Detective Comics #18
Story: John Layman
Art: Jason Fabok/ Henrik Jonnson
Since John Layman took over Detective Comics, it has quickly risen to be one of the best Bat family titles on the stands, probably second only to Batman itself. After a brief diversion into "Death of the Family," despite using the crossover to forward some of the plot threads already established in the book, this issue returns the Emperor Penguin story to center stage. Having been released after his abduction by Joker, Penguin finds that his major domo, Ignatius Ogilvy, has taken over his empire and has styled himself Emperor Penguin. Layman has done a great job of really developing Penguin, a character who appeared as nothing more than a plot device for much of the early New 52. You almost feel sympathy for him when you see how Ogilvy has destroyed much of what he has tried to do to benefit Gotham, even if it was for his own self-aggrandizement. Meanwhile, Batman is hunting Zsasz, the homicidal slasher, who escaped Arkham during Joker's reign of terror. Zsasz is a favorite villain of mine, (his earliest appearance in Alan Grant's "The Last Arkham" is an excellent story) but one I feel isn't aways quite gotten right. Layman's take, while not initially as clever as the original Grant version, has the motivation right, the air of madness and belief that all people are mindless zombies that need to be freed of this existence. The backup story features Zsasz, and details his escape from Arkham and what his connection is to Ogilvy, which makes sense of why Zsasz, who tends to work alone, is working with Ogilvy, and ties nicely in with his origin, which has always had ties with Penguin. The issues does also feature a small tie in to the death of Robin, with Bruce visiting Damian's grave, and even tying back to a scene in an earlier issue. Layman has a lot of balls in the air, and keeps the flying nicely. He makes you want to know where Ogilvy's schemes are going, and I'm hoping for some payoff in next issue, the comic that would have been Detective Comics #900 if the renumbering hadn't occurred.
Hellboy in Hell #4
Story & Art: Mike Mignola
This issue concludes the first arc of Hellboy in Hell, and answers some questions about this new world that Hellboy inhabits. I don't think the fact that Hellboy's mysterious guide through Hell is Sir Edward Grey, the Witchfinder, is particularly shocking to anyone versed in the world that Mike Mignola created, but Mignola's tale of how Grey wound up in Hell is excellent. He and Hellboy's discussion about Hellboy's fate and the nature of freedom takes up one of the central themes of the Hellboy series, the question of Hellboy being able to make his own fate. While the mystery of when and how Hellboy killed Satan, and his memory of it, is glossed over, with Grey telling Hellboy some things are better not remembered, I believe there will be more to this down the line. In the end, Hellboy wanders through the abandoned Hell, feeling free, despite the quiet revelation by Grey that his freedom is not exactly what he thinks it is. Mignola's art is as stunning as ever; nobody draws Hellboy like his creator. The reveal of the form that Edward Grey is in sent a shiver down my spine, done in a perfect horror story manner. Mignola's return to writing and drawing Hellboy has just begun, and if you haven't given it a try yet, it's not too late to catch up. Trust me, it's worth it.
Swamp Thing #18
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Yanick Paquette
Scott Snyder wraps up his run on Swamp Thing with an issue that also wraps up the "Rotworld" event that tied Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Frankenstein together. While a good portion of the issue is the final battle between Swamp Thing and his archnemesis, the avatar of the Rot, Anton Arcane (or as much of a final battle as any superhero has against his archnemesis, especially one who has a history of cheating death like Arcane does), the highlight of the issue is the emotional side of the story. The farewell between Swamp Thing and his one true love, Abigail Arcane, niece of his nemesis, is stirring and beautifully executed. Snyder has been dealing with issues of choice since his run on the series began, choice and denying or excepting your destiny, and with this issue, both Alec Holland, the Swamp Thing, and Abigail Arcane accept their fate. Swamp Thing finally seems at piece with his place in the world in with The Green, the force of nature and plantlife, and Snyder leaves him in a place of peace that he has not been in for many years. Yanick Paquette returns for this final issue, and his work is at its best. His design for Abigail's new form, as well as his vision of the different incarnations of Arcane are stunning, but it's the beauty of the Swamp Thing's vision at the end, of the Parliament of Trees and his final conversation with Abigail that stir real emotion. The new creative team on this book will have a lot to live up to after a finale as grand as this one.