Detective Comics #1027 Review

One week removed from worldwide Batman Day celebrations and the dust has now well and truly settled on the anniversary issue which marks the occasion. One thousand issues of Detective Comics have come and gone since the most popular caped crusader first graced its pages, and the question now on everybody’s lips is how does such an oversaturated character stay so popular and culturally relevant?

The answer to this question is quite simple really – although a thousand issues have come and gone (and many, many more if we include his other series), the character of Batman has undergone so much change and evolution that he would make even the scriptwriters of the Jurassic Park franchise blush. It is that state of constant flux, that flourish of individuality brought to the table by an army of different writers throughout the years, which makes Bruce Wayne the world’s most popular superhero. It is for that precise reason that a landmark issue such as this one is not an action-packed extravaganza, but instead a collection of a dozen short stories from a dozen all-star creative teams who all tackle a different element of the Batman mythology.

From an impressive feat of escape artistry in the first story “Blowback” to shepherding the rest of the Batfamily through a murder mystery in “The Master Class,” Batman’s prowess is on show right from the very beginning. As entertaining as these stories are, true value is found in those such as “Rookie” which tackle the idea of Batman, in this case how much of an inspiration he can be to the people of Gotham. This is then humorously twisted in “Detective #26” when the emergence of the Bat forces a would-be vigilante to seek early retirement when he realises just how ineffective he is compared to The Dark Knight.

That is not to say that more straightforward and traditional, albeit shorter, tales of the bat are not entertaining. Stories such as “Odyssey” manage to spin a complete and satisfying narrative, the dozen-page constraint having no bearing on its ability to be compelling. Whereas “Legacy”, which could very easily just have been a standard Batman vs. Dr. Phosphorous battle, instead looked to the future and reminded us all why this slightly-mad, night-prowling costumed character is unequivocally on the side of the angels.

The final two stories, “Generations: Fractured” and “A Gift”, being drawn-out advertisements for future stories feels inappropriate in a celebration of Batman’s past. However, others such as “Many Happy Returns” and “As Always” balance this out by reminding us how tirelessly the Bat fights against evil, be it the Joker or any number of cosmic entities. While we don’t meet the likes of Darkseid or the Anit-Monitor face-to-face, it would have been a missed opportunity to not have a story featuring the Clown Prince of Crime relentlessly tormenting the yin to his yang.

In conclusion, this issue is a tremendous publication from DC and while not every story included has been mentioned by name they all come together to feature something for everyone. Whether you are an old-school Batman fan or a relative newcomer, this is one collected edition-sized anniversary issue that deserves its place on your shelf rather than inside a bag and board.

Final Score: 10/10

Stargirl Season One Review

The first live-action outing from the DC Universe streaming service to be classed as “child friendly,” Stargirl proves that you don’t need strong violence, gratuitous swearing, or body horror to tell a compelling superhero origin story.

When a television series based on Courtney Whitmore, a.k.a. Stargirl, was announced in the summer of 2018 it was met with some confusion. Namely, how it would gel against the otherwise-mature content being produced on DCU. Thankfully it purposely does not gel, and instead finds its own tone, niche, and balance of wholesome teenage superhero shenanigans versus nefarious adult supervillain machinations. Although it benefited from a next-day broadcast on American network The CW, Stargirl takes a leaf out of its fellow streaming series’ playbook and consists of just 13 episodes compared to a network standard of 22. But just how well does it utilise a concise runtime?

Where the likes of Titans and, to a lesser extent, Doom Patrol stumble and sometimes spend too much time flashbacking to the past, this series strikes a perfect balance between supplying the audience with all of the context they need regarding the Justice and Injustice Societies of America while also setting up the successors to these mantles in a satisfying way. By the time the season has reached its halfway point the stage is set, the second incarnation of the JSA has been established and developed, and the ISA have already committed enough atrocities to make us want to see each and every one of them suffer a beatdown from the ever-impressive S.T.R.I.P.E. mecha.

Stargirl and her Cosmic Staff

Speaking of the invention of legacy sidekick Pat Dugan, the CGI budget and SFX wizardry present throughout the series is something to behold. Be it the emotive Cosmic Staff, the chilling villain Icicle, or the stunning action set pieces, it can never be said that Stargirl does not impress on a visual level.

That is not to say that the actual drama and emotional punch found here is lacking in any way, as nothing could be further from the truth. What many comic book-based series fail to do is convey a sense of risk, with the audience generally safe in the knowledge that the hero will triumph in the end and the status quo will be reinstated. Without giving away the plot of the finale, what can be safely revealed is that throughout the series enough tragedies and pitfalls dash the hopes of our young cast of heroes to assure the audiences that the gloves are off and as far as Season Two is concerned, no one is safe.

There is also enough emotional baggage associated with our heroes that you would need S.T.R.I.P.E. itself to carry it all. From dead parents to invasions of privacy to teenage angst, they’ve got it all.

The new crop of Blue Valley JSA heroes do justice to their predecessors

Hourman is haunted by the deaths of his parents, initially thought to have died in a regular car accident. It is revealed throughout the course of the series that the accident was in fact caused by Solomon Grundy on the fateful night which eradicated the original JSA, a revelation which motivates him to take down the ISA. Wildcat regressed from a sociable, straight-A student to a forced recluse at the behest of her parents after intimate pictures of her were leaked by her then-boyfriend’s jealous ex. In one of the series’ many plot conveniences, both of these teenagers are the children of ISA members. Dr. Mid-Nite, meanwhile, is more or less just along for the ride and is enjoying getting to know the AI replica of her predecessor which inhabits her high-tech goggles. Last but not least, Stargirl herself is determined to vanquish the ISA after learning that her father, supposedly the original Starman, was also killed alongside the parents of the new Hourman.

The real superpowers of the Injustice Society of America members are their anti-aging techniques

On the other hand, by comparison the vast majority of the Injustice Society members are disappointingly one-note, with the exception of scene-stealing Icicle and Brainwave who are determined to brainwash the American population and force them to conform to their ideals.

Nevertheless, stereotypical moustache-twirling villains aside, every episode in the series adds another piece to the puzzle that is the mysterious happenings in Blue Valley, with not a minute of screentime wasted. By the time the final confrontations take place in the two-part finale large dollops of vindication and justice are dished out to the audience’s glee, while also laying an intriguing foundation for Season Two.

In conclusion, Stargirl is a wonderful antithesis to the grimdark standard which has been set by other live-action series on DC Universe. Its main star is a delight to watch navigate the superhero realm, her co-stars are suitably fleshed-out and grounded in reality, and the classic superhero action is second to none in the television arena. While some of its villains hold it back from being the perfect series, their comeuppance will have to satisfy audiences for now before the survivors return to plague the JSA next year.

Final Score: 9/10

Doom Patrol: Weight of the Worlds Mini-Series Review

Seven months since its penultimate issue and a cancellation courtesy of DC, the latest Doom Patrol offering from the Young Animal imprint finally delivers a satisfying conclusion.

While unfortunate that fans of the characters had to wait so long for the final issue of this forcefully limited run, it could not have been more timely. Debuting its premiere issue a mere two months after the end of the critically-successful Season One of Doom Patrol on the DC Universe streaming service, this final issue now arrives just a couple of weeks after Season Two splashed onto our screens. Now more than ever, Doom Patrol and the mythos surrounding it is on the tip of everybody’s collective tongue and thankfully the brainchild of Gerard Way and Jeremy Lambert managed to stick the landing.

What makes Doom Patrol so popular amongst its fans is the different approach that the writers take when it comes to crafting superhero characters. They are neither all-powerful like Superman or paragons of virtue like Wonder Woman – in fact, they are more or less a bunch of screw-ups. No one would take ownership of that title as much as Cliff Steele does, played by Brendan Fraser in the television series, who at the beginning of this miniseries finds himself back in a flesh-and-blood body thanks to the events of the preceding run.

Doom Patrol: Weight of the Worlds #1 cover

Unable to reconcile his newly-found humanity with the lack of human connections he has left due to his association with the Doom Patrol, by the end of the first issue Cliff has hurled himself off a cliff in a speeding vehicle in what would be a suicide attempt for anyone else. For the hero known as Robotman, however, it is instead a tragic one-way ticket back into a cold, metal body which is now more familiar to him than the one he was born into. Now inhabiting a much more sophisticated form than he is used to, Cliff is able to receive automatic upgrades depending on how many civilians he helps, resulting in him going off on an obsessive quest to help anyone and everyone that he possibly can like a gamer who just has one more skill tree to complete before maxing out their RPG character.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Doom Patrol such as Rita, Jane, Larry, Flex Mentallo, Casey, et al. are caught up in a series of increasingly unfortunate events as plot threads from previous storylines rear their ugly heads. From a world of spherical creatures ruled by an orb-shaped overlord to a flex-off on a dilapidated beach resort to the confines of Mento’s mind, each and every scenario is wondrously brought to life by the the team of artists who made this miniseries a reality, including but not limited to the much-loved Doc Shaner and Becky Cloonan.

Just one example of Doc Shaner’s work from issue #3

In the end both storylines combine, with a piece of character development for everyone piled on along the way (such as Larry requiring the needs of a service dog), when it is revealed that Cliff is about to turn into DC’s equivalent of Galactus from the Marvel universe by upgrading himself to a planet-sized version of himself. This gargantuan Robotman, corrupted by his own obsession, is hell-bent on cleansing the universe of worlds in need of help and repair rather than undergoing the lengthy and tedious task of helping them.

If this series sounds like your cup of tea, then by all means race down to your nearest comic book store or bookshop and place an order for the trade paperback that is due out in September. Fair warning, however – this miniseries is not catered towards newcomers, and having a knowledge of the previous Doom Patrol series from the Young Animal imprint is a requirement rather than an option. From the very first issue the writers hit the ground running and assume that everyone is already up to date with where all of the characters are both physically and emotionally. Although a handful of footnotes are scattered across the first issue by the editor, these are more of a brief reminder rather than an actual provider of context. With that in mind, this wonderful odyssey through the warped imagination of Gerard Way and Co. is a worthy successor to what came before it provided that you can scramble over that massive hurdle.

Without spoiling the grand finale which has been so long-anticipated, it is safe to say that issue #7 manages to wrap up the sometimes-confusing and often-crazy series of adventures and mishaps in a satisfying way. Without speculating too much, the final page leaves the impression that any future miniseries or extended runs, be they from the current creators or a new team, will serve as a fresh start and a jumping-on point for new fans. Hopefully that comes much sooner than Season Three of the television series.

The brilliant Becky Cloonan made issue #5 sparkle with both scripts and pencils

Doom Patrol: Weight of the Worlds is a delightful reminder of just how much fun comic books can be when you remove any preconceived notions of what a superhero looks like or how they should behave. It stays true to form and pays tribute to what came before while also setting the stage for future stories, however it does this to the detriment of anyone who might have picked up issue #1 off the shelf because they liked watching Brendan Fraser swear through a voice modulator.

Final Score: 8/10

Harley Quinn Season Two Review

After a critically-acclaimed freshman season and the lovable villain now back to the forefront of pop culture thanks to the recent Birds of Prey movie starring Margot Robbie, Harley Quinn unfortunately fails to recapture the magic that made Season One so special.

After the first season of the successful animated series came to a shocking conclusion in February of this year, fans were delighted to discover that they would not have long to wait for more hilariously rude and violent escapades from Dr. Harleen Quinzel – a mere six weeks, in fact. With the Justice League incapacitated, Batman presumed dead and Gotham now in ruins, the scene was set for Season Two to take the metaphorical ball and run with it now that there were no more expectations as to what a ‘Harley Quinn show’ should be about. What unfortunately happened instead is a drawn-out narrative which takes twice the amount of episodes to tell its story than it should have to remain fresh and interesting, while also discarding most of the elements that made Season One so unique and popular in the first place.

The season goes on to spend its front half dealing with the villains who have now divided Gotham up into factions in the absence of any superheroes, while its back half revolves around the burgeoning romance between Harley and Poison Ivy and the unholy alliance which has been struck between Dr. Psycho and Darkseid.

While this all sounds suitably wacky and zany in nature, the show manages to resolve all of these issues with very few long-lasting impressions left on the viewer. Barring a satirical cold open in the Harley-free fifth episode which pokes fun at haters of Star Wars’ The Last Jedi and lovers of Zack Snyder, the second season is for the most part devoid of the key ingredients which made the first so delightful to sit down and watch every Friday.

Part of the charm of Season One was the gang haphazardly working together and gelling as a unit, but now their antics are a rarity rather than a regular feature of each episode. Dr. Psycho takes center stage this season as he returns to his truly supervillainous roots, but of Harley’s five male lackeys he is perhaps the most hated.

By the time this season starts to return to former glory in the last three episodes it is unfortunately too little too late, however, making the majority of the season wholly forgettable. With Season One remaining a hit and Season Two resembling a miss, hopefully a potential Season Three can carry on the momentum of the course-correction we were treated to in recent weeks.

Final Score: 6/10

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