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead!***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s a good event comic somewhere inside Civil War II. You just need to squint really hard to see it. As amazingly talented as Brian Michael Bendis is, what he turns in here doesn’t truly get going until issue #5, and by that point you regret buying in to begin with. The series is also bogged down by a certain been-there-done-that feeling. The original Civil War was one of the biggest hits Marvel has ever had. By comparison, Civil War II feels like a knock-off song played by a shoddy cover band.

In the original story, the question of whether superheroes should register their true identities with the government caused a major rift, and subsequently a war. This time the divisive issue is “predictive justice,” or in essence, profiling. When a young man named Ulysses is suddenly able to see vivid visions of the future, Captain Marvel sees a crucial opportunity to stop instances of crime, injustice, and tragedy before they ever occur. Iron Man, however, can’t live with punishing someone who hasn’t done anything wrong yet. What’s more, the exact nature of these visions are unclear. Is Ulysses truly seeing the future, or just a potential future? As they search for an answer, heroes will fall in more ways than one.

civil-war-ii #4, two-page spreadThe predictive justice idea is a sufficient divider, and reflects recent real-world events involving police brutality. The Black Lives Matter movement specifically comes to mind, especially when we see what happens to Miles Morales. But it’s when we drill down on the notion of another war amongst the heroes that Civil War II begins to fall apart.

Civil War ended when Captain America surrendered, realizing how costly and violent the conflict had become. The idea that all of these heroes, most of whom were involved in that same war, would allow things to escalate to this degree a second time makes them all look irresponsible, and even downright stupid. This is especially the case after Hawkeye straight up murders Bruce Banner with a literal crowd of heroes watching. But of course, if the heroes don’t fight, you have no story. So you have to make it work.

The way you massage that into working, for my money, is to have the heroes lament having to fight each other again. The original Civil War is barely even acknowledged in this book. It’s almost as if Civil War II is trying to hide from it. While it goes without saying that this story has to stand on its own, it’s a sequel. A sequel to one of the most renowned stories Marvel has ever done, no less. Instead of dancing around it, why not embrace it? The payoff would seemingly be a deeper story.

Civil War II #5, 2016, Spider-Man, Captain AmericaBut even with that added depth, Civil War II would face the problem that it’s simply not that interesting until issue #5. Ulysses has a vision of Spider-Man clutching a dead Captain America in front of a decimated Capitol Building. Given how young Miles is, and the obvious real-world parallels, this is where the story finally starts to gain some momentum. Hindsight being 20/20, this should have happened in issue #3. You put the Miles vision in issue #3, and Bruce’s death in issue #5. That way, Bruce’s death doesn’t feel so glossed over, and it’s fresh in our minds when we get to the final confrontation.

How about this: Captain Marvel puts Miles in prison following the vision in issue #3. (That opens up issues with Miles’ civilian identity. But we can work around that.) After Banner’s death and Hawkeye’s subsequent acquittal, Iron Man’s crew breaks Miles out of prison. We then get the confrontation in front of the Capitol Building as they were presented in issues #7 and #8. Would this little switch fix everything? No. But it would at least up the intrigue level earlier, and perhaps take us on more of a ride from start to finish. In truth, James Rhodes doesn’t even have to die in issue #1. As was the case with Banner, his death is almost glossed right over.

Our primary artist is David Marquez, with Olivier Coipel and Andea Sorrentino tagging in for specific sequences. Marquez delivers big here, particularly in issues #5 and #6. His stuff with Miles is very strong, which makes sense, as he and Bendis worked on Ultimate Comics Spider-Man together. He gives us an absolutely gorgeous two-page spread of Spidey overlooking Times Square, watching the Hawkeye trial. And of course, primary colorist Justin Ponsor gives us the Marvel Universe in all its glory.

hawkeye-civil-war II #3, David MarquezWe do, however, see a lot of what I’ve come to call the “Marquez doe-eyed pouty face.” Marquez is good with facial expressions. But we see variations of this one over and over, perhaps most notably when Hawkeye surrenders in issue #3 (shown left). We see it multiple times from Carol Danvers and Ulysses. We see it so much it becomes distracting and borderline comical.

As many problems as I have with Civil War II, I’ll credit Bendis for one thing: Not killing off Tony Stark. That was what a lot of us were expecting, given Rory Williams had essentially taken up his mantle in Invincible Iron Man. Instead Tony ends up in a coma, and we get a vague explanation about how he can’t be treated. Frustrating in its lack of specifics, but better than having to go through the usual death, funeral, and resurrection routine.

Civil War II could have worked. It would never have been what its predecessor was. But it could have at least been a compelling story. What they gave us had its moments. But by the time things finally got off the ground, it was too late. Given how all-encompassing Civil War II was in terms of its effect on other books, this story can be given partial credit for DC Comics regaining all that lost momentum last year.

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A DKIII: The Master Race #7 Review – Green Lantern’s Light

DKIII: The Master Race #7, 2016, cover, Andy KubertTITLE: Dark Knight III: The Master Race #7
AUTHOR: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLER: Andy Kubert
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: December 28, 2016

(Need to catch up? Check out issues #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, and #6.)

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Believe it or not, the character with the best showing in DKIII #7 is Green Lantern. It’s not even in the main story. This is the first DKIII issue where the mini-comic has been superior in terms of quality. It may represent the best storytelling in DKIII overall.

After Batman is mortally wounded in the battle against the Kryptonian army, Superman rushes to save the Dark Knight’s life. But the battle isn’t over. A far more personal blow is about to be struck. The fate of the world, and one special young life, hangs in the balance.

Of course they didn’t kill off Bruce Wayne. They went the Lazarus Pit route. So now he’s not only alive, but he’s been de-aged. We don’t see much of him once he emerges from the pit. But he’s clearly able-bodied, and he’s even got his dark hair back. I can only assume this is a set-up for future stories. Whether DKIV is actually in the works or not remains to be seen. This book has hardly been a critical success. But you can’t argue with sales, can you?

dkiii-7-superman-and-batman

Assuming we will see more Dark Knight stories going forward, I find it odd that we apparently won’t be seeing old man Bruce Wayne any longer. That rougher, Clint Eastwood-style Batman is one of the big trademarks of this universe. Why do away with something like that?

We also get some dialogue between Commissioner Yindel and Carrie Kelley, that implies that their relationship will continue into the future. Essentially as a new Batman/Jim Gordon type pairing. The elevation and establishment of Carrie as a full-fledged hero has been an ongoing theme in DKIII. From a storytelling perspective, it would be fitting to have Carrie take over as Gotham’s protector, while Bruce goes off to do something else. But by God it bears repeating: GIVE CARRIE A NEW COSTUME!

Donald Trump returns in this issue, via a disturbingly authentic sounding tweet: “We won just like I said we would, and now we’ll make the Kryptonians pay to rebuild Gotham City. You’re gonna love it.” Some things are just a little too real…

Between Batgirl and armored Superman, DKIII has definite costume problems. But by and large, Andy Kubert, inker Klaus Janson, and colorist Brad Anderson have given this story a look that feels like great extension of Miller and Janson’s art from the original. In particular, our cliffhanger scene with Wonder Woman and Lara has a great intensity to it.

dkiii-hal-jordanWhen you get right down to it, most of what we see in DKIII #7 is filler and transitional material. That’s part of why the Strange Adventures mini-comic comes off so well. But it’s more than that. It’s also a comeback story that sees a humbled Hal Jordan reconnect to his humanity.

After losing his hand in issue #3, Hal wanders the desert hunting down his lost Green Lantern Ring. It’s in the hands of what appears to be a militant extremist group. (Oddly enough, the ring is still on Jordan’s severed hand. Maybe this is the same group that found Luke Skywalker’s hand and lightsaber after The Empire Strikes Back…) With some help from Hawkman and Hawkgirl, he gains a new perspective on his place in the universe and boldly declares: “I’m back.” In a way, it’s beautiful. Perhaps I’m biased, but Miller’s art even looks a little more polished here.

Notwithstanding the Green Lantern content, DKIII #7 is mostly missable. Right now, I’m hoping for a big finish. Something with a little more personality than we saw from the big attack on Gotham City. But between Kryptonians and Amazons, that may prove difficult.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

A Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1 Review – The 2016 Playbook

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1, cover, Jason FabokTITLE: Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1
AUTHOR: Josh WIlliamson
PENCILLER: Jason Fabok
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 21, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s fitting that Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is DC’s last big release of the year. This is essentially a snapshot of the Warner Bros/DC movie playbook for 2016. Of course, it’s a also hook for new readers who’ve seen the movies.

And in a very pleasant development, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is pretty damn good. At least, so far.

When the Justice League learns of Amanda Waller’s Task Force X program, they interrupt a the Suicide Squad’s latest mission to bring them in. Naturally, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and the team aren’t coming without a fight. Meanwhile, several prisoners have been broken out of the Catacombs, “the most top secret prison in the world.” A threat is emerging that may give the Justice League and the Suicide Squad a mutual enemy.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1, two-page spread, Jason FabokI think one of the reasons this story works so well is that there isn’t an exorbitant amount of exposition to get through. Yes, we have the typical captions that introduce the characters (i.e. “Deadshot. Expert marksman. Has a death wish.” We also have a two-page scene where the League finds out about the Squad, and we go over why they don’t like them. But other than that, we’re mostly doing the business of the plot. It’s easy to understand why these two groups wouldn’t get along. You don’t need all of the build-up and the layers you would for, say, Civil War or Avengers vs. X-Men. The mere knowledge of the Squad’s existence is enough to prompt a fight.

The only downside to that additional time for character moments is that Williamson’s use of Captain Boomerang for comic relief comes off grating. One thing this book hammers home as much as anything is that ol’ Digger is horny as hell. I guess it makes sense, given he’s in prison. Plus, whenever he goes out he’s got the over-sexualized Harley Quinn with him. But he doesn’t need to be Captain Innuendo. We also have a little exchange where Simon Baz asks, “Aren’t boomerangs a little lame?” Not nearly as lame as that line. Way to go, Simon. Antagonize the murderer who Flash just told you was no joke.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, team shot, Jason FabokThe larger story Williamson is setting up involves a third team, led by our mystery prison breaker…the returning Maxwell Lord, dressed in his Omac Project and Justice League: Generation Lost era garb. Per usual, Lord is hardly a mustache-twirling villain. He’s out to save the world. What that means exactly remains to be seen. But the team he’s assembled (shown below) consists of Lobo, Dr. Polaris, Emerald Empress, Johnny Sorrow, and Rustam. Certainly an…eclectic crew. But they all have one thing in common: They hate Amanda Waller. Considering how expansive the cast of this book already is, we can’t guarantee all these characters will get a chance to shine. But I can definitely appreciate Williams putting a renewed spotlight on some of the company’s more obscure characters.

Jason Fabok is in top form here. As I’ve said previously, his is art has an undeniably epic quality to it. So he’ll always be a solid fit for big event stories like this, or Darkseid War. I compare him to Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, or Ivan Reis in that sense. He’s very much like Lee in the way he makes use of splash pages and two-page spreads that are either explosive, or have a lot of intrigue. His characters also tend to be very charismatic and expressive. Particularly Harley Quinn, despite the over-sexualization. There’s also a really nice splash page where Superman catches Deadshot in mid-air. Those two characters are such a great contrast. That image almost sells the premise by itself.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1, Jason Fabok, two-page spreadBy the way, the country that the big confrontation takes place in is called Badhnisia. I was blown away when I typed that into the ol’ Google machine, and found out it’s actually a long standing country in the DC Universe. A little on the nose, don’t you think?

Lending a certain subtle consistency with other big DC event comics are Alex Sinclair’s colors. Sinclair has worked on big books like Batman: Hush, Infinite Crisis, Blackest Night, Flashpoint, Justice League: Origin, etc. Sinclair’s work is always quality, and he’s a tremendous asset.

Based on the solicitations, it looks like the artistic teams on this book will fluctuate as the weeks go by. We’ll see names like Fernando Pasarin, Robson Rocha, and Howard Porter tag in. I can’t say I’m looking forward to those transitions, especially given the quality of what Fabok and his cohorts gave us here. But from a plot perspective, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad starts out strong. Now it becomes a matter of telling a compelling story while balancing all these different characters, and not letting it all become a mess.

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A Civil War II #6 Review – Following the Moral Compass

Civil War II #6, 2016, cover, Marko DjurdjevicTITLE: Civil War II #6
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILLER: David Marquez. Cover by Marko Djurdjevic.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: October 26, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

An irony occurred to me after reading Civil War II #6. All this in-story drama and controversy among the superheroes is occurring because a teenager named Ulysses can supposedly see visions of the future. The actions taken by the heroes as a result of these visions have brought about the deaths of James Rhodes and Bruce Banner, the ruining of Clint Barton’s public life, and a lot of bad blood among our characters.

But now it’s all come to a head thanks to a vision of Miles Morales, Spider-Man, another teenager. As if we needed further confirmation that this story is really about the violence we see on the news every day, particularly involving young people.

After last issue’s startling vision of Spider-Man moments after murdering Steve Rogers, the battle between the heroes has come to a stand still. Our characters reel from what they’ve just seen and ponder their next move.

This issue brings us some of the best work David Marquez and have done together. Naturally, much of it involves Miles. The genuinely unsettling two-page spread of Spidey and a dead Captain America is simply re-printed from last issue. I’d normally call that shamefully cheap. But it works to preserve the emotional intensity of the moment.

Civil War II #6, 2016, David Marquez, Miles Morales visionThe page at right is the best in the issue. It shows us Miles’ emotional state after seeing what he did, and is a classic example of showing instead of telling. I love that they took us inside the vision for one panel, and the red smears in the page gutters are a nice touch. Though that actually looks more like paint than blood. I think I had walls that color once…

Marko Djurdjevic’s cover also adds a new dimension to the idea of Miles murdering Captain America. With his own shield? Really? C’mon man.

The reaction that Steve Rogers has to this is important. It’s as big a character moment for him as anybody else. Not surprisingly Bendis gets it right, positioning Rogers as the compassionate moral compass. He then accents it by having Black Panther switch sides, saying that “if you are on Captain America’s side…you can rest easy knowing you are on the right side.”

This, of course, casts poor Carol Danvers as the bad guy. Her protege Ms. Marvel even   stands against her in this issue (Though she’d already done that in the Ms. Marvel ongoing.). Carol has more or less been in the bad guy position the entire time, making her decisions based on events that could happen, rather than what has happened. Perhaps recognizing this, Bendis takes time in this issue to remind us she’s still trying to do the right thing, and doesn’t want to hurt Miles. We see her guilt, and she gets a nice moment of reassurance from Peter Quill. But the violence that’s resulted from all of this is causing her case to fall apart. Kitty Pryde’s expression in the image below says it all.

We get what I imagine was meant to be a bit of foreshadowing for Champions, as Ms. Marvel, Nova, and young Cyclops rally to protect Miles. The delays that have plagued Civil War II obviously tarnish that. But this scene was my first exposure to Riri Williams, who will be taking on the Iron Man role soon. I imagine that’s the case for quite a few readers. So perhaps the upside is worth it.

civil-war-ii-i-am-grootCivil War II showed up late, in more ways than one. This story just found its second gear last issue, and it finally feels it has the stakes an event comic should have. Hopefully those stakes continue to rise. Toward the end of the issue there’s a spooky page with Ulysses. A descent into evil may be forthcoming.

The question is, does he drag Carol Danvers down with him?

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A Civil War II #5 Review – A “Black Lives Matter” Moment

Civil War II #5, 2016, coverTITLE: Civil War II #5
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILLER: David Marquez. Cover by Marko Djurdjevic.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: September 21, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s been a bumpy road for Civil War II. Despite its epic scope and game-changing plot points, it’s largely been a big bag of “meh.” And that’s not even getting into the scheduling delays.

Now, five issues in, it looks like things have finally picked up. The end of this book left a knot in my stomach. Despite having already killed off Rhodey and Bruce Banner, this series now finally has that heart-wrenching element that so many event comics strive for.

Thanks Miles Morales, and uh…sorry?

Ulysses, a new inhuman who can apparently see visions of the future, has torn the Marvel heroes apart. In Civil War II #5, they finally come to blows. Captain Marvel, who believes in using Ulysses to stop certain events before they happen, has assembled a group to fight against a team led by Iron Man. Tony Stark vehemently opposes acting on these visions, and questions their credibility. But by the end of the battle Ulysses has yet another vision, in which one of the Marvel Universe’s youngest heroes does the unthinkable. In a story that’s already seen the Bruce Banner murdered by Hawkeye, and Rhodey die in battle, the burning question is: Will Miles Morales be next?

Civil War II #5, 2016, Spider-Man, Captain AmericaThe image at left is our big vision reveal. Miles clutching a dead Captain America in front of a decimated Capitol Building. It may as well be an page from Red Skull’s dream journal. Now all the prior emphasis on Miles makes sense. Bendis and Marquez were planting a seed with a character they both have a lengthy history with. It’s fitting.

Virtually every Marvel book that doesn’t have Star Wars in the title has been effected by Civil War IISpider-Man is no exception. But in the main series Miles has mostly been a background character, albeit one Bendis and Marquez have made sure to keep around. I keep circling back to the two-page spread of Spidey watching the Hawkeye trial verdict on one of the big screens in Times Square. Intentional or not, it brilliantly positioned Miles as someone removed from some of the larger issues that plague more experienced heroes. There’s a certain naivety about him, partially because he’s so young. Those two elements are what set this moment apart from, say, the vision of the Hulk from issue #2.

But lets not kid ourselves. Like its predecessor, Civil War II is trying to be more than just another event comic. Its subtext speaks to the world we live in right now. Civil War speaks to post-9/11 paranoia, and Civil War II speaks to police profiling. It’s not an accident that Miles, a young minority, is shown harming Captain America, a symbol of American justice and values. This entire sequence with the vision and the subsequent arrest of Miles Morales is a Black Lives Matter moment. It’s Marvel looking at what happened with young men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Ms. Marvel, Civil War II #5, 2016It’s one thing to show us characters dying in a story about proactive justice. It’s another thing to really connect it to the real world. This is the emotional punch that Civil War II has been missing. It’s a shame we had to wait this long to feel it.

Ms. Marvel also accentuates the big reveal very well. It feels a little too coincidental that the other teenage minority in the scene just happens to be the one consoling Miles.

Speaking of subtext, Miles has an awesome line during a fight with Venom. As the longtime Spidey villain is taking shots at Miles for not looking or acting quite like Peter Parker, our hero replies with: “Another Spider-Man expert telling me how it should be.” That’s barely even subtext. He may as well be looking up at his critics.

The sad thing is, most of what we see up until the vision sequence is largely forgettable. Marquez, artist Sean Izaakse, and colorist Justin Ponsor give us a very action-posed two-page spread of the heroes about to collide. There’s also a lovely shot of Hawkeye cloaked in shadow as he presumably goes into hiding (shown below). But by comparison, it all seems very generic and business as usual for a superhero epic.

Hawkeye, Civil War II #5, 2016, David MarquezFrom a comic book sales perspective, DC Comics has outpaced Marvel since the start of its Rebirth initiative. I estimate Civil War II is largely to blame for that. Marvel may have banked too much on the success of its predecessor, and additional eyes from Captain America: Civil War. The story has failed to capture imaginations until now. We finally have something to sink our teeth into, but it may be too little too late.

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A Civil War II #4 Review – Rules of Engagement

Civil War II #4, 2016TITLE: Civil War II #4
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILLER: David Marquez. Cover by Marko Djurdjevic.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: July 27, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Civil War II feels like an epic, important superhero comic. It’s got major character deaths, a moral dilemma that has divided our heroes, and the future hangs in the balance.

So why does it feel like nothing has happened in this series? This story is more than halfway over. But it feels like we’ve barely started.

Last issue we saw Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, murder Bruce Banner before he could become the Hulk and cause a cataclysmic disaster. Such was the word of Ulysses, an Inhuman who can apparently see the future. Now Barton has been exonerated, and our heroes are left wondering what comes next. Tony Stark pleads his case: That Ulysses’ visions are only of a potential future, and to act on them eliminates free will from the equation. But for Carol Danvers, it’s better to be safe than sorry. By the end of the issue, battle lines are drawn. But Carol has some unexpected back up on the battlefield.

 So why does it feel like nothing has happened in this series? Let’s take a brief look back at these issues and see if we can spot some trends…

Civil War II #4, two-page spread, Spider-Man, David MarquezIssue #0: The president tells Rhodey he should aim for the White House, Ulysses has his first vision.

Issue #1: Heroes avert disaster thanks to Ulysses’ vision, they talk to him about said visions, Rhodey dies in a mostly off-page fight.

Issue #2: Iron Man kidnaps and questions Ulysses, who has a vision about the Hulk.

Issue #3: Hawkeye kills Bruce Banner to prevent a disaster.

Issue #4: Hawkeye is exonerated, the heroes get ready to fight.

There’s so much talking. Explaining, expositing, philosophizing, arguing. Even when Banner is killed it’s an abrupt shot to the head in the middle of a big conversation. There’s tension in these issues. But in the sequel to the biggest superhero event comic of all time, we’re strangely low on actual superheroics and events. That’s why, even though much of consequence has happened in these pages, it feels like very little.

As I’ve said previously, it’s not that every superhero comics needs to have people punching planes to have a major impact. And laying the foundation for something big like this is important. But you’ve also got to hold the reader’s interest and keep them engaged. Civil War II is not as engaging as it should be. Especially at this point in the game.

Carol Danvers, Civil War II #4, David MarquezOn the plus side, artist David Marquez and colorist Justin Ponsor are turning in some good stuff. I love the splash page of Spider-Man overlooking Times Square as the news breaks about Hawkeye (shown above). Once again, our team makes a point to toss Miles Morales into the mix, despite him having little to do with the events unfolding. It’s as if he represents a civilian’s view of everything we’re seeing. Given how young, and relatively inexperienced Miles is, that’s a good role for him.

I do have one nitpick: Let’s be careful about the teary, doe-eyed, pouty faces. We get a bunch of them from Carol Danvers as she tells Jennifer Walters what happened to her cousin. Hawkeyes had a similar expression last issue when he surrendered. That expression is meant to convey the emotional impact of the moment. But at this rate, it’ll be comical by next issue.

And what of next issue? By the looks of things, we’re finally going to get to the fighting. The Guardians of the Galaxy will be thrown in for good measure. As is always the case with Marvel’s event comics, there are a bunch of miniseries titles that are running parallel with this one. We’ve got Civil War II: Choosing Sides, minis dedicated to characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men, and different tie-ins with ongoing books. I assume if you want more information on what heroes are on what side, you can look there. I haven’t, for no other reason than this series hasn’t inspired me to do so. And I doubt next issue will be much different…

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A Civil War II #3 Review – The Latest Casualty of War

Civil War #3, 2016, TITLE: Civil War II #3
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILLERS: David Marquez, Olivier Coipel
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: July 13, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I haven’t talked about Civil War II yet, and I can’t put my finger on why. Initially, I was very turned off by the concept of doing Civil War again. Even the title. Civil War II. It feels like there should be a subtitle there, doesn’t it? Civil War II: The Secret of the Ooze, or Civil War II: Judgment Day. How about Civil War II: The Legend of Tony’s Gold?

But I think the real reason it’s taken me this long is because I was waiting for this thing to get good. We’ve got a compelling story that echoes the real-world issue of police profiling, with virtually every major character in the Marvel Universe involved. As an exclamation point, War Machine was killed off in issue #1. But what we’ve seen thus far, this issue included, has been mostly talk. Obviously not every superhero comic needs to be padded with mindless action, especially when you’ve got a story that hinges on a moralistic issue. But issues #0, 1, and 2 went by feeling unimpactful. Even Rhodey’s death happened off panel, and feels glossed over in this issue.

Compare this to what we’d seen by issue #3 of the original Civil War main series. We had our inciting incident, the creation of the Superhuman Registration act, the unmasking of Spider-Man, the unveiling of a prison in the negative zone, our first real fight between the two sides, and what appeared to be the return of Thor. While the central issue in Civil War II is no less poignant, the story feels softer by comparison.

Civil War II #3, Bruce Banner, Tony StarkThe good news is while issue #3 still feels flat in terms getting readers to pine for that next issue, it’s definitely impactful. About as impactful as an arrow through the head…

As most people reading this likely know, Bruce Banner dies in this issue via a killshot from Hawkeye. Ulysses, a young man who apparently sees the future, has seen a vision of the Hulk on a murderous rampage. Continuing in her attempts to use Ulysses to stop such disasters before they happen, Captain Marvel leads a who’s who of heroes to apprehend Banner. Acting as the voice of reason is Tony Stark who vehemently opposes these “preventive” measures. As it looks like Banner is about to Hulk out, an arrow goes through his forehead.

The issue goes back and forth from the present-day trial of Clint Barton/Hawkeye to flashbacks of the confrontation with Banner. Bends gives the issue a great sense of foreboding. The early dialogue with Banner, Stark, and Carol Danvers feels like an oblivious, and in this case innocent man being led to the gallows. From a writing standpoint, it’s the strongest moment in the book. It’s followed closely by the moment Clint is discovered as the assassin, and he’s simply got his hands out awaiting the cuffs. He knows he’s killed an innocent man, a founding Avenger and a friend no less, and he’s accepted his fate.

This is obviously a very emotional issue, and Marquez’s characters convey everything very well. Stark, Danvers, and Barton are perfectly somber during the court proceedings. Banner’s tension is visibly mounting as he realizes what’s happening to him. We see him go from nervous, to frightened, to defensive. But jjust as he’s starting to get angry, he’s taken out. The result is sheer terror from both Stark and Danvers. Marquez gives Tony a very subdued anger when he says: “Who’s next on your hit list, Danvers?!”

Civil War #3, 2016, group shot, David MarquezThis group shot at right is awesome. Props to colorist Justin Ponsor for making it pop the way it does. And that sky looks gorgeous.

As a Miles Morales fan, I appreciated how our young Spider-Man was peppered in throughout the issue. Bendis, Marquez, and Ponsor worked together on Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man back in the day, so that was fun to see. We even got an appearance from Ganke!

Olivier Coipel tags in midway through to draw a flashback conversation between Banner and Barton, in which the former gives the latter the means to kill him if he ever Hulks out again. Thats another scene where the colors stand out. It takes place in a seedy bar, and the color palette gets darker and feels dirtier. We also see more black in this scene than anywhere else in the issue. It sets the scene perfectly.

The verdict is left in the air, in favor of a cliffhanger where Tony and Mary Jane Watson seemingly discover how Ulysses’ visions work. I’m hoping that, combined with the emotional impact of Banner’s death, will finally kick things into high gear. This story feels less like a war, and more like a colorful debate where people are accidentally dying.

Although for the record, I’m not convinced Rhodey is dead. Both he and Banner will come back eventually anyway. But I don’t think he died in this story. They made a point to have that scene with he and the president early on. Something feels unfulfilled there…

Images from author’s collection.

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A DC Universe: Rebirth #1 Review – “How Could I Ever Forget You?”

DC Universe: Rebirth #1TITLE: DC Universe: Rebirth #1
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLERS: Ethan Van Sciver, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: May 25, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Part of the idea behind the 2011 “New 52” reboot at DC Comics was to modernize and simplify the characters and continuity for new readers. They largely succeeded. A lot of great comics were sold, and new readers were given a fresh jumping-on point for the DC Universe.

But lets be honest. If you were a longtime DC Comics fan, you lost a lot more than you gained. The timeline of the DCU was condensed down to five or six years. As such, the characters lost a lot of their depth. Certain characters, relationships, marriages and families were altered, if not erased altogether. As such, this new DC Universe suffered from a lack of heart and emotional connection.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is DC’s attempt to remedy this problem by restoring some of these lost characters, and injecting some much needed love into the proceedings.

A LOT of big things happen in this issue. So lets touch on most of them individually…

DC Universe: Rebirth #1, 2016, Wally West, Barry Allen hugWally West returns, reunites with Barry Allen, warns of a new enemy. Most of us can relate to being forgotten about on some level. It’s heartbreaking. That’s the feeling Geoff Johns taps into when he shows us the plight of Wally West. Lost to time, left as mere kinetic energy in the Speed Force, he’s so desperate to be remembered. Even his former wife replies to his presence with a heart-wrenching: “I don’t know you.” So it’s a genuine tear-jerker when Barry suddenly does remember him, then wraps him in a hug and says: “How could I ever forget you?” After almost five years without Wally, this was every bit the epic reunion it was designed to be.

The explanation we get for the other Wally West, who’s set to become Kid Flash in upcoming issues, is a little corny. Something about them being cousins and both named after their great-grandfather. I’ll grant them that there was no easy way to get out of that scenario. There was bound to be confusion. At least Johns connected them. Hopefully that’ll be a unique meeting eventually.

I’m not clear on what Barry and Wally remember at this point. In this issue, Wally remembers his wife Linda Park, the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, his time with the Teen Titans, and other odds and ends. At least some of that seems to have been transferred to Barry. But Wally also says it’s becoming harder to remember his old life. I imagine more will be revealed in the new Titans series.

Per events in Justice League, also written by Johns, we learn there have apparently been three Jokers. I balked when I first saw this. Having three Jokers seemingly takes away the character’s unique evolution and versatility. Now, instead of one multidimensional Joker, we’ll have three one-dimensional Jokers. That, at least, is my takeaway from the revelation.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1, Jokers, Ethan Van SciverI am happy, however, that they didn’t give us any names. We didn’t find out The Joker’s real name is Jack Napier or anything like that. My love for The Killing Joke notwithstanding, I like my Joker somewhat de-humanized, conveying the idea that absolutely anyone could be behind that twisted grin. “One bad day” and what not. They may still do that, but hopefully they don’t.

It’s easy to make snap judgments about dramatic reveals like this. (Captain America, anyone?) But ultimately, it’s all about the story they’re telling. The true merit of this twist lies with what they do with it.

Wally reaches out to an elderly Johnny Thunder, who has been searching for the Justice Society. Justice Society got a little out of hand before the reboot. The team was split between two titles. If they’re bringing back the JSA, my hope is the team will be smaller. My question is, if the Society comes back does that mean the timeline gets adjusted so Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, and all those characters were indeed active during World War II?

Ted Kord, DC Universe Rebirth #1Partnerships are established between Ted Kord & Jaime Reyes and Ray Palmer & Ryan Choi. Dr. Fate reveals that Jamie’s Scarab is actually magic. I hadn’t realized how much I missed Ted until this issue. Gary Frank perfectly captures that boyish enthusiasm, which is part of what’s so great about Ted. This new partnership with Jaime should make for good comics.

Ray Palmer has a line about Jean Loring in his scene with Ryan Choi, which seems to indicate that Identity Crisis is out of continuity. I’m a big Brad Meltzer fan (mostly). But if we have to abandon Identity Crisis in favor of a more hopeful DC Comics, with some of our favorites back in the picture, I’m okay with that.

Aquaman proposes to Mera. Jackson Hyde returns to the DCU.  Well heavens to Betsy. Marriage is okay again! With the reboot, Superman, The Flash (both of them), and Aquaman all had their marriages retconned. Batwoman was also not allowed to marry her love interest. Arthur at least got to keep his relationship with Mera. This seems to be a very positive step away from the “heroes can’t be happy” approach DC seemingly had in place a few years ago.

Why Jackson Hyde wasn’t a part of the New 52 reboot is a mystery to me. They had spent all that time building him up in Brightest Day, and then he was just gone. Hopefully they can now capitalize on what for years has been a wasted opportunity.

And now, for the biggest reveal of them all…

Batman, WatchmenWatchmen characters are incorporated into the DCU. Dr. Manhattan implicated as the mysterious force manipulating time. Ah, here’s the kicker. I mean, c’mon. We couldn’t have a villain manipulating the time stream somehow. We had to drudge up Watchmen again, as the book and the characters continue to be profitable 30 years after its original publication.

I won’t lie, there’s a certain excitement at the prospect of a post-Watchmen Dr. Manhattan interacting with the DC Universe. Seeing Batman find the iconic Comedian button with the bloodstain, hidden in the Batcave, of all places, was a legit shocker. Even watching Pandora perish the way Rorschach did was kinda cool.

But here’s my big question: Will it be worth it in the end?

The last time DC pulled this crew out of retirement was for Before Watchmen, a line of prequel miniseries’ featuring all the classic characters. It gave us some good stuff, particularly Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen: Minutemen story. But even with all the A-list talent involved, when you look at Before Watchmen cumulatively, you aren’t left with a feeling of justification. The sense that this was worth doing without Alan Moore and arguably taking some of the luster off Watchmen.

I’m really hoping they thought about that before making this move. Is this going to be worth bringing Watchmen out of retirement Especially when we presumably won’t be seeing Dr. Manhattan, and whoever else pops up, in the context of their own world.

DC Universe Rebirth #1, montage, Gary FrankThis oversized issue is divided into four chapters, plus an epilogue. For these various sections, Geoff Johns is working with three of his longtime collaborators. The MVP by far is Gary Frank, who draws chapter 2, and also assists with chapters 1 and 3. His art drips with pure humanity. When Wally bursts in on Johnny Thunder, we can feel the old man’s desperation, heartbreak, and fear. In the scene with Ted and Jaime, Ted’s enthusiasm is contagious. On the other hand, Jaime’s apprehension is palpable, and comes off very natural. Frank also draws the big reveal with Batman and the pin (shown above), and even drew the cover. What an amazing issue for him.

It’s very fitting to have Ethan Van Sciver on the pencil for chapter 1. As the artist on Green Lantern: Rebirth and The Flash: Rebirth, it creates a nice consistency. What’s more, having worked on those books, and contributed to projects like The Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night, his work inevitably conveys a sense of importance. He very much lives up to that, as its Van Sciver that gives us our first look at the returning Wally West.

In chapter 3, Ivan Reis gives us a gorgeous scene with Aquaman and Mera. But the scene with Wally and Linda, where he’s so sure she’ll remember him and he gets rejected…it’s amazing. Their faces, their body language, it’s just perfect. You can make an argument that this is the most important scene in the issue. The impact of Wally’s failure with Linda makes the scene where Barry saves him that much more impactful.

There’s a certain artistic symmetry to Phil Jimenez drawing the reunion between Barry and Wally. In Infinite Crisis, Jimenez drew Wally and his family disappearing into the Speed Force, as well as Barry briefly emerging from it. Now, he gives us an emotional sequence where Barry pulls Wally from the Speed Force. He was the perfect choice for this moment.

Aquaman and Mera proposalFinally, let’s talk about Geoff Johns for a moment. The guy gets his share of flack these days. He’s got a reputation as Mr. Retcon. And I’ll admit those early Justice League issues where pretty flawed. But by and large, he tells gripping and often emotional stories. In the case of DC Universe Rebirth #1, he and the team give us a much-needed break from the grim and largely joyless DC Comics we’ve come to know since The New 52 began. There’s a place for hope, love, and wonder in this universe. Most readers always knew that. Let’s hope DC never forgets again…

Image 1 from newsarama.com. Image Image 3 from pastemagazine.com. Image 3 from observer.com. Image 4 and 6 from observer.com. Image 5 from terrazero.com. 

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