REVIEW: DC New Talent Showcase 2018 #1

NEW TALENT SHOWCASE 2018 #1 / Writer: Various / Artist: Various / Colourist: Various / Letterer: Various / Publisher: DC Comics / Dec 12th, 2018

DC New Talent Showcase 2018 Cover

DC have been running their annual writer & artist development workshops for the past few years, with the goal of uncovering new talent, helping published writers in other fields transition into writing comics, and honing the skills of established indie creators and giving them a pathway into writing for the Big Two.

It’s a great initiative which has seen creators such as Vita Ayala and Michael Moreci, already renowned for their indie work, get the chance to put their own unique spin on big characters such as Superman and Wonder Woman while being guided by some of the company’s biggest hitters like Batman and Justice League scribe Scott Snyder.

This year’s crop of creators are showcased in this volume, which features a range of character-centric one-shot stories; Batman, Constantine, Catwoman, Green Lantern John Stewart, Zatanna and Wonder Woman.

Because each story is a standalone, self-contained tale I’ll be reviewing each one individually and providing individual verdicts, rather than reviewing the issue as a whole. Let’s get into it!

Batman Landing on Plane

BATMAN: LEAP OF FAITH / Writer: Phillip Kennedy Johnson / Artist: Amancay Nahuelpan / Colourist: Trish Mulvihill / Letterer: Gabriela Downie

In this tight, action-packed tale, Batman is engaged in a daring high-altitude rescue operation; serial murderer Victor Zsasz has taken an anti-vigilante senatorial candidate hostage on her private jet and it’s up to the Dark Knight to save her and her son. It’s a good conceit for a story, touching on one of the ever-present questions surrounding portrayals of Batman – to what extent is he responsible for the existence of his Rogues’ Gallery and the harm that they do?

The story moves at a brisk pace after a brief introduction to the prospective senator, Julia Carson, and there’s some innovative use of Bat-gadgetry to save the day and add a nice twist, although it seemed strange how easily the characters were able to have a leisurely chat while plummeting down to earth at high velocity.

Amancay Nahuelpan’s artwork is good, with expressive faces and a good grasp of action, and Trish Mulvihill’s colours make heavy and effective use of orange to capture the light pollution from a nocturnal Gotham City far below. Gabriela Downie’s letters are serviceable, but don’t fully gel with the artwork for me – the text choices within some balloons don’t quite work, and the sound effects feel overlaid on the art in a way that detracts rather than compliments. That aside, this is a strong story that isn’t afraid to show the vulnerable side of Batman and ask some difficult questions.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5.

CONSTANTINE: NEON DEMONS / Writer: Sanya Anwar / Artist: Priscilla Petraites / Colourist: John Rauch / Letterer: Emma Kubert

A malevolent force has been haunting a new Hong Kong high-rise, causing young socialites to hurl themselves to their deaths, and John Constantine (tormented by nightmares and a pounding headache) is on the case.

The artwork in this short grabbed me instantly – Priscilla Petraites has a gorgeous, vibrant style that captures the neon-soaked atmosphere of Hong Kong perfectly (helped by the almost day-glo colours by John Rauch) while also showcasing expressive and distinct characters. The story is enjoyable, a fable about the cruelty of big business and organised crime lords trampling all over the poor – I particularly liked the use of cell phones as a vector for haunting/spirit possession, and Constantine’s solution to the problem is perfect for his character.

My only mild critique of the dialogue stems from my own British nationality – as he’s (I believe) the only Liverpudlian in the DC Universe, I always want to see a Scouse twang in Constantine’s speech and while Sanya Anwar almost gets there with some of the British-isms in the dialogue, there were points where that wasn’t apparent. The lettering by Emma Kubert in this short is also worthy of note, with dialogue choices that match the artwork and story perfectly and exemplary balloon placement and layouts. A very enjoyable read and worth checking out.

Verdict: 4 out of 5.

Catwoman Tripping Robin

CATWOMAN: PEDIGREE / Writer: Joey Esposito / Artist: Dominike “Domo” Stanton / Colourist: Marissa Louise / Letterer: Christy Sawyer

Set before the events of Batman #50 (the fateful wedding between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle), this is the one story in the Showcase that struggles with being truly standalone due to the nature of Catwoman’s current role in the DC Universe; Penguin and his gang have been abducting cats both domesticated and stray for use as fighting creatures to be wagered on, a move that’s bound to upset Gotham’s resident feline protector. Following the gang back to the Iceberg Lounge, Selina’s mission to rescue the captured kitties is interrupted by Damian Wayne, necessitating a team-up with the current Robin.

The story gives a good example of ‘chaotic good’ Catwoman, motivated not by greed but by the desire to protect the city’s feline population. It’s a little confusing, however, that Catwoman initially feigns ignorance of Damian’s reason for attacking the Penguin’s operation (his own cat, Pennyworth, was scooped up by the gang) then later admits in a caption box that she already knew Pennyworth had been taken and that had helped spur her into action – I’d have preferred for her sole motivation to be about stopping Penguin’s abuse of animals and for the team-up to have been a result of circumstance.

That aside, the story does show a kinder and more altruistic Catwoman while staying true to her character; it’s complemented by solid artwork from Dominike Stanton which has some dynamic action scenes and interesting perspective choices. Marissa Louise’s colours give the whole story a nice vibrancy and Christy Sawyer’s letters mesh perfectly with the artwork, not drawing attention to themselves but not getting in the way either.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5.

John Stewart Smashes In

JOHN STEWART: WHERE THERE’S A WILL… / Writer: Robert Jeffrey II / Artist: Max Raynor / Colourist: John Kalisz / Letterer: Ryan Christy

This sci-fi short hits all the right notes for a Green Lantern story; the planet Talie is in the grip of a tyrannical, authoritarian, anti-immigration regime, guided by the machinations of Sinestro Corps member Karu-Sil, and it’s up to John Stewart to help the resistance forces win back the hearts and minds of their people and rise up to reclaim their world.

John’s childhood experiences on earth with his mother, a Black Lives Matter activist who never stopped fighting for what she believed in, inform the story and give it a lovely, personal feel – the parallels between the situation on Talie and our current political situation are obvious and striking, and even remarked upon by Karu-Sil at one point as she tries to break John’s will.

Artistically, this one-shot is gorgeous – the lines are lovely and clean, the action has that blockbuster ‘Green Lantern’ feel and the design of Talie is a nice mix of fantasy and futuristic. My one minor criticism is around the duplication of the first page; it’s a tried-and-tested tactic to pull the reader in with a big splash page before rewinding back to before that splash page took place, but it felt a little strange to have that page repeated with different artwork but the same dialogue as a small panel on page 6 – that moment could have been skimmed past the second time through.

John Kalisz’s colours pop and really imbue the lantern power effects with colour and weight, and the letters by Ryan Christy compliment the artwork perfectly while fitting in with the current ‘house style’ for the Green Lantern line. In short, this is a very strong story with a lot of emotional weight and beautiful artwork – definitely a highlight of this issue.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5.

Zatanna Enters the Coliseum

ZATANNA: SLEIGHT OF HAND / Writer: Ryan Cady / Artist: Isaac Goodhart / Colourist: Cris Peter / Letterer: Gabriela Downie

Zatanna has been summoned to Northern Italy, where she’s tasked with saving a village from the once-every-fifty-years threat of a group of old gods/demons known as ‘Il Osservatori’, following in the footsteps of her father to do so. True to form, the sorceress comes up with an ingenious plan to bind the demons for good using a combination of stage magic and genuine sorcery – it’s a nice reversal that shows off Zatanna’s magical skill while emphasising her abilities as an illusionist.

Isaac Goodhart’s artwork is really nice – it has a beautiful, textured look which makes it feel a little like a Renaissance painting but with more cartoonish (in a good way) character designs, and Cris Peter’s mostly muted colours contribute to that. I particularly liked the level of detail in the crumbling Italian stone structures which really gave some depth to the artwork.

Gabriela Downie’s letters sit nicely with the artwork in this story- the lack of sound effects (almost certainly a product of the script rather than a letterer’s choice) isn’t an issue here. Ryan Cady’s dialogue is occasionally a little shaky, in particular for Il Osservatori – they neither sound ancient and regal enough to come across as truly ‘old Gods’, nor modern and slangy enough to be a clear departure from that style, which means that they’re somewhere in between those two extremes and it feels a little awkward. That aside, this is an enjoyable, magical short.

Verdict: 4 out of 5.

Wonder Woman Helps Connie Stand

WONDER WOMAN: THE SECRET OF GREEK FIRE / Writer: Magdalene Visaggio / Artist: Aneke / Colourist: Beth Sotelo / Letterer: Jay Castro

An Apokaliptian device at the top of a mountain is causing huge energy storms in rural Montana and sapping the power of everyone in the vicinity, including Wonder Woman; devoid of her divine abilities, she must climb the mountain and destroy the device with an injured human under her protection.

It’s a great hook for a story that forces the Princess of Themyscira out of her comfort zone and highlights human strength and courage, embodied here as the idea of an internal “Greek fire” that we carry within, and writer Magdalene Visaggio does a great job of keeping the story moving forward and dotting in Amazonian action where possible (mostly through the use of a flashback sequence). I took slight umbrage to Diana referring to her powers as ‘metahuman’ on the opening page (I’d expect her to attribute her abilities to divine providence rather than using a scientific term), but that’s a minor quibble, and the rest of the narration and dialogue is stellar.

The artwork by Aneke reminds me of Liam Sharp’s work on Wonder Woman: Rebirth; Diana looks solid and war-like, and there’s enough variety in the facial expressions to sell the difficulty of the climb for both her and her human companion. Beth Sotelo’s colours do a great job of conveying the changing temperature during the climb; they’re not hugely vibrant, but they don’t particularly need to be, while the lettering by Jay Castro sits comfortably with the artwork – as with the John Stewart story, it fits into the house style very nicely without doing anything too experimental or unusual. This is a solid story which highlights the warrior spirit buried within all of us; we might not be Wonder Woman, but as she notes, “we each have a little flame of it in our hearts.”

Verdict: 4 out of 5.

Overall, DC New Talent Showcase 2018 is well worth picking up – the stories within don’t quite have the polish that you might expect from DC’s big hitters, but they’re all infused with passion and a love for the characters. It’s good to see new talent getting their start at one of the big publishers; many of the creators in this issue have already been scooped up for other DC projects so their work will hopefully only continue to improve from this strong first showing.

Chris has been writing comics for a large chunk of his life, but only started making them properly in 2011. He's worked with chap-hop superstar Professor Elemental on a series of anthology comics as well as writing stories for a number of prestigious small press publications including Futurequake, Aces Weekly and the Psychedelic Journal and creating his own comic book series 'Brigantia' with artist Melissa Trender.

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