With Barbara Gordon reclaiming the Batgirl mantle as part of the DC relaunch, Stephanie Brown’s fate in the DCnU remains unknown, along with that of current Batgirl writer Bryan Q. Miller. Batgirl #24 (DC) is the bittersweet finale to Miller’s exceptional run on the title, concluding the dangling plotlines from the last two years while giving readers a look at what could have been.
Stephanie shares the last scene with once and future Batgirl Barbara Gordon, who reaffirms her pride in Stephanie and asks her what she saw under the Black Mercy’s fantasy-inducing influence. A series of stirring splash pages by artist Pere Pérez gives life to the exciting stories that will never happen, beginning with a gorgeous art nouveau-inspired image of Batgirl’s core cast. A superheroine team-up in a fairy-tale world, Stephanie, Damien Wayne, and Barbara wielding Lantern rings, and an attack on the Gotham University commencement ceremony by the Royal Flush gang are just a few of the scenarios that will make readers curse DC for cutting Miller’s run short.
The final two splashes show a future Stephanie balancing motherhood with her superhero life, giving her the happy ending that will never come to fruition. A few of DC’s writers decided to go the meta route for their series’ finales, but Miller closes the book on an inspirational note, with Stephanie ensuring her loyal audience that this is far from the end for her. “It’s only the end if you want it to be,” Stephanie says, shooting her grappling hook at the Gotham skyline. “Here we go.” As she swings into a serendipitously purple sunrise, Stephanie embraces her uncertain future with a smile and optimism that will be sorely missed in the DC relaunch.
The “Spider-Island” prelude in #666 is what Marvel’s “Point One” issues should be: a primer to the multiple storylines Slott developed over the last year that doesn’t just catch readers up to speed, but lays down plot points to be expanded over the course of the event. Secret-identity intrigue, girl troubles, a poker game at the Thing’s place: This book has everything a Spider-fan could want. The subsequent issues dive deeper into the “Spider-Island” story, as Peter’s girlfriend reveals her powers to him while the Jackal begins the next phase of his evil plot. Giving the gangsters of New York a warehouse supply of Spider-Man costumes, he tells them to run wild, gaining the Avengers’ attention when a riot breaks out in Bryant Park.
In Stefano Caselli and Humberto Ramos, Slott has found two artists whose respective strengths complement each other perfectly. While Caselli has more control over the more nuanced, emotional storytelling, Ramos can draw a kinetic fight scene like few in the business. Caselli is no slouch in the action department, either, as shown by a spectacular two-page spread of Spider-Man training with Madame Web. The characters move up the walls and across the page, with Caselli creating a complex series of movements in one static image. Ramos can be sloppy sometimes, but his pencils in #667 are clean and confident. The cartoonish exaggeration of his characters works for Spider-Man’s cast, and it brings a heightened sense of energy to the action. Slott and his team have set a high bar for themselves, and with future developments including Mary Jane and J. Jonah Jameson gaining spider-powers, it looks like “Spider-Island” has no intention slowing down.
Since the announcement that Bane would be the main villain of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, the character has taken a prominent role in the series, and his final act as team leader is orchestrating the murders of various Bat-family members in the hopes of crushing the Caped Crusader psychologically. When the Penguin betrays them, the Secret Six make their last stand, hopped up on Bane’s venom for a fight they’ll never win. Interspersed throughout are interludes dealing with Bane’s new romance, Catman and Deadshot’s feelings for each other, and Scandal Savage’s love triangle with cosplaying stripper Liana and newly revived Female Fury Knockout. The interludes keep the focus on the character relationships that have anchored the title, and seeing the characters get their “happy” endings adds to the book’s bitter conclusion. Heroes win, villains lose, and the Secret Six made their choice.
J. Calafiore isn’t the flashiest artist, but he’s been consistently strong on this title, impressively balancing the action, drama, and humor of Simone’s scripts. He draws a huge cast of characters this issue, and he takes no shortcuts in rendering the group sequences, giving each character equal attention regardless of where they are on the page. This book has been a labor of love for Simone and Calafiore, and it’s comforting to know that the characters are going out the way they lived, bloodthirsty and bound in brotherhood. Simone’s thank-you to her characters and loyal audience for indulging her sadism comes just before the team charges into battle: As he hands them all vials of venom, Bane tells his team, “It’s been an honor to fight and kill with you.” The honor was all ours.
The true star of Mystic is penciler David López, who turns in the best work of his career with his impeccably detailed renderings of Hyperion and its inhabitants. Channeling Jim Bluth, López gives the book a look reminiscent of cel animation, and the panels in Mystic #1 could easily be used as storyboards for a film. His control of facial expressions and body language brings the characters into reality, giving them distinct personalities even if they don’t speak. López’s storytelling is so strong that the words could be taken off the page and the main beats of Wilson’s plot would still be explicit. Nathan Fairbairn’s lush coloring completes the package, using a bright palette that contributes to the book’s Disney feel. It’s unfortunate that Mystic is only a four-issue miniseries, because the creative team on this book has crafted a modern fairy tale that would be joy to visit on an ongoing basis.
The first issue devotes a backup story to Detective Bolt’s history with the Punisher, making the lead story feel a bit slight, but the second issue brings the emotional weight that Rucka’s stories are known for. When Rachel wakes up from her coma, the slow return of her memories triggers a wave of raging anguish depicted on a page of four silent panels, her pain too deep for words. Marco Checchetto’s artwork is surprisingly clean for Rucka’s gritty story, and he could use an inker to give his pencils stronger definition. His art looks best in heavy shadows, and luckily, the Punisher tends to strike in darkness, creating arresting visuals for the shootout sequences. Checchetto’s Punisher is more studly than recent depictions, and hopefully the title character’s appearance will begin to reflect his emotional life as Checchetto and Rucka get more comfortable on the title.
Hickman’s shorts are full of the big ideas he’s known for, but the brevity of the stories prevents him from getting as in-depth as he would otherwise. Spencer’s contributions are almost exclusively dialogue, but he has the talent to turn two characters sitting at a table into an intense power play. Fallout does exactly what it set out to do, building the foundation for future stories, but the format limits what the writers are able to achieve. In spite of the book’s occasional missteps, an all-star list of artistic talent ups the quality of the stories, with Ultimate mainstays Bryan Hitch and Mark Bagley turning in what could potentially be their final work with these characters.
The big event of Ultimate Fallout is the controversial debut of new, multi-ethnic Spider-Man Miles Morales, who has the same fun-loving spirit and social awkwardness that made Peter Parker such an endearing character. Marvel’s decision to have one of their flagship characters reflect the diversity of their readership is an admirable move, and it creates the potential for truly progressive stories with one of the company’s most recognizable faces.
Rios uses the characters’ individual powers as a visual guide, creating gorgeous splash pages that fluidly explore the relationship between light and dark on the page. There’s a constant sense of motion in Rios’ art, but the focus and sophistication of her draftsmanship prevents the layouts from being chaotic. She cleverly incorporates Cloak’s garment into the art throughout the issue, beginning with a three-page history of the characters depicted on the sweeping waves of the cloak. As the story moves to the present, the cloak lifts over the final panel like the curtain before a show.
When Dagger leaves the Bryant Park spider-riot to make it to class, another dramatic splash page captures the characters’ conflicting situations with a yin-yang pattern. The pandemonium of Cloak’s battle with the spider-powered criminals of New York borders the page as Dagger’s walk to class is shown in the center spread, a remarkable depiction of the chaos of their current situation and the order that Dagger’s schooling brings to her life.
Finally, check back next Friday, and each Friday thereafter for a while, as we look at all 52 new titles from the rebooted DC Universe.