Look, there are a lot of comics out there. Too many. We can never hope to have in-depth conversations about all of them. But, we sure can round up some of the more noteworthy titles we didn’t get around to from the week. Today, Drew, Patrick, and Spencer discuss Batman Black and White 4, Green Lantern Corps 26, Justice League 3000 1, Justice League 25, Nightwing 26, Li’l Gotham 9, and Forever Evil: Arkham War 3.
Drew: We tend to talk a lot about auteurism around here — it’s a fascinating subject as far as working with company-owned characters goes — but anyone who still needs convincing on the power a given creative team can have over a character need look no further than Batman Black and White 4. DC has once again put together a stellar (and eclectic) lineup of creators, all seemingly defined by their distinctive styles. The result is a very diverse collection of Batman stories, touching on everything from the nature of heroism to the routine of fighting crime every single night.
My personal favorite is Nguyen’s day-in-the-life-of-Batman story, which concludes on an oddly pensive note, but the Allreds channel their adorable, retro style into a fun Penguin caper, and I was fascinated to see Kenneth Rocafort’s art sans color. All of the stories have drastically different tones and looks, making this issue a masterclass in the range of Batman. A few feel struggle to fit their stories into the allotted pages, but this is by and large one of the most consistently enjoyable issues of this run.
On the other end of the continuity spectrum is Green Lantern Corps 26, which spends an awful lot of time addressing recent events here and in Green Lantern, but ultimately delivers a satisfying, self-contained episode in the saga of the Durlans. I liked these new recruits from the start, and absolutely relish the opportunity to take a closer look at where Jruk — perhaps the most easily stereotyped of the group — came from. Gags where Jruk has no word for diplomacy or debate are easy, but I can’t help but chuckle. More importantly, the idea a planet where policy decisions are made via gladiatorial death-matches was exactly the kind of inventive world-of-the-week story I’ve long craved from this title. This series threatens to be highjacked by Hal’s ring-quest and the machinations of the Durlans, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying the heck out of the tentative groove it’s starting to find.
Patrick: Yeah, there’s something super-fun about how much time the issue makes us spend with non-2814ers. Look, I love Hal and John and Guy as much as the next mega-nerd, but GLC has always shone when showcasing the real diversity of its cast. I’ve made no secret of my affection for Soraniuk Natu, and seeing Arisia Rab on the page pushes that same button for me. Van Jensen is following the ol’ Tomasi formula pretty well, letting these planet-of-the-week (I’m stealing that from you, Drew) stories double as character pieces. We learned a little about Jruk’s homeworld, but we learned even more about him — he still doesn’t totally get “diplomacy” as a concept, but notice how he jumps to the defense of his fellow corpsmen and even insists that Lanterns don’t kill. Good insights on the new cast, and fun appearances from the old — basically exactly what I want.
Justice League 3000 1 turned out to be the biggest surprise in my pull this week. I normally have a no-fly rule for Keith Giffen, but he and J.M. DeMatteis are crafting an ornery, defiant series masked as a future-of-the-DCU adventure. The issue is set in the early 31st century, and the Wonder Twins (yes, the Wonder Twins) have cloned the original core group of Justice Leaguers. This means: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Lantern. Who’s DNA they’re using is a question that never totally gets resolved, and Flash ends up looking like maybe there’s some Bart Allen mixed in with the Barry and Wally, and Green Lantern also appears to be a weird mix of Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner and even Alan Scott. When the Twins send the League out to deal with some big problem, they don’t work together quite right. There are a bunch of problems, but chiefly, they don’t appear to be exactly who they’re “supposed” to be. One of the first criticisms that Green Lantern throws out is that he remembers the Flash’s personality to be “sunnier.” They continue to bicker, and act impulsively and violently, and we keep cutting back to the Wonder Twins reminding us how important it is that they get the characters right.
You can make a very easy comparison to the New 52 — the heroes are all technically there, but there’s so much about them that’s not quite right. Further, the consequences of fucking them up means certain doom for the Twins. It’s fascinating. At one point, Flash tries to clarify their predicament by saying:
So we remember — and we don’t. We’re the Justice League — but we’re not. Am I the only one who thinks this is the stupidest idea ever?
To which Green Lantern reassuringly replies “Stupid or not — this is the hand we’ve been dealt. So let’s stop whining.” Ooof — that’s kind of a slap to everyone, right? Terry — the male Wonder Twin — has my favorite line in the issue. He says of creating the new Justice League “all our assumptions have been based on questionable legends.” It’s so easy to gripe about what’s wrong with Superman right now (or Green Lantern or whatever), but the fact remains that none of the characters have sterling publishing histories. Every single one of these guys requires constant revision to stay relevant and Justice League 3000 seems uniquely poised to address just how much of a mixed bag that can be.
Meanwhile, in plain old vanilla Justice League 25, the New 52isms are being embraced left and right. Spencer, I’ll let you go to town on this one, but this might have been this first chapter of Forever Evil that made any kind of emotional sense to me. We’ve been saying for a while that the Crime Syndicate’s alliance doesn’t really add up, and it’s good to get some confirmation of that, right?
Spencer: Yeah, things are coming together nicely on that front. This is easily the most enjoyable issue to come out of Forever Evil for me, and I think that’s largely because — unlike the rest of the Syndicate, especially Ultraman — Owlman feels like a real, fleshed out character.
We talked last month about how Earth 3 feels like a world of irredeemable evil where everyone acts like a complete sociopath for seemingly no reason, but Owlman actually shows some nuance. It’s pretty clear that Thomas equates love with control:
Bruce and Dick have clashed over Bruce’s controlling attitude in the past, but underneath it’s always been clear that Bruce genuinely loved and wished the best for Dick. Owlman, though, can only show love by controlling someone; unlike Bruce, he never could have let Dick go off and become his own hero.
Instead, he’ll continue to try to “fix” his family until it’s perfect, but that’s an impossible task; perfect families don’t exist, especially when perfection is defined by having complete and total control over your family. I am certainly not rooting for Owlman, but I can’t help but feel a little for him; he longs for something that is impossible to find, but he doesn’t have the capacity to ever understand that. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a compelling villain.
I’ve probably gone on about this issue too long already, but before we move on I just wanted to praise artist Doug Mahnke and the rest of his team for their phenomenal work this issue. I’ve been a fan of Mahnke since his days on Joe Kelly’s JLA, but if you ask me, this is his best work since the New 52 began. He switches between emotion and action without missing a beat, and can even make a page that’s nothing but close-ups of a guy’s hands fascinating, but the stand-out moment for me is the beautiful splash of Owlman’s “explosive” (ugh) entrance.
Father, I shall become an Owl! Man!
In Nightwing 26, meanwhile, Kyle Higgins continues to flesh out Dick’s new life in Chicago. I must say, due to no fault of Higgins’, it’s a little depressing reading this book knowing that Forever Evil has probably destroyed Dick’s new start in Chicago for good (Owlman even mentions hurting Dick’s roommates, the jerk). Still, it’s a testament to how enjoyable this book has become since Dick moved to the Windy City that I’m worried at all. This issue is mostly set-up, but it does see the return of Mali the Mimic from way back in issue 19. She makes an intriguing villain; Dick is able to share a fun chase with her (with echoes of Batman and Catwoman), she gains some sympathy since she’s an obvious victim (and is apparently stealing only to try to cure herself), but she’s still dangerous enough to pose a threat to Nightwing and others. I was confused and off put by her original appearance in issue 19, but now that she’s been fleshed out, I’m looking forward to spending more time with the character (and hopefully with Nightwing in Chicago as well *crosses fingers*)
Drew: I’m with you there, Spencer. Beyond the growing cast of characters, the well-observed roommate interactions (let me guess — Higgins is a bit of a clutter bug), and the perfectly paced action, this issue sets up an intriguing status quo I would love to explore for a long time. Michael lands Dick a gig at a local cop bar, a surefire way to track down some juicy leads. It pays off almost immediately, but could be a wellspring of cases for a hero who no longer has access to police bands and security systems. For me, the reveal of a Batman regular as the big bad pulling Mali’s strings (har har) was a total surprise — some decadent icing on a well-made cake.
In contrast to Justice League 3000, Batman: Li’l Gotham 9 continues to be a love-letter to the DC Universe (albeit a corner of the universe that doesn’t exist in continuity). This issue collects digital issues 15 and 18, which feels like a random pairing, but really shows the range of fun this series is capable of. The first is a romp through the Gotham Comic Con, replete with commentary on fan culture, comic creators, even the leering “journalists” that were such a problem at NYCC this year. The other story follows a day(off) in the life of Jenna Duffy, carpenter to the supervillains of Gotham. It’s basically an excuse for as many villain cameos as possible, which this series always does very well. This series occupies a strange world, halfway between the BTAS and pre-reboot comics continuity, but it continues to be one of the most welcoming on DC’s shelf.
Spencer: You’re absolutely right, Drew, and this might just be my favorite issue of Li’l Gotham yet. The Carpenter story was great enough, especially once the villain cameos moved past Gotham baddies and started bringing in some truly unexpected characters, but the first story really feels like something special. Nguyen and Fridolfs show a deft understanding of Comic Con culture and a refreshing ability to poke fun at themselves as they lampoon Artists’ Alley and the impenetrable Comic Con ticket-ordering process (which keeps logging even the Bat-Computer out), but they also show that they understand just what makes these events fun — and why they mean so much to fans:
Li’l Gotham is consistently a funny, enjoyable romp, but I’d love to see it keep this level of commentary and heart up in the future.
Interestingly enough, Forever Evil: Arkham War 3 often feels like a dark mirror to Li’l Gotham to me; both series love to bring all the Gotham baddies together for as many cameos as possible, but while Li’l Gotham mines their quirks for laughs, Arkham War is determined to make these characters as dark and serious as possible, with mixed results. This series’ treatment of Man-Bat, for example, is puzzling; even if Langstrom going full-on Arkham and assembling an army of Man-Bat disciples (and learning to remain sentient while transformed) is something already established in one of the Batman books I’m not reading, it still feels disingenuous to the character and his established history as a victim and sometime ally of Batman. Killer Croc feels equally off; recent books such as Red Hood and the Outlaws and Batwoman have been portraying Croc as smarter and more complex, sure, but the version of Croc portrayed in this issue is so ambitious and full of five-dollar words that he might as well be a different character completely:
Yet, I’m impressed by this book’s treatment of Penguin and Bane. Penguin’s sly role as a double agent, pitting Bane and the Arkhamites against each other, is fascinating and one of the cleverest uses of the character I’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, for however overdramatic and cheesy the scene became, Bane’s decision to take up the mantle of Batman is appropriate not only for the situation at hand, but for Bane’s character as a whole — it reminds me of that issue of Secret Six where Catman, Ragdoll, and Bane debated over who would make the best Batman.
I dunno. I legitimately don’t want to like this series; much of it feels like violence and gore just for violence and gore’s sake, and I find it implausible that any of Gotham’s citizens could survive this, nonetheless rebuild after this catastrophe. Yet, I still find myself intrigued by the machinations of Bane and Penguin. Patrick, how about you?
Patrick: Yeah, I mean, there’s the problem of there being too many damn villains around. And beyond villains all being bad people, they’re all the same kind of bad. There’s a sequence early in this issue where Clayface gets the upper hand in battle, and then starts to monologue. He’s interrupted by Emperor Penguin, who uses the opportunity to kick ass and start monologuing himself. And then Posion Ivy does it. And then Bane. It’s a sly little reference that Tomasi sees the problems too, but, y’know, what are you gonna do? You can change their context completely, but they’re still Batman villains.
It’s hard – my initial curiosity about how Gotham was weathering Forever Evil has mostly passed, but we’re only now reaching the half-way point of the series. I trust that this — and the other Forever Evil stories — will make for better memories than they do blow-by-blow adventures. “Remember the time Bane dressed up as Batman and threw Croc off Wayne Tower?” Oh, yeah: that does sound kinda neat.