Today, Drew leads a discussion about Convergence 5, The Atom 2, Batgirl 2, Batman & Robin 2, Harley Quinn 2, Justice League 2, Nightwing/Oracle 2 and Titans 2.
Let’s you and him fight.
Drew: Superheroes fighting superheroes. It feels like an admission that I may never understand the appeal — it really feels like an admission that punching and flexing is what superheroes are all about, morality be damned — but it’s hard to deny how popular those match-ups are. Thor fights Iron Man and Captain America in a inter-dimensional extradition misunderstanding. Batman fights Superman in order to bring about the dawn of justice. It’s a well-known, well-worn comics trope, which makes Convergence — the tournament-style showdown between various DC heroes from various continuities — a kind of fanboy fever dream. That is, unless creators see these match-ups as a means of subverting that particular trope. All bets are off this week, as the Convergence tie-ins get to their fights (or lack thereof) proper.
Drew: Meanwhile, Convergence itself seems to have shifted gears almost entirely. Now half-Conan the Barbarian (or maybe He-Man), the aesthetic of this book feels totally divorced from the paean to the DC Universe that is the tie-ins. More importantly, Deimos renders Telos virtually impotent, stepping into the role as big bad in an arc that is somehow already more convoluted and impenetrable than DC’s continuity. It all seems to hinge on Telos’ origin as the Silver Surfer to Brainiac’s Galactus, and especially hinges on the politics of Skartaris, which makes sense when you consider that this event was sold to DC fans as somehow being important to literally anything that DC fans might care about (or at least heard of before this event began).
Which is to say: I have no clue what I’m reading here. I’ll admit to not having much of a taste for barbarian stories (which again seems like an odd bone to pick with a series pitched as so integral to DC mythology), but the bigger problem is that replacing Telos with Deimos negates any sense of progress we may have felt in the first four issues. They’re back to square one, minus a few Earth-2 heroes and barbarian redshirts, leaving me wondering why any of this was necessary. No moment embodies this better than the demise of Warlord — a character who seemed to exist for the explicit purpose of making the story more complicated and taking up more pages. Anyone who might have invested anything in his story is immediately punished with his unceremonious demise. I may not understand all of what’s going on, but the message is loud and clear: don’t bother caring about this series.
Shane: You’re not wrong about this being something of a muddy issue, Drew. I’m sure that for Warlord fans, it was a treat to see the character returned to the fore for this event, but I can’t imagine they loved his death (and the deaths of his supporting cast!)…but maybe having Deimos play such a big role in this event helps make up for it? You said it yourself — Convergence was touted as bringing back the most-loved characters and events of DC’s history for one final round, and I know that if one of my old favorite titles ended up being so integral to the event, I’d be pretty thrilled to see the characters in action, even if some of them didn’t make it through to the end. Deimos’ ascension actually reminds me a lot of Secret Wars (the original, not the new one that also launched this week), with Telos in the role of the Beyonder and Deimos in the role of Doctor Doom. Playing that line of thought through, I think that we actually HAVE had some progress: yes, much of the stage has been reset back to basics, but Telos has advanced significantly. If Convergence ends up being the story of his redemption, to perhaps play a crucial role in the upcoming Earth 2: Society series, that’d be a pretty thorough character arc, and I think we’re just now at its tipping point.
The Atom 2
Patrick: I’m sort of ambivalent about reboots and crises. Old versions of characters exist in the readers’ memory and imagination long after publishers decide to stop putting out stories featuring the characters. That’s the conceit of Convergence: The Atom 2. Like many Ryan Choi fans, Ray Palmer is haunted by the “ghost” of his protege. Ryan insists that he’s not a ghost, and is able to quickly retcon his own death as an illusion caused by the Atom’s connection to the dimension their mass goes to when they shrink. Then, because both men are tethered to this dimension, Ryan has been communicating with Ray as a voice in his head. It’s a beautifully convoluted in-universe explanation for how Ryan could still be alive, but the more potent message seems to be that even when these characters go away, they’re never gone as long as they’re in your heads and hearts. That notion is even challenged by Deathstroke, who confronts Ray in his hospital bed.
Deathstroke is the perfect publisher analogue here — essentially telling the Ryan Choi fan that he’s better off just forgetting the character ever existed in the first place. Of course, he’s defeated by Choi himself, so the message is clear — the old characters never go away. Not even when you kill them.
Shane: There’s something appropriate about Tom Peyer (a writer who enjoyed a good amount of success previously, but has since done little work for mainstream comics) writing a story with this message. I’m sure it’s not meant to bite the hand that feeds him, but if we take your analysis of Deathstroke as the publisher analogue, it makes the Atoms’ revenge that much sweeter: these characters never go away, and neither do those that wrote them. A lot of the Convergence titles (especially those done by formerly prominent creators) have some sense of this, but in the wake of the New 52, it’s Convergence: The Atom that illustrates this best, not just with Deathstroke’s speech, but with Ray Palmer’s development. As the story starts, he’s not his normal happy self: he’s driven by anger, and more than a little unhinged. It’s the same sort of “edgy” portrayal that defined a lot of characters post-Flashpoint, in contrast to their earlier selves, but ultimately, Ray (with the aid of Ryan) manages to realign back to his true self, and doesn’t kill Deathstroke as originally intended. Instead, he takes a much less traditional form of revenge.
If the Atom’s victory over Deathstroke is a message against the publisher’s new direction, that manner of victory is a gigantic middle finger: you can try to make these heroes into something they’re not, but ultimately, they’ll revert back to form. They’re icons, and they mean something, and that’s not something you can compromise.
Patrick: The chronology of this issue is all kinds of wonky, and I don’t totally understand why. Perhaps it’s to emphasize the weird continuity hoops the reader has to go through in order to justify these relationships between these people. Alisa Kwitney’s occasionally shaggy script is way more focused on the characters than the incident they’re exposed to. Additionally, the name of this issue is “The Love Song of Stephanie Brown,” a possible allusion to T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The similarities between the two are actually pretty striking — both are hampered by a crushing sense of history (bother literary and personal), and both struggle with (and ultimately succumb to) sexual frustration. There’s also some nonsense about Batgirl and Catman teaming up to cheat the system and subdue General (née Gorilla) Grodd, which I don’t believe is part of Prufrock.
Literary references be damned, I think my favorite part of this issue is Steph decking Tim when he half-assedly asks for them to get back together…y’know, now that she’s Batgirl again.
The whole time, she’s insisting that they use their words to figure this out, and in a moment of frustration she tries violence. Turns out, neither words nor violence get the job done, the just have to awkward their way through it. If that’s not a perfect encapsulation of on-again-off-again relationships, I don’t know what is.
Michael: One punch! Typically, I love Tim Drake — who doesn’t love Tim Drake? Turns out that Tim can sometimes be a dick (rimshot!). Man that whole exchange between the two of them was rough; there was no end to it besides a punch. The question of “can a super-relationship continue to thrive if one person becomes un-super?” is a very interesting superhero notion to explore however. I guess it’s the equivalent of taking sex out of the relationship; separating lust from love. Now that I think about it, Dick Grayson might’ve kinda/sorta pulled that move on Barbara Gordon when she (was forcibly) retired from being Batgirl – but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
I think many fans ship Tim and Stephanie together, but Kwitney seems decidedly against this relationship. It’s portrayed as awkward, regressive and a little unhealthy – none of that really matters much though. The end narration is sweet, with Steph being at peace with the possibility of her final moments being with Tim. This actually reminded me of a very bizarre episode of Angel where he has to stop a depressed physicist who wants to literally stop time at the moment he climaxes in bed with his girlfriend who is on the verge of dumping him. It’s a real episode you guys. One last note: Methinks Mr. Stick-in-the-mud Telos is not going to be very happy about a staged fight, in which case me-also-thinks Flashpoint and pre-Flashpoint are doomed.
Batman & Robin 2
Drew: Fatherhood was a sensitive subject for Bruce Wayne pre-Flashpoint — between dying and setting up Batman Incorporated outposts, he never had all that much face-time with Damian — which makes it an odd theme for Convergence: Batman and Robin (which may serve as the final word on pre-Flashpoint Batman for the foreseeable future). It’s especially odd given that writer Ron Marz chooses to approach the theme via a sibling rivalry not between Damian and Tim (whose volatile chemistry is well-documented) but between Damian and Jason. It wouldn’t have been that long ago that Jason nearly killed Damian, leaving him temporarily crippled. It’s hard to believe that Bruce would be able to forgive and forget (remember, he’s still fighting literally all crime because one dude killed his parents decades ago), but it’s straight-up impossible that Damian would be able to — that kid is petty and vindictive even for an 11-year-old. I hate to let a single detail ruin the experience, but with that reconciliation falling flat, there’s not much else to hang onto here. Patrick, were you able to salvage anything from this issue?
Patrick: Not particularly. Over three-quarters of the issue is dedicated to watching Batman, Robin, Red Hood, and Scarlet fight the Extremists. I was a little surprised to see the name “Extremists” come out of Jason’s mouth, because I just assumed that he — like I — had no fucking clue who those guys were. There are simply no emotional stakes in this brawl: even if Jason is working with Damian to protect Batman, that’s purely a self-preservation instinct. Frustratingly (and boringly), none of it matters. This is probably best encapsulated by this exchange:
The operative line there being “I like to know who I’m killing.” Evidently, Ron Marz thinks that knowing a character’s name is tantamount to knowing them. And even when we think we understand the character relationships, it turns out we don’t (see all of Drew’s complaints above). Add in some incoherent fight coreography, and this issue turns out to be a hot mess.
I was also confused by the ending of the issue. The way Batman and Superman are staged on the rooftop, it almost looks like they’re separate and observing the scene transpiring on the pages immediately before and after. It’s like Batman observing Batman, and for a second I stopped to consider if we were dealing with a Dick-Bats situation. (We’re not.) Also, at one point, there’s a Bat-signal in the sky for no reason other than it looks good. I mean, come on: he’s already fighting the only four dudes causing a problem.
Harley Quinn 2
Spencer: Harley Quinn can be a humorous character, but as we saw in last month’s installment of Convergence: Harley Quinn, Steve Pugh and Phil Winslade are also quite aware of the toll being Harley Quinn actually takes, both on Harley and on those around her. Thus, this issue appropriately leaps between humor, such as Harley’s fake superpowers and the elaborate traps she’s set up to make them convincing, and more somber moments, such as the effect Harley’s return to villainy has on her boyfriend, without ever missing a beat. Both the humor and the emotion are granted equal importance and handled with equal care, and it makes for a fun, and often quite powerful, issue.
That said, there’s one moment that almost ruins the entire issue for me: the death of Captain Carrot. I know, I know, the whole point of Convergence is death matches, and I know, Harley and Ivy aren’t exactly “good guys,” and I know, there’s probably several dozen continuity work-arounds to still have a version of Captain Carrot around, but still, it’s just plain depressing to see one of the most fun, most optimistic characters in all of Convergence bite it. I don’t want to be mad about it, but honestly, I am more than a little bit bitter. Patrick, were you able to look past poor Captain Carrot’s demise and focus in on everything this issue does well, or are you a big softie like me?
Patrick: Nah, man: fuck Captain Carrot. I have to believe that no matter what she poisoned him with, his ghost is just going to float up toward heaven, strumming a harp, until his halo gets caught on a tree, stretching until it rubberbands him back down into his own body. He’s a cartoon character — I don’t really think they die. Plus, there’s a precedent set in this issue for Harley making it look as though she killed one of these characters without actually doing it. Remember Pig-Iron?
Just about every joke in this issue lands for me — Pugh’s got a great handle on how to make Harley funny, even stretching some of the gags out into meta-jokes. The title of the issue is “Rabbit Season,” a reference to the famous 1951 Bugs Bunny / Daffy Duck / Elmer Fudd cartoon, “Rabbit Fire.” Harley herself names the issue, writing it on the fence in Pig-Iron ink. At one point, Harley wishes that “Animal Man were here!” and then churlishly adds “I wonder if anyone’s ever said that before?” Pugh took over penciling duties from Travel Foreman early in the New 52 run on Animal Man, and probably has as much claim to the character as the next guy. So while I maintain that I am a big softie, I loved this issue.
Justice League 2
Spencer: There’s quite a bit I don’t like about Frank Tieri and Vicente Cifuentes’ Convergence: Justice League 2, so let’s dive right in. First of all, there’s a few rather unclear moments scattered throughout (such as whatever happened to Vixen, a frustrating moment in its own right), and much of the dialogue is just plain cringeworthy.
Still, what’s most offensive about the book is how it reduces Mera — Mera, of all people! — to a helpless damsel-in-distress just waiting to be rescued. Sure, she’s being rescued by other women, and sure, she lands the killing blow against Flashpoint Aquaman, but it doesn’t excuse the way she’s weakened and sidelined throughout the rest of the issue. Mera is a physically intimidating fighter fueled by rage — in what universe would she just stand around and pout and let herself be held captive?! It’s just not Mera at all.
Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised, as these are some of the same complaints I had with the first issue. It’s a shame, because I was hoping this month’s focus on action would make for a better read, but besides a few fun constructs from Jade, it’s still largely a train-wreck. Mark, did you manage to get anything out of this clunker?
Mark: No, it’s a pretty dire affair all around. I guess my question is: why this story? Why these characters? While I’ve found the pre-Flashpoint titles in Convergence to be the weakest overall, at least some of the other ones found a reason for existing (mostly as a way to give their characters a happy send off). Here, well, what’s the point? And if there is no point, why tell this story at all? Mera’s portrayal is particularly grating, but I’m not sure anyone is used well here. Part of the fun of the Flashpoint universe is just how screwed up the characters are, but Flashpoint Aquaman isn’t used to any great purpose, and while, from a storytelling perspective, I understand the idea behind Vixen’s death, man, what a weird and inglorious way for her to go. You’re already catering to such a specific audience with this frankly unmemorable Justice League lineup, and I can’t imagine any of them are left satisfied.
I’m really struggling for anything positive to say, so maybe it’s best if we just chalk this one up as a wasted opportunity and move on.
Nightwing / Oracle 2
Mark: We’ve spent a lot of words discussing Barbara Gordon’s journey from Oracle to Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher closing the book on The Killing Joke‘s legacy with Batgirl 40, but writer Gail Simone has such a close history with Babs that you can’t begrudge Simone wanting to give her a proper send off of her own making in Convergence: Nightwing/Oracle 2.
Look, the premise behind Convergence is pretty thin to begin with, but the tie-ins show just how pointless it truly is. Yes, Simone has Nightwing and Oracle engage in their perfunctory battle with Hawkman and Hawkwoman (they call her Hawkwoman in both issues, but I do think in Flashpoint she was known as Hawkgirl? Not sure if it was a conscious change or an editorial oversight), and it ends with the Thanagarians defeated (obviously), but not dead. Dick and Babs give them the opportunity to live in Gotham as long as they don’t try to rule it. So I guess Thanagar is destroyed, but who cares because we were never going to see that universe again anyway? It’s nice to see Nightwing and Oracle have the happy ending Simone could never give them, but this is just another illustration that DC really should have spent April and May doing throwback issues set in the old continuities rather than trying to shoehorn these stories into an “event.” Bah.
Patrick: Bah, indeed. I hate to get hung up on the logistics of an issue — especially when Simone seems so much more interested in the emotions of Dick and Babs — but there were maybe too many absolutely crucial facts that didn’t make shit-for-sense in this story. The first hugely dumb idea here is that Black Canary is able to project her Canary Cry over radio waves. That’s not how sound works: if Babs just wanted to make a loud noise transmit to the Hawks’ headsets, she could have just turned up the volume on a fart. It’s also just ridiculous that Dinah is cloaked, hiding her identity before delivering her signature cry. It’s an artificial inflation of tension, and the release is just straight-up silly. Then there’s Babs’ inability to hack the Hawks’ drones. The rationale there is that the robots run on some strange alien code that no one can understand. But, hey guess what — Babs is able to hack Telos’ robots. I guess he’s somehow less alien than the Hawks are?
Maybe I have such a problem with these story beats being so stupid because they’re supposed to be ideas that come out of the brilliant mind of Barbara Gordon. Hell, even Dick pleads with her “you could have told me you had a plan” as if congratulating her on these twin strokes of genius. I suppose if the storyteller says that her techniques worked, then she is a genius, but man — it just looks dumb to me.
The Question 2
Check back Monday for Michael and Shane’s full conversation!
Speed Force 2
Check back Tuesday for Spencer and Michael’s full conversation!
Check back Wednesday for Mark and Drew’s full conversation!
Drew: A hero pretends to go over to the dark side just to get the defenses of the villain down. We’ve seen it a million times (TV Tropes lists an entire subcategory of “fake defectors” specifically for comics called “super dickery“), but good writers can find ways to make us believe that a hero might want to betray his friends. That’s exactly the cliff Fabian Nicieza left Convergence: Titans 1 hanging on, and while the “you only thought I missed” reveal was surprising enough, but it quickly hit diminishing returns throughout the issue. Actually, basically every beat, from Roy’s feints to Dreamslayer’s resurrection of Lian, is repeated ad absurdum. It would cease to lose all meaning if Nicieza wasn’t so clear about the real stakes — Roy’s immortal soul. A hero faced with an impossible choice and opting for “both” is a trope unto itself, but Nicieza keeps us close enough to Roy to make sure we’re invested in his decision. Plus, Cyborg and Beast Boy show up!
By the time the Titans are bounding off to face the Extremists (yet again), I couldn’t help but get excited for Convergence 6, which is a feat unto itself.
Spencer: I’m excited to see some of my favorite characters leap over into a book that could very much use the extra excitement, but I’m also terribly worried that this could spell their doom. Titans tend to die in these kind of events.
Regardless of what happens next, though, at least we get Lian Harper back. More than any other week of Convergence, week 1 seems to revolve around finding happy endings for these characters, and there was never going to be much of a happy ending for Roy Harper without his daughter. In a way, Lian’s return is as cathartic for long-time Titans fans as it is for Roy himself, and if it takes a story that’s perhaps a bit more complicated than necessary to reach that point, so be it. I also really appreciate how Nicieza highlights the concept of family here. The Titans’ speciality among DC teams has always been that they’re as close as family, and in this case, it means that the other Titans are just as happy to see Lian as Roy is, understand what Roy must be feeling, and don’t hesitate for a second in letting him sit the battle out. That’s just what family does for each other, and it’s fantastic to get to see these characters be a family one more time.
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!