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 Batgirl 45, Batman and Robin Eternal 4, Flash 45, Justice League Darkseid War: Batman 1, Superman 45, and We Are Robin 5.
Ryan M.: I expect fictional weddings to include a certain level of catastrophe. If I’m watching a soap opera and the groom is a widower, his dead wife is going to throw open the church doors just as the priest asks for objections. In a sitcom, someone probably forgot the ring or is going to say the wrong name. With superheroes, I expect a villain to disrupt the proceedings, or at least kidnap somebody. None of that happens during Alysia and Jo’s nuptials in Batgirl 45. Still, Babs has to contend with one of the greatest threats to a woman in her twenties: the charming old flame.
The issue very quickly and efficiently sets up Barbara as the hero the bridal party needs. She has solutions for every problem, is able to keep up everyone’s spirits and simultaneously flirt and fasten her date’s bow-tie. She is on her game and ready for a beautiful day celebrating the love of her close friends. This is when a member of her rogue’s gallery is supposed to crash through the window and start making threats so that she can use her alternate identity to save the day, all without revealing it to her friends. When, Luke and Babara’s romantic moment is interrupted, the art seems to be selling that kind of story. Babs Tarr gives Barbara a wide-eyed expression of shock and the lines radiating to the edges of the panel reinforce her stunned pose. There is not a hint of happiness to see her former cohort.
Without the force of a villain or threat to the wedding, the story becomes a check-in with Barbara and how she sees her life. Dick has arrived to play out a romantic story in which he is the pining romantic rogue and she will fall into his arms. She tries to cut him off, and he responds by covering her mouth. That move is the kind of thing that works a lot in fiction. She’s supposed to be surprised, a little turned on, but ultimately obedient. Batgirl flips him to the ground. It’s a fun moment and continues the issue’s choice to try something different with established tropes. Even after they fly through the air together against the beautiful backdrop of the setting sun. reminisce about their younger days and Dick reveals that he carries a torch for her, Barbara is secure enough in her life to opt out of what have would probably been a pretty great kiss.
I found the issue to be very satisfying even if the stakes were all about relationships and, ultimately there wasn’t much of an arc. It’s an issue that clarifies Barbara’s feelings about her life and gives us the warm fuzzies of hearing Dick confess his feelings and see two people in love commit their lives to one another. Next month, we can get back to Frankie’s incipient betrayal and the strange figure standing over Barbara’s sleeping form, but this was a light and enjoyable diversion. I mean, how can you not smile at this ceremony?
Batman and Robin Eternal 4
Spencer: How many of you remember Countdown, DC’s second weekly series and their infamously awful attempt to follow up on the success of 52? Countdown was billed as “DC’s spine,” meaning that oftentimes the ongoing plots would grind to a halt to acknowledge whatever events were going on in other books that week. Nothing in Batman and Robin Eternal 4 is anywhere near as bad as even Countdown‘s best installment, but the first half of the issue does give me a similar feeling.
As he dives head-first into the fight between Grayson and the brainwashed goons trying to murder Bruce Wayne, writer Steve Orlando quickly introduces several new players to the series, including Batgirl and the kids of We Are Robin. The Robin movement’s appearance makes sense, as not only are all “Robins” likely to show up at one point or another (although the actual current Robin, Damian Wayne, is still M.I.A.), but Duke works with Bruce Wayne, making it likely that he’d keep up on his whereabouts. Still, they mainly show up just to remind the audience that they exist and will be important moving forward. Even more egregious in this regards is Batgirl.
What’s most notable about these panels is that Batgirl literally disappears afterwords, yet Bruce sticks around. Just look at the first panel of the next page.
Why is Duke insisting to Dick that he’ll escort Bruce home instead of Barbara? Where did she go, and why did she just leave Bruce, the man she just pledged to escort home, before Duke even brought up doing it himself? I don’t know how prominent Barbara will be throughout the rest of this series, but this seriously makes it look like she just shows up in this issue to talk about her little spat with Dick in this week’s Batgirl 45 (which we discuss above), and that kind of storytelling is too close to Countdown for comfort. For the most part I still enjoyed this issue, as the characterization is strong and the advancing plot still has me absolutely hooked, but the references that seem to exist only to reference other books feel quite out of place. Batman and Robin Eternal doesn’t need to be the spine of the Batman books — I just want it to tell a good story.
The Flash 45
Spencer: Even in the old continuity, Eobard Thawne never had much of a motive for his crimes. The dude was just absolutely bonkers and psychotically obsessed with Barry Allen for reasons that were never quite clear, probably even to Eobard himself. It seems appropriate, then, that this New 52 interpretation of Zoom has equally opaque motivations, yet his ultimate goal is far less interesting than anything the old Eobard ever tried pulling off. Zoom wants to be a god, plain and simple, and that kind of generic goal feels a bit underwhelming. Fortunately, writers Robert Venditti and Van Jensen still have plenty of time to flesh out Zoom’s goals and motivations; more importantly, they counter any shallowness in Zoom’s plans by having his actual methods be surprisingly detailed and effective.
Cause-and-effect is the name of the game in The Flash 45. Zoom’s plan to turn the Flash’s friends against him works because he’s had centuries to figure out how Barry and the people of Central City will react to any given situation, and then find the exact people with the exact powers he needs to make his desires a reality; it’s really quite stunning to see in action. Likewise, Venditti and Jensen are remarkably thorough in this issue, filling in the details of almost every as-of-yet unexplained aspect of Zoom’s plan (such as why he targeted Barry’s father in the first place) as well as using Zoom’s trap to advance other long-running subplots, such as Singh and Piper’s relationship and Wally’s budding heroism. Really, it’s only Iris’s big moment that doesn’t feel like it’s been foreshadowed much.
And even that moment absolutely lands because it’s grounded in relatable human emotions, something that likewise helps ground an issue that’s otherwise often preoccupied with lofty, complicated sci-fi plans. Even if we never find out exactly what drives Zoom, I think I’ll always be able to look back at this issue and remember it as a success.
Justice League Darkseid War: Batman 1
Mark: Last round-up I was cynical about the end of Justice League because of the promised spin-off titles coming down the pipeline, but I’m willing to walk that back after reading Justice League Darkseid War: Batman 1— it’s good! Sure, Batman being a super dick is not my favorite Batman, but there’s also something comforting in seeing Bruce Wayne Batman back in action. I know that’s dumb, but I’m having a hard time embracing Jim Gordon’s Robobat (even though I like a lot of the elements surrounding him) and this issue is a good reminder that you just can’t beat Bruce Wayne for DC comfort food. Even a continuity nerd like me can admit DC’s new, looser approach to continuity is paying off!
This is Batman unhinged, giving into the worst qualities of his character. He is meting out justice, yes, but it’s Old Testament-style thug justice. An eye for an eye. Still, there’s something thrilling about his confrontation with Joe Chill in prison. Bruce Wayne has always been motivated by his past, but here he’s obsessed with it. Unable to let it go. Batman is about bringing justice to those who need it, but there’s no wrong to be righted in Joe Chill’s case. Batman is tormenting him because he can and for no greater purpose than that. Bruce is acting selfishly.
I’m curious to see where the Joker rabbit hole leads. Is he dead in the current Justice League continuity? Do we know? I have a hard time imagining DC is ready to put a canonical backstory to Joker, but if there is no universal continuity anymore I guess it wouldn’t matter anyway.
Unrelated, here’s a technical question for someone better informed: why is Peter Tomasi credited for “Story and Words” versus something like “Writer?” There’s no story credit for another person, and it’s not something I remember seeing before. It doesn’t matter at all, I’m just curious.
Michael: Superman 45 is a reminder of why I stopped reading New 52 Superman – F-list supervillains/heroes that have this strange whiff of ‘90s X-factor to them. With the changing of the guard from artist John Romita Jr. to Howard Porter, this issue seems to be taking the story in a completely different (out of the way) direction than previous Superman chapters. While there are mentions and references of the silly hordr_root villain, this is a strange pit stop in the ongoing series from Gene Luen Yang. While Clark intends to track down hordr_root, the bulk of this issue is based on the following formula: Superman + arena fighting = taco money. That’s right folks; Superman is fighting in an underground super powered fight club because man oh man does he loves tacos. What a strange execution of a basic plot that misses nearly every mark. Listen, you can tell a superhero fighting ring story (in fact, Justice League Unlimited did) – but there has to be a reason for it, and it oughta have some decent super-people involved. The fighters of this “Mythbrawl” consist of gods and goddesses from “mythologies on the brink of extinction.” Essentially, these gods battle so the people won’t forget who they are and won’t be forgotten. Wait, what? I could probably get on board with that kind of magical framework in a story starring an original character that Yang created. However, when you’re dealing in the DCU of Kryptonians, New Gods and Greek Gods it doesn’t seem all that plausible that these gods cease to be when people don’t believe in them. On a macro level this issue is telling me that if you don’t tell a story about a character, they become irrelevant and fade into obscurity. So good for you Superman 45 – you are still here doing…things.
We Are Robin 5
Mark: We Are Robin is a frustrating read. It’s a book with a lot of potential that never comes together in a satisfying way. Who are these Robins? Why should we care about them? I dare you to name them and give a defining personality characteristic for each. When Troy died a few issues ago it was hard to be affected by his death. I couldn’t have even told you his name was Troy if I didn’t look it up first. It’s a problem not unlike The Walking Dead TV series. The characters there were mere facades for so long that three seasons in when they started trying to flesh them out it was too little too late. Can we say any better for the Robins after five months?
Not that the plotting is helping in any way. We Are Robin 5 ends with a drive-by shooting, and I just can’t muster up anything other than indifference. Look, Duke’s not going to die, but would it be so bad if he did? We Are Robin could stand to thin the herd. But maybe some good will come of it. I was hard pressed to care when writer Lee Bermejo blew up Troy, but last month’s issue at least spent time dealing with the fallout and telling us a little about Riko. So maybe next month is the month when it all comes together, when We Are Robin finally starts to live up to its potential. But probably not.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?