A lot of people ask me how I pick which comics to read among the crowded racks. How do you know what stories to read? How do you know if you’re going to like it? What I usually tell them is it’s all in the rouges. The villain in a comic book is the story, they make the hero. The main character will always be there, embedded in each story, but the villain leaves the lasting impression. As much as we all like to root for our favorite hero, it’s the villain that draws us in.
This month DC is dedicating its entire library and its first major event to the villains. When I heard DC was doing this I counted down the days till we got our first issues and it’s finally here. To celebrate this occasion and to try and show you what I love most about comics, I will be doing weekly mini reviews for selected DC Villains’ Month titles. This week we have Batman #23.2 (Riddler), Action Comics #23.2 (Zod) and Superman #23.2 (Brainiac)
Batman #23.2 (Riddler)
Story By: Scott Synder and Ray Fawkes
Written By: Ray Fawkes
Art By: Jeremy Haun
When talking about villains you would be hard pressed not mention Batman’s rogues gallery. With the likes of the Joker, Penguin, Bane and Catwoman, Batman’s rogues have penetrated pop culture more than most. This week we were given a book staring my favorite Batman bad guy, Edward Nigma: The Riddler. I know it’s a strange choice but Nigma has always intrigued me more than any other rogue. I think I have such an infatuation with him because he is everything that I could never be; super smart, tediously organized, stylish, and in it just for the thrill of the game. Snyder and Fawkes display these traits masterfully in this special issue.
I will admit this review may be a little biased because of my love for the character but I really enjoyed this peak into the psyche of one of my Batman’s more famous villains. Nigma’s narration is the star of this book as he explains his plan through entertaining riddles and plots out each scenario before it happens. Through his narration we see just what makes this man so special, his intellect. The most enjoyable part of this book is seeing The Riddler’s expert planning play out to perfection. Watching him be the dungeon master in his own twisted game is truly entertaining. He is the best at what he does and I can’t get enough.
Haun’s art is serviceable but nothing special as it looks like he is just trying to be consistent with Greg Cappullo’s art whom is the regular artist on series. Although the art isn’t a standout, I do love Haun’s character design of the Riddler. Seeing him in the classic bowler hat and green suit really takes me back to my favorite animated series episodes starring Nigma. It’s my favorite costume of any comic character and I just love seeing it on the page.
The highlight of this book is Fawke’s portrayal of the titular character. Fawke helps you to understand the Riddler, his motivations and why he would go through so much planning and risk just to say he won. He is a troubled sociopath with a gamers’ heart. Fawke shows us he is as smart as the world’s greatest detective and it’s extremely entertaining. The Riddler is the ultimate gamer, a man in love with the challenge more than the goal and that’s what makes him so dangerous and special.
Action Comics #23.2 (Zod)
Written By: Greg Pak
Art Bu: Ken Lashley
If you are a Superman fan then you are more than likely familiar with General Zod. The Man of Steel’s ultimate foil, Zod is motivated by his sense of duty and the return to tradition. Zod’s only goal is to conquer, he is a military mastermind driven mad in the search for power. Zod is a great villain for Superman because he shows us what could happen if Big Blue lost control and used his powers against those he would protect. He is Superman gone Mad.
In Action Comics #23.2 (Zod) we are given a small glimpse into the past of Zod and what it took to create such an unstoppable force. Greg Pak introduces us to Zod as a child showing that his motivations and training started at a very early age. We are then thrust into the life changing moment that would turn Zod from respected General to exiled traitor. Pak’s story is fun, action packed and full of Kryptonian Sci-fi. We see what life was like for the wannabe dictator and watch as he grows his rebellion and sets out to take over his homeland.
I enjoyed this story because I enjoy Zod but without all of my previous knowledge I feel like I may have been a bit lost and confused because it does require some familiarity with DC history. This maybe a turn off for new readers but if you seen Superman 2 or Man of Steel you should be able to follow along just fine. The story is really nothing extraordinary and basically touches on what we already know but it is nice to see it from the point of view of Zod rather than his accusers. Pak really knows the character and it shows through the narration, Zod is a self described monster and we see that in full force. He is extremely motivated and even after being exiled to the Phantom Zone he is still a looming threat.
What I love most about this book is the art. It’s colorful, bright, action packed and full of exposition. Without the art this book would be lost and the writing would have suffered from lack of depth and follow through. The art sells the story and I couldn’t recommend this book without it. The layout’s and splash pages are magnificent, full of detail but not too cluttered. The action flows seamlessly from panel to panel and I never felt lost of confused by what was happening. My favorite page has to be the final panel teasing the eventual clash of Zod and Superman it’s a beautiful display of things to come.
Zod offers us another glimpse at the mad General’s fall from grace but I feel like the movies did it better. If you’re looking for some great Zod action I would recommend Superman 2 or Man of Steel, but if you want to get a little deeper into Kryptonian mythos and want to see some really fantastic art then this is the villain’s book for you.
Superman #23.2 (Brainiac)
Written By: Tony Bedard
Whenever I have a conversation about villains I always try to include Brainiac. I find him so interesting; a collector of worlds motivated by preservation of information and culture he is the ultimate comic book nerd. Brainiac is also something very real and tangible in our world as the internet basically serves the same purpose but without the world wide annihilation. He is so simple yet so dangerous, a entity who thinks he is saving the universe but only contributing to its eventual plummet into lifelessness.
Superman #23.2 is a true origin of Brainiac, showing us the beginnings of the world collector, we see a man of science driven to save his doomed world and other’s from the same fate. Bedard does something different hear and tries to humanize the normally very robotic and cold Brainiac. He diverts his motivations from pure collector to universal savior, it’s a different direction for the character and in my opinion it works extremely well. Bedard shows us that even the most cold and calculated villains still have a sliver of humanity. Here Brainiac’s reasoning is hard to argue as Bedard makes his villainy seem righteous and necessary. Bedard makes you feel that without Brainiac all would be lost. There is even a moment when he encounters Krypton and thinks he can finally give up his collection. It’s intriguing and offers a great “what if” scenario.
Bedard story is fantastic and Alixe’s art is right on par. The pencil’s are gallery worthy as each page is wonderfully drawn and laid out. In fact my only complaint with the entire book is that the coloring can sometimes interfere and cause images to be a little blurry. A page of note is that displaying all the versions of Brainiac, it’s disturbingly beautiful and would make a great poster on any wall. Out of all the books this week, Action Comics #23.2 is my favorite and the one I would recommend most. This book is really a great introduction and something I would recommend to old and new readers. Origins like this are important because they help develop a character that normally can come across very linear.
Bedard does such a great job at introducing you to Brainiac and making you sympathize with his cause that I am now somehow rooting for him. Any collector will understand and feel for Brainiac so it’s easy to see why I would happily bow down should the world collector ever arrive.