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, Michael, Spencer, Patrick and Drew discuss Justice League 39, Batman and Robin 39, Batman Superman 19, Superman Wonder Woman 16, Batman Eternal 46, Legendary Star-Lord 9, Rocket Raccoon 8, Uncanny X-Men 31, Silk 1, Ms. Marvel 12, Black Widow 15, All New Captain America 4, Avengers World 17, Nova 27, Secret Identities 1, and Bitch Planet 3.
Michael: And so, the latest Justice League arc, “The Amazo Virus”, ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. Wonder Woman, Superman and Luthor are fending for themselves against the infected Justice League. Superman gives Luthor a sample of his blood to help create a cure (self-inflicted heat vision can induce bleeding, I guess?) and Captain Cold saves the day. Apparently Amazo is susceptible to the cold, so Captain Cold subdues him and they throw him into cold storage. As a byproduct of this whole event, dozens of infected humans have kept their newly-found superpowers. Despite Neutron still being alive we are still unfortunately no closer to finding out who put the hit on Lex Luthor. And just when Jessica Cruz is feeling completely sidelined and unimportant, Hal Jordan comes back to steal the spotlight…er…help her.
Don’t get me wrong, the issue was enjoyable — Jason Fabok in particular is killing it on the artwork — but it felt like the Amazo Virus conflict ended simply because…it was the last chapter. Wonder Woman explained that Superman was “refraining from using his freeze breath because of what patient zero can do.” Huh? He used everything else he had but held back on freeze breath? Seems pretty damn convenient to me. That being said, I’m always in favor of more Captain Cold in Justice League, and it was super cool to see him and Wonder Woman team up and…kind of flirt?
Also I love Hal Jordan, mainly because of Geoff Johns. My main concerns with his return are A) He will continue to be a supreme douche as he has been in Justice League since The New 52 began and B) That he will overshadow Jessica Cruz before she really gets a chance to be developed as a character. Well, there’s a new Amazo, so there’s that! Next, Darkseid War!
Oh Batman and Robin, what a wonderful ride you have taken us on. There’s so much emotion and humor in this series, and Batman and Robin 39 is the latest example of that. This is the second chapter of the “Super Power” arc, and it gives us more of what Batman and Robin 38 showed us in terms of the new dynamic between Batman and super-powered Robin (as well as father and resurrected son). Once again, Damian uses his new superpowers and tries to change the game of crime fighting in Gotham City. After Alfred forces them to go on a father/son fishing trip, Batman and Robin hit the streets once again before Batman is called to the Justice League Watchtower and actually invites Damian along for the mission.
The back and forth between Bruce and Damian is so much fun to watch, especially when you have a “father scolding son” scene but it takes place 30 thousand feet above Earth. Bruce has grown as a father and is more trusting of his son, which is a BIG development for him. He’s not letting Damian let loose and go crazy with these new powers of course, but on a personal level you can tell that this has become more of a partnership than when the series began. I mean, the fact that Batman is letting Damian go on a League mission is pretty big deal, and it’s fun watching him hold in his excitement. Damian is a super-powered Boy Wonder who has returned from the grave, but he still doesn’t know everything. I was particularly fond of the scene between Bruce and Damian where Bruce warns Damian not to put all of his faith in his powers and to never underestimate death.
It was a slight allusion to Batman’s death back in Batman R.I.P., but moreover it was a straight-up bat logic lesson: super powers are not absolute and the importance of determination and discipline. As Ra’s al Ghul said in Batman Begins: “The training is nothing! The will is everything! The will to act.” Also, I can’t not mention how fun it was to see Bruce and Damian fishing; it was so out of character for both of them it was amazing. Spencer, do you feel the pleasure center of your brain enjoying fun Bat-dad, Bat-son moments as much as I do?
Spencer: Oh yeah, Michael. The dynamic between Bruce and Damian may be my favorite father/son relationship in comics right now, and there are so many moments I loved from this issue that I could spend all my word count just listing them (that Bat-signal scene!), but there’s one panel that I think really cuts to the heart of this story:
What Bruce has in a son who died and just returned back to life, a son who was always cocky but now, with powers, feels even more invincible. Bruce, who isn’t too fond of relying on special abilities to begin with, also has to face the fear of losing his son all over again and the possibility that these powers (which already appear unstable) could fade away at any moment. But how can he convince daring little Damian of this danger? Is this excursion with the Justice League a way to show Damian that even people with superpowers can be hurt, an attempt to teach him a lesson? Or is it perhaps an opportunity to push and test Damian’s abilities in the presence of superpowered individuals who can instantly help if anything goes wrong? Either way, Damian plus Justice League should equal a buttload of fun when Batman and Robin 40 rolls around.
Elsewhere in the Batman universe, Greg Pak and Ardian Syaf’s Batman/Superman 19 finally reveals the identity of “Superman’s Joker.” So far I’ve quite enjoyed the way this storyline has pit Superman against a threat better suited to his co-star, but the more we discover about the story’s antagonist and its master plan, the more it starts to feel like a straight-up Superman story — and the more it starts to lose its luster. Add to that some slightly unclear rules about how Kryptonian powers work in Kandor and a couple of unintuitive (albeit ambitious) layouts and what you’ve got is an issue that doesn’t quite live up to the high standard set by the rest of the storyline.
The story over in Superman/Wonder Woman, meanwhile, has been rather meandering from its very beginning. Issue 16 finds the full extent of Circe and Magog’s plan revealed, which involves a lot of exposition and mainly focuses on a never-before-seen-in-the-New-52 rivalry between Circe and Hippolyta. Circe even points out how not personal her entire scheme has been, which is exactly why this story has failed to resonate with me, and even writer Peter Tomasi’s last-ditch attempt to make the story more personal largely falls flat; Tomasi just hasn’t invested enough time into Clark and Diana’s relationship to make me care about it being turned against them. The art feels stronger than last month — Mahnke puts a lot of weight behind Superman and Magog’s battle, and the way Mahnke and Benes’ pages are split up makes much more sense — but there’s still flaws; the colors Tomeu Morey uses for the background of the fight on the bridge looks like a pre-effects green screen, making the battle look cheap and robbing it of any sense of place. I still think Tomasi and Mahnke should be a strong creative team for this title, but so far their stories just refuse to come together. It’s a shame, but I can’t keep spending money on a book I’m not enjoying; I’m done with Superman/Wonder Woman for the foreseeable future.
Of course, after buying 46 issues of Batman Eternal I think I’ve invested too much time and money not to stick around until its very end. It helps that, as the series draws closer to its conclusion, it’s finally beginning to address the themes of legacy that Snyder, Tynion, Tim Seeley (who pens this issue), and the rest of the writing bullpen have been slowly and gradually building over the course of the series. In fact, in issue 46 they make these themes about as explicit as they possibly can.
Of course, I’m still not sure what exactly the writing bullpen is trying to say about Batman’s legacy, but at least the issue’s focus on Batman and his proteges (both existing and potential), Selina Kyle and her father, and Julia Pennyworth and her father Alfred suggests that the writers have a plan and are building to something. I dunno; Patrick, what do you think Batman Eternal has to say about Batman’s future? And how about that cliffhanger? The return of the Arkham loonies is another exciting development that could spin in almost any direction (be it an over or underwhelming one), which is pretty much Batman Eternal’s bread and butter.
Patrick: Batman Eternal‘s bread and butter is revealing that a certain villain ISN’T the big-bad of the story, so this issue fits nicely into its own canon in that regard. I remain pretty frustrated with the storytelling and the team’s refusal to name their threats, but it’s clear that they’re trying to pass off our suspicions to Ivy now. And why not? She’s supernatural enough and extreme enough and smart enough to have orchestrated all of this (particularly when it comes to Milo’s drugs). But maybe she’s just another “no” waiting to happen. Ultimately, that’s what Batman’s legacy is: armies of good guys and armies of bad guys duking it out for the soul of Gotham City.
Sam Humphries’ “The Black Vortex” story continues in Legendary Star-Lord 9, which seems content to just pit the good guys against each other. We start the issue with Vortexed versions of Gamora and Beast beckoning the assembled Guardians and X-Men (and Nova, technically, though he barely features in this issue) to embrace the hyper-evolved power of the sinister black mirror. If the previous issue was making nuanced arguments for both sides, this one is much less ambiguous, casting Gamora, Beast and eventually Angel as roided-up maniacs. Nowhere is this more clearly represented than by Gamora’s attempt on Jean Grey’s life. Thankfully, it’s intangibly thwarted by Kitty Pryde. This is actually a pretty entertaining and clever sequence as the characters’ well-known powers are leveraged against each other in fun, inventive ways. The best Jean Grey mind tricks are those that the reader believes for half a second, and I gotta say: I did mutter an “oh shit” when I thought Thanos just entered the fray.
Rocket Raccoon is fortunately too insular of a series to get tied up in this cross-over nonsense. Plus, we had the high drama of the previous issue to pay off. Filipe Andrade’s art is still very haunting in the scenes where Rocket and Jink are bracing the harsh environment of planet Fron. When Andrade transitions into a sketchier style for some awkwardly-placed flashbacks, the affectation feels a little dishonest, and we really don’t gain anything from churching up the Rocket and Groot’s shared origin story. If anything, that flashback should have been cleaner and cartoonier, befitting the redundant, action-packed story Rocket was telling. As for the story of the issue itself, Jink takes over as the protagonist about halfway through, and it turns out that this whole thing was about her all along. In fact, we gloss right over Rocket reuniting with and healing his friend. I’m not categorically against developing one-off side characters, but it is a bummer to see all of Rocket’s agency taken away from him, just to see Jink bursting out of a dragon skull.
Guys, can you believe that Uncanny X-Men is still cleaning up from Original Sin? With this concluding chapter to the Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier, I’m convinced that Brian Michael Bendis had the market positively cornered when it comes to having something to say about secret history stories. (It just took him like four extra months to tell the story, and that’s about right for Bendis.) The linchpin of this event is a now-recklessly-time-traveling Eva Bell. She’s snatched Charles out of his own time and shown him the horror that Matthew is wreaking on the mutants of the present. Pointedly, she brings him back to the New Xavier School in time to see OE Scott’s militant doomsday message set off by the trio of deaths of Cyclops, Magick, and Emma Frost. Eva and Charles don’t check in on the situation at the Jean Grey school, but we do — and Chris Bacchalo treats us to some very uneasy scenes of panic as Matthew inadvertently dismantles everything. Then there’s this awesome shift: on one page, we’re in a palette of gloomy greys punctuated by terrifying explosions as all the mutants are murdered and on the next page, we’re on a serene college campus.
This is because Eva didn’t take Charles to the school, but back in time to prevent Matthew’s parents from ever getting together in the first place. When Eva returns to the present, we’re basically just back for the Will reading, only this time, there’s no earthshattering announcement about a mega-mutant. Just as in the All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men annuals from a few months back, this is a narrative that only Eva and the audience experienced. These stories are turning her into a fascinatingly jaded character, and her experience with different versions of the past, the present and the future make her perspective so much like the reader.
Perhaps not quite as appealing as Eva Bell, Silk has a decent showing in the first issue of her brand new series. I know I was growing impatient with her characterization as Peter Parker’s constantly bubbling sexpot in Amazing Spider-Man, and I really liked seeing her attempting to define herself without him. Even when Cindy does need to appeal to his expertise (or physical prowess), she’s quick to shut him down after she gets what she wants. I like the art in this series a lot — Stacey Lee doesn’t turn in a boring panel.
I particularly like the way she handles webbing, but I can’t get behind the webs coming out of her fingers. Is that a weird hang-up? Drew, judge my hang-ups.
Drew: Eh, the fingers seem a logical place as any to secrete webbing that is coincidentally exactly like the synthetic stuff Peter makes for himself — which I guess is my way of saying the weirdness for me has nothing to do with her fingers. Actually, the conspicuous similarities to Peter Parker — right down to reporting on her own superhero alter ego for J. Jonah Jameson — are my only real complaint. Not that they’re bad — the issue is incredibly charming — but they take up a lot of real-estate here. Writer Robbie Thompson otherwise comes up with a compelling voice and motive for Cindy, making all of those Parker-isms feel a bit unnecessary. Indeed, Cindy seems to want to escape Peter’s shadow more than anybody (her insistence on calling it “silk-sense” is a goofy runner), so I hope this series can set her on that new path.
Speaking of resembling Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel 12 finds Kamala on yet another superhero team-up — or is she fighting a well-known super-villain? Loki is decidedly the antagonist of this issue, but his actions here feel more like mischief than outright villainy. The stakes are perfectly calibrated for high-school — the Valentine’s day dance hangs in the balance! — but the opinion that high school relationships (or is it just relationships in general) are predicated on lies feels a tad too cynical even for me. Fortunately, the central conflict — Bruno’s crush on Kamala — is sweet and straightforward enough fro me to look past any shortcomings this issue may have. Plus, Takeshi Miyazawa’s fill in work is fantastic.
Black Widow 15 finally puts Natasha face to face with Chaos, or at least an asset that may have gone rogue? It’s actually not totally clear who the mystery man is who abducts her at the end of the issue, but the action is so propulsive, it almost doesn’t matter. I’m honestly not sure what my favorite moment of this issue is — Nat fighting a half-dozen invisible combatants? Bucky’s heroic entrance? Isaiah’s ineptitude with exercise? — but I’ll give the edge to the reveal of the first invisible man, just because Phil Noto absolutely nails it:
There aren’t very many art teams out there that could pull off an effect this subtle, which speaks to the value of having just one artist cover the whole process. I’m most impressed with how Noto is able to give this figure volume, even as he’s almost totally transparent. This creative team impresses me month-in, month-out, so I can’t wait to see how Natasha slips her shackles next month.
Always the sucker for meta-commentary, All-New Captain America‘s tendency to be about itself — and especially about its knee-jerk detractors — has pleased me from issue one. Issue four still has that in spades, but it also offers the first hint at a much longer game, weaving in themes from Rick Remender’s previous run on Captain America. My preference for this volume over that one may boil down to artist Stuart Immonen, who continues to rock this series. His command of directing our attention — even in the middle of a chaotic battle (or when just filling a panel with detail) — is masterful, lending every page motion and dynamism above and beyond his clean linework. Spencer, this issue had me so excited, I almost don’t want to mention the ending, but I’ll be damned if things don’t look pretty dire. Any theories on how Sam (and all of America) will get out of this unscathed?
Spencer: I’ve got absolutely no idea, Drew, but I love that Remender is so willing to put Sam through the wringer like this. Each threat he faces appears more impossible than the last, but when Sam eventually succeeds against these odds it will just serve to further reiterate why he’s so worthy of the Captain America mantle — hopefully driving yet another nail in the coffins of any remaining detractors. I’m also impressed by the way Remender weaves characterization into the themes and plot of the issue; Hydra’s attack on children, on Earth’s next generation, is already thoroughly twisted and unsettling, but it cuts Sam especially deep. As the flashbacks show, Sam already felt like, in a way, crime prevented him from having kids, but Hydra making that literal is too much for Sam to take. With so much at stake here for both Sam and the world, there’s no way the conclusion here could be anything but an anxious, nail-biter of a cliffhanger.
Avengers World was originally conceived as a title that would shine its spotlight on individual Avengers in the midst of Jonathan Hickman’s plot-centric Avengers saga. Nick Spencer’s first arc mixed a complex story with closer looks at nearly a dozen Avengers, but I never felt like I got to know those characters any better — it was a fun story, but the characterization was still somewhat limited. Frank Barbiere and Marco Checchetto’s Avengers World 17 starts a new arc that’s telling stories set in the months that Hickman’s Avengers skipped when its narrative shot forward in time a few issues back; Barbiere and Checchetto give us a sweet tale, but the characterization still feels slight. As much as I like Cannonball and Smasher as a couple, we’ve never been given much of a reason why they love each other, just that they do, and that robs their struggle to be together of some drama; moreover, Smasher is still an unfortunately underdeveloped character who doesn’t seem to have any motivations in this issue, her allegiances bouncing between Cannonball and the Shi’ar essentially based on who’s speaking to her at any given moment. This issue looks great and isn’t without its charms (Corsair’s cameos are fantastic), but between the thin characterization and a plot based on filling in gaps that didn’t need to be filled (the story doesn’t add to our understanding of the post-time-skip Hickman books at all), it’s the definition of inessential.
While I suppose Nova has never been a book that would be referred to as “essential” either, there’s usually one really strong idea in each issue that keeps me coming back to check out the next. In Nova 27, that idea is the motivation for Carnage’s vendetta against Sam — namely, that Sam saw Carnage when the AXIS spell had turned him “good,” and Carnage wants to wipe out any evidence that he even has the possibility to be good from the face of the Earth. It’s some strong characterization, bolstered by a fun fight scene (where writer Gerry Duggan mercifully underplays the “castling” metaphor he set up last month) and a couple of sweet moments between Sam and his family. A strange digression through an Anthrax concert (it feels out of place both in a comic as well as in this story specifically) keeps this issue from being one I could recommend wholeheartedly, but besides that rather jarring scene, Nova still remains a solid all-ages title.
I’ve been a fan of Jay Faerber’s Image superhero books — such as Noble Causes and Dynamo 5 — for a while now, so I was pretty excited to check out his new book, Secret Identities 1, a collaboration with co-writer Brian Joines and artist Ilias Kyriazis. The book follows a “hero” named Crosswind as he infiltrates the superhero team “The Frontline” with the goal of learning all their secrets and destroying the team from within. Secrets and lies are the name of the game here, with each member of the Frontline having their own dark skeletons — my favorite is the speedster with two families — just waiting to be revealed. Coming up with juicy secrets and revealing them at just the right time is sort of Faerber’s specialty, so this book is right up my alley. At times there’s a bit too much going on in the issue — there may be a character or two too many in play here, making the group scenes tough to decipher on my first readthrough — but for the most part this is an intriguing debut issue, and I look forward to seeing more of Secret Identities.
Bitch Planet is another title with a rather large cast, but in issue three Kelly Sue DeConnick and Robert Wilson IV narrow their focus to tell the story of Penny Rolle. Throughout her entire life society has been training and manipulating Penny to not only live up to its standard of beauty, but to desire it for herself, and that leads to the most cathartic moment of any comic I read this week when Penny reveals her ideal appearance.
Bitch Planet can be a tough comic to read sometimes, but I think Penny’s example here is an important one. The future depicted within Bitch Planet‘s pages often seems farfetched, but only because we hope society is moving away from the gross misogyny that’s so characterized its past. The thing is, we need books like Bitch Planet to ensure that future comes to pass, to give us examples of women with the strength to rise above the challenges, roadblocks, and sheer hatred society throws in their path and to show that their readers can do the same. This title can be blunt and rather on-the-nose at times, without a doubt, but it’s all for a good cause.
Drew, last time you discussed this title you had more than a few problems with it; did issue three do anything to alleviate them, or are you still not on board with Bitch Planet?
Drew: Something definitely clicked for me in this issue, but it might ultimately be that this series just isn’t for me. The art and narrative arc are much cleaner and easier to follow here, but my biggest quibble about this series is the way it exaggerates misogyny in order to make it more evil, which I think undermines the actual evil of actual misogyny. I don’t doubt that many of the explicit pressures Penny is under here are implicit in modern society, but I think blowing them up into actual crimes trivializes the problem. More than anything, though, I kind of resent how remedial the messaging is. I’m sure there are some folks out there who will be inspired by Penny liking who she is, but for me, it reads like a warmed over Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood moral. Why should we be surprised that she doesn’t care what assholes think? They’re assholes. For me, the result feels like pandering — straight up preaching to the choir — at the expense of saying anything substantive about misogyny, body-image, or self-worth. This might be a case where I need to check my privilege (though I do think my disinterest in how I or anyone else looks is beyond reproach), but I think I’ve seen enough for me to pass on Bitch Planet 4.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?