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, Spencer and Drew discuss Batman Beyond Universe 15, Batman Eternal 29, Cyclops 6, Deadpool 36, Harley Quinn 11, The Flash 35, Starlight 6, The Amazing Spider-Man 8, New Warriors 11, Avengers 37, and Secret Avengers 9.
Spencer: One of the things I always admired about the Batman Beyond animated series was the way it resisted the temptation to just reuse future versions of Batman’s rogues gallery; while it was always respectful of Batman’s history, the writers worked hard to give Terry McGinnis his own legacy as Batman. The Batman Beyond comics, though, haven’t always done this; the previous volume especially seemed stuck mining Bruce’s past. In light of this, I was especially pleased with Batman Beyond Universe 15, a smart one-and-done story focusing on some of Terry’s signature rogues, Inque and Ten. Writers Kyle Higgins and Alex Siegel get a lot of mileage out of Terry and Ten’s complicated relationship, creating a story with both emotional depth as well as plenty of action courtesy of artist Thony Silas, whose unique layouts always add some extra energy to the page. While there are a few plot threads from previous issues being furthered, for the most part this is an excellent standalone story that any fan of the cartoon might want to give a shot.
Meanwhile, Batman Eternal 29 revisits the Deacon Blackfire storyline just in time to be too late to tie into Arkham Manor. Simon Coleby’s art and Romulo Fajardo Jr.’s colors are suitably creepy and do a lot of the heavy lifting in an issue that’s probably too cryptic for its own good. I think the implication here is that Arkham’s always been such a beacon of madness because, just like Friendly’s, it’s actually a portal to hell, but I can’t tell whether this is clever or just painfully literal. Other than that, though, I didn’t get much out of this issue besides a growing appreciation for Batwing, who at least has a cool suit and is more interesting when he’s this completely out of his depth. Hopefully next week ties this all together into a more satisfying conclusion.
Drew: Interesting. I also saw this issue as hard to follow, but I was actually going to cite Coleby’s work here as part of the problem. Not that it’s his fault, necessarily — he’s tasked with far too many beats to deliver any of them clearly — but I rarely had any idea what was going on in any of the scenes. The issue cuts so frenetically between scenes, I often found myself confused as to even who I was even looking at. Definitely not the strongest issue of this series.
Cyclops 6 saw a new creative team this month, and while writer John Layman leans on the rapidly-becoming-overused device of showing us the final scene, then rewinding to the actual start of the story, he actually captures a lot of what made Greg Rucka’s run so charming. It looks like the cast may be changing dramatically — Layman literally jettisons most of the Starjammer crew — but this series hasn’t lost sight of Scott’s emotional journey. New artist Javier Garron draws Scott as a much scrawnier, more awkward kid, but that’s a great fit for the “outsider” approach Layman is taking to the character.
Speaking of outsiders, Deadpool 36 hilariously finds Wade temporarily invited to help both the X-Men and the Avengers as they battle the Red Skull on Genosha. It’s pretty strange for an event tie-in — by the end of the issue, Wade has survived Axis in its entirety (and apparently, so has everyone this series might care about), but is suspiciously passive while his X-Men pals are inexplicably hostile. I’m sure reading Axis could explain everything, but I think I have enough info about the event to get the gist of what’s going on. I don’t know, Spencer, did this get you any more excited about picking up Axis?
Spencer: Possibly. Axis, as presented in this issue, looks quite fun, but that could just be a result of its story being filtered through the zany lens of Deadpool. I like a lot about this issue, but the way it lampoons the typical beats of an event comic (or an event comic tie-in) is easily my favorite part.
Despite its tie-in status, the issue also works just as well on its own merits, with Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn managing to blend humor and pathos better than they have in quite a while. Tie-ins have a tendency to derail books, but in this case it may have been just the jump-start Deadpool needed.
On the other hand, Harley Quinn 11 feels like it’s in a bit of a rut, at least in terms of its humor; its many jokes about Power Girl hit the same familiar beats over and over (have you ever heard a Power Girl joke online? Then you already know every joke this issue tells about her). So what sets this issue apart is, strangely enough, its heart. Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner have always portrayed Harley as someone who tries to do the right thing but is incapable of it, but it’s usually played for laughs; murderous laughs, but laughs nonetheless. Here, though, Palmiotti and Conner are able to compare and contrast Harley and the amnesiac Power Girl and lead us to the conclusion that they might actually be great friends, were it not for the fact that everything Harley tells Power Girl about their lives together is a straight-up lie. Harley still thinks she’s doing the right thing, but therein lies the tragedy: she’s so deranged that she has absolutely no moral center, and she’ll never be able to reform or form healthy relationships because she simply doesn’t have the capacity for it. Palmiotti and Connor don’t dwell on this, but it still gives the issue more weight than the typical installment of Harley Quinn.
Robert Venditti, Van Jensen, and Brett Booth are aiming high with The Flash 35, which finally puts the Flash of the future up against his modern-day counterpart, but I don’t know if it quite hits the mark. Between the explanation of Future-Flash’s motives and the explanation of the pseudo-science behind the tear in the Speed Force this is an extremely wordy issue, which robs the action of some of its energy, but what bothers me the most is how blatantly murderous Future-Flash is. Previous issues presented the character’s trip to the past as a form of redemption-through-suicide, and that makes his attempt to kill Barry while saving himself rather perplexing. Ultimately I spent more time trying to reconcile this issue with what came before than enjoying it for its own merits, which is never a good sign.
Drew: Actually, it’s surprising to me that neither Barry was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the world. That was Barry Allen’s defining act pre-New 52, so while I can excuse the clearly off-the-rails future Barry, I’m not sure what it means that our own Barry Allen actively fought against dying to save us all. That Wally takes the hit is a clever inversion — and definitely makes him out to be the hero — but it’s over far too quickly to say much about any of the characters involved.
The opposite is true of Mark Millar and Goran Parlov’s Starlight 6 — the conclusion is as satisfying as can be, tying up the series in an appropriately charming inversion of the beginning. They cram a lot into the issue — Duke rises from the literal Pit of the Vanquished to save the day, receive his accolades, and return home — but that also serves to remind us how little actually happened in the previous several issues. It’s a petty complaint in light of a great issue — and a series that will read beautifully in trade — but if Duke McQueen can save the day in a single issue, what the heck was he doing for the rest of the series? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter: Duke McQueen’s heroes journey inspires the masses, which in turn inspire his heroism. It’s easy to read this as a kind of paean to Millar’s fans, but the message is sincere enough for me to be totally okay with that.
Speaking of inspiring heroism, Amazing Spider-Man 8 is all about the power heroes have to motivate their fans. Spidey concludes his team-up with Ms. Marvel (who is a fantastic audience surrogate) with inspiring actions and words. It’s weird to see Peter Parker as an elder statesman in the Marvel Universe, but he steps into role-modeling duties effortlessly. I suppose it should come as no surprise — he’s been inspiring real life kids for decades — but it’s fun to see him transition into a slightly more respected role in the Marvel Universe (even if it’s only from Kamala’s perspective).
That sense of legacy is mirrored in the Spider-verse backup. I’ve definitely lost patience for watching yet another Spider-whatever get slaughtered, but this one at least found some new ground in giving us a kind of future-portrait of Peter’s life, settled down with Mary Jane and two spider-kids (adorably named after May and Ben). Those kids (or at least the older daughter) have followed in their father’s footsteps, again acknowledging Pater’s power to inspire. Unfortunately, it quickly squanders that goodwill in yet another bloodbath, which may actually be more frustrating.
Spencer: If that scene is frustrating to you, Drew, then it’s probably even more frustrating to the (very, very) devoted fans of Mayday Parker and her universe. I’m always weary to judge a story before it’s over, but it does seem a little wasteful to destroy the central relationship of what was at one point a quite popular alternate universe that supported its own title. Fingers crossed that Mayday gets a lot of attention in Spider-Verse proper.
As for the main story, I love the new meaning Slott and Gage give to “With great power comes great responsibility.” It isn’t just about fighting villains or rescuing innocents, but it also means that Peter has a responsibility to use his power to guide young heroes like Kamala and even help redeem someone like Clayton Cole. I found it to be a powerful new application of Spider-Man’s most central theme.
For the past ten issues New Warriors has been grappling with the idea that the only way to save all of humanity from the Celestials may be to destroy all those on Earth who are not human. Admittedly, writers Chris Yost and Erik Burnham have made it pretty clear that this won’t happen, and thus the tension this might create amongst a team full of Mutants, clones, Inhumans, and whatever Hummingbird is never quite coalesced, but I still appreciated the attempt at a more complex dilemma than most superhero books provide. So I was a bit disappointed at issue 11’s heavy implication that the threat of the Celestials was never real at all, merely a ruse, painting the Eternals as a more traditionally black-and-white threat. The rest of the issue isn’t quite up to the title’s usual quality either. The issue is mainly one large fight scene that sees the team fall to the Eternals, bringing us to a low point before next month’s finale, but besides one terrific scene with Nova, Yost and Burnham fail to take advantage of the book’s greatest strength — the conflicting personalities of its various characters — leaving us with a battle that feels more like a perfunctory piece of plotting than a thrilling final stand (although with Marcus To on pencils, it always looks absolutely gorgeous).
Continuing a trend of focusing on character that we first picked up on in issue 36, Avengers 37 hones in on the experiences of two sets of characters in particular. I know Steve Rogers’ aging is due to events in his solo title, but after everything he’s been through dealing with the Incursions and the Illuminati it’s easy to imagine that his now weathered and weary state is simply a result of sheer stress alone. Steve has every right to be angry, but his anger seems to be having a negative effect on his behavior, his relationships, and perhaps even the way he runs his operations, and it’s heartbreaking to watch. On the flip side, the reunion of Reed and Susan Richards practically had me leaping out of my seat in joy; Sue’s status as a double agent is a perfect twist, while the implication that Reed asked Franklin to use his powers to end the Incursions is simultaneously clever and heartbreaking, since Franklin obviously failed and now feels like he disappointed his father. Man, Hickman’s Avengers titles have been on a roll since the time-skip. The next seven months should be a wild ride.
Drew: Absolutely. After maybe a year of hit-or-miss, Hickman is finally making good on all of his Hickman-y creativity. The thought that the Illuminati are so smart as to be able to predict human behavior? That’s the kind of thing we’re always looking for on a Hickman title, and this issue delivers it in spades. I’m not sure what to make of Valeria’s message to her dad, but I absolutely love the idea that a change in strategy is going to come from the kids at the Future Foundation.
I might have thought the conclusion of last month’s Secret Avengers was as strange as this title could possibly get, but issue 9 takes things a whole order of magnitude weirder. Name-dropping Jorge Luis Borges in a comic is a sure way to get me smiling, but the fact that this story revolves around giving reality to one of his stories (which was in turn about giving reality to a fictional world) is exactly the kind of postmodern nonsense I love. Of course, those allusions to Argentinian literature exist alongside those to All-Star Superman, meaning this series never really takes itself that seriously. It’s a goofy romp (did I mention there’s a Deadpool cameo?) that has a lot more to think about, if you’re so inclined.