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 6, Batman/Superman 26, Constantine the Hellblazer 6, Justice League Darkseid War: Green Lantern 1, Starfire 6, and Superman: American Alien 1.
Batman and Robin Eternal 6
Drew: Secrets have always been part of superhero stories — most have secret identities, and some even have “secret origins.” Rarer, though, is a rigorous explanation for why any of these things are secrets in the first place. Even the most secretive heroes have shared their secret identities with someone, but there always seems to be a bigger, darker secret that they didn’t. That’s a story we’ve all seen before, but as Batman and Robin Eternal begins its investigation of Bruce Wayne’s latest darkest secret in earnest, it’s clear that this story is more about why he’d keep it from his allies in the first place.
The Robins are fractured in the wake of issue 5, but the real story here is about Bruce’s first encounter with Mother: a drunken friend who brags about how his wife is effectively a made-to-order bride. Or, rather, it’s about how Bruce’s fears about pushing Dick into the world of Batman may have driven him to hide information. It’s a subtle dance, but it comes off beautifully — it’s no coincidence that James Tynion IV scripted this issue himself. Just as beautiful is the notion that that secrecy drives Dick to be as open and inclusive as possible, bringing Cass and Harper into the fold. That idea actually comes from Jason, of all people, who makes some surprisingly mature observations this issue.
Tynion clearly has a fondness for Jason, but this is a turn I don’t think anyone expected. This issue sets a high bar on both character development and emotional subtlety, and I look forward to seeing this series reach for it again.
Batman Superman 26
Mark: I talked a little in our Alternating Current on Doctor Strange 2 about how often superheroes get de-powered as a means to make them more relatable. It, honestly, rarely works but DC YOU’s current low-powered Superman is more often than not the exception. Greg Pak is writing both Action Comics and Batman/Superman, and he has a good handle on what makes Superman an interesting superhero: he’s more heroic when he doesn’t have powers, because it makes the actions he takes mean more.
By far my favorite moment from the issue is Superman’s interactions with one of the worker’s little boy. The kid doesn’t know that Superman has lost a lot of his power, so his expectations are that Superman can take a beating and will be able to handle anything Vandal Savage throws at him. So of course Superman should be able to take a fork to the shoulder with ease.
It’s only later do we see the blood seeping through Superman’s clothing. It’s a really cute moment, and one that sells the idea that Superman isn’t super because of his powers.
Constantine the Hellblazer 6
Patrick: One of the things I always want to see in a superhero story is them in their daily life. I know that might not make for the most compelling story imaginable, but I love the idea of just seeing Batman solve a normal case, or Spider-Man rescue people from burning buildings. Those are the kinds of stories that make the huge, universe altering stories — if I’ve seen Batman protect the citizens of Gotham, then the idea that the city has betrayed him with the Court of Owls caries more weight. John Constantine is fresh of the heels of an adventure that found him revisiting his past and reexamining his approach to magic and the occult, so it’s high time we just spend some time doing what he does. James Tynion IV, Ming Doyle and Riley Rossmo’s Constantine the Hellblazer 6 sets out to tell as many Constantine stories as quickly as possible, as the titular magician takes odd-jobs on Craigslist. Of course, they’re all (or mostly) the kinds of jobs he’s best suited for: a demon here, a haunted salad bar there. It ends up being an exercise in efficient storytelling and it really is remarkable how well the creators boil down a whole drama to one or two panels.
It’s all about selecting the right moment, but this is one of the most efficient examples: we get discover, background information, attitude and conclusion all in half a page. I’m also amazed by the sheer variety of these mini-adventures — no two share the same antagonists or solution, it’s only John’s attitude that’s consistent throughout them. Really, it’s like throwing down a whole series in a few pages.
Toward the end of his night, John has an interesting conversation with Bartleby. Bartleby calls New York a “patchwork city,” which is an odd way to describe it, but sort of a perfect way to describe the issue. He goes on to explain that “that’s why there’s so much magic here, hiding between the cracks.” It’s as if Bartleby is cluing the reader in to how we discover the real special stuff about a superhero. We watch them in action – a patchwork story presented by so many people with so many ideas. “New York” is comics, and this single issue does a lot to emulate this feeling.
Justice League Darkseid War: Green Lantern 1
Michael: Tom King seems like a legit writer you guys. Ever since Geoff Johns launched Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern franchise into the mainstream zeitgeist there are two types of Green Lantern writers: bad Geoff Johns imitations and honest, talented writers that can tap into the what makes Green Lantern awesome. I’m typically pessimistic about tie-in comics — and typically pessimistic in general. But it’s always a welcome surprise when I read a book like Justice League Darkseid War: Green Lantern 1 because it’s just a good comic book that happens to have ties to the main Justice League story.
It’s impressive how Tom King tries to tackle topics like God and free will while also balancing the requirements of writing the Darkseid War stuff. Since Justice League seems to exist outside or before the current DC YOU-verse, Hal returns to Oa, which is still the home of the Green Lantern Corps. There he discovers that following Darkseid’s death, his parademons needed to find someone powerful enough to merge with his Mother Box and command them — so they picked the Lanterns. After every Lantern refuses to be corrupted by this and is transformed into a parademon themselves, Hal decides that he wants to give ‘ol Mother Box a whirl. As Hal becomes the “God of Light” we see intercutting scenes of young Hal mourning his father and full of existential disbelief and outcry. After wielding the power for a little bit Hal decides that it’s not for him – the basis of this being that “God can’t act, he can only watch.”
As a man who has a cautious faith, I find this concept to be equally accurate and questionable. I was raised Catholic (and by the looks of it, so was Hal) and I understand the concept of God allowing bad things to happen — he can’t save all of our grandparents, after all. I’m not sure I understand this omnipotent watching in the sense of this book however, for a couple of reasons. First off, this Mother Box belonged to Darkseid, right? Darkseid was DEFINITELY not the kind of god that sat by and watched; that dude MADE things happen. Secondly, artist Doc Shaner clearly shows us that a man who is a dead ringer for Hal (“Jordan” bomber jacket included) is the man who advises young Hal in the church. So it stands to reason that Hal Jordan, God of Light DID do more than just watch, right? These are not complaints mind you, rather the meticulous food for thought that I provide for a book that was quite enjoyable. One last thing: I can never decide if I like the Green Lantern Corps as an army or as a police force. If I choose army however, I love the idea that they all “bleed green” and none of them waver by accepting the Darkseid’s Mother Box
Spencer: Perhaps the most significant moment of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s run on Starfire comes late in issue 6, when Kori considers murdering the alien assassin who has been sent to kill her.
It’s easy to think of the version of Kori in this title as just a new take, to think that Conner and Palmiotti are just more interested in her naivety and compassion than they are her temper, but this moment now grounds that take in a decision Kori herself makes. Kori still has a temper, and her empathy and compassion still cause her to lash out at those who harm innocents, but in general, the lighter tone of this title all comes down to a conscious decision Kori has made to try to better fit in on Earth.
This opens up a lot of new directions for Starfire. For one, it means that this title can explore darker stories without losing its optimistic tone — indeed, despite a few moments of levity, this is a much grimmer issue than normal, and it gives artist Emanuela Lupacchino a chance to let loose and show Starfire at her most vicious and devastating. But this also means that Conner, Palmiotti, and Lupacchino can start exploring Kori’s past without worrying it about overshadowing their new take on the character. Grayson’s arrival at the end of the issue has got me all excited; I can’t wait to see this team’s take on Dick and Kori’s (under-explored in the New 52) history.
Superman: American Alien 1
Michael: How many times has the Superman origin been retold? Too many for me to even guess. How many times has the Superman origin been retold in the past decade? At the very least, five or six times. And while I think we are all collectively over the concept of the origin story, I also believe that a genuinely talented writer can make even the most oversaturated story genre brilliant. Filmmaker’s son/screenwriter/comic book rallying crier Max Landis presents us with a humble and earnest entry into his seven-part Superman American Alien saga.
Landis focuses the first issue on young Clark and his parents learning to deal with his very scary and uncontrollable powers. We’ve seen the “young Clark learns to fly” scene before — notably in the wet blanket Superman Returns (a scene that’s arguably a rip-off of Peter’s “learning to crawl” in Spider-Man), but Landis remembers that character is just as important as superpowers. The main story “Dove” combined with the two-page story “The Castaways” at the end of the issue gives us a Jon and Martha Kent that are more than “good ‘ol Ma and Pa” — they’re complex human beings. Hell, “The Castaways” is a story of letters, notes and newspaper clippings that fleshes out the couple almost more than the main narrative. From the orgy of evidence provided by artist Matthew Clark, it looks like before they found Clark Martha Kent was pregnant, but lost the baby in a drunk driving accident and went through serious depression. I think we spend too much time making comics “real,” but these little character touches make the Kents just real enough for me.
Nick Dragotta’s whimsical pencils reinforce the wide-eyed optimism of Landis’ script. The squeaky clean renderings at times remind me of characters I might find in a book like Archie. Clark Kent is such a goody goody (which is his charm), and when he screws up and punches through a bathroom mirror (and wall), you can see the remorse on his innocent face. Superman is a hero with the powers of a god but the manners and temperament of a small town boy — he faces insurmountable threats with both courage and earnestness. That’s why it’s such a great Superman moment when Clark takes one broken mirror and breaks it down to the many different people who worked hard at their jobs to produce said mirror. Now THAT’S some Superman compassion.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?