How many Batman books is too many Batman books? Depending on who you ask there ain’t no such thing! We try to stay up on what’s going on at DC, but we can’t always dig deep into every issue. The solution? Our weekly round-up of titles coming out of DC Comics. Today, we’re discussing Bizarro 4, Robin: Son of Batman 4, Green Lantern: The Lost Army 4, and Martian Manhunter 4.
Michael: If you’ve read these round-ups then you know by now that I am quite pleased with Heath Corson and Gustavo Duarte’s Bizarro. Though they are part of the continuing adventures of Bizarro and Jimmy Olsen, each issue is a superhero costume for the series to wear. This month Bizarro is dressed in the trappings of DC’s realm of magic – not the scary Constantine stuff, but the fun and exciting magic of Zatanna. Zatanna performs her spells by saying words backwards – so naturally the big, backwards Bizarro is a natural at such magic. How simple is that? How delightfully obvious is that? I love when writers show us something new and clever with the familiar “rules” of the DCU. Another recurring trope that Corson and Duarte use is a quick detour to various corners of the DCU – so given Bizarro 4’s subject matter, we see different mystical characters and locales. The remainder of the issue has to deal with the accidental “construing” of our main characters. Jimmy has become Jimzarro and Bizarro has become a normal human being (Clark Kent without the glasses, really). While it’s a fun joke that works perfect for the book, I must throw in a minor complaint about this magical mishap however. Zatanna refers to the “Bizarro-ing” of Jimmy as “Freaky Friday-ing;” but since they are still themselves it’s more of a “Big-ing meets Shrek the Third-ing” – but I digress.
Sadly Bizarro is only a 6-issue limited series, so narratively we are heading towards some conclusions. It’s made very clear that Jimmy is using this road trip to take and sell pictures of Bizarro (which was actually Clark Kent’s idea!). Corson has always written the traditionally chipper Jimmy Olsen as a reluctant straight man, so it’s not completely out of left field that Jimmy has some ulterior motives. Jimmy is also equal parts grumpy and sentimental, as Corson manages to bring the two “worstest friends” to yet another sweet mutual understanding. While Darwyn Cooke does a guest spot drawing a poster of Zatanna, Gustavo Duarte continues to visually play out all of the jokes that Corson sets up for him in spectacular fashion. If Duarte is as much of a DC fan as Corson seems to be, it must be a treat to take a sidebar from American sight-seeing and draw some scenes at The Rock of Eternity, The Parliament of Trees and Hades itself. I like how Duarte embraces the cartoony nature of Bizarro and doesn’t hold himself to “realistic standards” in his scenes. Duarte heightens specific actions and character moments by placing a simple background behind our characters – or no background at all. The separation between panel and gutter isn’t so confined for Duarte, as he often has characters and sound effects spill over from one panel to the next. This choice of “breaking the rules” fits in especially well in an issue built entirely around magic. Bizarro am the most terrible book me have not read.
Robin: Son of Batman 4
Spencer: I’ve been in love with Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray’s artistic interpretation of Damian Wayne since their very first issue on Batman and Robin back in 2011, so for me, the big surprise of Robin: Son of Batman was discovering that Gleason has just as fine of a handle on Damian’s personality when it comes to the writing side of the equation as well. This is just as true in issue 4 — which is a lot of fun in many ways — but this is also the first issue where Gleason’s relatively new status as a writer starts to cause some problems.
Each issue of Batman: Son of Robin thus far has focused on Damian trying to atone for one sin from his past. Issue 4 continues that pattern, but not with the singleminded focus of previous issues; usually the flashbacks establish the mission Damian will be working to undo for the month, but this time it focuses on Damian’s relationship with his devoted manservant and Damian’s role in his blindness. This is an intriguing relationship, and Damian’s guilt over the fate of the man who even now is still so loyal to him will no doubt be important in a myriad of ways as the series moves forward, but it does mean that, when Robin and NoBody finally begin their mission, Gleason has to cram several pages worth of backstory and exposition into a scant few panels.
Ouch — it’s an overwhelming amount of text.
As if realizing his mistake here, Gleason later devotes five full pages to an almost dialogue-free battle between Robin and Deathstroke. It’s dazzling in a number of ways: Gleason’s choreography is fun and easy to follow; Gray’s inks and John Kalisz’s colors adapt to every new environment Slade and Damian crash through, creating some striking images; the strategy of leading Slade through the traps that it’s already been established only Damian can make it through is absolutely ingenious. There’s only one thing bringing this half of the issue down, but it’s a doozy of a problem: Deathstroke’s dialogue.
This is probably the worst example, but every time Slade opens his mouth, equally cringeworthy cliches pour out. I haven’t been keeping too close of an eye on Deathstroke in the New 52, but no matter what form he takes, Slade just doesn’t talk like this — he sounds more like a 16-year-old gamer than a classy, elite mercenary. It’s such bad dialogue that it came close to ruining the issue for me, but it never did, because Gleason’s skills as an artist, plotter, and storyteller are strong enough to keep the issue compelling even in its lowest moments. Still, I hope to see him refine his dialogue some more, because it’s the only thing holding him back from becoming a legitimately great writer.
Green Lantern: The Lost Army 4
Patrick: Javier Piña is so good at drawing comics. Consider the herculean task task set for him in the fourth issue of Green Lantern: Lost Army. This is a story that primarily takes place in space, and not aboard ships on space stations and planet surfaces, but up in that star-speckled nothing. With literally nothing but the characters and the space on the page to orient us, Piña absolutely nails the early action sequences in this issue, drawing through-lines between panel dividers, or paths characters are zipping around in or beams of weaponized light. I’m particularly enamored with this show-stopping 2-page spread that comes early in the piece.
Look at how the spacial relationship between Guy and Two-Six remains consistent regardless of where it falls on the page. Further, look at the spacial relationship between Kilowog and Guy – I think the 2nd and 5th panels are actually just showing us one continuous slab of space, with Guy like 12 feet below ‘Wog. It’s all just such great, engaging stuff, which means it’s a little bit of a bummer when our Lanterns lose their rings and are forced to escape from Light Pirate Prison without them. Fortunately, writer Cullen Bunn is clever enough to play to the strengths of these characters’ actual physical characteristics — I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone really tap into the qualities Bd’g brings to the table as a giant squirrel. Plus, if there’s a bad scene of Guy and Kilowog standing back to back while they brawl with a room full of bad guys, I haven’t read it.
I am interested to see if anyone else is getting anything out of John’s flashback sequences. They’re not really adding up to any one solid image of the dude, and they seldom tie in to the themes of the issues in anything but the most literal way. In this issue, we flashback to John being taken prisoner in (I’m guessing…) Afghanistan moments before he’s taken prisoner by the Light Pirates. The story so nice, they tell it twice, I suppose. The literary analysist in me wants John to demonstrate a facet of his personality in those flashbacks and then see how that personality plays out in the “real time” scenarios, but Bunn resists anything quite so tidy. And honestly, that may be a more honest interpretation of what a soldier learns from war: not clear, not obvious, not tidy, but informative nonetheless.
Martian Manhunter 4
Mark: Even as a professed fan of Rob Williams’ Martian Manhunter run, four issues in and I’m ready for a little bit of context. What are the rules of the Manhunter universe? I think the confusion is partly intentioned by Williams’. Each of the four issues so far has thrown the reader into the thick of things with basically no context. Is the idea that we’re discovering the rules along with the characters? If so, in Martian Manhunter 4 we’re hitting the point of diminishing returns. When characters are sliced in half but remain sentient or can prevent their own deaths by phasing in and out of space and time, without a clear understanding of the bigger picture it all becomes a bit much.
The issue does have some standout moments in the art by Eddy Barrows (pencils), Eber Ferreira (inks), and Gabe Eltaeb (colors). Martian Manhunter’s interactions with Pearl, his purple cape flowing impossibly, makes for a striking image. And I appreciated Barrows’ attention to detail in matching the alien’s ghastly smiles with that of Phobos.
This is a book I’m really rooting for. The premise is solid, the art is solid. Here’s hoping next month this disparate threads can come together.