Bombshells continues the “Combat” storyline in this compilation of Digital Firsts 13, 14, and 15. Most of our principal women have been enlisted (with the notable exception of Stargirl and Supergirl, who are still in Russia), and we’re starting to see an objective take shape. It feels pretty late in the run already to barely be getting a sense of the overarching action but this is a book driven largely by the personality of its cast more so than the evil magical Reich that threatens world domination.

And perhaps that’s the weakest point of the Bombshells series. In keeping with the spirit of the Golden Age, the villains are easy and obvious. That doesn’t, however, take away from the book being overall fun.

This time around, we continue the storylines of Batwoman, Supergirl & Stargirl, and Harley Quinn. We also get a handful of fun guest stars including Catwoman, Alexander (Lex) Luthor, Poison Ivy, some creepy crawlies from the dark side, and one oversized green guest who I’ll leave as the great big surprise that he is.

Artists this week include Ming Doyle on the Batwoman sequence, Mirka Andolfo carrying over from last time’s Harley Quinn section, and Bilquis Evely returning to render Kara and Kortni in Russia. Doug Garbark and Wendy Broome do colors, with Broome covering the latter two sections and Garbark working with Doyle.

And of course, there’s a fabulous cover by Ant Lucia. Only it’s a shame that Wonder Woman isn’t anywhere in this book. Digital Firsts seem to struggle the most with matching their covers and content, it seems, as this is also a frequent problem with Injustice: Gods Among Us.

Let’s Get the Weak Out of the Way

I’ve enjoyed Ming Doyle’s work from time to time, though it’s clearly not to everyone’s tastes. Her turn here in the Batwoman section, however, is probably the least of my favorites on this series so far. Doyle typically employs a heavy inking style and here it’s just digital mud. It’s possible Garbark’s colors don’t help (the palette is limited and the environments seem very flat), but Doyle’s figures are especially unfeminine (at a fancy full-length gown ball, no less). Her Catwoman looks like a boxer who’s gone too many rounds, and Kate Kane won’t be winning any beauty contests either. The fancy Italian ball feels sterile and all of the architecture is particularly wonking to the point of looking decrepit instead of austere. I was really looking forward to meeting the Contessa, so this was particularly disappointing.

I mean–look at this Villa:

Bombshells_05_01

Fall of the House of Usher

I’m not looking for straight lines by any means–that’s not Doyle’s style. But so much of this is just an off-kilter mess, I don’t even know where to begin. And then there’s a hunk of the hood of the car that’s just missing, as if a wayward Cintiq pen accidentally swiped over it at the last minute.

I hate being hard on artists, but I honestly don’t know how a panel like this can get a pass. Especially in a digital medium where there’s actually no need for lines this crooked or errors this obvious.

It doesn’t help that the section isn’t written well either. This is Marguerite Bennett’s most uneven writing of the series so far, with confusing objectives and alliances all over the place. I have a feeling she was going for intrigue, but the relationships here are so muddled, the only tension is the anxiety I felt over trying to figure out what was going on. Lines like “A little party never hurt anyone. I’d at least like to go out with a little party,” just make no sense no matter how you try to read them. “Shall I scratch her eyes out? Snatch her bald?” Huh? What?

And then there’s Nazi zombies, of course. But we kind of already had a taste of that previously, so it’s no surprise here: only the fact that for some reason Catwoman the Contessa is having a resurrectionist party at her Villa for reasons that aren’t yet explained.

The rest of the book is about up to snuff with what we’ve seen before, but this opener in Italy is a low point for the series. Hopefully it will prove to be the exception to the rule.

Celebrate the Strong!

Last issue, Andolfo got the Harley Quinn plotline off to a strong start. Here the story bogs a little in what feels like a bit of retread from Harley’s original first appearance in comics (during the No Man’s Land storyline). In her debut, Harley is trapped in a rocket by the Joker and if shot off, crash-landing in Poison Ivy’s domain, where the queen of the green puts Harley back together again and kicks off what’s been a long (and sometimes semi-romantic) relationship. Here, Harley is shot down in her bomber and rides a missile into Ivy’s greenhouse. Miraculously, the bomb fails to detonate and Harley scarcely suffers a bruised ego before Ivy arrives.

Bombshells_05_02

The hostilities won’t last, of course

It’s all a bit easy, but I’m okay with that. One of the sticking points with the pacing of this series is that because we’re in an alternate universe we’re tracking a dozen origin stories, basically. This is somewhat fun, but also can be frustrating. In this sequence it works. It’s not important to spend lot of time establishing a deep rapport between these two. We know they’re fated to be tentative allies, and Bennett motivates their need for one another and keeps everything moving.

In the final section, focused on Kara and Kortni’s adventures in Russia, we finally get some serious stakes, truly effective drama, and a full-blown combat action sequence (including the aforementioned special surprise appearance). This was a riveting bit of storytelling in which Stargirl and Supergirl must rescue their adoptive parents (like I said: actual stakes–we don’t know if they’re going to make it!). And while it’s a simple device, it’s an effective one to motivate the women to defect from their compulsory allegiance to the motherland.

Bombshells_05_03

No honor even among the communists

Right now, this storyline is probably the strongest of all of them, and Evely’s art stands out above the others in terms of dynamic composition. The facial expressions of his characters aren’t always as well-rendered as I’d like, but the overall feel of his panels, the strength of his action sequences, and the way he uses the environment are all especially effective.

Go back and look at Doyle’s ballroom (it looks like panic on the flaming, sinking Titanic instead of people having a good time, and there’s so much empty space). Now look at Evely’s hostage sequence where everything inside the house is rendered–not in great detail necessarily, but the sense of the place and action is so very clear. Same is true in the sequence in which the fleeing sisters encounter the Night Witches. Even though they are in open air, Evely fills each panel with planes and motion so that you get a sense of the chaos and the overwhelming odds. It’s not the most crisp, clean-lined art ever, but’s darn good visual storytelling.

Recommended If…

  • Watching the menfolk take a backseat to great female characters is a refreshment you crave.
  • You’re a fan of the Harley Quinn / Poison Ivy dynamic.
  • You enjoy alternative history with an emphasis on the Axis powers, and/or zombies. Sooo many zombies.

Overall

This issue feels more wildly uneven than any of the others with some nice surprises balancing out a few disappointment. We only get a little bit of plot advancement, but there’s plenty of action–and two of the three sections are rendered quite nicely. I feel a little less sanguine about the emphasis on mystical mumbo-jumbo and walking dead nazis, but I guess Bennett and the editors didn’t trust that an ordinary swastika-bedecked, goose-stepping army of villains was sufficient contest for a legion of super-women.

SCORE 6.5/10