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 Europa 1, Green Lantern Lost Army 6, Batman and Robin Eternal 7, Action Comics 46, and Martian Manhunter 6
Batman Europa 1
Drew: What attracts you to a comic? Is it the characters? The creative team? The premise? The cover? I think any of these reasons can be valid (I’ve certainly used all of them to justify a purchase at some point), and all come into play a bit on Batman Europa. Jim Lee is inarguably a massive draw, but I’ll admit that my interest was piqued by Brian Azzarello’s co-writer credit. Whatever the draw, this comic boasts one hell of a creative team, and they’re swinging for the fences here.
Issue 1 wears its influences on its sleeve, opening on a loving homage to The Dark Knight Returns.
Batman Europa‘s debt to that seminal work goes deeper than an abdominal wound and a dying Joker, though, as it’s clear Azzarello and co-writer Matteo Casali are crafting an out-of-continuity Batman classic. That’s catnip to those of us who grew up reading the likes of The Killing Joke and The Long Halloween, preferring a mythic Batman over more naturalistic approaches.
But what makes this issue great has nothing to do with its sense of continuity or its homages; it’s remarkably well-crafted. The dialogue sizzles with the kind of dynamic wordplay Azzarello has made his trademark, and Lee manages to reign in his more flamboyant tendencies in service of the story. Part of that may be that Giuseppe Camuncoli is handling layouts, allowing Lee to play to his strengths without relying on any of his weaknesses. The result is an issue that more than lives up to the “what if Batman and Joker teamed up” premise, suggesting that this series might just earn its place beside those classics it owes so much to.
Green Lantern Lost Army 6
Patrick: I’ve been trained by television shows like LOST and Orange is the New Black to expect flashbacks in an ensemble story to contain insights to and explorations of individual characters. Writer Cullen Bunn and artist Jesus Saiz take advantage of that expectation to actually say something, not about their characters, but about the real world without ever being preachy about it.
At least, that’s the most compelling read of this series to me. Every issue has included a flashback to John’s deployments in Iraq and each of those little stories centered on the kind of difficult decisions he had to make. Those would end up loosely tied to the “real time” story, where he would once again be making impossible decisions. I’ve written before that I would have liked to see a stronger parallel between those situations, as I didn’t really see the connections between these two versions of John. They didn’t indicate growth or stagnation or anything revelatory about his character. This issue’s offering is probably the saddest – John returns home after deployment, and instead of meeting up with friends or family, he takes a cab to a shitty motel. The driver awkwardly, dispassionately thanks him for his service and that’s it.
Green Lantern: Lost Army 6 is ultimately about the futility of war. The Lanterns are battling it out in a universe they know to be doomed, and the point of possible salvation they discover in this issue ends up being a bust. And the reason that they can’t escape this universe — the reason they can’t withdrawal their troops from a conflict they shouldn’t be in in the first place — is that Hal Jordan is forcing them to stay. Hal can be a stand-in for whatever you want: a desire for security, freedom, politics, the belief in American Exceptionalism – he can be as sinister or benign a symbol as you want him to be. Saiz and Bunn also end up making a few changes to the Green Lantern mythos through this series (Mogo controls all the light energy now? ‘Wog is gonna stick with the light staff? Guy’s all Green? There are Blue and Yellow Lanterns that keep the Green Lantern logo?). But the real strength of the series is how broadly critical it is of war.
Batman and Robin Eternal 7
Michael: “The Last Batman Story” has become such a popular device that it’s pretty much become its own genre of Bat-story. Within that genre is a sub-genre of the “Filling the Bat-shaped void” story. While Jim Gordon is bounding around in his mech batsuit, our former Robins are finding themselves filling the bat-shaped void by assuming the roles that Bruce Wayne maintained when he was “alive.” For instance, Dick is always portrayed as the lighthearted balance to Bruce’s broody pragmatism, but now he’s assumed some of that cold calculation himself. Tim doesn’t trust Dick at the moment because he thinks that Dick’s too close to the case, making it “a mission;” a word that Batman himself often used on his war on crime.
One thing I get annoyed with in this current era of Batman is how pissed off everyone gets at each other/Batman. I know without conflict there isn’t much story but still — we’re seven issues into Batman and Robin Eternal and it feels like Tim is mad at Dick just because James Tynion and co. need some conflict among the birds. That leaves us with two teams: Jason and Tim on one side and Dick, Harper and Cassandra on the other.
The Jason/Tim stuff exists solely for Tim to blow off some steam and Jason to be the “cool older brother.” And while it’s a cool enough idea to see sleeper agent ballerinas attack Harper and Cass, the main draw of the issue is that Dick comes face-to-face with the mysterious “Mother.” While I enjoy the character moments of the book, I’m still pretty skeptical of this book overall. Batman Eternal burned me too badly you guys.
Action Comics 46
Mark: There’s something a bit off-putting about Scott Kolins’ art, and I think it comes down to the faces. Everyone’s a little grotesque, a little misshapen. It’s effective when it comes to the design of Wrath’s unwilling test subjects, but less so on everyday people. There’s a weird vacillation between not enough detail, and then way too much detail. In that regard I’m reminded of John Romita Jr.
And do you guys think every issue of a comic featuring de-powered Superman is editorially mandated to remind us that he can’t throw people into the sun willy-nilly anymore? It feels like we’re losing the thread of why the first few issues of Action Comics post-Convergence worked so well. Superman was still super in those early issues because they showcased his strength of will and his faith in the best of humanity. Now with his new Anger Powers courtesy of Wrath, the fact that he’s lacking his Kryptonian gifts seems less important.
Martian Manhunter 6
Spencer: In many ways, Martian Manhunter 6 is a marked improvement over the previous issues. That’s mainly due to Rob Williams and Eddy Barrows’ finally clarifying many of the plot points and ideas that have felt half-formed throughout earlier issues. It’s been clear for a while that there’s something fishy about Leo, for example, so I’m grateful that Williams finally gets to that reveal instead of spending each issue playing coy about its inevitable conclusion. Even from the very get-go Williams and Barrows work to make their complicated, sometimes-messy story just a bit clearer by running down the cast, which they’ve never done before.
The issue’s greatest advantage, though, is that it digs into some meaty, interesting concepts. Each of these characters has their own perspective, representing the free will and often-conflicting personalities of humanity, but these characters are all each a small part of J’onn J’onzz’s personality as well, showing the way tough decisions can create internal conflict within one’s very psyche. J’onn wants Mars back, but doesn’t want it at the cost of Earth and resents being forced to make the decision in the first place, and J’onn’s various alter-egos get to literally fight out that internal conflict.
For all of the issue’s newfound clarity, though, there are some aspects that still feel messy and under-explored. I don’t know enough about most of the alter-ego’s personalities to really understand why they make the decisions they make. Moreover, are each of these characters supposed to represent a different aspect of J’onn’s personality, the way Mould inhabits his intelligence? How can they all exist simultaneously with the revived J’onn at the issue’s end? Martian Manhunter has always had a strong concept tripped up just a bit by unclear execution and that’s no different in issue 6, but it’s certainly heading in the right direction.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?