Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batman 48 originally released January 20th, 2016.
Drew: There’s a concept in biology of “synapomorphy” which is, essentially, a trait that’s unique to one biological group (which can then be used to distinguish that group from all others). Milk production would be a synapomorphy of mammals, for example. What’s interesting is that these synapomorphies can pile up such that a given biological group might have many distinguishing characteristics — to expand on our mammal example, hair, inner ear bones, and a unique type of teeth are all synapomorphies. Each of these traits developed separately, but all have come to define mammals as a whole.
A similar thing can happen with the defining characteristics of fictional characters — particularly characters who exist in multiple media in stories told by multiple people. Batman is a prime example of this, with countless defining characteristics that range from costuming to gadgets to locations to supporting cast to overarching themes. Some were there more-or-less from the beginning, but others have become essential more recently as new stories are told. A few years ago, Patrick suggested that deconstructions of the Batman mythos have become so common as to become a defining characteristic of the character itself. I was initially skeptical — I can certainly think of plenty of great examples of Batman stories that are as straightforward as can be — but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that we’re living through the time when meta-commentary is becoming a defining characteristic of Batman storytelling. Or, at least, it’s a defining characteristic of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, but when they do it so well, it’s hard to argue that it should be any other way. Continue reading →
Today, Michael and Spencer are discussing Superman: American Alien 3, originally released January 13, 2016.
Michael: Here are two words for you: Max Landis. It’s likely that you have one of the two following reactions: A) “I heard that guy is a conceited ass” or B) “I have no idea who that is.” Consequently, I’d bet that Max Landis himself would say that neither of those reactions bother him all that much. Nevertheless, when it comes to Max Landis I can assure you of this: the man knows Superman. Continue reading →
Today, Drew and Michael are discussing Batman: Europa 3 originally released December 30th, 2015.
Joel: There is another character that was just as important as the two of us: New York City. Karen: So New York City is like another character? Molly: Yeah.
They Came Together
Drew: Everyone has heard the old “setting as a character” cliche from some exhausted press tour interview, but filmmakers rarely acknowledge that cities aren’t fully fictional. That is, calling Chicago a character in The Fugitive is a bit like calling John F. Kennedy a character in Forrest Gump — these are real things (albeit fictionalized versions of them) that our fictional characters just happen to be interacting with. Moreover, if we accept the “setting as a character” cliche, it only ever reveals the setting to be a supremely boring character, undergoing no change over the course of the story. Indeed, because stories that tend to feature “settings as a character” tend to stay in just one city (I’m looking at you, New York), it’s impossible to separate the “character” of the setting from the general tone and mood of the narrative. Batman: Europa sets out to do the opposite, a kind of city character study — or perhaps “travel guide” is more accurate — by way of a superhero adventure. Continue reading →
Today, Michael and Taylor are discussing Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1 originally released December 9th, 2015.
Michael: To be perfectly honest, I have been putting this write up off. I’m a cynical, curmudgeonly sort of critic. I actively try to fight it but sometimes my nature gets the better of me. People are super excited about Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m happy that people are super excited, honestly. Personally I wasn’t wowed by the limited series’ first outing.
Today, Drew and Mark are discussing Batman 47 originally released December 9th, 2015.
Drew: I’ve complained before about the prescriptive nature of Chekhov’s Gun — that our awareness of Chekhov’s “rule” necessarily gives away elements of the ending. A great example of this is the first season of The Killing — I enjoyed it quite a bit, but Chekhov’s gun dictated that something must tie the mayoral campaign that features so heavily to the titular crime. The specifics can still surprise us, but we know we’re not being shown that stuff just for fun. Of course, the predictability of Chekhov’s rule loses its stranglehold on narratives that aren’t driven by plotting — say, a character study or a situational comedy. In those cases, we might actually be shown things just for fun (or nuance, or detail, etc). We tend to think of superhero comics as plot-driven narratives, but B-stories can often take on less plotty structures, as we learn more about a character, or are amused by their situation. It can be difficult, then, to know if a given element of a B-story represents a gun that will eventually go off, or just a portrait of someone who has a gun. These are the questions in my mind as Bruce grapples with his own obscured history in Batman 47. Continue reading →
Today, Michael and Mark are discussing Batman 46 originally released November 11th, 2015.
Michael: Batman 46 continues Scott Snyder’s ongoing query into what the legacy of Batman really means. The frightening Mr. Bloom continues to perform his preferred method of murder by poking his razor fingers through the bodies of various Gotham elite. Gordon and Julia momentarily put Bloom out of commission before he makes his inevitable escape. Geri Powers reveals a whole army of robo-batsuits and tells Gordon how she knows where Bloom is hiding and is going to mount an attack on him. Gordon pleads to let him get Bloom himself because he knows that this is all Bloom’s trap, which it is. Meanwhile, we have a brief scene where Bruce once again reassures Julie that he is not the same man and proposes to her. Another side story involves Duke Thomas breaking into The Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge in order to track down his missing parents and Mr. Bloom. Continue reading →
Today, Spencer and Michael are discussing Batman 45, originally released October 14th, 2015.
Spencer: Does the man make Batman, or does Batman make the man? That seems to be the question at the heart of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Superheavy” arc, and with Bruce Wayne no longer under the cowl, it’s an especially timely one. Geri Powers, Jim Gordon, Bruce Wayne, and even Duke Thomas all have different ideas of what role Batman (and Robin!) should play and how that role should be carried out, and those conflicting perspectives make Batman 45 a captivating exploration of the function and legacy of the Dark Knight. Continue reading →
Today, Mark and Andy are discussing Batman & Robin Eternal 1, originally released October 7th, 2015.
Mark: Last year DC debuted three different weekly series, Earth 2 Worlds End, New 52 Futures End, and Batman Eternal. Where the former two had shorter runs and were used to set up the events of Convergence, Batman Eternal was a 12-month affair that told its own story (though there were a few spin-off titles based on the events of the series during that time). Frankly, 12 months was way too long a time to tell the story Eternal wanted to tell, and the amount of juggling it had to do to keep all of its narrative balls in the air made for a sometimes boring, occasionally incomprehensible read. Now, six months after the title’s conclusion, I could hardly tell you much about it and actually had to look up how it ended.
But for all of the title’s failings, there’s no denying it was a commercial success. The same probably can’t be said for the less-loved Futures End and Worlds End. Everyone loves Batman, and even though readership dropped steadily over the year, enough folks were willing to spend more than $200 to read it all that we’re getting a sequel of sorts, Batman & Robin Eternal.
Today, Ryan D. and Taylor are discussing Batman Annual 4 originally released September 30th, 2015.
Ryan: Batman has been happening for quite some time, both in the real world and in the oft rebooted DC Universe. Fans of the series remember his numerous encounters with his rogues gallery throughout the years, as villains escape time after time from the doldrums of Arkham Asylum to once again terrorize the city of Gotham. The formula for Batman may even be seen as a little tiresome: villain arrives, terrorizes Batman, Batman wins, villain returns again, eventually — maybe teaming with another foe, something messed up happens to Bruce Wayne’s personal life, his family rescues him, rinse, repeat. So what is it that draws us back into Batman narratives when the conceit can seem formulaic? Much of its appeal, I would argue, comes from the long-standing history which the reader shares with the character, one which can make jumping into a title so compounded with spin-offs and mini-series and event tie-ins intimidating for some. Batman Annual 4 offers an easy jumping-in point as Bruce Wayne undergoes yet another identity crisis, catching a casual or first-time reader up while showing the audience why a protagonist mired in the past can be so fascinating.
Today, Mark and Spencer are discussing Grayson 12, originally released September 23rd, 2015.
Mark: Grayson 12 is billed as Dick’s return to Gotham after quitting Spyral, and it is, but it’s also a continuation of the Grayson spy game. Dick truly intends to leave his life as international sex spy behind, but his hand is forced when the mysterious Agent Zero attacks him at Wayne Manor. Unless he returns to Spyral, she threatens, they’ll reveal to the world that Bruce Wayne is Batman. It’s a threat that’s been made in Bat Family comics forever, but it actually has greater weight here as Bruce is currently in no position to defend himself. Continue reading →