Batman and Robin 40

batman and robin 40

Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Batman and Robin 40, originally released March 25th, 2015.

Drew: Bruce Wayne’s back was broken. Otto Octavius took over Peter Parker’s body. Superman had a mullet. Steve Rogers was dead. We often talk derisively of these kinds of easily-reversed changes in superhero comics because they seem gimmicky and cheap — what better way to boost sales than to trumpet the death of Superman? — but I’d actually argue that these stories offer a clever way of exploring what makes these heroes great. Moreover, they remind us not to take what we like about these characters for granted. Fewer characters have been put through quite so many changes recently as Damian Wayne, who has both died and gained superpowers, so while Batman and Robin 40 ends with him back in his non-dead, non-superpowered state, it’s actually kind of refreshing. Continue reading

Batgirl 40

batgirl 40

Today, Mark and Michael are discussing Batgirl 40, originally released March 18th, 2015.

Mark: One of the seminal Batman stories, Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke, was released in March 1988, almost exactly 27 years ago. In that story, Barbara Gordon is shot by the Joker, paralyzing her and confining her to a wheelchair. The controversy spun out from Moore’s decision to use Barbara as a plot device has been defining her, for better and for worse, for almost three decades now.

I have sympathy for comic book writers. It has to be hard to balance respect for canon with the need to constantly create new stories. Too much disregard for history and you’ll alienate your audience, too much reverence and you risk stifling creativity. DC tried pretty valiantly with The New 52 to split the difference between honoring the old and building towards the new, but their solutions were usually messy at best. When it comes to reinventing a well-regarded character, there’s no way to please everyone. But with Batgirl 40, writers Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart come pretty close. Continue reading

Detective Comics Endgame 1

Alternating Currents: Detective Comics Endgame, Michael and Drew

Today, Michael and Drew are discussing Detective Comics Endgame 1, originally released March 11th, 2015.

Michael: If there is one thing that the big two comics publishers suffer from it’s the excessive reliance on crossovers. DC especially has pimped out every major Batman storyline that Scott Snyder has produced thus far, hijacking the narratives of books like Batgirl and the like to show the goings on of Owls/Jokers/Zero Years from the other Bat-perspectives. It seems that DC has gotten hip to their overreliance on these types of stories, and instead gives us a series of one-shots that tie into the events of Batman’s current “Endgame” arc. So, does Detective Comics Endgame 1 add much to Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul’s Detective Comics and/or Scott Snyder’s “Endgame?” Not so much. Continue reading

Action Comics 40

action comics 40

Today, Spencer and Mark are discussing Action Comics 40, originally released March 14th, 2015.

Spencer: In preparation for the premiere of its final season next month, I’m currently in the process of rewatching Mad Men from beginning to end. Meanwhile, my best friend just got into House of Cards, and has shown me a few episodes in hopes of getting me to watch it as well. I guess it worked — the first episode hooked me right away — but I already know that there’s no way I’ll be able to go straight from Mad Men‘s unending cycles of dysfunction to House of Cards‘ cynical wheeling and dealing; it’s simply too much darkness back-to-back. I need some sort of comedy as a palette-cleanser between the two series, and I get the feeling that Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder were dealing with a similar dilemma when they came up with the idea behind Action Comics 40. After the angst of the massive “Doomed” crossover and the horror-centric Ultra-Humanite story, the title was in dire need of a fun, goofy story to lighten the mood, and Bizarro’s story here certainly succeeds in doing just that. Continue reading

Grayson 8

Alternating Currents: Grayson 8, Drew and Patrick

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Grayson 8, originally released March 4th, 2015.

Drew: I like to read into titles. We tend to boil down the difference between Superman and Action Comics to the creative teams involved, but I think the focus of every story is informed by its title. Luke Skywalker may feature prominently in Star Wars, but not in quite the same way he would if the movies were titled Luke Skywalker. In that same vein, when a story’s title is the protagonist’s name, we understand that story to necessarily be about that character. Oliver Twist may deal with poverty and exploitation, but the story is ultimately about a single orphan. In the month-to-month grind of comics, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Spider-Man is actually about Spider-Man (and not the criminal-of-the-month), but the best writers manage to keep the focus on the heroes, even as they’re put up against an endless lineup of threats. Tom King and Tim Seeley have never lost sight of Dick as the center of Grayson, but issue 8 reasserts that focus so strongly, we never feel lost — even as they yank the rug out from under us. Continue reading

Detective Comics 40

detective comics 40

Today, Mark and Michael are discussing Detective Comics 40, originally released March 4th, 2015.

Mark: On a week to week basis, comic books are junk food. Most everything that comes out is disposable, easily forgotten. While occasional stories and arcs will make a mark, for the most part Batman’s latest encounter with a violent psychopath quickly becomes only of interest to the most diehard continuity enthusiast. These are the same stories that DC has been telling for basically 30 years, and they work. They’re engaging. They sell a dwindling number of books. Detective Comics 40 ends an arc built around hatred, revenge, and the murder of children. It’s another take on the classic Batman formula: a new threat emerges in Gotham, Batman tries to control the threat, Batman loses control and order in Gotham is threatened, Batman confronts the source of the threat, almost loses, but through strength and determination, Batman defeats the threat. Mad libs “threat” for the name of any member of his rogue gallery, and you’ve got yourself a Batman story. Continue reading

Swamp Thing 40

swamp thing 40

Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Swamp Thing 40, originally released March 4th, 2015.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Drew: I’ve always been frustrated by endings. Not necessarily because I want the story to continue, and not even because they’re done poorly (though they often are), but because the notion of “ending” draws attention to the limits of the narrative precisely when we want to savor every moment of the story itself. “Life goes on,” so the saying goes, but stories don’t — at least, not on the page. It’s a testament to this awkwardness that even William Shakespeare felt the need to lampshade it, defiantly pointing at the limits of the narrative itself in the hopes of elevating it beyond them. Charles Soule does something very similar in his Swamp Thing 40, turning this final issue into a postmodern commentary on endings in general. Continue reading

Gotham Academy 5

gotham acadamy 5

Today, Spencer and Michael are discussing Gotham Academy 5, originally released February 25th, 2015.

Spencer: It’s not easy figuring out how and when to reveal key plot points and answer pressing questions when constructing a narrative. Some stories get so caught up hyping big mysteries that the solutions can’t live up to the audience’s expectations — others lose their inertia by revealing all too early. Thus far, I’ve been quite impressed by how Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher have handled their mysteries in Gotham Academy. Issue 5 is full of big reveals, balanced expertly by Cloonan and Fletcher, which fill in many of the blanks about Olive’s lost summer and Tristan’s identity. This new information expands the world of Gotham Academy and helps flesh out the cast, both individually and as a unit, while avoiding the pitfalls I listed at the outset of this article. Plus, it’s loads of fun. Continue reading

Batman 39

Alternating Currents: Batman 39, Michael and Drew

Today, Michael and Drew are discussing Batman 39, originally released February 25th, 2015.

Michael: When it comes to Batman, Joker stories are pretty much hit or miss. We’ve seen great successes and failures in film, animation, television (I’m looking at you Gotham), and of course, comic books. He’s an iconic character that has been built up to mythic proportions equal to (or greater) than Batman’s. Counting the Joker’s brief appearance in his Detective Comics run, this is Scott Snyder’s third stab at the Clown Prince of Crime. To make a truly remarkable Joker story, the approach to the Joker and how the story is told have to be changed. Continue reading

Batgirl 39

batgirl 39

Today, Michael and Spencer are discussing Batgirl 39, originally released February 18th, 2015.

Michael: In most pieces of pop culture, the protagonist is the point of entry for the audience into the fictional world that we are experiencing. You’ll often see events or circumstances that the protagonist themselves isn’t immediately aware of, but for the most part you are riding shotgun with the main character. In comic books, that means you follow the story with the benefit of the main character’s narration/inner monologue. The tricky thing is that your hero may not always be a reliable narrator. Even if they aren’t intentionally misleading you, they are probably not giving you the full story. Such is the case of a one Barbara Gordon, the titular Batgirl. Continue reading