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 Batman and Robin Eternal 2, Batman Superman 25, Catwoman 45, Justice League of America 4, and Starfire 5.
Batman and Robin Eternal 2
Drew: There have been more than a few times where Bruce couldn’t serve as Batman, but until now, that void had always been filled by someone Bruce had trained personally. That is to say, while Batman isn’t a legacy character in the strictest sense, there are hints that he could be. Of course, in the wake of a soft reboot, a traumatic revelation with the Joker, and a faked death, the extended Bat-family has never been less stable than it is now. It makes sense that an outsider would need to step in to fill the cowl, but it also makes sense that all of Bruce’s disciples would rally together in his absence. That latter point seems to be the thesis of Batman and Robin Eternal, which is sure to satisfy any folks missing the bat-family of old.
There are a few notable absences, sure: Babs and Damian are nowhere to be seen (presumably basking in the popularity of their respective series), but it sure is gratifying to see Dick, Tim, Cassandra, and Steph back together again, albeit in slightly different incarnations. Heck, throw in Harper and Jason and you’ve got some fun new additions to Batman’s most trusted allies. Indeed, the rapport comes so naturally, it’s almost easy to forget that many of these characters have never interacted before. Tim Seeley scripted this issue, and the voices of the characters shine throughout — even Cassandra, who doesn’t speak a word.
We don’t get much in the way of plotting here — mostly fallout from the “lists” Dick received last week — but there’s more than enough packed into the issue to make up for it. There’s action aplenty, but the standout scene for me is Dick’s flashback to his first encounter with Scarecrow’s fear gas, revealing that Dick’s biggest fear is not living up to Bruce’s expectations of him. It points to dick as the true lead of this series, and with characterization like this, I wouldn’t mind that at all.
Batman Superman 25
Mark: With boring ol’ Jim Gordon as Batman, Batman is becoming less and less important to his own books. How great is Gordon’s dialogue at the beginning of the issue denigrating Clark Kent for not being able to use any superpowers, and how that means he’s no longer Superman. It’s a nice moment that shows a complete lack of self-awareness by a man poorly using the moniker “Batman.”
But as Batman himself becomes pretty useless in the DC Universe, the Bat Family is more than picking up the slack. We’re getting to see them used more frequently, and in more unique combinations (next month promises Batgirl, Red Hood, and Dick Grayson!). Each member of the Bat Family has such a rich history, and a unique relationship with each other, that it’s great to see them more front and center.
Spencer: Ever since Batman Eternal and the beginning of Genevieve Valentine’s run on Catwoman, Selina Kyle has attempted to use her newfound ties to organized crime to change Gotham City for the better. Despite good intentions, tremendous cunning, and great sacrifice, though, Selina’s plans have mostly come to naught. I’d argue that perhaps organized crime itself is simply too evil, too corrupting, to be molded into a force for positive change, and I think Catwoman 45 would support that reading. Just look at Eiko, who seems to have lost many of the positive traits she once displayed now that she’s embraced the mafia lifestyle (represented by completing her dragon tattoo) after her father’s death. Likewise, while nobody would have mourned Black Mask, his “death” at Selina’s hands is a moral low-point for the (New-52 incarnation of the) character, and much of the blame for Selina being capable of the act at all seems to come from what she’s learned in her time as the head of a crime family.
Even Eiko’s seeming plan to destroy all of Gotham’s organized crime (perhaps including herself?) supports the idea that there’s nothing worthwhile to be gained from the business. Of course, we know that attempting to eradicate organized crime in Gotham is futile, and thus Eiko’s plans are doomed to failure. How Eiki, Selina, and even Steph handle that failure will say a lot about whether or not there’s anything worthwhile to salvage from their time in organized crime or not.
Justice League of America 4:
Michael: From the moment Kryptonian god Rao arrived on Earth, resident Justice League skeptic Batman has had severe doubts. The Dark Knight’s suspicions are confirmed (as we knew they’d be) in Brian Hitch’s Justice League of America 4. Green Lantern is still stranded in Krypton’s distant past — still no word on what happened to The Flash though. Hal meets with an elderly version of Rao who must drain some Kryptonians of their life force in order to restore his power and youth. The world continues to embrace Rao’s gospel, even to the extreme of forcing children to be “blessed” against their will. Through a cross analysis of Superman’s blood and one of the rehabilitated/blessed criminals, Batman and Cyborg discover that Rao is influencing humanity on a genetic level. When Superman discovers that he may be biologically compromised, Rao shows up to confront him.
I think my fellow Justice League of America readers can join me in breathing a sigh of relief that Rao’s true colors have finally been shown. Since the first issue Brian Hitch has framed this story as a debate between science and faith. And as opposed to the first issue, Batman is being proactive instead of complaining about the illogic of religion. Batman doesn’t seem to be overly concerned with the question of whether or not Rao is actually a god, but why people are so blindly worshipping him. As we see back in old Krypton times, Rao is still around; so he’s either a god or a Kryptonian Ra’s al Ghul. Hitch gives us some brief highlights of the dangers of organized religion in Rao’s disciples. Gods often demand sacrifices of their followers — as evidenced by the prophets who give up a “small portion of their lives” for their god. The uncomfortable scene where the parents force their daughter to be blessed is also an example of the dangers of blind faith. The fundamental nature of Rao’s flock is more cult than religion (depending on your beliefs), but is an extreme nonetheless.
Though not as prominent, Hitch also has been using this arc as a vehicle to explore the difference between gods and superheroes. Though Batman doesn’t plan on having the Earth worship him, he’s got something in common with Rao: manipulation. While Rao is manipulating people on a cellular level, Batman is manipulating them the old fashioned way. The reason that Superman gets his blood examined is because Batman subtly suggested that was why he was so trusting in the last issue — which explains Batman’s lack of surprise at Vic’s findings. Though there are many scary things about Batman, the one that people often overlook is that he always gets what he wants in the end. You know what was an unexpected breath of fresh air in this issue? Cyborg’s relationship with his father. There’s a moment where Silas Stone almost veers into mad scientist territory but Vic politely shuts him down. If this was Justice League or Cyborg he would’ve had a lab-smashing temper tantrum.
Spencer: At times, Starfire 5 feels more like a series of vignettes than a singular story, but that’s not a bad thing. Each scene is, in a sense, a plot unto itself, and most shine due to the charm of the series’ titular hero. Under the pen of Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Emanuela Lupacchino, Kory’s compassion, empathy, and enthusiasm alone are enough to hang a story on, and the best example of that is the chapter where Kory’s alien egg hatches. Nothing really happens, yet there’s a sense of wonder that makes it fascinating to experience nonetheless.
Fortunately, the focus on Kori’s compassion also serves a deeper thematic meaning, namely when it comes to Dr. Soren Johnson. Turns out Soren has the ability to cure cancer, but using it is giving him a brain tumor, which is, in turn, affecting his sanity; Soren is literally being killed by his own kindness. It’s an effective counterpoint to the way Kori’s kindness always saves the day, and now I’m curious to see if it will give her the power to save Soren as well, or if she’ll have to deal with the consequences of being too kind to the wrong person.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?