Look, there are a lot of comics out there. Too many. We can never hope to have in-depth conversations about all of them. But, we sure can round up some of the more noteworthy titles we didn’t get around to from the week. Today, we discuss Batman and Robin Eternal 10, Constantine The Hellblazer 7, Starfire 7, Slash and Burn 2 and Trees 13.
Batman and Robin Eternal 10
Patrick: After the explosive mini-finale in Prague two weeks ago, Batman and Robin Eternal has been in pivot-mode, re-orienting it’s narrative to focus on Jason and Tim’s exploits on Santa Prisca and whatever they can turn up there. Jackson Lanzging and Collin Kelley’s script is largely expository, as one Robin reads their findings aloud while the other fights Azreal’s cyber-monk-ninjas. Lanzing and Kelley are incredibly fast and dense with their dialogue, but they’re almost never efficient – jokes and call backs and latin phrases and literary and historical references abound, but it’s hard to say that they add up to anything meaningful. In fact, I feel like the joke is too often that someone like Jason Todd is being written by writers that are so smart and self-aware. There’s a joke where Jason points out that it’s been a while since he shot someone, which plays like the writers selling out their character, rather than playing him honestly.
It’s also tricky issue because the team is introducing Jean-Paul Valley to the Batman mythos. Or, some Mother’s Child version of Jean-Paul, anyway. The moment is clearly meaningful to the creators and to the readers, but the very idea that the character would even have a name doesn’t make sense in this moment, right? We don’t get to know The Orphan’s name, why should we know Jean-Paul’s? I trust that information is just there to preemptively answer to message board question of “Valley or Lane?”
While there’s a pretty cool trippy sequence of Azrael peering into Red Robin’s soul, dripping with surreal detail, most of the issue is presented very minimally. Red Robin and Red Hood run down black hallways, and fight in rooms with large, featureless blue walls. Their final fight with Azrael appears to take place in some kind of non-space, so any of the weight or thrill of motion that should come with these three titans of the Bat-family doing battle melts away into a nondescript blue puddle.
Constantine The Hellblazer 7
Michael: I just laid James Tynion IV out to dry in my Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1 write-up so I’ll try to give him a break here. Constantine: The Hellblazer 7 continues to prove that Tynion and Ming Doyle know their superhero books and their superhero tropes. Basic comic book rule: get romantically involved with the hero and one way or another you get burned. John Constantine has been trying to avoid pretty boy Oliver for a while now – he doesn’t want another person to get caught up in the mystical maelstrom of his life. Unfortunately for John, Oliver is a man who makes his own individual choices, hell-damning consequences be damned. Constantine: The Hellblazer 7 ends Oliver in the clutches of Papa Midnite; because yes, Oliver was foolish enough to get involved with the magical mad man that is John Constantine.
This issue also features the first appearance of Swamp Thing in this series. Though they can clearly fair well on their own, Swamp Thing and Constantine are the odd couple of the mystical corner of the DCU. Speaking of which, there’s something perfectly sit-commy of Swamp Thing showing up in Constantine’s bathroom just as Oliver is about to shower; in another world you could hear the laugh track. Despite the plant life/Nymph conflict in Central Park, this was a big John/Oliver relationship issue for me. If you can judge a person’s character by the company they keep, then it’s pretty telling for Oliver when a giant plant monster sprouts out of John’s bathtub. I’m not sure I completely buy this, but even Swamp Thing knows that John’s new beau will be the one who ends up suffering for their relationship.
Spencer: In Starfire 7, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti attempt to pick-up Kori and Dick Grayson’s relationship where it left off, but that’s confounded by the fact that their relationship — at least within the confines of the New 52 — has taken place entirely off panel. While that gives Conner and Palmiotti a lot of fresh ground to explore, it does leave the emotional turmoil between them feeling awfully hollow; it’s hard to understand the pain Kori felt over Dick’s “death” when we’ve barely seen them exchange five words in the past five years. Moreover, for the first time, Conner and Palmiotti’s decision to play Starfire as someone almost entirely new to Earth backfires; it’s hard to buy that they were ever partners watching how poorly they work together throughout this mission.
The first half of Starfire 7, which focuses on Kori and Sol’s first date, fares much better. There’s some legitimate chemistry between these two, and Kori’s beginning to gain an understanding of Sol that she doesn’t really have for anything else on Earth, adding dimensions to their relationship and Kori’s characterization. It’s almost a shame that Dick’s come along to muss things up, but as a long-time, die-hard Dick and Kori shipper, I can’t say my heart didn’t flutter a bit when they kissed at the issue’s end. I’m still legitimately excited about how Conner and Palmiotti will handle the pairing in future issues; I just think that spending so much time mourning a relationship we have no context for was an ineffective way to kick-off their reunion.
Slash and Burn 2
Drew: Common wisdom suggests to at least finish the first chapter before deciding if a book isn’t for you, but I might argue that the second chapter is where the writer really lays it out on the line. Not because of any structural necessities, but because narratives are about trajectory, so a second point is necessary to plot it. What seems promising in the first chapter may be squandered in the second. Case in point: Slash and Burn 2, which finds a bit of fun, but almost entirely ignores whatever redemptive qualities issue 1 contained. The primary loss is Rosheen’s poetic descriptions of fires, here reduced to a Holmsian after-the-fact explanation that makes arson look like the easiest crime in the world to solve.
Instead, this issue doubles down on the mystery of Rosheen’s childhood friend, but continues to hold back too much information to make it intriguing. Neither Rosheen nor her backstory get closer to any answers, and her friend suddenly blowing up before she can talk to him comes off less shocking than laughable. The biggest problem, though, is that artist Max Dunbar can’t quite draw children’s faces right, which leaves them looking like tiny adults, rendering an important half of the issue with an unintended eeriness that distracts the story.
Ryan D: Ah, Trees, we meet again. Last issue excited both myself and Drew with the possibility that there may be black poppies growing at the base of the Orkney Keys’ Tree, surely setting in motion a frenetic and exciting sequence in which the audience would learn a great deal about the nature of the titular reticent alien pillars. Instead, the Ellis reveals that that black flowers are not nefarious poppies as all, they are pansies and red herrings. Creasy and Greenaway share more illuminating theoretical exposition regarding the rhyme and reason of the Trees, but again I feel as if this comes across as more promises of how sick it’s going to be when Ellis catalyzes some of the numerous situations dangling in this comic’s world, many of which hold a tremendous amount of potential kinetic energy.
The second half of the issue focuses on ACTION!! It seems that our Mayor-Elect in NYC, Vince, holds a capacity for ruthlessness which thus far remained dormant as he has played mostly a victim of his circumstances and office. His small power-grab is rendered by Howard in eight pages featuring one or less speech bubbles, and some lovely composition:
The structure of this page offers two wonderful, vertical journeys for the reader’s eye, with warm colors counter-pointing each other. My only question is: are the sinking NYPD officers who turn into poppies strictly parallelism with Creasy’s unceremonious helicopter crash, or a more literal depiction of events to come in Manhattan?
Who knows? I am beginning to think that Ellis and Howard have an idea, again. Hopefully, the next two issues will provide some concrete actions and answers, or the second trade paperback of this series will remain wholly forgettable and an anticlimactic chapter of what was a thrilling new series.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?