C.O.W.L. is the story of a superhero union in mid-century Chicago. That logline heaps on the atmosphere, from the period setting to the particular climate of organized labor in Chicago, giving writers Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel a ton of space to explore. With issue 6, they offer a bit of a sideways approach to that world-building, giving us an in-universe comic book with an obvious in-universe political agenda. Parsing that agenda uncovers layers of meaning, telling us a great deal about Geoffrey Warner, even if the story isn’t entirely true. Patrick sat down with Kyle and Alec and went through the issue page by page, so get your copy handy and join us on the Commentary Track.
Retcon Punch: Let’s just start right from the cover: we’ve got a wildly different approach, right from the get-go.
Kyle Higgins: This cover is illustrated by Joe Bennett and it’s inked by Marcelo Mueller and colored by Rod Reis. Joe and Marcelo were originally supposed to do the entire issue when we were putting together the idea for the one-shot. Alec and I love the idea of world-building, and the opportunity to have this comic be something that’s of the world, we realized we were killing a couple birds with one stone, you know? Continue reading →
Today, Mark and Drew are discussing Detective Comics 37, originally released December 3rd, 2014. Mark: Of all the Batman movies, Batman Returns remains my favorite. It’s probably the darkest Batman film yet made (I mean, it opens with parents throwing their baby in the sewer. Opens!), but it also has a sense of humor and style that the oppressively serious Christopher Nolan adaptations lack. One of the things that makes the movie pop is the decision to set the action at Christmastime. Even all lit up for the holidays there’s no place as terrible as Gotham City, and that contrast adds a dark mirth to the proceedings. With the holiday season once again upon us, it’s the perfect time to revisit Gotham at Christmas. After a two month airport diversion, creative team Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul are back and Detective Comics 37 jumps us right into the thick of Gotham on Christmas Eve. Guess what? Things are not great. Continue reading →
Today, Drew and Scott are discussing Detective Comics 32, originally released June 11th, 2014.
Drew: Last month, Shelby compared Detective Comics to a well-executed magic trick. Specifically, she was referring to the way Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul wield misdirection, but I think the similarities between magic and art are manifold. Both rely on deceptively simple techniques to create effects that are greater than the sum of their parts. For me, the only real difference is how we value being “fooled” by those effects. If we see the strings, a magic trick is ruined, but understanding exactly how a scene was painted or filmed or carved can enhance our appreciation of a work of art. I personally enjoy knowing how a magic trick is performed, too — I think it gives me a deeper appreciation for exactly how skillful the magician is — but then again, I’ve always liked knowing how the sausage is made. Many folks would rather never know how the lady gets sawed in half, or how a painter simulates sunlight peaking through the clouds, or how a composer strings harmonies into a coherent musical idea. It’s an attitude I can’t fully support, but I do understand it: a little magic is lost when you can spot every palmed card. Manapul and Buccellato have long been a team that rewards digging beneath those effects, but this issue found me wishing that I wasn’t so aware of what they were doing. Continue reading →
Today, Shelby and Scott are discussing Detective Comics 31, originally released May 7th, 2014.
Shelby: I love magic tricks. Granted, I understand it’s not actually magic; I am an adult, after all. Even knowing it’s all just slight of hand, I still fall for it every time. Personally, I think the most effective illusions are the most simple; some quick misdirection, maybe some witty repartee, and suddenly there are three foam balls in my hand when I could have swore I started out with one. That’s one of the reasons I like Batman as much as I do; he’s got the fancy gadgets and whatnot, but at its core his act is one of illusion and misdirection. We look for what he leads us to believe is there, and gives us something completely different while our backs are turned. Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul have adopted a similar approach with Detective Comics, and it’s just as effective as any close-up magic I’ve seen.
Today, Drew and Scott are discussing The Flash Annual 3, originally released April 30th, 2014.
…at the end of the day, the Flash is still the same tone as it was before. It’s still the same character, but kind of just reinvisioned.
Drew: The above quote isn’t about Robert Venditti and Van Jensen’s new run on The Flash — Manapul was actually speaking about the start of his own run back when I interviewed him in 2012 — but it might as well be. That a statement can be used to describe a new take on the character as well as the newer take that succeeds is is a universal truism in comics, but it also speaks to an innate truth about the Flash: he needs to move forward. Of course, Jensen and Venditti aren’t privy to the clean break that started Manapul’s run, and have thus needed to address Barry’s past as much as his future. Fortunately, they are also paying attention to this series’ history of meta-commentary, addressing their own creative baggage right on the page. Of all the things they could have ported from the previous run, this is my absolute favorite, injecting The Flash Annual 3 with a sense of rebellion.
Today, Drew and Scott are discussing The Flash 30, originally released April 23rd, 2014.
Drew: I lost a part of my innocence when Richard Harris passed away. It wasn’t an existential crisis brought about by confronting mortality, but the cognitive dissonance brought about by his role of Albus Dumbledore being filled by Michael Gambon. I’m sure for many young Harry Potter fans, that was the first time they were confronted with the notion that the identity of a beloved fictional character is so dictated by casting decisions, but looking at the differences between the two actors’ performances, it’s almost as if they were playing different characters. Harris imbued the role with a quiet, almost doddering sweetness, while Gambon’s take was notably sterner. Both takes are supported by the books, but it had never occurred to me before seeing Prisoner of Azkaban that an actor’s (or director’s) emphasis on certain traits could have such a profound effect on the final product. I found myself thinking those same thoughts as Robert Venditti and Van Jensen assert their own read on Barry Allen in The Flash 30.
Today, Drew and Scott are discussing Detective Comics 30, originally released April 2nd, 2014.
Welcome to Gotham City. It has the potential to be great…for the both of us. It’s a new start.
Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Drew: Two figures arrive in the big city for the first time. It’s the start of many a classic story of city life — including this issue — but it also accurately describes Manapul and Buccellato’s “move” to Gotham. After a stellar run on The Flash (ha), Manapul and Buccellato have brought their signature meta-commentary to DC’s namesake, opening with the quote above. The line is not necessarily spoken — it could plausibly be said by Elena or Annie Aguila (the two figures we see arriving in Gotham), but is rather explicitly not represented as dialogue, or even internal monologue — there’s no speech balloon, no voiceover box, not even a quotation mark, suggesting that this really is the creators speaking directly to the audience. It’s a bold move, but exactly the kind that gives me confidence that this does indeed have the potential to be great.
Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion 6, originally released March 26th, 2014.
Spencer: Villains aren’t exactly known for their teamwork. Sure, they team up all the time, but it rarely lasts and never ends well; egos get wounded, agendas clash, and varying levels of morality get in the way. Just look at the Crime Syndicate over in Forever Evil proper; they’ve been keeping secrets and plotting against each other from the moment they reached our Earth, likely even longer. The only group of villains who have stuck it out for the long haul are the Rogues of Central City. What makes them different? Brian Buccellato and Scott Hepburn’s Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion 6 implies that it may just be because the Rogues understand the way the world works better than most villains.
Today, Drew and Scott are discussing The Flash 29, originally released March 26th, 2014.
Drew: I have a friend who used to love Law and Order — er, he liked it as much as a person can really like an episodic primetime drama — the point is, he was happy to tune in every week to see how the team handles the new case. That is, until his son pointed out to him how formulaic the show really is — right down to when in the episode they’ll nab the wrong suspect, find that key clue, or offer a plea bargain. It ruined the show for him — knowing what would happen next robbed every development of any drama, so he just stopped watching it. In some way, we all have this same experience with storytelling in general: the more stories we consume, and the more familiar with common formulas we become, the better we are at predicting what happens next. We recognize foreshadowing, we notice if we’re being intentionally misled — we just become harder to fool. Many of us are willing to put that aside to suspend our disbelief that maybe the hero won’t make it out this time, or maybe the lead couple won’t end up together, after all, but sometimes a writer still wants to surprise us. This often requires going into DEEP left field, which can make the resulting developments feel arbitrary, or even nonsensical. Unfortunately, those are the kinds of final act reveals we get in Flash 29.
Today, Scott and Drew are discussing The Flash 28, originally released February 26th, 2014.
Scott: As a kid, I didn’t enjoy ghost stories very much. I did my best to avoid them, but sometimes, late at night at a slumber party or around a campfire, it was impossible. I endured; listening wasn’t the hard part. In the moment, whatever shock or gore the stories contained didn’t affect me much. It was the aftermath, the lingering psychological torment — the fear, however irrational, that maybe the deranged killers they told these stories about might actually exist. In The Flash 28, Barry Allen is confronted with my greatest fear: the murderous monster from his childhood ghost story is real. A ghost story combined with a detective story, this issue is as fun as you can imagine, even though all of the elements don’t mix together quite right. Continue reading →