Retcon Punch is on Summer Hours, which means we’re going to be writing fewer in-depth pieces for the month of August. But we’re addicts at this point, so we need a place for our thoughts on all those comics we can’t stop reading. Today, we’re discussing Bizarro 3, Black Canary 3, Dr. Fate 3, Green Lantern The Lost Army 3, Justice League 43, Martian Manhunter 3 and Robin: Son of Batman 3.
Michael: Bizarro is the kind of book where anything and everything goes. I’d like to imagine writer Heath Corson pitching an off-the-wall Superman story and DC turning up their noses at it until they discover it’s actually a Bizarro story. You want Bizarro to fight a mystical Egyptian-themed car salesman? Sure! Have Bizarro and Jimmy go to an old West ghost town that’s full of ghosts? Why the hell not? Whereas DC might be a little more protective of their other properties, I think that Bizarro is a title that has the freedom to experiment with the wacky and out-there world that is the DC Universe. Like it’s preceding chapters, Bizarro 3 is a book whose humorous premise enables it to venture into fantastical places that other books might not be able to. In a Bizarro story everything is opposite, simplistic and of course strange. But when that promise of the weird is implied from the get-go, it’s so much easier (and more fun) to just sit along for the ride and see what Corson and Gustavo Duarte have in store for us. There’s something completely admirable about the lowbrow, low-hanging fruit kind of humor that Corson strives for in Bizarro. The ghost town’s paper is called “The Brass Bugle” because of course it is – it’s the same type of dumb joke that I used to make when I was a kid – which is why it works for the innocent simpleton that is Bizarro.
Gustavo Duarte continues to provide me with one of the most brutish and adorable Bizarro’s that I have ever witnessed – I still can’t get over those tree trunk forearms. As has been the case since Bizarro’s debut, Bizarro 3 has another fantastic guest artist page; this time by Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba. Ghost bandito El Papagayo possesses Bizarro and has to travel through the literal maze of Bizarro’s body/mind. Bizarro’s pension of mindless brutishness is exemplified by his left and right brain being split between his fists. But the most endearing part of this interior design full of construction and cacti is Bizarro’s heart, which makes up the entirety of his chest. Of course his heart is so damn big – 1) he’s the clone of Superman and 2) he always TRIES to do good (though often fails.) I think that this series has won me over thus far because the heart that it gives its characters. When El Papagayo possesses Bizarro, Jimmy actually calls Bizarro “my best friend.” It’s effective because it’s not heavily played up in the script, nor is it sarcastic – shit is going down; Jimmy doesn’t have time to crack jokes. Corson & co. make me believe that Jimmy & Bizarro are the Odd Couple that we have been waiting for in DC Comics. And that’s why this book is fantastic.
Black Canary 3
Spencer: “Rock Star” has always seemed like a strange career choice for Black Canary. Writer Brenden Fletcher made it clear in the first two issues of Black Canary that it’s a job Dinah took simply to make enough money to start replacing her ruined gear and dojo. Issue 3, though, seems to find Dinah finally enjoying her new gig.
Annie Wu and Lee Loughridge are absolutely transcendent here. Loughridge’s colors immediately differentiate the chase scene from the flashforwards to the concert, and Wu not only keeps Dinah’s actions clear as we jump back and forth between scenes, but even manages to weave her actions between the two eras — just look at how Dinah’s leap from the bus results in her landing on the crowd in the future and the motorcycles in the present. It’s absolutely killer stuff.
But it’s the look of sheer bliss on Dinah’s face in panel 7 that stands out to me the most. Dinah’s lead a rough, complicated life, and it only becomes more complicated over the course of the issue. She doesn’t seem to have had too much joy in her life, and what joy she’s had hasn’t lasted long. So it’s satisfying to see Dinah finally find something that can bring her some legitimate happiness, even if just for an hour a night. Is Dinah falling in love with being a rock star? Why wouldn’t she?
Dr. Fate 3
Mark: So overall I’m really enjoying Doctor Fate, but one thing I’d like a little clarity on is how big a deal are the events of any given issue? In this issue alone a giant tidal wave sweeps through Brooklyn and an enormous ocean freighter is sent careening through the street (both of which have to have caused millions of dollars worth of damage), the city looks like a war zone with destroyed and abandoned cars littered everywhere, and some streets are flooded up to the doorways, but nobody cares. Khalid walks around nonchalantly like nothing’s happened at all. Characters talk about the “incident at the shore” or “the flood” like it’s no big deal. At first I thought these were visions Khalid was having, but even the helicopter pilots knocked out of the air are barely phased by what happened. SOMEBODY PLEASE CARE ABOUT SOMETHING.
Patrick: Yeah – for real. The very first page shows Khalid, nonchalant as fuck, as he’s being swept up in the same massive wave that’s FLIPPING OVER A GODDAMNED CAR.
And there’s more of that insipid Paul Levitz dialogue — that is, if we can call the skeptical conversation Khalid is still having with himself a “dialogue.” He switches between boringly describing the situation (with details I’m not even sure how he’d know) and boldly stating what Levitz thinks the character should be feeling. He actually says (to himself, because no one else listens, I guess), “Four months ago, I was a college kid with no responsibilities worse than passing Orgo.”
Let’s break that down for a second. First, he’s calling himself “college kid,” which no one ever fucking does while they’re in school. Second “no responsibilities worse than…”? I’m not convinced that there’s a scale of goodness or badness on which we rate responsibility – it could be a time consuming responsibility, or a draining responsibility, or a reluctant responsibility, but a “worse” responsibility? That doesn’t rhetorically exist. And the last part of this that really bothers me is Levitz’ half-assed commitment to specificity. I don’t doubt that some part of Khalid’s Organic Chemistry class was stressful, but this little reflection doesn’t demonstrate that at all. “Orgo” was as specific as Levitz thought he had to get to make this a personal moment for Khalid, but it’s not.
I still love Sonny Liew’s artwork, but I don’t know how much longer I can look past the writing.
Green Lantern: The Lost Army 3
Michael: Cullen Bunn is playing up a lot of big elements of Green Lantern lore in Green Lantern: The Lost Army – the more classic example being the (near) mad Guardian Krona, and the more recent antagonist of Relic. I wasn’t a huge fan of the whole “emotional reservoir” concept that goes along with Relic, but I don’t seem to mind it as much as a conflict for our time-displaced Lanterns. Relic and Krona as a team is kind of a no brainer, really. Krona was studying Relic’s surreptitious study of the Lantern’s rings in action – a maneuver which undoubtedly impressed Krona. While we have a potentially dangerous combination of the scientists, we also have a bit of a fracture in the friendship of Guy Gardner and John Stewart. Guy takes umbrage with John’s decision to lie to Relic about their identities and their knowledge of the future without first consulting the team. While I agree that a little more democracy needs to be in place here, I can’t ultimately argue with John’s reasoning.
John’s marine past is used economically to illustrate how the soldier has changed in the past 5+ years. The bit at the end where John’s narration goes all “casualties of war” as Arisia “dies” was a bit much, however. Some stray thoughts before I hand it off to Patrick: can the Lanterns actively search through each other’s minds via telepathic link as Guy implies? If I were Relic I wouldn’t be convinced when John basically says “uh…yeah we’re TOTALLY here to help you.” Patrick was impressed last month at how Jesus Saiz was running the show solo art-wise. Unfortunately the last 4-5 pages of this issue are handled by Cliff Richards instead.
Patrick: In another context, I don’t think I would mind Richards’ art that much, but coming off Saiz’ beautiful work in those intense scenes between Lantern-friends, that last fight is some generic GL fare. Plus, that spread of Arisia gasping for air grossly centers on her ample cleavage. Look, I’m always going to be critical of singling out a woman to suffer (for what is effectively no reason) to simply raise the stakes, but that has to go double for Green Lantern comics. I mean, if your telling a story in the same world that infamously gave name to the “‘Women in Refrigerators” trope, wouldn’t you be more respectful of your female characters? I don’t want to harp on it too much, because I did genuinely like the first three-quarters of this issue, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for my comics to be progressive in addition to being fun.
Justice League 43
Patrick: Whatever the term “god” means in the context of the DC Universe, writer Geoff Johns doesn’t appear to have the highest opinion of them. As Batman transforms into a knowledge god via the Mobius Chair, he becomes even more aloof – helpful, sure, but even more of a detached pragmatist than usual. Even Johns’ perspective on Superman — which I totally believe we’re seeing through Lex’s eyes — shows a kind of childish glee at the powerful becoming less powerful. Artist Jason Fabok plays Luthor’s emotions close to the vest when he and Superman realize that his powers are fading in the absence of Earth’s yellow sun.
I actually love the way this scene plays out, with Fabok focusing so closely on the character’s eyes, which are alternately betraying hope and fear, instead of their bodies, which are the physical manifestation of a loss of power.
And if those character moments aren’t exciting enough for you, there’s plenty of explosive action courtesy of the citizens of Apokolips. The most despicable action beats comes right at the top, as Kalibak displays his evilest tendencies by beating a dog to death with a war hammer and licking the blood off of it. That’s certainly a shortcut to showing his villainy, but it’s a beat that never gets paid off in any meaningful way. Like, I’m just not sure why it’s there – do we need to be reminded that Kalibak is a motherfucker? Maybe it’s just continuing the “gods are assholes” theme that seems so prevalent everywhere else.
Mark: Johns has a way of taking tertiary characters of the DC Universe and making them scene-stealers, like Captain Cold in Justice League during the run up to Convergence and now Scot Free. Even I’m surprised I finished a comic book that featured Batman on the damn Mobius Chair wishing there was more Mister Miracle. He’s such a badass. So it’s pretty disappointing that when the League (sans-Batman) go to confront the forces of Apokolips he gets backgrounded. Of course, the entire League except for Batman and Superman are backgrounded this issue. Even Wonder Woman, and she’s narrating the thing. Hopefully next issue we get to see Mister Miracle in action. His skill set is not exactly suited for large scale battles, which makes it potentially more interesting than yet another version of “Superman’s powers are out of control!”
Martian Manhunter 3
Mark: There’s too much going on in the latest issue of Martian Manhunter, but maybe the disorienting nature of the story is intentional. I don’t have the previous issues in front of me, but this is the first appearance of FBI agent Daryl Wessel and creepy pal Leo, right? It’s a lot for Rob Williams to devote the majority of the issue to two characters we’ve never encountered before, especially since they have a lot of shit going on between them, but it works. Everything we need to know about the relationship between the two characters is neatly laid out on their first page in the issue.
Of course the focus on Agent Wessel pays off when he’s saved by everyone’s favorite, Mister Biscuits. Not only is Mister Biscuits who we all suspected — J’onn J’onzz himself — but so is Agent Wessel. With his evil twin brother Ma’alefa’ak working to take over Earth, J’onn is going to have to work fast to bring all of his dispersed consciousnesses together. It’s like the final season of LOST we should have gotten!
Spencer: We’re three issues into Martian Manhunter and I’ve still yet to catch my bearings — and I don’t mean that as a compliment. Mark, I think you’re right when you say that the disorienting nature of the issue is intentional, but intentional or not, it’s often quite hard to make heads or tales of what’s going on in this book. It’s a frustrating read.
Robin: Son of Batman 3
Spencer: When we’re children, our parents attempt to teach us many things. Yet, not all of those lessons stick — the ideals we tend to carry with us into adulthood are the ones we make our own, and quite often, the ones we pass along to others. That’s what we find Damian Wayne doing in Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and John Kalisz’s Robin: Son of Batman 3. When we discussed issue 2, I mentioned how NoBody reminded me of Damian during his early adventures — Gleason makes that comparison explicit this month by having NoBody face the same demons that once tormented Damian: namely, the dark path that a not-so-great parent sets for their child and the temptation to follow it. Damian, meanwhile, steps into the role his mentors Nightwing and Batman once played by showing NoBody a better path.
It’s one thing for Damian to attempt to make up for his own sins, but teaching Maya how to do the same shows how deeply Damian has internalized these lessons; he couldn’t preach so powerfully if he didn’t truly believe what he was saying. Now that NoBody is on the same path as Damian, though, she must also face the same obstacles as he — just as Damian is now facing up to the terror he caused during the Year of Blood, Maya must face the not-so-great people she worked with under the guise of her father. First up: Deathstroke. Ouch.
Michael: Audiences love stories that have structures of familiarity; we like coming back to places and situations that made us love a story in the first place. This is why it’s such a smart move by Patrick Gleason to begin his Damian writing tenure by incorporating Maya, daughter of Morgan Ducard/NoBody – the first villain of the New 52 Tomasi/Gleason Batman and Robin. Damian is a unique character (and Robin) in that we’ve gotten to see him progress and mature in a way that we might not typically get to see other characters grow; it took Dick Grayson 44 years to graduate from Robin to Nightwing. I think it’s great that we get to see how Batman’s lessons have taken root in Damian’s mind. Also worth noting is how much Ducard and Bruce’s philosophies overlap – until it comes to the killing stroke of course. Another thing that we tend to forget about Damian is that he is super young – about 10 years old. Gleason reminds us this fact in a couple of ways with the silly schoolyard bullying tactics Maya and Damian employ (Dami-yuck) and the fact that Damian still has some of his baby teeth. I still have a lot of questions as far as “The Year of Blood” and Talia go, but so far I think that Gleason has revealed enough for the three issues we have seen thus far. I can’t be the only one who is hankering for a Goliath secret origin story though.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?
This arc of Justice League is so strange. There’s a ton of stuff happening each issue, yet it STILL feels like it’s moving at a snail’s pace. That said, it’s easily my favorite arc of the series so far, if only because the characterization is pretty smart, Fabok’s art is absolutely fabulous, and the conflict, for once, stems from the villains and not the team bickering amongst themselves.
In other news, Robin is quickly climbing up the charts to become one of my favorite books each month, and this month’s Black Canary is where the series finally fully clicked for me. I enjoyed the first two issues, but with 3 I finally feel like I get what it’s saying and can lose myself in its world. I’m pretty psyched for that.
Did you know anyone who is kind of a know-it-all? Even if he’s capable and competent, you still know that he’s a bit full of himself? Then, did you ever play Trivial Pursuit with him and have him bogart the questions so he could always be the one to point out you were wrong and what the answer really was?
That’s what this issue of Justice League with Batman and the Smart-Chair felt like to me.
And the less I say about Dr. Fate the better. Not finishing the arc. DC has a couple titles I’m back interested in (multiple Robins, that’s a first for me) and I refuse to reward terrible writing with my money. There’s too many good books out there that I want to buy.
I really think this could have been good, but it’s really, really not. It looks nice, but that’s no longer enough.
No way man – I don’t want you to hold back on Dr. Fate. I found myself very upset with it while writing my piece. I take that one speech balloon to task for not being even remotely real, but I could really pick any line of dialogue and eviscerate it. Nothing makes sense and Levitz has not done the work of creating a personality for Khalid. Really just awful character writing.
And then on top of that, the adventure writing is equally abysmal. I cannot understand — for the life of me — why we cut away from Dr. Fate blowing up an errant steamliner plowing through the streets, only to show an unrelated conversation and then NEVER COME BACK TO THIS ACTION. We see Khalid the next morning (or… I think it’s the next morning?) and it’s clear that nothing has changed – the storm’s still raging – he just needed a night sleep?
Yeah Kaif, completely agreed. I feel bad for Sonny Liew cause he’s good, but he’s saddled with an awful story. This issue was completely throw away. Nothing happened. Khalid muttered to himself for twenty pages. We didn’t learn anything new about him, there was no real humor, he didn’t learn or grow as a character, the plot didn’t advance at all, hell, there wasn’t even any grand spectacle for Liew to wow with us. What a dull, pointless issue. I bet that, once we reach the end of the arc, you could skip this issue entirely and not miss a thing.