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DC’s New Talent Showcase is a great idea: get some brand new writing talent, pair them up with some rising stars from the stable of artists, and tell some short stories starring beloved DC characters.  It’s a great experiment that at the very least gets some names out there and shines a spotlight on a few characters who otherwise might not get much attention.

In the spirit of experimentation, we decided to do something a little different with this book: we’re all going to review it.  The nine stories were split between Brian, Elena, Josh, and myself, so every one will be covered by a different writer.

Will our crazy experiment work out?  Is the New Talent Showcase a success, or is the planned annual event a big dud?  Read on to find out, chums.

The Road to Hell and All That, Written by Adam Smith, Illustrated by Siya Oum

Adam Smith gives us a Hellblazer story that is almost pitch-perfect (and the only reason I say almost is because for years now John Constantine has been somewhat Americanized and without all the Britishisms he will always sound “off” to me.) But Smith “gets” the character–mostly importantly he gets the necessary balance between John Constantine the cocksure devil-slayer and John Constantine the…well, drop the “sure” and you get the picture. He also understands that Constantine is always at war between these personalities and that somewhere in there is a good heart that usually means well but fails spectacular often. The story is simple: he and Zatanna have a falling out, JC decides to find Zatarra (Zee’s father) as a peace offering, and we get to follow the journey from one hell to another in a meditation on suffering. It’s sparely written, but nicely so, deftly handles what could have felt like a slather of clichés, and you genuinely want Constantine and Zatanna to mend fences.

On the art side, Siya Oum gives us an almost painterly piece full of clearly delineated locations, lots of fine small details, space for the characters to breathe, and characters who are nicely rendered, expressive, and distinct. In some of the smaller panels the faces get a bit Chiby but overall the effect (figures, colors, and framing) is very nicely done: no space wasted and solid dramatic angles for a story that is otherwise mostly narrative-driven–not an easy feat. I also love that Zatanna is in street clothes that nonetheless mimic her usual costume.Great team, really nice little tale about love and longing beautifully told. –Elena Carrillo
SCORE: 9.5/10

Blood & Glory, Written by Vita Ayala, Illustrated by Khary Randolph and John Rauch

Wonder Woman. Giant monsters that appear to be straight from Greek mythology. A Flash cameo. That’s what you can expect in “Blood & Glory.” Vita Ayala’s story might sound epic, but it’s honestly just ok. While the story itself is fun, there are aspects that feel off, namely Wonder Woman’s characterization. You definitely get the warrior attribute of Diana, and that’s about it. Nothing else translates well with her, and she treats the Flash terribly. I legitimately felt bad for him.  What’s worse, is that the story (as with nearly every other story in this collection) is left open-ended. You never feel like you complete anything.

Khary Randolph’s art has an anime flare that reminds me of Jorge Jimenez (Earth 2 Society), but the layouts and overall execution isn’t quite as strong. The biggest issue I encountered were the transitions from panel to panel. Some of the action didn’t translate well, which I think stems from a combination of lack of experience and the fact that this short story is compressed into eight pages. The work isn’t perfect, but there’s potential and an opportunity to improve with more experience. –Joshua McDonald
SCORE: 5/10

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Dead Beacons, Written by Michael Moreci, Illustrated by Barnaby Bagenda and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.

While “Dead Beacons” is a natural fit for Omega Men alum Barnaby Bagenda, this appears to be writer Michael Moreci’s first turn in DC’s cosmic domain. He handles his maiden voyage gracefully, scripting believable dialogue and forming a subtle—but strong—link between two seemingly unrelated halves. I’m not nuts about the tired “you’re bad, I’m good, here’s why I’m going to stop you” speech White Lantern Kyle Rayner spits out mid-battle, but it’s a small part of an otherwise enjoyable whole. The villain introduced in the first half doesn’t have an especially novel origin, but I would nevertheless enjoy seeing Moreci develop the character further.

Bagenda’s work looks as gorgeous as it did in Omega Men, and a fair bit of credit belongs to Rom Fajardo, who colored Bagenda on that book, as well. The two work well together, with the penciler leaving a fair bit of light and shadow to the colorist, giving the final result a somewhat painted look. While it’s fantastic, I would have been  interested to see Bagenda separated from Fajardo for this story. The one issue of Omega Men with a different color artist suffered a noticeable dip in visual quality, and I’m curious to see how Barnaby may have grown during his time in DC’s workshop. Looks like we’ll have to wait for February’s Green Lantern/Planet of the Apes crossover for that. Regardless, judged on its own, the artwork here is beautiful and it does its job well, so I can’t really complain. –Brian Warshaw
SCORE: 8/10

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Weapons of War, Written by Erica Schultz, Illustrated by Sonny Liew

The first thing I noticed about “Weapons of War” was Sonny Liew’s art… It’s awful. I understand that it’s stylized, but even in that respect, it’s so inconsistent and messy that I can’t take it seriously. It looks like child drew it, and is reminiscent of what you used to see in Sunday morning newspapers. And trust me, I get it. I respect the throwback to that era. I respect where our medium came from, but I also feel as though the industry has progressed, and that readers deserve better… as do the writers providing the script. I’m all for stylization – even this style – but do it well and be consistent.

Speaking of the script, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Erica Schultz set up a story that I would honestly love to see continue in a mini-series. Within eight pages, she managed to not only make me like Shayera, but her partner as well. Their relationship was written incredibly well with so few pages. It’s pretty miraculous how much Shultz accomplished, and I really wish I could see her vision fully realized… only with a better artist. –JM
SCORE: 7.5/10

Killing Time, Written by Christopher Sebela, Illustrated by David Messina and Moreno Dinisio

I like Deadman.  I’m not entirely sure why, but I do.  He has an interesting gimmick, what with being able to take over people’s bodies to communicate with and assist other heroes, but I think it’s his attitude about his whole situation that’s appealing.  Here’s a dude who is dead and cannot do anything without the assistance of others.  Being dead is his whole deal, yet he has a really dry acceptance about the whole thing.  Christopher Sebela gets that, and as such writes one of the strongest scripts of the collection.  It’s mainly a series of vignettes of Boston Brand being… well, dead, and how he functions and gets by every day.  From nonchalantly thwarting crimes to speaking with the goddess Rama in a bar for the deceased, Sebela strikes a great balance between the melancholy of Brand’s situation and his begrudging acceptance of it.  It suffers in the end, setting up a cliffhanger that will more than likely never pay off, but it’s an enjoyable read nonetheless.

David Messina and Moreno Dinisio’s work is great, too, complementing Sebela’s narration and matching the tone.  They depict Brand in several genuinely hilarious situations, having him ponder his penance while watching a movie, eavesdropping on politicians, and using crooks to punch other crooks in the face.  The duo make good use of perspective and interesting layouts, and I’d honestly love to see more work with these two.  In fact, Sebela, Messina, and Dinisio work so well in such a short space they’d I’d say DC should get them on a book and soon.  A Deadman ongoing would be great, and I can’t help but feel like their style would work well with similar “left of center” characters like Animal Man or Resurrection Man. –Jay Yaws
SCORE: 9/10

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Digging Up Demons, Written by Hena Khan, Illustrated by Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, and Tomeu Morey

We follow one of the collection’s best stories with one of its weakest as Cassie Sandsmark, alias Wonder Girl, encounters a face from her past and discovers some unsettling news about someone close to her.  Hena Khan’s story is way too esoteric, making it a difficult read for someone not familiar with the character’s history.  Granted, some of that is my fault, as the last time I really paid much attention to Cassie was when she was in Young Justice and wore that awful awesome leather jacket/black wig/knee-pad combo.  Even with a passing knowledge of the character, though, this still reads like a bit of a jumbled mess, almost like it’s part two or three of a non-existent story.  It’s kind of all over the place, and the dialogue reads just like that: written dialogue.  It doesn’t sound like conversation at all, making the eight page story a chore to read.

The art fares better, though it’s relatively thankless given what they have to work with.  The story takes place in the desert, and coupled with Cassie’s costume there are lots of yellows, reds, and browns.  Everything just kind of bleeds together without much definition or distinction, but that’s not really the fault of Lupacchino, McCarthy, or Morey.  The character designs are perfectly fine, and there are a few places here and there with some greens and other colors that help the images pop so much better.  When the art works it works well, it just doesn’t get the chance to very often. –JY
SCORE: 4/10

The Amazonian Job, Written by Emma Beeby, Illustrated by Minkyu Jung and Trish Mulvhill

Out of the three stories I’m covering, I thought that “The Amazonian Job” would end up being my least favorite. I’m not completely sure why? Maybe it’s due to the incredibly poor translations of Catwoman that have been plaguing us over the past few years (and are apparently still coming in Batman), or perhaps it was the idea that I didn’t really see Wonder Woman and Catwoman working out well as a combo… Whatever my reasoning, I was wrong. This story was pleasantly enjoyable. Groundbreaking? Cutting edge? No, not quite. Not even close really, but it is solid. Sometimes there’s stories that are overlooked simply because they aren’t huge. The time of good, simple narratives seem to have fled bookshelves, so I was happy to see Beeby deliver just that. Wonder Woman hiring Catwoman to steal something from the Amazons… Seriously, it’s kind of awesome!

I immediately recognized Minkyu Jung’s art from Gotham Academy, and thought, “Why hasn’t she been assigned a title yet?” Her work is crisp, clean, and she accentuates the narrative in the way she draws the characters’ expressions. Let’s get her on a book full time already! Batgirl and the Birds of Prey could seriously use a new artist! Can you imagine Jung’s pencils with Passalaqua’s colors? Are you reading this DC? Are you? –JM
SCORE: 7/10

The Man in Black, Written by Michael McMillan, Illustrated by Juan Ferreyra

For the past few months, I’ve been on a big Superman kick.  What with the incredible job Dan Jurgens, Peter Tomasi, and Patrick Gleason are doing on their respective books, it’s truly a great time to be a Superman fan.  Because of that, I really wanted to like this story, and while I didn’t hate it, it’s just… weird.  There is so much going on that I’m not entirely sure what Michael McMillan was going for: the story opens several years ago in Smalleville where a highway patrolman encounters a tall, creepy looking alien, and then it fast forwards to the present day where Superman is fighting a giant Joker-robot in Metropolis.  It’s only eight pages long like all of the other stories, yet the set-up with the alien takes up three pages of story and never pays off.  It isn’t referenced again, even in passing.  Add on to that the weird twist with the robot and this script just didn’t click.  Lots of ambitious ideas that could have developed into something great, but as it stands this was a bit of a bummer.  That Jokerbot looks great, though, I’ll give it that.

Considering it’s Juan Ferreyra on pencils, though, that should come as no surprise.  This is a great looking short story, from the genuinely unsettling look of the alien to the short but sweet fight in Metropolis’ Botanical Gardens.  There… there really isn’t much more I can say than that.  This is a flawed story, but an intriguing one, and frankly one of only a few in the collection that I genuinely want to see continued. –JY
SCORE: 6.5/10

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Good Morning, Gotham!, Written by Joelle Jones, Illustrated by Sam Lotfi and Pete Pantazis

Joëlle Jones misses the mark in this fairly routine telling of catastrophe in Gotham. There’s not much of a story to begin with, but what little there is doesn’t really hold together well. Harley’s at Arkham, the loonies have taken over the bin in light of an apocalyptic-style biological event outside the walls. Harley traipses around in a pair of panties barking orders to people like the Riddler and the Penguin (why is Penguin in Arkham? You got me), threatening to “shock” people with a pair of defibrillator paddles (that’s not how those work). In the end, the other inmates decide that staying inside is safer than going out–except for Harley, who wants some adventure. There’s really not much about this that makes sense.

On art, Sam Lofti has an interesting style, but doesn’t really show much range. His character faces feel frozen in their expressions and many of the panels feature distortion on the perspective that maybe works given the subject matter, but in the end I wasn’t really convinced. Aside from one brief sequence where Harley is raiding a cabinet for supplies while the news report intones in an overvoice, I felt like the piece lacked honest dramatic tension visually. Very much a what you see is what you get and what you get isn’t all that interesting to look at, unfortunately.
Colorist Pete Pantazis is the hero of this one for his sensible use of brights against a lot of smoky backgrounds.-EC
SCORE: 4/10

Recommended if:

  • You want to support some new creative talent.
  • You want to see some love shown to a few lesser-used characters.
Overall: A great idea that delivers generally good results, so by and large this experiment was a success.  Not all of the stories worked, be it from shaky dialogue to lazy plotting, but on average the writing was good with a few entries that were outright great.  This is certainly a project that should continue in the future, and some of the talent here need to have their own books sometime soon.  The DC New Talent Showcase delivers precisely what it promises, and while the $7.99 price tag is definitely a bit too high, this is still a great chance to see where some future stars began.

SCORE: 7/10