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 and Patrick discuss Justice League 30, Batman and Frankenstein 31, Uncanny X-Men 21, Batman Eternal 7, The Unwritten Apocalypse 5, Batman / Superman 11, Hulk 3, and Thor: God of Thunder 22.
Patrick: It seems like no matter what kinds of nuanced stories are being told in the DCU, we all just wanna talk about the conclusion to Forever Evil. Well, let it never be said that Retcon Punch is impervious to the will of everyone. Justice League 30 sees the team back in action for the first time since September (believe it). The issue opens with the least necessary flashforward I’ve ever seen in my life: a Secret Society meeting busted up by the Justice League. The big shocker — presumably — is that Lex, Shazam and Captain Cold are among the Leaguers. Big surprise, if you didn’t see the cover of the issue, which you almost certainly did if you have eyes.
The bulk of the issue is Luthor presenting his case to the Justice League. Basically, he says that he wants to be a member, and has realized that working with the League might be his best chance for doing all that good he knows he’s capable of. No one trusts him, even after a session with Diana’s lasso, so they boot him out of his own satellite and resume operations. But Lex isn’t out of the equation yet — he’s deduced Batman’s identity, which I believe means he’s about to become the new Robin (Robin Rising: Omega is due out in July!). Joking aside, this is basically a resetting issue, confidently assuring readers that not much has changed in the wake of Forever Evil — just the names on the roster on the Justice League’s email list. To Johns’ credit, part of the reason I don’t have stronger feelings about this development is that Lex is written as a genuinely caring individual, with much less over-all menace than I would expect from Superman’s greatest enemy. The bigger surprises are still stewing in the wings, like Captain Cold’s involvement with the League or Jessica Cruz as the first female
Green Lantern Power Ring of 2814.
Hey speaking of an inevitable return of Robin, Batman spends most of Batman and Frankenstein 31 vowing not to let that happen. Pat Gleason gets the month off and hands penciling responsibilities over to Doug Mahnke (who is actually credited as “guest artist”). Mahnke does an admirable job of channeling Gleason’s eye for detail and dramatic staging, so even when the extent of the action is Bruce and Frank chatting on a mountain top, it never really wants for excitement. I also really like seeing Tomasi get a chance to contextualize Bruce’s actions against Frankenstein in the face of the grief he was experiencing last time. Fun fact about me: I love it any time someone makes Batman apologize. This whole arc has been about Batman realizing that he can’t just steamroll his way to a solution, so his mea culpa thematically ties this whole set of issues together. As if to hit that note one more time, Batman only survives the fight with those yetis by giving up.
Drew, I find that to be a fascinating angle on Bruce’s weakness — his will is too strong. Only after the loss of his son is he able to slowly overcome this weakness.
Drew: It’s definitely an interesting angle. As much as we like to joke about Batman’s solution always being punching, he’s long been just as likely to solve a problem with his mind. But it’s still odd to see him outright surrender, something that he does twice in this issue. Maybe that’s foreshadowing of his apparent failure to stop the resurrection of Damian, or maybe it’s just establishing that he’s due for a win — either way, I’m definitely on the hook for next month.
Uncanny X-Men 21 ends with a similarly tantalizing cliffhanger, as we seem poised to finally learn just who is behind all of the Sentinel attacks that have been driving this series. The rest of the issue is a bit chaotic, but that might be exactly the point. Nothing seems to be going right for Scott Summers: his powers are going haywire, a highjacked S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier is being used to attack his friends, and his new school is apparently about to be attacked, as well. The fact that all of these insults are perpetrated simultaneously by one man (or woman, as it may turn out to be) speaks to a level of infiltration that I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around. Honestly, I can’t even say what’s more impressive: discovering the New Xavier School’s highly secret location, taking over all systems of a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, or infiltrating Scott’s own head. Who could possibly be behind such far-reaching attacks? Hank McCoy knows, but he’s not telling any of us until next time.
That kind of tight serialization finds another home in Batman Eternal 7, where we finally catch up with the simmering battle between Falcone and The Penguinn — only, Falcone never appears. Instead, we get the likes of Catwoman, Professor Pyg, even Tiger Shark. The Penguin/Catwoman stuff heavily recalls Batman Returns, right down to the high camp of penguin minions with cameras on their heads. That’s an area this series hasn’t gone before, but it’s not the only new tonal ground this issue breaks. Indeed, the unsettling madness of Pyg meets an incongruous “listen to reason!” appeal from Batman here, revealing an approach that seems to be aiming to be all Batman stories simultaneously. The results are decidedly muddied, leaving a version of Batman that simply feels inconsistent. But hey, at least we can finally say goodbye to that horrible Iceberg Casino design, right?
Patrick: Man, I tell ya, as long as the Penguin literally squawks like a penguin, I’m going to complain about it. I mean, that’s just so fucking stupid. There might be a bit of acknowledgement here though, as Pyg taunts Batman with a speak and spell, prompting all his henchmen to repeat what the pig says (for those of you keeping score at home, it’s “oink”). I appreciate that Ray Fawkes and the rest of the writing staff might be emphasizing the difference between the organized crime variety of criminals from the campy supervillain variety. That actually leaves room for quite a bit of conflict between them. And like Drew said: whatever we gotta do to sink the Iceberg.
The Unwritten Apocalypse 5 follows the adventures of foul-mouthed rabbit turned raving lunatic Pauly Bruckner. Pauly’s a strange presence in the world of Unwritten – a saccharine sweet anthropomorphic bunny who wants nothing more than to experience a life unlike the sugary happy world he was created in. His propensity to use the word “fuck” freely is usually played for laughs, and the distance between what he is and the world he lives in is frequently hilarious. What can I say? I laugh at the thought of Winne the Pooh calling someone a spunkwad. But this issue is all about Pauly seeing the order of his old world, and how the current state of All Realities Being Real presents no such order, and nothing has a point. Carey’s writing is as lurid and evocative as ever as he crafts Bruckner’s nostalgic voice over: “Only thing that bothered me was the dreams. Willowbank dreams. I mean, I fucking hated that place when I was there, but… nobodys got stabbed in the eye for a tin of beans, you know? You could be happy there. You more or less had to be.” As much fun as total narrative chaos is, even the more chaotic creatures — like our temporary protagonist — crave the security of a single familiar story.
Batman/Superman is always a tricky balance between the highflying fantasy heroics of Superman’s world and the moodier detective work of Batman’s. Usually, for a problem to be big enough for both of them to take on, it’s really got to be a Superman-level catastrophe, and issue 11 takes that philosophy and blows it out enormously. Batman heads into the Phantom Zone to determine how Doomsday escaped, and by extension, what might be behind all of this. That’s a Superman-conflict, but Clark is noticeably absent from much of the action. I guess the math works out that 1 Krypto+ 1 Steel + 1 Wonder Woman = 1 Superman, because those are the characters helping Bats explore the void. Interestingly, they have to deal with Ghost Soldier, Mongul and one of Zod’s henchmen while they’re in there, three different Superman villains. It all culminates in the introduction of Xa-Du, the Phantom King. I don’t know this character, but just seeing him bouyed by all these other villains that I have gotten to know pretty well over the last couple issues does make me excited to see what he’s capable of as we move forward.
Drew: I don’t know, his character — and this issue as a whole — feels utterly pointless to me. He’s apparently the mechanism by which Harrow came to develop the Ghost Soldier technology, and while I think it’s neat that that’s tied to the Phantom Zone, I think it would be a heck of a lot cleaner to say Harrow’s team developed the technology by simply studying the zone. It would avoid the introduction of yet another character, and would save us the time of journeying into a “world between life and death” where the stakes are effectively zero. Sure, there’s like half a page where it looks like some Phantom Zone prisoners are about to escape, but we just saw the same story play out with Zod and Faora in Superman/Wonder Woman (plus, this is a problem only created by going on this pointless journey in the first place). Point is, I’m not sure this chapter was necessary in any way, and wonder if this series and event might have been better off if this wasn’t a part of Doomed, at all.
The stakes of Hulk 3 feel similarly arbitrary, with Bruce apparently at risk of cementing his brain damage by Hulking out. Maria Hill is only able to offer a half-assed explanation about his healing factor working too quickly, which seems like it misses the point of both “healing” and neurological damage in general. In any event, there’s some pressure for Bruce to NOT go green, but with Abomination thoroughly trouncing the rest of the Avengers, he really has no choice. A no-brainer, if you will. Without more to invest in on the non-Hulk side, we’re left only with an exaggerated punch-em-up between two apparently equally matched individuals, the kind of classic “Superman fights another super-powered alien” scene. Which is to say: it’s not the most exciting thing. For all the damage they’re doing to one another, it might as well be a tickle fight, but a tickle fight that MIGHT RESULT IN PERMANENT BRAIN DAMAGE!
Ah, the penultimate act. Whether we’re talking a three or five act structure, that second-to-last one is always the most thrilling. It takes our characters right to the brink of destruction, and leaves us fearing that the other shoe might just drop. That’s exactly what’s going on in the present day portion of Thor: God of Thunder 22, which finds both Thor and Agent Solomon falling into Troll-filled sinkholes in Broxton. Meanwhile, in the future (or however that works), Old Thor has already started to turn the tides on Galactus, first by calling in his granddaughters, and then by seeking out All-Black the Necrosword. It’s a clever move from writer Jason Aaron, serving both to introduce the mechanism of Old Thor’s victory AND to demonstrate just how desperate he is. It’s a distinctly different kind of fourth-act cliffhanger than the present day action, which largely leaves our heroes in mortal danger, but the pairing is as alluring as Esad Ribic’s art with Ive Svorcina’s color work, which only gets better as the series continues to get (literally) darker.