Drew: The Riddler may not have seemed like the most intuitive choice for a retelling of Batman’s origin — he’s in no man’s land, much more specific threat than those posed by organized crime in Year One, but he’s also not Batman’s biggest villain. Of course, that ignores the specific nature of this origin story, one that openly acknowledges how well-known the story is — or at least how well we think we know the story. That is, in order to not be a total retread, it requires the type of surprise ending we typically associate with riddles. It’s the kind of ending that recontextualizes the three-part story we’ve been reading as one emotional arc with a focus on something we may not have been expecting: Bruce’s relationship to Alfred. Continue reading
Shelby: On the surface, the phrase “fight fire with fire” doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. I mean, what are you going to do, set the fire on fire? That’s not going to get you anywhere. While it’s come to mean “taking extreme measures in the face of extreme threat,” its origin is actually fairly logical. As an early fire-fighting method, people would set small, controlled fires to burn up potential fuel and prevent larger, far more damaging fires from spreading. It’s logical until you consider how easy it is for a controlled fire to turn on you, however. In the end, no matter how you use the phrase, ultimately you’re just going to end up getting burned, a lesson learned by General Lane and Wraith in the latest installment of Superman Unchained.
Today, Shelby and Spencer are discussing Batman 32, originally released June 25th, 2014.
Shelby: I prefer playing games where everyone knows the rules. Sure, there are some PC games out there where you’re just dumped in the game universe and have to figure out what to do and how to do it (Myst, I’m looking at you), but that’s different. That’s more me trying to solve a puzzle than not knowing the rules. If I’m going to play a game with other people, I want everyone to know the rules; what’s the fun in beating someone at a game they don’t know how to play? In Zero Year, Scott Snyder has had a very young Batman pitted against the Riddler in a game our hero has consistently lost. Personally, I think there are two big reasons Batman has been losing this fight: he assumes he knows the rules of the game, and he assumes the bad guy will actually abide by them.
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
Greg: Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy are both some of my favorite and least favorite things to happen to contemporary pop culture. I love them because the movies, particularly that second one, are smashingly good entertainments, with towering performances, consistent style, and an attitude of taking the world seriously that feels naturally extended from the best Batman comics and ‘90s animated series episodes. I hate them because now it feels like every single big budget blockbuster that comes out (even the new Captain America, for goodness’ sake) is dark, gritty, oppressively somber, po-faced, and muted. It’s a conflicting feeling because as much as I love the shock and awe that comes from treating these extraordinary scenarios with verisimilitude, I similarly love the fun and joy that comes from treating them as, well, fun and joyful. Batman ‘66 Meets The Green Hornet is a strikingly contagious example of what happens when you have affectionate fun in your larger-than-life storytelling, and I’d like writers Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman to get their own big budget trilogy, please.
Drew: Between comics, movies, tv shows, video games, radio serials, and children’s imaginations, Batman is arguably the most prolific fictional character in history. With that long, multi-media history comes a secondary history of reinvention. I’ve seen it said that each generation redefines Batman, but in my mind, he’s revamped far more often than once a generation. Each new iteration brings changes, some more superficial than others, but what is it that actually defines Batman? What is his immutable core? The thing that would actually make him a different character if it was absent? With Zero Year, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have already given lie to what many people would assume were givens — grimness chief amongst them — but issue 31 finds them asserting an essential element I hadn’t expected: masochism. Continue reading
Scott: I just finished watching the first season of Broad City on Comedy Central, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s about two girls navigating life in their twenties in New York. Not a groundbreaking premise by any means, but executed better than most. For a series with two main characters, it strikes a rare balance where both stars carry the same amount of comedic and emotional responsibilities. The co-leads, Abby and Ilana, are equally compelling and equally frustrating as they deal with issues like finding a new apartment or fitting in at a restaurant that is decidedly fancier than they are. Yes, they talk about men, too, but relationship struggles do not define these characters or fuel the season’s story arc. It’s a refreshing look at two independent characters, who are women, leading equally important lives. When reading Superman/Wonder Woman, another series with co-leads, I can’t help but feel it lacks that distribution of importance. This issue further illustrates that Superman is the dominant figure in the series, while hinting that writer Charles Soule maybe wishes that weren’t the case.
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.
Peter Tomasi can be seen as a workhorse of DC’s writer stable. He is constantly dealing with other people’s baggage in his own series, including the Batman and Robin-altering death of Damian Wayne. But that’s not the only thread Tomasi has used to weave his Batman epic. Indeed, the loss of Robin has turned into survey of how the New 52’s Batman fits into rest of the Universe. Issue 30, titled Batman and Wonder Woman, plays with some of the best toys in the box. Patrick sat down with Pete and went through the issue page by page, so get your copy handy and join us on the Commentary Track.
Retcon Punch: First, can you talk about going after Wonder Woman and exploring the more magical end of the Universe. I know we’re chasing around resurrection pits and whatnot…
Peter Tomasi: Yeah, it seemed like a good place to explore. They’ve had Lazarus Pits all around the globe, and it felt like a cool bit that we hadn’t ever seen where: why wouldn’t a secret island full of Amazons have one? Maybe there’s a little something-something going on there, and we could play with a little magic there. I don’t really do this a lot, I’m a very linear storyteller — I wrote this whole sequence of them going to the island first and all this stuff. Continue reading
Spencer: I’m impressed by how quickly Batman Eternal is moving along. A year-long story with new chapters releasing every week could easily fall into the trap of being slowly paced, or even worse, of using filler to stretch out the story to fit into 52 issues, but if anything, the creative team of Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman, Tim Seeley, and Jason Fabok seem to be speeding through the story at an alarming rate. I’m starting to think that “the end” teased back in issue one may come sooner than we think; at the speed they’re throwing out ideas, the end may very well be the beginning of the story. Continue reading