(All Star) Section 8 #1
Story: Garth Ennis
Art: John McCrea
Garth Ennis hates superheroes. If you've ever read his Marvel Knight Punisher, Hitman, and especially The Boys, this shouldn't surprise you. So it was surprising to see DC give him a shot to resurrect his team, Section 8, from the pages of Hitman. These are superheroes so bad and creepy they make the Inferior Five and the Great Lakes Avengers look like the JLA or the Avengers. And it's not a comic for everyone. If last week's Bizarro and Bat-Mite were all ages, comic, this one is the opposite. It's dark, biting, and it's sense of humor runs to, well, the kind of humor Garth Ennis comic usually have, with bodily fluids flying. But if you like Garth Ennis deconstructing super heroes, this is right in line with what you expect. We see what happened to Six Pack, the drunkest hero ever, after the end of Hitman (Ennis seems to be ignoring any and all reboots so that the events of Hitman still occurred). And after an accident returns his memories, he goes about reassembling his team, despite six of the remaining seven members being dead. The new Section 8 might even be weirder than the previous, with new members like Guts, who seems to be just guts, and Powertool, as well as a new version of Dogwelder (his name says it all), and Bueno Excellente, the less said about on a family friendly blog the better. With seven members in place, Six Pack needs to find an eighth, and so when the Batmobile stops outside, he decides to recruit Batman. And as you might imagine, Batman isn't even noticing. What does happen, in a montage featuring art homages from Batman through the ages, is Batman gets a parking ticket, and winds up saying something that makes him look like a pretty big racist. Whether this is a specific shot at Batman as the ultimate example of the white man as superhero, or just something Ennis thought would be funny, I'm not sure, but it works. All Star Section 8 isn't going to be for everyone, but it's definitely right in line with the wackier issues of Hitman, with Garth Ennis writing at his broadest, and is enjoyable for that if nothing else.
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo
The new era of Batman begins, and if this issue is any indication, it will be a good era for as long as it lasts (anyone really think Bruce won't be back?). I'm going to be be pretty open about the new Batman's identity, since it's been common knowledge since Free Comic Book Day. Jim Gordon makes his debut as Batman this issue (well, this issue or this week's issue of Detective Comics or Batman/Superman, depending on which order you read them, though I'd suggest reading this one first), and the issue moves back and forth through time, watching Gordon both in action as Batman and seeing how he came to the decision to become the new Batman. We see both Geri Powers, CEO of Powers Industries (an ominous name if you're at all familiar with Batman Beyond), working to convince Gordon, while Harvey Bullock tries to talk him out of it. Snyder has a great feel for Gordon, and has since "The Black Mirror," his run on Detective Comics, and so if anyone is going to really hit it out of the park with Gordon as Batman, it's going to be Snyder. The issue serves to really set the status quo, about how Batman now relates to the GCPD, and exactly what Gordon's support structure is. We meet his two tech and tactical helpers, Daryl Gutierrez on tech and Julia "Perry" on tactical, If you read Batman: Eternal or "Endgame," you know that last name is a pseudonym, and it's smart that the old Bat allies now have an inside woman. The actual case involves a giant energy being wreaking havoc on Gotham's Little Cuba. It not only allows Gordon to show off the power of his new robo suit, but it also allows him to use his cop brain to figure out exactly what's going on. It was a good choice of case, allowing the reader to really see everything that Jim can do. Aside from all that, there are a couple nice fan moments in the issue. A demonstration of the Bat armor's ability to shift color is a great moment for anyone who knows his Batman history, seeing different eras represented in those color schemes. There is an acknowledgement of how bunny-like the armor looks, and I wonder if that was written when the armor was created, or since there was so much time, if ti was inserted to point out to fans that they are heard. I also rather liked Gordon's under armor costume; it looks like one of the better action figure Batman variants we get in all sorts of toy lines. The first and last page each give hints at upcoming stories in the book, the first discussing new elements discovered that exist under Gotham for only moments, and the last that may feature the return of a character thought dead. Snyder knows how to structure a story, and so I'm counting on these hints paying out over the next few issues in exciting ways. Batman might be dead for now, but this new Batman is worth watching.
Gotham Academy #7
Story: Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher
Art: Mingjue Helen Chen
On the other end of the Bat title spectrum form the much changed Batman is Gotham Academy, which picks up right where it left off and doesn't miss a beat. This issue is a fun one-off, narrated by the super excited Maps Mizoguchi. Maps has been the sidekick/best friend of series lead Olive Silverlock, but Olive is away this issue, so it's Maps's time to shine, hanging out with new student Damian Wayne. But this is Gotham Academy, so it's not like it's going to be a simple event. No, Maps finds out the quill pen she took from the headmaster's office in issue five has magical properties (I love how such a little moment comes back around to pay off). And of course, by writing her name next to Damian's in her journal, she has bound them together. Literally. Maps and Damian spend most of the issue holding hands and unable to let go. It's adorable, especially when you contrast the hyper-bubbly Maps with the hyper-grumpy Damian. It's a great odd couple dynamic, and I wish we could have gotten more of it. It's unsurprising, since Damian's new title has him travelling the world, that he wasn't going to be sticking around, but I wish we could have seen more. The plot of the issue revolves around Damian and Maps attempting to get the quill back from a raven that stole it to undo the curse, all the while being attacked by Maps's friends who seem to be possessed. Along the way they encounter Professor MacPherson, the friendly history teacher, who recounts a story of Batman in Scotland that I thought was a summary of Alan Grant and Frank Quitely's one-shot The Scottish Connection, although I wasn't able to dig up my copy to confirm, and is in fact World's Finest #225, which I now have to track down (thanks to Brendan Fletcher for the correction). I love Cloonan and Fletcher's handle on Batman history, using things like that one shot and cameos from different eras to make this book feel like a natural fit to the universe. Another of those cameo characters, Bookworm, pops up again as the English teacher, and he clearly knows more about what's going on than a normal teacher would. I also absolutely love how Maps swoons over every gadget Damian happens to have, from his grappling gun to a Batarang; she has quickly become my favorite character in the book. In the end., Damian leaves, but only after doing something noble to help Maps, which is in character for the evolved Damian. Oh, and on a sidenote, how has there never been a Batman villain themed around The Raven? It seems such a natural fit. Food for thought, creators.
Harrow County #2
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Tyler Crook
Harow County #1 came out on one of those weeks I wasn't able to get reviews up, which is a shame, since it was a great first issue, but I'm looking to remedy that omission with this review of issue two. A downhome horror comic, Harrow County stars Emmy, a young girl who just turned eighteen, and lives out on a farm with her father. But there are spooky things in the woods around her house, as evidenced in this issue by Emmy walking out of the woods with a human skin with no body. She realizes that it's a "haint" an object that is possessed by a spirit, one that might have lived, might be alive, or never lived in any way we understand. Emmy is curious about the haint, so folds it and hides it in her bedroom. The haint is possibly the thing that saves her as it awakens her as the locals, including her father, gather at the withered hanging tree near her house to discuss things in the dead of night, and Emmy gets a vision of what was in the tree, and knows to flee before the townsfolk come for her. As she runs into the woods, she encounters her friend Bernice, who had come to try to save Emmy, and they wind up wandering into an ancient potter's field, where things only get worse. This is far from Cullen Bunn's first touch of horror, as his weird Western, The Sixth Gun, and his viking monster comic, Helheim, both are more than tinged with horror and monsters. But this is deep dive into atmosphere, which is the thing that makes for really good horror in my opinion. The dialogue and narration is ominous, and contrasts nicely with how innocent and sheltered Emmy is. And this atmosphere could not be better fostered by Tyler Crook, who has officially ascended into the elite list of artists I will follow wherever they go. From the high concept, bigger than life horror of B.P.R.D. to this more domestic horror, Crook knows how to lay out of panel and page that ratchets up the tension in a horror comic. Add in a couple text pages about a ghost story Bunn's father told him as a kid and a one page story of another horror in Harrow County, and you have my favorite horror ongoing of the year hands down. I try not to compliment a comic be referencing another, but if you're missing Scott Snyder and Jock's Wytches while it's on hiatus, Harrow County is the perfect comic to keep you up at night.
Story: Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti
Art: Emanuela Lupacchino
Starfire is a hard character to write, I think. Otherwise, we wouldn't get so many wildly divergent versions of the character. This new ongoing takes Starfire and drops her in a new setting with a new cast, and writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti set about using the same whimsical style they used on Harley Quinn in her title to give us a different Starfire than the one in the early New 52 books, and it's one I have already fallen in love with. It's actually similar to the Teen Titans animated version, this naive alien princess on a strange world, with a bit of a temper and a big heart. Deciding to live in Key West, Kori is shown around by local sheriff Stella Gomez, who serves as a reader proxy in getting to know her. We get commentary on Kori's... unique fashion sense, we see that she doesn't exactly get human language, in the sense that nuance and sarcasm are lost on her. We also see just how much Kori empathizes with others, as she cries when Stella mentions her beloved grandmother who had died. I'm sure this Starfire has the same warrior's heart she always has, but it's nice that she also has such warmth within. The issue also introduces Stella's brother, Sol, in mourning for the love of his life who he lost in a storm two years prior, Boone, the handyman of the trailer park where Kori is renting a trailer as temporary lodging, Boone's grandmother, who runs the trailer park, and Burtie, grandma's pet parakeet. One of the standout aspects of Harley Quinn is it's unusual and well developed supporting cast, and it's nice to see a similar cast, if not one as actively bizarre, being built here. Another charming aspect of the issue is the thought bubbles that Kori has. They're little images that pop up, usually demonstrating a literal interpretation of human slang; three big ones is three elephant, horny as an alley cat is a literal horned cat. It reminds me of early issues of Impulse from the 90s, where a similar trope was used, and it still works today. Other than breaking up a bar fight that broke out between two jerks who were both coming on to her, there's no violence or action in the issue, which is a good choice, allowing the story to stay character focused. I was also very happy to see that, while Conner and Palmiotti are up front about Kori's nature as a physical being who enjoys touching and being touched, they do it without making her either overly-promiscuous or slut-shaming her, which isn't unexpected if you've read Harley's title (the new issue of which, by the way, came out this week as well and was also excellent). Add in stunning art from Emanuela Lupacchino that finds a way to make Kori look gorgeous but not oversexed, and you have a fun book that is great for fans of Starfire and the Teen Titans in any of their incarnations.