Overview: The Villains of the DC Universe take over in this collection of ten summer themed short stories.
Editor’s Note: Due to the anthology nature of this collection, we will feature a synopsis and analysis for each short story, rather than breaking up the synopsis and analysis. Spoilers are sure to be revealed.
Story #1: “Worst Finest” A Joker/Bizzaro story, Written by Lee Bermejo, Art by Francesco Mattina
Synopsis: A bat silhouetted figure walks on a beach with Jokerized corpses. The figure turns out to be The Joker wearing a green Bat cowl and a long trench coat. The Joker meets with a small bearded henchman dressed like Robin as Bizzaro lands on the street. Twin clown mouthed machine guns pelt Bizarro who talks about “Batman Am Bizarro’s worst friend”. Bizarro follows the Joker to a roller-coaster which is set on fire and blown apart. As the two are surrounded by fire and the hot summer sun, the story ends with the Joker offering Bizarro some kryptonite sunblock.
Analysis: The parallels between this story and the Dark Knight Returns inspired brawl between the title characters in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice are pretty clear. It’s a simple story with a paper-thin premise that doesn’t spend any time giving any context or story behind the Joker and Bizarro. While it’s not a story concerned with … well… plot… its a fun riff on a classic matchup. The highlight of this story is the gorgeous art by Francesco Mattina. Mattina’s art has a beautiful and grotesque quality to it that works especially well in the images of the Joker and his victims on the beach. I also must highlight the colors which do a great job of giving the impression that this fight is taking place on a hot summers day with the sun beating down on the main characters.
Story #2: “Help” A Lex Luthor Story, Written by Jeff Loveness, Art by David Williams
Synopsis: Lex Luthor has a flat tire in the hot sun. A passerby with a Superman tattoo named Kyle stops to help. Lex launches into a tirade about how Superman is an affront to human achievement. Kyle tells a story about running into Superman on a rooftop on a day when Superman was having a bad day, and how Superman pushed through it by focusing on helping others. Kyle fixes Lex’s tire and drives off, explaining that helping him is what Superman would do as Lex scowls at him.
Analysis: Where the last story was all flash and no substance, this story is all character. I enjoy how efficiently the story sums up Lex Luthor’s problem with Superman and how Superman’s effect of inspiring those around him does nothing but irk Lex, even if he is benefiting from that inspiration. I’m not sure I buy that evil super genius Lex Luthor can build an army of Kryptonite laced robots but he would need help to change a tire, but it serves the story well. David Williams art is serviceable but there is a lack of detail that gives it a rushed quality.
Story #3: “Close Shave” A Mr. Freeze Story, Written by Paul Dini, Art by John Paul Leon
Synopsis: Mr. Freeze takes his new giant robot out for a test-drive on a hot summers day when he notices a shaved ice truck using his likeness as a mascot. Freeze hauls up the truck in a tractor beam. The owner of the truck, Regine and her daughter Alexia, try to explain that they needed a mascot and Freeze orders the truck destroyed, thinking that the owners are mocking him. Regine wins Freeze over by speaking about how she would do anything for her family making a peace offering of a guava-flavored shaved ice. Freeze has the truck put back on its corner, destroys a competing truck, and walks off before Batman can arrive.
Analysis: Another classic Paul Dini story that proves again why there’s no one that can compete with his take on Mr. Freeze. I love how his take on a villain that claims to be “dead to emotions” is given a few moments of humanity over the course of this story. it’s a touching and ironically, “warm” story and I enjoyed it. John Paul Lyon’s art compliments the story and does a good job of making a story featuring an office building-sized robot feel appropriately small and keeping the focus on the characters.
Story #4: “False Idols” A Cheetah Story, Written by Vita Ayala, Art by Amancay Nahuelpan
Synopsis: An archeologist named Pallas Soto tracks down Cheetah in a jungle temple and brings a powerful idol and her own severed finger as offerings. Pallas talks about being inspired by stories of Cheetah and enduring the torments of her male counterparts, which culminated in the accident that cost her a finger. It’s the summer solstice when Cheetah’s powers are concentrated, and Pallas asks Cheetah to grant her some of the same power that Cheetah possesses. Cheetah breaks the idol and tells her she is unworthy and Pallas leaves, dejected and vowing to be better than Cheetah. The story then moves to a jungle confrontation between Wonder Woman and Cheetah. As Cheetah is defeated, she reflects that her powers are a curse that she would not wish on anyone else.
Analysis: This story is an enjoyable read but the jump between Pallas’ audience with Cheetah and Cheetah’s confrontation with Wonder Woman is jarring and doesn’t really need to be there. I think it would have made for a stronger story if the focus had been kept on the interaction between Pallas and Cheetah. I think it would have been just as effective to have Cheetah explain to herself in a few caption boxes about how her life is a curse. I get the idea that it is better to show and not tell, but all this story shows me about Cheetah’s curse is that she loses to Wonder Woman a lot, and that doesn’t seem like enough. I did enjoy Amancay Nahuelpan’s art, especially the characters facial expressions and I thought the fight between Cheetah and Wonder Woman was well handled.
Story #5: “Icy Embrace” A Black Manta Story, Written by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko, Art by Gabriel Hardman
Synopsis: A summer expedition on a glacier in Greenland to salvage an old wreck ship is nearing its end thanks to the party’s newest member, Black Manta. Black Manta blasts his way to an old ship trapped in the ice and the expedition descends into the ice looking for treasure. What they find are Deep-Sea Scavenger worms frozen in the ice. Manta leads the team further into the ice and as he blasts through the ice, the Worms wake and start attacking the group. Manta blasts through the worms and the men they are attacking. Manta and the narrator of this tale, Sophie, make their way to a chamber where Manta finds his prize, a mystical dagger made from ice that could bring about an undersea extinction. Manta and Sophie are surrounded by the worms and Manta make the choice to blast to the surface to save Sophie instead of keeping the dagger safe. Manta and Sophie make it to the surface and the dagger melts away to nothing. Manta speaks about having made the wrong choice and walks away.
Analysis: I enjoyed this story but I feel would be better suited as a longer story. There’s no time to spend in setting up Black Manta as a member of this team or forming a bond with Sophie, so when he shows his true colors its not much of a shock. The other issue I have is that Manta’s not really that evil here. He was a jerk about it, but Manta chose to save Sophie. I personally think it would have been a more fitting ending for Manta to leave Sophie trapped in an ice cave surrounded by killer worm creatures. Gabriel Hardman’s art is very fitting for the story with his art feeling cold and rustic.
Story #6: “Giganta Strong” A Giganta Story, Written by Michael Moreci, Art by Max Raynor
Synopsis: Giaganta is driving along a country road after a failed villain team up when unexpectedly finds herself back in her hometown. She makes her way to a county fair where she runs into her high school tormentor, Lou Mantle. Giganta storms off in disgust after finding out that Lou is now a teacher at her high school and then runs across a teenage girl being harassed by a male classmate, who turns out to be Lou’s son. Giganta loses her temper and proceeds to grow and destroy the high school and leaves Lou and her son hanging from a flagpole. The girl tries to thank Giganta who stops her and explains that she isn’t a hero and she’s not sorry for what she’s done as she leaves.
Analysis: There isn’t much to say about this story except that it feels like one that’s been done before. I have a little trouble believing that Giganta would just randomly stumble into her hometown given that its clearly a place of trauma. I think it would have been a better story choice for her to had to return home for some reason such as a high school reunion. Max Raynor’s art has a slight cartoony edge to it that I enjoyed which worked for this story.
Story #7: “Cruel Summer” A Gorilla Grodd Story, Written by Tim Seeley, Art by Minkyu Jung
Synopsis: The story opens with a celebration of the rainy season turning deadly with citizens of Gorilla City lying dead, having been forced into combat courtesy of Gorilla Grodd’s mind powers. Grodd is confronted by the Flash, who askes why he would kill his own kind for thanking the sky for water. As the two fight, the Flash explains that he’s discovered a story of Grodd’s youth, when as a newborn during a drought, Grodd’s mother sacrificed herself and was horribly beaten to death by a pack of gorillas guarding a puddle of water, all to save a handful of water that gave Grodd the strength to survive. Flash tries to find common ground with Grodd, explaining that his mother was also murdered, and Grodd takes advantage of a distracted Flash and stuns him with his mental powers. Grodd prepares to beat the Flash to death but catches an image from the Flash’s childhood of Barry Allen discovering his mother’s lifeless body. Grodd leaves the Flash wounded but alive, explaining that life is harsh and unforgiving, and mercy is far rarer than water.
Analysis: This was a well-written story that makes good use of the limited space that it has to work with. Seeley and Jung manage to convey a great deal of emotion and drama and the flashback to the death of Grodd’s mother feels appropriately brutal. It’s easy to drum up a great deal of sympathy for Grodd and I also like how the story makes clear that Grodd doesn’t see it as a tragic story as it made him into what he is today. This story is a stand out for this book. It’s not an easy feat to distal down who and what a character is into eight pages and the creative team does an effective job of doing just that. Jung’s art does a great job, especially in the flashback, of conveying a hot, oppressive drought which is highlighted by John Kalisz’ work at coloring the book.
Story #8: “Dog Days of Summer” A Deathstroke Story, Written by Shea Fontana, Art by Carlos D’Anda
Synopsis: A muzzle flash goes off in a small beach house on a summer night, and as Deathstroke leaves the site of his latest job, a young girl named Katie looks on from nearby. The next day, Slade Wilson is visited by Katie, who wants to hire Wilson to kill her abusive stepdad, offering to pay him ten thousand dollars in cash. Katie takes Deathstroke to her home to point out her stepdad, saying that she wants to be the one to pull the trigger. Deathstroke abducts the stepdad and takes him to a closed drive-in, where he gives Katie an unloaded gun, thinking that she will get cold feet and back down. What Deathstroke doesn’t know is that the “stepdad” is really the little girl’s neighbor that is responsible for the girl’s lost dog. Deathstroke doesn’t realize his mistake until its too late, with Katie pocketing a single bullet that she puts in the chamber of the pistol and proceeds to shoot her neighbor in the head. Katie tells Deathstroke he can keep the money, which as it turns out was really the dead man’s savings and the two part ways.
Analysis: What I liked about this story is that when Deathstroke discovers that he has been played, he isn’t upset about it Nor does he seem to be shocked that Katie is a cold-blooded killer. Deathstroke is a character that doesn’t get one put over on him very often and I like that he seems to be amused and respect that Katie managed to manipulate him into helping her and seems to recognize her as a fellow predator. The art by Carlos D’Anda is well done. I’ve enjoyed D’Anda’s art since the Batman: Arkham Asylum days in 2009 and it’s nice to see him show up here. It’s also a story where the use of color, in this case by Luis Guerrero, do a good job of conveying a sense of a hot summers’ day throughout the story.
Story #9: “The Perfect Gentleman: A Summer Flashback Story” A Penguin Story, Written by Daniel Kibblesmith, Art by Laura Braga
Synopsis: In a story from Penguin’s teen years, Oswald Cobblepot looks on from under an umbrella on the beach while a debutant, Veronica Vreeland walks along the beach in the arms of another man. Oswald is approached by Tony, a former classmate who now makes a living as a personal trainer. Tony offers to train Oswald and the two strike up a friendship. Tony and Oswald have a falling out when Tony points out that Oswald has never actually talked to Veronica, which angers Oswald. Things get worse when he sees Tony being invited inside Veronica’s home, which leads him to fly into a jealous rage and kills Tony with a flame-throwing umbrella. At Tony’s funeral, Oswald tries to move in on Veronica, who slaps Oswalt and tells him that Tony had come to her house to try to convince her to give Oswald a shot, leaving the future Penguin fuming.
Analysis: I enjoyed the call backs to the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Birds of a Feather” which was another story about the Penguin and Veronica Vreeland. I also like that the story doesn’t try to give the Penguin a sympathetic back story and makes it clear that regardless of what he looks like, that where he is ugliest is on the inside. Now I know this is the Penguin and all… but why the trick umbrella. He’s not the Penguin yet, so for him to be carrying around a deadly umbrella feels a little silly. It would have been a better fit for Oswald to beat Tony to death with a regular umbrella if they had to keep this act of murder on brand.
Story #10: “Independence” A Crime Syndicate Story, Written by Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing, Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli
Synopsis: The story opens with Owlman having a cigarette after a bout of presumedly rough sex with Superwoman. Superwoman gives Owlman a cigarette and Owlman’s inner monologue describes that as the moment where Superwoman kills him. Owlman then looks as the two join the Crime Syndicates’ Fourth of July celebration. Superwoman proceeds to attempt a coup and seize control of the Crime Syndicate. She spikes Power Rings drink, Johnny Quick’s phone, and Owlman’s cigarette with Nth Metal, causing them to all be paralyzed and under her control. Ultraman is undone by an enchanted throne. Superwoman’s victory is cut short when Owlman is revealed to be a robot, with the real Owlman crashing into the room through a window as Superwoman collapses, her body failing due to being infected by nanites. Owlman forces the Syndicate to kneel at his feet, as he sits on the throne.
Analysis: I enjoy any return to Earth-3 to check in on what the Crime Syndicate is up to. I’ve always appreciated how deliciously evil the group is, particularly Owlman, and its fun to see them all show up in this book. I like how they are a group of morally bankrupt characters that are always a step away from stabbing each other in the back and this issue is a prime example of that. The only issue I have is from the way the story is structured, it seems clear that not only is Superwoman up to something, the story also makes it clear that Owlman is one step ahead of her. While this is appropriate for the character, I do feel that it telegraphs the ending and I think the story would have been better served to not have Owlman handling the narration. I like Camuncoli’s art in this story, which does a good job of juggling the large cast of characters the story demands.
Final Thoughts: This was an enjoyable anthology special featuring some strong short stories. The standouts for me were the Mr. Freeze and Gorilla Grodd stories, but the whole book from start to finish was entertaining. This is a worthwhile read for a summer afternoon.