Today, Patrick leads a discussion about Convergence 1, The Atom 1, Batgirl 1, Batman & Robin 1, Harley Quinn 1, Justice League 1, Superman 1 and Titans 1.
“Life – it’s literally all we have. But is it any good?”
-Forrest MacNeil, Review.
Patrick: If the first week of Convergence has taught us nothing else, it’s that DC is not bringing back characters and concepts of yesteryear to watch them frolic around in their native environments. The premise of Convergence — multiversally displaced cities forced into combat with each other — looms large over the all the tie-in issues. That’s what DC Comics is for the next two months: not a bunch of old things you remember, love and/or tolerate, but something new, wild and frustratingly untamed.
Patrick: The heroes from Earth-2 actually make for a handy set of perspective characters for this issue, as their whole deal has always been struggling against annihilation. Are you confused or hurt or struggling to understand just what the hell is going on? So are they! Unfortunately, their story in this issue is bizarre and borders on nonsense. When they first arrive, Flash zips around to remove spikes from the landscape. Honest to God: spikes – like they’re in a video game or something. Then the whole team has to battle with some very nondescript liquid metal Brainiac blobs and Carlo Pagulyan’s action sequences end up being more chaotic than exciting.
That chaos is evident in the storytelling too. There are a lot of ideas being tossed around here – some more fun than others. I liked seeing Telos’ failed experiment in the first couple pages, with an un-named Gotham tearing itself to pieces. The craggy hand that appears to demolish it is delightfully Cabin in the Woods-y.
Also, correct me if I’m wrong, Shane, but that’s the Injustice universe, right? Sorry, Netherrealm – that shit’s a mistake.
Shane: Near as I can tell, yeah, that’s the Injustice universe—although I don’t think it’s the one from the digital-first comic, so I’m still a bit confused. Either way though, we move past it pretty quickly and get to an issue with a lot of set-up. Based on solicits I suspect future issues of Convergence will be a lot more exciting, but I wonder if Jeff King and Scott Lobdell could’ve reared back the big battle scene to get more meat in the comic? The first half of the comic feel very chaotic, and the second half is basically a big Telos monologue. Like you I really enjoyed a number of the ideas in this issue, but I wish we’d been given a little space to explore them. I’m particularly interested in Yolanda Montez’ new powers (will the New 52 finally have a Wildcat?) and how Brainiac’s interest in Superman is mirrored in Telos—and I don’t know if I really understand why the heroes all have to fight. Still, the issue offers some promise for not just the event itself, but the Earth 2: Society ongoing that’s going to spin out of it.
The Atom 1
Shane: A common theme for the Convergence spin-offs seems to involve the characters having accepted their fate and finding a way to make the best of an incredibly complicated situation. Some have settled down into a civilian life, others have found a way to continue heroing, and a few — like Deathstroke — have embraced the dome as a chance for a new lease on life. That’s why I was fascinated to see that Ray Palmer reacted to his new environment… by going a little bonkers. Driven to hunt Deathstroke to gain justice for fallen Atom Ryan Choi, Ray’s vendetta is complicated not just by his mildly unhinged mental state, but also by numerous other twists crafted by writer Tom Peyer, including the mystery of why—with every other superhuman in the dome depowered—has The Atom, while losing his traditional shrinking abilities, gained an incredibly oddball new superpower?
Steve Yeowell seems to happily take the chance to portray this giant hand as incredibly comical, even in serious situations, which creates something of a split mood throughout the issue. The Atom may be fighting for his life against Deathstroke (and then, as Telos’ battle royale disrupts one battle, the Extremist Barracuda) but the sheer silliness of this new power almost overwhelms the danger the Atom is in. That may even be intentional, as the issue isn’t really about those fights, but of a mystery deepened by the final page’s cliffhanger. It’s a compelling issue in many ways…and yet, I found myself a little disappointed. Half the fun of The Atom is wild super-science and shrinking antics, and this issue offered us very little of that. If this is indeed the final tale of the pre-New 52 Ray Palmer, I was hoping for a little more of what made the character a classic in the first place.
Patrick: I’ll echo that. Most of what I know about Ray Palmer comes from Identity Crisis and Blackest Night, which both link the character to two things: science and death. Neither of those themes are represented here. In fact, there are a bunch of weirdly half-expressed themes in this issue, like Ray going off on live TV about what “justice” is. (Though, props to Yeowell for sneaking in a panel of the Justice League fighting Starro from the League’s first appearance.) Like, it almost does seem to matter that this is Ray Palmer we’re talking about here. Also, man – that conversation with Ray’s neighbor lady is super dark when you consider that her daughter is in a version of Buffalo that doesn’t exist anymore.
Michael: Pre-New 52 Batgirl, Stephanie Brown, is joined by Red Robin (Tim Drake) and Black Bat (Cassandra Cain) as they traverse the vast boring desert of Telos before they run into Catman and Gorilla Grodd. From there, writer Alisa Kwitney takes us back to Gotham City’s “year under the dome” where Stephanie is retired from cape-and-cowl-dom and is helping Gothamites as plain old Stephanie Brown. Batgirl is brought out of retirement however to fight for Gotham in the upcoming multiversal battle. If Convergence essentially a battle royale of different universes, then Kwitney uses Steph to ask the question: do we really need to fight? After shooing away Killer Moth in a quick bit of psycho-analysis, Stephanie tells us “Wearing a costume pretty much says I want to escalate this conflict.” I enjoyed that particular nugget, which touches on the chicken/egg criticism often leveled against Batman: does his presence encourage supervillainy? It’s a smart question posed by Kwitney’s equally smart script. Rick Leonardi’ penciling, on the other hand, made me regret every bad thing that I’ve ever said about any artist before him. YIKES. The whole book looks as if Leonardi rushed through it flipped a coin as to which panels he was going to focus on for more thorough detail and recognizably human faces.
Most of the action scenes look like storyboards and this particular exchange between Cass and Steph reminds me of a drunken Frank Miller drawing monkey/fish people. Like I said: YIKES. Patrick, what did you think of Stephanie Brown’s return as Batgirl?
Patrick: The variable quality of Leonardi’s art certainly was distracting. I’m not sure why it jumped out at me, but it feels like there are a bunch of character-drawings on every page, and each one is subject to that coin-flip Michael mentioned. Frankly, though, I’m more bothered by some of the choices in this issue — whether by Leonardi or Kwitney — to keep stripping Cassie and Steph down to something less than fully dressed. When Steph gives up the cape? Sports bra. When Cassie’s hanging around the house? Sports bra. And the weirdest one: Stephanie has to shed her costume to pee in the desert. I ended up feeling more icky reading this issue that I care for.
Another thing that made me feel kind of icky was Steph’s eagerness to back the cops on the bridge out of town. Kwitney treats it as a foregone conclusion that the people of Gotham should be kept within city limits. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic – that makes them as bad as Telos, right? It’s just upsetting. Steph even threatens citizens with tear gas. The moment is supposed to feel like Batgirl’s triumphant return, but it reads more like Batgirl discovering how much fun it is to abuse her power.
Batman & Robin 1
Patrick: I love the idea of Damian exploring the importance of his legacies through previous Robins. It’s almost too easy to say that the kid models himself after Batman (by way of the League of Assassins), especially when there’s a very specific role he’s trying to fill: that of the Boy Wonder. Red Hood becomes an interesting point of comparison, particularly when we have to reconcile that this version of Damian has not died and come back to life as Jason did. Batman was among the messier continuities to get ported over to the New 52, and I think writer Ron Marz might be challenging the readers affinity for one continuity over the other. The whole issue boils over into a prideful face-off between Damian and Jason, and when Batman swoops in to break it up, Damian asks:
The reader has to answer that question themselves: did you come here to check on New 52 Damian or Pre-Flash Point Damian? Like Batman, can’t you be there for both?
Drew, I had a hard time with Denys Cowan’s art. I can tell he’s affecting Andy Kubert’s line-heavy style, but man, there ends up being so much ink of the page. I know Kubert is one of the giants that attached his style to Damian, so in some ways, it does feel like coming home – just a slightly sloppier version of home than I’m used to.
Drew: I’d actually put a lot of the credit for those lines on inker Klaus Janson. Janson is a certifiable giant in the industry, inking just about every series you can name, including legendary runs like The Dark Knight Returns. Indeed, Janson’s work is so essential, he literally wrote DC’s book on comic inking. That said: his style is from another era, and tends to look busy when paired with modern coloring techniques.
In many ways, this week of convergence is about celebrating another era of DC comics, but I’m struck at how this issue tries to have it both ways — this isn’t a throwback so much as an example of a story that could have been told today if Flashpoint had never happened. That’s a strangely hypothetical space for a story to exist in — especially since Morrison’s Batman epic would have probably concluded in the pre-Flashpoint universe in the same way it did post-Flashpoint — which leaves it feeling oddly toothless. Damian’s objection to Bruce letting Jason go free isn’t that Jason had tried to kill him and Dick, but that Jason “just shows up all of a sudden.” I don’t necessarily need a rehash of everything Jason has done, but a reminder of his history with Damian might have given the conflict the traction it needed to stand up to the oddly backgrounded Convergence happenings.
Harley Quinn 1
Patrick: Turns out that being cut off from superpowers was actually a blessing for some people. Case in point: Harleen Quinzel, who appears to be working a program and taking meds prescribed by a real doctor (and not some kind of supervillain doctor either – just a regular dude!). Writer Steve Pugh gives Harl’s mundane life just enough every-day sweetness to make it feel genuinely precious. Poison Ivy refers to Harley’s new boyfriend as “90% German Shepherd” which is maybe the cutest way to describe a human being. Harley’s fragile little life appears so much sweeter when compared to the opening scene of the issue, which shows her at her insane worst. Seriously – Harley just kind of impotently objects when her hyenas attack her own henchmen.
That dude just lost an ear, yo. I wonder if there’s a metaphor buried in there: that these characters might have been better off without us watching them, encouraging their crazy adventures with our insatiable storylust. Metaphor or no, I’m actually excited to see Harley square off against Captain Carrot. I can’t imagine we’ll see a much crazier brawl than that one. Maybe I’m part of the problem and should just let poor Harley be?
Spencer: I can see that. When we as readers moved onto the New 52, many of the characters we left behind seemed to have found some level of peace — but while that peace is nice for a universe that has reached resolution, it’s no good for the grind of monthly comics, which demands perpetual conflict. We want to see our favorite characters one more time? Then we’d better prepare to see their happy routines thrown into upheaval in the worst possible way. This is particularly poignant for Harley Quinn, who has always been troubled. Pugh gives us more insight than ever before into just the kind of mental problems Harley faces, making her ability to lead a normal life, even without medication, absolutely momentous — and her return to insanity all the more tragic. Pugh finds the humor in Harley Quinn but never shies away from the tragedy of her existence, and it’s one of the more successful interpretations of the character that I’ve seen in quite a while.
Justice League 1
Mark: Convergence Justice League 1 is billed as “the Justice League story you never expected to see,” and I suppose that is technically true. This was the first Convergence tie-in issue I read this week and I was surprised not to find a fun throwback issue set in the pre-Flashpoint continuity, but a weird mash-up of nostalgia and “Under the Dome” nonsense. I was really excited for Convergence as a chance to read one last adventure with some old, beloved characters. Admittedly, it’s my own fault for being ill-informed going in, but man has the execution really soured me on the whole affair.
Still, it’s not fair to judge a comic by the impossible measure of what I want it to be and what’s here isn’t all bad. This isn’t the most memorable iteration of the Justice League ever (I’m honestly not 100% sure why we’re calling this a “Justice League” comic at all), but it is fun to see characters like Jesse Quick, Jade, and even Congorilla that were little used or completely left behind post-Flashpoint. The actual plot, with Mera being kidnapped by Flashpoint Aquaman, is pretty, pretty stupid, and the art… well, if you like ogling cartoon women I guess it’s on-point. Ugh, sorry to be so negative, Spencer. It’s just that this whole thing seems like a wasted opportunity. What’d you think?
Spencer: I can agree with you, Mark, that there’s a lot of odd stuff going on here. The JLA assembled in this issue is ostensibly based on the League’s final pre-Flashpoint roster (Batman/Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, Supergirl, Jade, Jesse Quick, Starman and Congorilla), but while I loved that line-up in concept, I don’t know if it ever worked quite as well in execution — and just to complicate things, writer Frank Tieri throws in Zatanna, Mera, and Vixen, none of whom really interacted with that incarnation of the League. It’s a weird concept for Convergence to revisit at all, and I went into it either expecting a trainwreck or a surprisingly offbeat success — sadly, this issue mostly lands on “trainwreck.”
Maybe he was trying to work against type, but I just don’t think Tieri is a good choice to write a “girls’ night out” story. I nearly pulled a muscle rolling my eyes when Vixen casually threw the word “girlfriend” into conversation, and overall this issue just kinda reeks of “faux girl power.” Mopey, damsel-in-distress Mera is frustrating; Mera doesn’t mope, she gets angry! She was a Red Lantern! And despite the issue revolving around the birth of Jesse Quick’s son, we never hear one whisper of her husband, Hourman. Is he under the dome too? If not, why is Jesse so chipper? Maybe the issue would feel more focused if Jesse took on an alt-universe Hourman instead of pulling Aquaman into the mix? I dunno. This title was kind of my Convergence wild card, and unfortunately, the cards didn’t go my way.
Nightwing / Oracle 1
The Question 1
Speed Force 1
Shane: Although I’ll forever live in hope that we can continue to get glimpses of pre-New 52 DC, for now, this may be our goodbye—and therefore, my main hope for these spin-off books is for a meaningful tribute. I grew up reading the Dan Jurgens-era Superman titles, which makes his return to the character to pen his final story an absolute treat. For me, Jurgens just “gets” Superman, and this story was no exception. Even without his powers, Superman remains a hero, donning shadowy garb as an urban vigilante. While absolutely in-character, this decision becomes even more significant with how the stakes have been raised: his wife, Lois Lane, is pregnant. Every time he goes out in the domed Gotham City, he’s risking leaving his child without a father. It’s almost a shame that the dome went down so early in the context of this issue, but in-universe, the timing was absolutely perfect, and there’s a sense of triumph that emerges from the page as Superman is restored to full form.
The rest of this issue seems to subvert the already-stale Convergence setup, with Superman refusing to battle, trying to find another solution. This point of view is refreshing, and sets the character in stark contrast to his Flashpoint counterpart. There’s a lot to love about this issue for a Superman fan, which makes me sad that we may only have one issue left of this character before we go back to the New 52 for good. I don’t know if you were a major Superman fan, Drew, but did this issue give you anywhere near the same sense of joy?
Drew: Absolutely. Jurgens is smart to re-power Superman early in the issue, allowing us to luxuriate in his supermannness. He stops bullets with his chest, heat-visions some guns out of bad guys’ hands, and flies home to Lois. It’s that last part that feels particularly luxurious, as Lois and Clark both act as an audience surrogate, happy to bask in Superman’s return to form, however brief it may be.
There’s a lot to love about this scene, but I’m particularly enamored with how much time Jurgens gives over to the simple domestic conversation between the Kents. Clark complains about taking the stairs and teases Lois about her not wanting to know the sex of their baby, while Lois jokes about suiting up as a very pregnant sidekick. It’s a welcome reminder of how sweet the character can be, though it only makes me more aware of how cynical the character has become in the New 52. That’s not to say he’s incapable of genuine moments nowadays, but a moment like this is so distinctly pre-Flashpoint, it actually makes my heart ache a bit — especially because it doesn’t look like the next issue will afford us the same level of sweetness. I suppose the Flashpoint universe savaging the pre-Flashpoint continuity is the point of this particular match-up, but it sure will be hard to see the violence these characters suffered made literal.
Spencer: There was no character in more dire need of a reboot when The New 52 rolled around than Roy Harper. Roy’s life had been turned upside-down by the death of his daughter Lian, and Roy hit such a low during his devastating downward spiral (including joining Deathstroke’s sadistic Titans team, which you can expect to see me complaining about below in the comments) that it seemed impossible to redeem him. It turns out, though, that all it would take is a year trapped under a dome. While most of my favorite moments in Convergence: The Titans come courtesy of Starfire and her boundless enthusiasm, this is clearly Arsenal’s issue; Fabian Nicieza really digs into Roy’s head, showing how his time under the dome has helped balance him, but also how tenuous that balance really is. Nicieza makes sure we can sympathize with Roy, but also root for him, even as he seemingly turns against his closest friends. Really though, it’s a cruel, impossible choice Roy is faced with at the end, but I’m holding onto hope that Roy can find a way to save both Lian and the Titans, if only because I desperately want to see one of the biggest mistakes of the pre-Flashpoint DCU reversed once and for all. Shane, how about you?
Shane: I can understand killing off Lian — it was a quick way to get some major angst in the ailing Green Arrow/Titans franchises — but it remains baffling, because being a superhero father was what made the modern day Roy Harper interesting. So yeah, Spencer, I’m very interested in seeing Lian returned (and that makes for the second resurrection I’m angling for in this weeks comics.) Even setting that aside, though, this issue hit so many sweet spots for me. I loved the Titans, and although I like the New 52 team as well, it just doesn’t hit that same sweet spot for me, so to have these three characters with such a unique history and bond, presented again… I was all in. Donna Troy, in particular, has been missed, so to see her back as a cheerful photographer (and not the New 52-style Amazon warrior queen-to-be) put a real smile on my face. Fabian Nicieza is pretty clearly writing this for Titans fans, and I’m grateful for it.
I’m pretty sure that the cliffhanger in this issue is going to be a fakeout of some sort—it has to be, otherwise, yikes—but it’s still a heartwrenching situation, especially given how Roy was positioned this entire issue. He’d finally begun to move on… and then he’s given an impossible choice, how can he not act? For longtime DC fans, Dreamslayer has always been among the cruelest of the Extremists, so to have him play such a notable role in this issue is a treat. Genuinely, though, I think what I mostly appreciate is the sheer sense of enthusiasm from all involved. The Titans were once major characters for DC, and I think you can tell that this is a labor of love from the creative team, to really pay tribute to the Titans, a DC legacy left aside. Props deserved.
This was a rare week where we had something to say about every single tie-in. In future weeks, expect a few more holes in our pull list – holes that you’re encouraged to fill with your comments. In the meantime, let’s keep talking about Convergence!