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 Justice League of America 5, Grayson 14, The Flash 46, Superman: Lois and Clark 2, Superman 46 and Batman and Robin Eternal 8.
Justice League of America 5
Spencer: If Bryan Hitch is known for anything, it’s epic, wide-screen storytelling. If he’s known for one more thing, it’s delays, and that’s what’s lead to Matt Kindt and Rob Williams’ stand-alone fill-in story in Justice League of America 5. The story is a bit of an odd choice, as if shifts the spotlight to the Martian Manhunter (who isn’t even a member of this JLA), a choice the writers seem to try to justify by shoehorning the League into a few scenes, despite their appearances ultimately serving no purpose.
The story itself connects the dots between Kindt’s Martian Manhunter back-ups in the previous volume of Justice League of America (yeah, I’d forgotten about those too) and the events of Williams’ Martian Manhunter series. It’s a gloomy and morose tale, deeply rooted in J’onn’s indecision. In their best moments, Kindt and Williams are able to use that indecision to portray J’onn as a character who is adrift and lonely, but more often than not it just feels like even they’re unsure of who J’onn actually is and how he should be characterized (which has been an ongoing problem in the New 52).
In light of that, it’s actually Philip Tan’s pencils which are the main draw of the issue. His faces can be a bit strange at times, but he draws some gorgeously rendered destruction, and the action in his fight scenes are so visceral that I can almost feel the punches. Perhaps my favorite touches are the moments where Tan plays with his layouts to show us J’onn’s unique perspective on a scene.
If anything about this issue sticks in my memory, it’ll be that panel.
Mark: Remember the halcyon days of Grayson when we were getting one-off Baddies of the Month that just happened to tie together at arc’s end? As Grayson becomes more and more serialized, Tim Seeley and Tom King seem to be losing the thread on what made Grayson such an enjoyable read. Issue #14, like #13 before it, continues to lay a lot of pipework for what I’m assuming will lead to pay-off down the road, but it sacrifices making this issue interesting in order to get there.
But maybe this is just an off issue in general. Stephen Mooney is on art duties this time, and it pales in comparison to the usual work of Mikel Janin. People and things just look off in a way that we haven’t seen in the 13 previous issues. Sure we’ve been spoiled, but I expect better than this from an issue of Grayson:
This is still one of my favorite books in the DC universe, and it’s near impossible to beat Dick Grayson when it comes to cool, but I don’t wonder if we’ve just gone too deep into serialization for this to ever be the Grayson it once was.
The Flash 46
Spencer: How many of you have finished Jessica Jones? Early on the series devotes a surprising amount of time to a subplot about Hogarth’s divorce, which doesn’t seem to have much to do with the ongoing narrative and is much less interesting than any of Jessica’s adventures. Eventually all the plots dovetail together and the divorce becomes incredibly important, but only for a single episode; it warrants little more than an obligatory mention once it’s served its purpose. Or perhaps you’re more familiar with this phenomenon in Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers epic, which devoted entire arcs to establishing little details, such as the evil Hulk and Thorr’s hammer getting left behind by the alternate-universe Avengers, just to pull them back out for a single scene later in the run. As cool as those moments could be, they ultimately had no effect on the narrative, leaving much of the series feeling like a lead-up to absolutely nothing.
I kind of get that same feeling with Zoom’s acolytes. Robert Venditti, Van Jensen, and Brett Booth’s Flash 46 finds them discovering Zoom’s betrayal, rebelling, and eventually abandoning him, but it doesn’t seem to deter Zoom or affect his battle against the Flash in the slightest. Venditti and Jensen treat Zoom’s quest to steal the powers of his acolytes as more of an optional video game-esque “side-quest” to his main mission than anything all that important to Zoom or the overall narrative. The issue gets more interesting as it closes out and Zoom reveals the Flash’s identity to his father, but again, that only highlights how far separated the acolyte story is from this arc’s central dynamic: the relationship between Barry and Henry Allen. It’s possible that the acolytes still have important roles to fill — long-term plotting is easily one of Venditti and Jensen’s greatest strengths — but it doesn’t excuse how lifeless and perfunctory their role in Zoom’s story ended up feeling.
Superman: Lois and Clark 2
Spencer: Dan Jurgens understands Clark Kent and Lois Lane — and their relationship — like the back of his hand. It’s a major boon for Superman: Lois and Clark 2, allowing Jurgens to take these familiar characters in new directions and create a story that feels comfortable, but never derivative. My favorite example comes from the way Clark is forced to operate in the shadows; he’s still the same guy he’s always been, still inspirational and compelled to help everyone he can, but now he has to do that without revealing himself to the world, or even to the enemies he fights.
How often do we get to see a stealthy Superman, especially without depowering him? Not often, and it’s refreshing to see Clark rely on his speed and smarts over his raw strength. Again, it’s a new twist on a tried-and-true character, and that’s a lot of fun.
I also enjoy the way Jurgens characterizes Jonathan; he’s very clearly the child of Lois Lane and Clark Kent, imbued with their curiosity, compassion, and intelligence, but also their recklessness. I’m curious to see how he’ll develop.
That’s not to say this issue is perfect. While Jurgens’ characterization and action sequences are a joy to read, the (several) ongoing plots have yet to really grab my interest, and there’s a few conversations involving incidental characters that feel awkward and stilted (especially Jonathan’s near fight with another student). Artist Lee Weeks, meanwhile, nails the battle scenes, but stumbles a few times with facial structure and expressions. Still, I enjoyed this issue overall. If you miss the pre-reboot Superman, or if you’re simply looking for a different take on the character, there’s a good chance this is the title for you.
Michael: Spider-Man may be the superhero who is characteristically “down on his luck,” but Superman is the one whose stories consistently suffer from being down on their luck. So many modern Superman stories are so misguided it’s befuddling and Gene Luen Yang’s Superman 46 is the latest example. Building on the events of last issue, Supes just seems content to be a prize fighter in the low, low, low-tier level meta human battle Mythbrawl. One of the best attributes of Superman is that he cares about everyone – friend or foe. Yang taps into this compassion as Superman feels comradery with fellow Mythbrawler Haemosu but it’s ironically at the expense of his old friends: Jimmy and Condesa. This whole thing is headscratcher for me you guys. It feels like stupidly needless part of the movie where the hero gives up the life of greatness and settles for the simple life; except the simple life is so goddamn stupid. Jimmy confronts Superman and Supes is just like “sorry Jim, this is my life now. I fight for money and strange ass-backwards mythical rules.”
HUH? I was just waiting for the villainous buzzkill hordr_root to show up as a cherry on top of an absurd ice cream sandwich, and guess what? He did! The climax of the issue hinges on Superman fighting a…sand clone of himself and Jimmy getting wounded in the process. What? What am I reading? All of these modern Superman stories read like they are rejected Syfy original movies; it’s bad. And while I prefer Howard Porter over John Romita Jr. there is something that severely rubs me the wrong way about how he draws female characters with their eyes popping through tufts of hair as if they were translucent as pieces of tissue paper. I don’t know what to do with this current run of Superman, folks. More than likely I’ll just hope that Greg Pak has something better in store for us with Action Comics.
Batman and Robin Eternal 8
Patrick: Batman and Robin Eternal‘s persistent structure — which splits time between the past and the present — makes each individual issue seem to be more packed with incident than it probably would otherwise. Scott Snyder, James Tynion et al. are basically dramatizing exposition, so we don’t have to hear about Bruce’s dealings with Mother through a third party source: we can see those dealings with our own eyes. But in issue 8, Dick comes face to face with Mother, who confirms his worst fears — that one of the Robins is one of her “children” — just as our first-hand accounting of the past insists that Bruce was simply luring Mother out of hiding so he could bust her for human trafficking. It’s a delightfully tense note to start this issue on, and has me utterly confused as to what the truth might be. Writer Genevieve Valentine and artist Alvaro Martinez are constantly reminding us of the distrust between the Robins and Batman – perhaps most pointedly in the first couple pages. When Dick and Bruce split up at the Prague opera, rather than telling each other “good luck” or “be careful” or whatever, they warn each other not to trust anyone. Weird right? The title page hammers home the Batman / Robin dichotomy even further, with probably the coolest title splash I’ve seen in either Eternal series.
Not an action sequence, and not a whole mess of panels surrounding that title bar: just two calm establishing shots pitting the hero against Mother. That, of course, sets the stage for a knock-down drag-out brawl between Harper and Cass and a bunch of brainwashed ballerinas. The fight is the main attraction here, and it’s a surprisingly coherent battle for a weekly series, with lots of clear cause and effect, clever uses of the orchestra hall environment and innovative staging. Valentine steps out of the way on a number of pages, plugging minimal dialogue into scenes better told through a dizzying number of silent panels. In fact, the best pages pack in as many as 16 panels to track the minutiae of Dick and Mother readying their weapons for battle, or the 13-panel page that acts like a continuous tracking shot of Cass and the Prima Ballerina duking it out.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?