Overview: The DC Universe celebrates both summer and pets as this special tells eight animal-themed stories featuring a cast of DC’s animal characters.
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: Krypto and Superman in “The Crucible” by writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing and artist Cully Hamner
Synopsis: A cosmic, clockwork device called the “Crucible of the Benevolent Cosmos” arrives in the sky above the Daily Planet as Superman and Krypto rush out to meet it. The Crucible projects images of Brainiac, Mongul, and flying sharks, which Superman figures out are illusions and presses forwarded. Superman is attacked by Nova beams; which Krypto disarms as Superman draws their fire. Superman and Krypto are then confronted by alternate versions of themselves and their darkest fears, which they ignore and press onwards. Superman and Krypto then find a kryptonite core at the heart of the Crucible, with Krypto ignoring Superman’s orders to leave him and the two lay down together to face death. At this point, the Crucible deactivates the kryptonite and tells Superman that his world has been spared as Superman and Krypto have passed the Crucible’s test by displaying a bond between species.
Analysis: This story by writers Colin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing is serviceable enough to get the point across about the bond between (Super)man and dog and as a dog owner, its hard to not find the ending a little heartwarming, but the overall premise is a little silly and the majority of the challenges that they have to face before they make it to the kryptonite seem disjointed and seem like the writers trying to fill up the page count. Cully Hamner’s art felt a little unpolished, but I did enjoy the unspooling clockwork look to the Crucible that opened up the story.
Story #2: Killer Croc in “Citizen Croc” by writer Joshua Williamson and artist Kyle Hotz
Synopsis: Batman is at Arkham Asylum investigating an apparent breakout and after speaking with a wounded guard the story moves to Tampa, Florida. Killer Croc is hiding out on a boat tour before diving into the swamp. Croc soon senses that Batman has entered the swamp looking for him as Croc comes across a cabin. A smaller “Reptile Boy” in a hoodie named “Gator” appears and after Croc disarms his shotgun, Croc confronts Gator for killing a police officer. Gator admits to the crime and asks if this means that that Croc will be taking him back to Gotham. The story then flashes back to a time when Croc was a crime kingpin and how he tried to give Gator a life away from crime, sending him to Atlanta, and how Gator’s shot at a better life was Croc’s peace. Gator declares that he is going to be a bigger, worse criminal and as Batman closes in on the pair, Croc offers to help Gator escape. Batman finds Croc alone, with Croc offering no fight, stating that he only came to help an old friend find peace. The story ends with a crocodile swimming passed the tattered remains of Gator’s hoodie.
Analysis: This was a tight, well-written story and one of the more interesting uses of Killer Croc in a story in years. I’ve never been a big fan of the more feral version of Killer Croc and I think this more nuanced version is far more interesting. There is something very tragic about this version of Killer Croc and I liked the twisted sense of responsibility that Croc feels towards Gator. I do wish that they had made it a little clearer as to what exactly was the relationship between Croc and Gator. They don’t come out and say it, but one would assume that there is some sort of family relationship between the two characters and I found it a little distracting that they don’t address it. The art by Kyle Hotz is a standout and matches the story nicely. There is a Kelly Jones quality to Hotz’s work here that I’d like to see more of in Batman’s world.
Story #3: Ferdinand in “Barbecue Season” by writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Stjepan Sejic
Synopsis: The Justice League enjoys a summer cookout at Happy Harbour with Ferdinand the Minotaur working the grill, only to be wracked with feelings of betraying his own kind by serving up beef products. Ferdinand declares to Wonder Woman that he will find a solution to his moral dilemma with serving meat to the Justice League without resorting to vegetarianism. Ferdinand tracks down a scientist who is working on a process to grow meat in a lab, which leads to a horrible cow abomination being unleashed, which is taken down promptly by Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman and Ferdinand share a moment where Wonder Woman teaches Ferdinand about the value of asking for help, and the two leave, hungry.
Analysis: I enjoyed this story, if for no other reason then for its sheer insanity. It makes no sense whatsoever that the Justice League would have essentially a Cow-Man making them burgers or the existential crisis that this would cause through-out this story, but the general bonkers nature of the story kept me entertained and Stjepan Sejic’s art is, as usual, gorgeous. A quick and enjoyable story that is well suited in a compilation like this book.
Story #4: Captain Carrot in “Crisis on Earth-26” by writer Andrew Marino and artist James Harren
Synopsis: The story opens on the House of Heroes, where the heroes of the multiverse, including President Superman from Earth-23 and Thunderer from Earth-7, among others are alerted by Captain Carrot of Earth-26 of an impending crisis. Captain Carrot explains that the sun on his earth has “gone cuckoo” and President Superman and a begrudging Atomic Batman agree to investigate. Atomic Batman makes it clear on the journey to Captain Carrot’s world that he has little interest in helping a cartoon bunny and his world and wants to get this over with. They arrive to find the sun on Captain Carrot’s world to have gone evil and is forcing the other cartoon animal heroes to wreak havoc. President Superman is shrunken down and taken out of the fight, leaving Captain Carrot to teach Atomic Batman to fight back against the characters of this world by embracing cartoon physics, like leaving a rake out to inevitably his someone in the face. Captain Carrot then leaves to fly to the sun, where he soothes it by giving the sun a hug and apologizing for not appreciating it. The story ends with Atomic Batman and Captain Carrot finding some common ground.
Analysis: This story seemed like equal parts Grant Morrison-inspired cosmic lunacy and any number of the DC/Looney Tunes crossovers that DC has put out over the last few years. I have to give credit to this book to push the silliness as far as it could go while still putting out a story that more or less made sense as a quick little story. I like the clearly Judge Dread inspired Atomic Batman interacting with essentially Super-Bugs Bunny, but I like the idea more than the execution. It makes me want to see a story where our Batman, the grim and serious version of Batman, all of a sudden has to make due in a world of never-ending Acme products and I much would have rather seen that then a character that I don’t care about interacting with other characters I don’t care about. The solution of this story makes little sense, but given the general tone of the story, its easy to just kind of go with it.
Story #5: Animal Man in “Rio Celeste” by writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and artist Christian Duce
Synopsis: Buddy Baker, aka Animal Man, takes his family into a jungle to show them the “Rio Celeste”, a protected historic site containing the earliest human ruins. They stop to go for a swim at the base of a waterfall where Buddy senses his family is in danger, pulling them from the water as he realizes that something has their scent and is hunting them. Later, as his family sleeps at a cabin, Animal Man watches over them in costume as a spiked tail slinks into their home. A creature stands over Animal Man’s family, as Animal Man forces it from his home. Animal Man is forced to kill the creature, lamenting his decision to kill the last of a dying species in order to protect his family.
Analysis: What I liked about this story is that is acts as a primer on Animal Man, his world, and what he is about, in a quick and efficient story written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson that seems designed to introduce Animal Man to a new audience. I liked the quick display of Animal Man’s powers in using the vision of shrimp to further appreciate the view of his family playing in paradise. I also found the conflict between Animal Man’s calling as “The Guardian of the Red” with his need to protect his family from a predator and how it while it causes him a guilty conscience, there is no false moment where Animal Man would hesitate in dispatching a threat to his family. Christian Duce’s art captured the world well and I especially enjoyed Luis Guerrero’s colors in the shrimp-vision panel.
Story #6: Dex-Starr in “Tourist Season” by writer Kenny Porter and artist Paul Fry
Synopsis: In space sector 3009 Tharnn, an alien race called the Khund descends for its annual hunting trip. As one of the hunters attacks one of the native bears, Shaa, the sky turns crimson as the Red Lantern Dex-Starr attacks the hunters, declaring to the Khund that this planet is not their home. Dex-Starr convinces the friendly Shaa to pick up an ax, and as Dex-Starr attacks the Khund, Shaa hesitates and drops his ax, stating in shame that he is not a warrior. Dex-Starr tells the Shaa to free the animals that the hunters have caught while he takes them down. As Dex-Starr loses his fight with the Khund General, Shaa and the other freed bears take a stand, Shaa is overcome by rage and deputized as Red Lanterns and Dex-Starr and Shaa slaughter the Khund and open season is declared on tourists on the planet.
Analysis: If I had to describe this story in two words, they would be “Delightfully Meanspirited”. What I like about this story is that in using a Red Lantern, and a silly evil housecat Red Lantern at that, is that it opens the story and subverts expectations that there isn’t any sort of morality at play by the end of the story. Also, the story ends with a character that essentially becomes an evil rage Ewok, and that’s fun. Paul Fry’s art is cartoony and fits the tone of the story well.
Story #7: Batcow in “Panic at the Midnight Rodeo” by writer Dan Didio and artist Tom Raney
Synopsis: Bailey’s Rodeo has a new bull, a greenish, red-lipped bull named “Laffa”, also known as a bull that cannot be ridden. Billy Ray, a new rodeo hopeful, decides to ride Laffa, and get famous doing it, but finds himself instantly regretting the madly bucking bronco as Laffa throws him to the ground and proceeds to charge towards Billy Ray. Laffa is interrupted when Batcow comes to Billy-Ray’s aid. Laffa seems to walk away but then charges at them, with Batcow standing her ground. Batcow continues to stand her ground has the other rodeo hands manage to rope the distracted Laffa and bring him under control. The story ends with hands turning around to find that Batcow has disappeared, ending on Batcow standing tall over the rodeo.
Analysis: I have to hand it to Dan Didio for managing to efficiently distill a Batman / Joker standoff using their bovine counterparts. It’s a story that ping-pongs between being clever to being a little cheesy and obvious, but if you’re going to use a character called “Batcow”, I think some allowances need to be made for cheesy and obvious. Batcow isn’t a character that I think merits, really any attention, but in this particular set of stories, this story fits right in beside the ones with the rage Ewok and the Cartoon Rabbit.
Story #8: Beast Boy in “All Beasts Bright and Beautiful” by writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Cian Tormey
Synopsis: Beast Boy finds himself the victim of a musclebound bully on his trip to the beach, as he is kicked into the sand for hitting on the wrong lifeguard. Beast Boy challenges his attacker at the “Atlas Beach Titan Expo”, a series of “Strong Man” competitions, and makes quick work of his bully, turning into a gorilla, rhino, and a horse, as he makes his way through the events, as he accidentally kicks sand all over another small guy sitting on the beach, who remarks that Beast Boy is just like all the rest. During the swimming event, the bully tries to sabotage Beast Boy by netting him in his dolphin form, with Beast Boy besting him by turning into a small fish and then winning the race and dragging the bully back to shore. The story ends with Beast Boy apologizing to the boy that he kicked sand on and the two of them bond on the beach as they read comics.
Analysis: The skinny kid tormented by the musclebound jock on the beach is a troupe that goes back decades, and funnily enough was a theme often used in ads for workout programs in old comics from the ’50s to the early ’80s. Its fitting enough for a topic for a collection like this book. I can’t help but feel that there is no new ground covered here and as a result, the story feels cliché and fairly unnecessary. Cian Tormey’s art is well suited for a character like Beast Boy and I like how his animals still feel like they are Beast Boy in another form.
Final Thoughts: Much like the horrible meat monster in the Ferdinand story, I’m not sure why DC felt the need to make their annual summer special animal themed and if it should really exist in the first place. That being said, I do appreciate the general mad scientist tone that weaves in and out of a handful of the stories and there are a couple of genuinely great stories in this book that make it worth the read, namely the Animal Man and Killer Croc stories. Worth a read on a lazy summer afternoon.