Today, Shane leads a discussion about Convergence 1, Aquaman 1, Batman: Shadow of the Bat 1, Justice League International 1, Supergirl Matrix 1 and Superman: Man of Steel 1.
“Never half-ass two things. Whole ass one thing.”
-Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation.
Shane: Success comes from committing wholeheartedly to a goal, and that’s true in everything — even comic books. If the first week of Convergence focused on setting up the event with slow-moving exposition, the second week lurches startlingly forward, throwing the story in multiple directions. But even as the main event strives for greatness, its sister titles stumble along, burdened by continuity errors and contradictions between stories, almost as if the writers sped through their research. If Convergence was designed to celebrate specific eras of years past, what does it say that half the books seem to betray that history? And that begs the follow-up question…if the stories are good enough, does it even matter?
Shane: Despite extensive ties to the entire DC multiverse, Convergence is proving, in many ways, to be a much more intimate story. The heroes of Earth 2 remain lost on the strange planet Telos, struggling to find their place with everything ripped from them. For some, this has led to startling revelations, including Green Lantern’s ability to connect to not just his home planet, but any planet—including the one holding him captive. For others, however, the journey is not about growth and discovery, but about facing what has been lost. Every member of the main cast has experienced loss in the wake of the World’s End weekly series, but for the Earth 2 Dick Grayson and Batman, their losses are at the forefront of their minds and hearts. Grayson believes he’s failed his young son, and now must vow to find a way to save him against all odds, even as he attempts to discover who he is when stripped of everything he’s ever held dear. Meanwhile, Thomas Wayne encounters the son he thought long lost, as he comes face to face with the pre-Flashpoint Batman. The details of their meeting are kept secret from the reader, but even for such a stoic character as Batman, its clear that this “reunion” left quite a mark.
The emphasis on the father-son dynamic in this issue reinforces just how strong that theme is here in Convergence. Not only is Telos, imprinted with Brainiac’s essence, in some ways his “offspring”, but you could consider many of these alternate realities the children of the main DC continuity as well. After all, they were spun off from the central narrative, and certainly would not have existed without it. And now, almost oedipally, parent and child wage war to gain the much-coveted chance at survival.
Drew: Shane, I love your read of how these continuities fit in with the themes of fatherhood in this issue, but I actually found myself more struck by Telos’ role as a kind of surrogate for the comics market as a whole. These alternate realities present a number of interesting relationships, but the most striking to me is that they represent different approaches to comics storytelling, from the continuity-dense world of last week’s pre-flashpoint focus to the grim’n’gritty stylization of this week’s Zero Hour timeline. That these different approaches are competing parallels the comics market, which is itself a decidedly cutthroat survival of the fittest. That eat-or-be-eaten mentality is particularly salient as the demographics of comics fans continues to shift, changing landscape of the battlefield. As if to highlight his synchrony with the modern audience, Telos doesn’t even read his comics on paper.
Of course, that he’s more interested in a gory slug-fest than actual heroism may separate Telos from the actual audience. If I was more cynical, I might suggest that it speaks to DC’s estimation of its fans, but as Shane pointed out, this issue is surprisingly personal. I’m not sure the focus on Earth-2 Dick Grayson can carry us through the series, but he was an ideal choice to walk us through this particular issue.
Patrick: I just finished watching The Jinx on HBO. The show is a 6-part documentary about Robert Durst and three murders he so totally committed between 1982 and 2001. The filmmakers use a lot of archived news reports to frame their drama, but they also do a lot of recreation — showing the audience what the action might have looked like. That ends up being what takes The Jinx from true-crime-curiosity to masterful storytelling. Simply: they follow the cardinal rule of “show, don’t tell.” Convergence: Aquaman 1 is way too comfortable telling a story it should really be showing us. Tony Bedard’s script relies on a special report from the Daily Planet’s own Cat Grant to catch us up on the background of Zero Hour’s Aquaman — which is both welcome and necessary. Where Bedard starts to abuse this narrative privilege, is when recapping Aquaman’s borderline villainous actions once Metropolis was swallowed by the dome. He took over the aquarium! Wouldn’t it have been fun to actually watch him do that? Instead, like 80% of this issue is framing devices for flashbacks.
Perhaps this flashback structure is spurred on by the pairing of artist Cliff Richards and colorist John Rauch. Richards uses an awful lot of black space, and Rauch mostly utilizes flat coloring, unless he really wants to show off a texture. That means there’s not a lot of dynamic lighting, shaping or shading in this issue, which feels more or less at home in flashback, but oddly wishy-washy for real-time events. I just wish we could have spent more time in that Aquaman aquarium invasion — it’s just a surreal, silly story in which the artistic team really shines.
Michael: Patrick, I agree 100% on everything you said; especially on the aquarium takeover bit. I think Bedard has a great knowledge of DC history, and so far I think he’s put forth some strong work in his Convergence tie-ins. He’s concocted some great “under the dome” situations for Wally West, Kyle Rayner & Hal Jordan and now Orin/Aquaman. This is Peter David’s handless Aquaman, who was at an extremely low point in his life even before the dome went down. Bedard takes Orin and makes him even more alone by cutting off his aquatic telepathy completely. I think that this is such a fascinating notion to have a character explore, but instead we get a quick bit of exposition via Dane Dorrance.
Bedard does have the constraints of A) only having 2 issues to tell us Aquaman’s story and B) give us the obligatory Convergence battle with that Wildstorm fellow Deathblow that I’m not quite familiar with. For those reasons I’m willing to give Bedard some leeway but I won’t completely let him off of the hook (hey-oh!). Like Patrick said, the script relies too heavily on narrative devices and exposition to give us the lowdown instead of showing it to us in the present moment. I do think that this story would fare better with a few more chapters however: witnessing those important “dome moments” as they transpire. Richards and Rauch’s excessive dependence on the contrast of a minimal color palette and pitch black feels out of place for an Aquaman book. Several times in the issue Aquaman looks like he’s sporting a fu-manchu and not a full beard. Convergence: Aquaman 1 has great ideas, but not-so-great execution.
Batman: Shadow of the Bat 1
Drew: The biggest danger of returning to all of these specific eras in DC’s timeline is that those eras are intimately tied to specific stories — it’s hard to return to the space of those stories without simply rehashing their events. That Jean Paul Valley was only ever capable of one story — a story that has been told time and time again with Batman’s various murderous allies — so it’s no surprise that Convergence: Shadow of the Bat 1 finds the two at odds over exactly how far is too far. To say that the issue serves entirely as a nostalgia piece for Knightfall may be an overstatement, but it certainly didn’t leave me wondering what would happen next.
Patrick: Well, sure. I’m not sure it’s fair to be critical of a thing for revisiting its own thematic roots though. Yes, obviously Azrael and Batman are going to be butting heads over the ‘how far is too far?’ question, but you mention that that’s basically always the Batman dilemma. I’m actually impressed by how well Larry Hama explores this idea before really folding to any of the narrative imposed by Convergence. The dome only comes down in the final pages, and while Azrael is ready to move on to how he’s going to murder his challengers, Batman’s still concerned about the integrity of Motropolis’ infrastructure.
In a way, their ideological debate becomes whether to focus on the actual business of being Batman or just gettin’ their murder on. That’s also the tension between letting the characters exist in their native narratives or forcing them into a multiversal murderfest. While Kill v. Don’t Kill may have grown tired, I’m still plenty engaged in the case of Crossover v. Stand-Alone, and it’s good to know I’m on Bruce Wayne’s side on this one.
Green Lantern / Parallax 1
Justice League International 1
Shane: Consistency in an event series is key, but this week’s titles left me a little baffled as to exactly what’s happening with Convergence, and Justice League International gives no exception. Not only are a few character depictions a little odd, given the state of the JLI just before Zero Hour (Ice, I love you, but aren’t you supposed to be dead? And why is Blue Beetle, of all people, leading the team when Martian Manhunter AND Captain Atom are present?) but the rules of the dome seem a little vague. Here, technology reigns supreme, but in previous titles, the dome rendered all “above-average” tech moot. Other titles pose similar questions, but for me, this was on the forefront of my mind through this issue. Still, as a JLI story goes, it’s a solid one: the characters all have distinct voices, and although not in the Giffen/DeMatteis “Bwa-ha-ha!” style that defined the series, there’s certainly an underlying sense of humor. Despite those props given, though, it’s not a particularly deep comic. A few intriguing notions are flirted with, including how hard the JLI works to maintain the peace, even without their powers, while still being treated by the populace as a subpar superhero group, but Ron Marz is given little space to explore that. It’s comforting to step back into the early 90’s with this beloved lineup, but I didn’t get much more out of the issue. And if we’re only given two issues to say goodbye to these characters, is it wrong to hope for something a little more substantial?
Spencer: Definitely not, Shane, and I think you’re dead on with a lot of your points. Your issues with the Convergence continuity don’t exactly bother me, as the creative teams are clearly picking and choosing what points they want to cull their characters from instead of pulling them all from the exact same moment (For example: In last week’s tie-ins, Justice League clearly took place after Flashpoint, as Jesse Quick had only just discovered her pregnancy when the event began, yet Speed Force took place before The Flash: Rebirth. There’s a good two or three years difference between these two eras yet they’re both trapped under the same dome), but the rules of the domes are another matter. I can accept whatever crazy magic powers the domes have, but it would be nice if those crazy magic powers could remain consistent. I guess I can reason that maybe this dome operates slightly differently than the dome from last week, but I don’t like having to explain away these inconsistencies myself. Also, the conflict about whether the JLI should fight or not feels a bit forced (and would they all so enthusiastically favor violent tactics?), and the promising concept of the JLI confidently protecting the city yet getting no praise for it is undermined by the backmatter’s labeling the team as “incompetent” (seriously DC, what the hell?).
It would be nice to see the rest of the JLI get more to do, too (It’s cruel to dangle a Ted/Bea hook-up in our faces and not expound on that, and Red Tornado’s apparently only there so Ted can incessantly remind us that he still has his powers), but I can understand why Marz wanted to focus on Blue Beetle. I get how Ted fell into the leadership role, Shane, considering that he’s the only member of the team with experience battling without powers and that everyone’s relying on his strategies and weapons anyway. Ted’s always been compared to Batman, with it more than once being stated that he’s even smarter than Bruce, but he lacks Batman’s confidence, so it’s a compelling to see Ted forced into Batman’s leadership role and not quite know if he can live up to it. Shane’s right that this is a solid JLI story, with plenty of good stuff in it; it just somehow never makes it to “great.” As great as it is to see these characters again, I do wish this issue captured just a bit more of the fun and humor so prominent in the original Justice League International.
Super Boy 1
Supergirl Matrix 1
Spencer: With 20 Convergence tie-ins now on the shelf, the similarities between them have become rather apparent. There’s a bit of a formula and a similar tone to almost all these issues, which have tended to focus on the trials of living under the dome and a longing for the lives left behind. That formula has given us some great stories, but I’m still grateful that Keith Giffen and Timothy Green II’s Convergence: Supergirl Matrix 1 exists to shake things up. Giffen’s script injects a much-needed dose of humor into a rather morose event (even JLI‘s short on the “bwa-ha-has!”) by focusing on two equally dysfunctional relationships. The bickering does start to eventually become grating by the issue’s end, but at that point Giffen wisely switches things up and introduces a new face guaranteed to generate even more laughter.
I wanted to check this particular issue out because I had actually never read any stories featuring Matrix Supergirl before — by the time I started buying monthly comics, the original concept had already been revived, and the Matrix (as well as her subsequent angelic incarnation) just seemed like a bizarre artifact of a stranger time. Giffen never hesitates to play this offbeat concept for laughs, but also gives Matrix Supergirl a surprising amount of agency and competence and a fun personality, especially when sparring with Lex. If their relationship was half as fun in the 90s as it was in this issue, I might actually go digging for some back-issues!
Shane, as someone much more familiar with this era in Supergirl’s history, I understand you had some issues with the continuity here. Care to share? And did those issues interfere with the fun of this story?
Shane: I’m ecstatic that Supergirl Matrix broke the mold, but as a longtime reader, this issue was one hundred percent a mess. Keith Giffen is known for…well, to be kind, ignoring established characterization and designing his own voices for whatever project he’s working on. And for a new fan, that’s fantastic! Suddenly, there’s something incredibly approachable for you to latch on to. But Convergence is a bit of a different beast, and frankly, it was a surprise to see that the Matrix Supergirl was being given her own issue. She was a HUGE part of the Superman comics around this time period, don’t get me wrong…but she didn’t age well. At the very least, I’d expect her angelic Linda Danvers persona to get the nod ahead of her. But, no, Matrix has the spotlight here…and it’s very much designed to beat the character into the ground. And it’s funny! There’s a lot of humor here. But, Spencer…if this issue is going to prompt you to seek out back issues, don’t bother. You will not be happy. Supergirl was not nearly this dysfunctional, and her relationship with Lex Luthor was not nearly this damaged. In Giffen’s voice, and with Timothy Green’s incredible artwork, we have a lot to enjoy, and this is very much a situation of “screw continuity, I’m having fun and it’s working”, but in the context of this history-honoring event, a longtime fan like myself will not end up happy.
Superman Man of Steel 1
Mark: Man, the past few days have been a celebration of everything I loved as a kid, what with the new Star Wars trailer that was released yesterday handily hitting every pleasure center in my monkey brain, and this week’s crop of Convergence comics taking place primarily in the DC comics universe of my youth. What a fun throwback Convergence: Superman: Man of Steel is. There’s something very ’90s about the character of John Henry Irons (He’s “edgy,” but in a non-threatening way. His weapon of choice is a giant sledgehammer) and writer Louise Simonson captures the tone of that era well. That Steel is being forced to fight the personification of 1990’s-Blue-Raspberry-Radicalness, the teens of Gen¹³, just makes too much sense.
Maybe it’s the inclusion of Steel’s niece and nephew, Natasha and Jem, but this also reads as one of the most kid-friendly titles to come out of Convergence. Where last week a lot of titles took time to ruminate on the difficulties of life under the dome, Superman: Man of Steel is content to revel in (pretty non-violent) action. True, the issue ends with Steel out of commission, but I’m willing to bet we see him make a triumphant return by the end of issue two. Steel is a character who was pretty neglected in the New 52, so if this really is the last we see of him what a bummer that’d be.
Patrick: For my money, this doesn’t really make the case for Steel in any kind of modern context. Mark, I wasn’t nearly as charmed as you were — I’ll confess to falling asleep while reading this issue the first time. June Brigman’s art seems like a throwback to a time even earlier than the 90s (if you can even imagine such a time), but there’s a loss of clarity that doesn’t seem totally on-game with that style. Like, I’m trying to wrap my head around what I’m seeing in these panels, but space and scale seem to be in such a state of flux that I can’t get my bearings.
Though, in preparing that image, I did notice the cool detail of the repeating honeycomb of the dome continuing down the page. That’s neat. All and all, I’m just wearied by an issue that rushes so headlong into punch-em-up nonsense. The action escalates, but only ever by adding characters to the mix (Steel’s kids! Parasite! Gen13!), which I guess is a way to build drama, but that’s sort of undercut by the idea that there are countless DC heroes running around. I will give the issue some bonus points for Techno-organic-infused Kitty. When’s he get his own Convergence tie-in?
Here’s what we didn’t write about:
Catwoman, Green Arrow and Suicide Squad. That doesn’t mean we’re not interested in them! What did you read this week. Let’s keep talking about Convergence!