DC Round-Up Comics Released 12/23/15

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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 12, DK III: The Master Race 2, Justice League of America 6, Robin: Son of Batman 7, and Teen Titans 15.

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Batman and Robin Eternal 12

Batman and Robin Eternal 12Patrick: How do you prepare someone for the worst news they’ve ever heard? When you break up with someone, how do you lead into that? Or when someone dies – how do you break that news to their loved ones? How do you fire someone? You falsely present yourself as calm, or happy, or unbothered until the time is right to do what you’re there to do. You lie. Batman and Robin Eternal 12 writer Ed Brisson dances around this question, confirming Dick’s suspicion that Batman killed for Mother in order to recruit a tough new Robin among a telepathic fantasy that is otherwise totally false. Within the story, Harper calls bullshit on this, decrying “it was only a dream” as a method of delivering information. She’s right, of course, but the idea sticks with Dick too strongly to ignore.

If that sounds like Harper’s being a little meta, it’s because the entire story of this issue traces through some very meta aspects of the Robin history. The Sculptor fills the role of DC Editorial, effectively rebooting Mother’s soldiers after their formative tragedies. She describes the process a lot like a new writer describing their new take on a classic character:

“I gently nudged their minds. Scrubbed what was not needed… but never overrode the tragedy. When I could, I let them know that they were loved […] but more importantly, I pushed them to be better.”

She goes on to say that Children that didn’t perform to Mother’s expectations would be “discarded,” in much the same way poorly selling series are discarded.

Taking place almost entirely in the shared telepathic dream between Sculptor and Dick, artists Javier Pina and Goran Sudžuka allow the trippy nature of the story to dictate some pretty innovative paneling. The production team sets this experimental tone on the title page, which — for the first time as far as I can tell — breaks the mold for Eternal title pages, forgoing the standard bar, and splitting up the credits all over the page.

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DK III: The Master Race 2

DK III: The Master Race 2Drew: It would be foolish to try to distill the success of The Dark Knight Returns to any one element. It’s common to remark on its dark tone and psychological portrait of Batman — both unusual at the time it was written — but much of the success in pulling those innovations off stems from its much more mundane (but just as expertly handled) narrative elements. One of my favorites has always been Bruce’s final battle with Superman, where Bruce systematically enacts a plan we’re not privy to. That’s a common narrative device, but it’s particularly effective in a narrative that has up to that moment spent basically every moment inside Bruce’s head. DKIII: The Master Race has yet to feature any narration from Bruce, but still manages to capture some of the power of that unknown plan unfolding before our eyes.

That plan is Carrie’s escape from GCPD custody, with the help of a whistle-controlled batmobile. Of course, some of what usually makes that kind of plan-revealing fun is immediately understanding what the plan was for, which this issue withholds from us. Apparently, Carrie was captured intentionally, but the exact reason why isn’t totally clear. Was it to tell the world that Bruce Wayne is dead (a lie), or was it just to assess how exactly the police would react to Batman? Either way, it’s clear that they both have a plan from here.

Meanwhile, Ray Palmer has successfully re-bigulated some of the Kandorians, but as the title of the series suggests (spoilers!), their goal is to take over the world. Miller and Azzarello navigate some of the ickier right-to-power connotations by making these Kandorians a fringe minority, whose first act after being restored to size is incinerating the rest of Kandor. That may make them too mustach-twirlingly evil to relate to, but that makes them exactly the kind of villains Miller’s Batman was designed to fight — Batman may be nuanced with moral greys and creepy political implications, but his villains are always clear-cut black hat bad guys. The Kandorians may be so evil that even the GCPD would chose to fight them, but I suspect only Batman has the power (and planning) to really do so. It’s not yet clear where Diana will fall in that fight — some of her dialogue reveals a kind of right-to-power attitudes that might find sympathy with the Kandorians — but it’s almost certain she’ll be in the fold by next month. I can’t wait.
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Justice League of America 6

Justice League of America 6Mark: Man was it jarring jumping back into Bryan Hitch’s Justice League of America after a two month break between Hitch scripted issues. This has been an exceptionally dense book so far, one that doesn’t really read very well as a monthly title. So taking two months off, and then having Hitch jump right back into the thick of things, means a Marvel-like synopsis at the beginning of the issue would have been much appreciated.

At its core, this story involving Rao, God of Krypton, reminds me a lot of Geoff John’s last arc of Superman featuring the Superman analog Ulysses. Like Ulysses, Rao promises to bring peace and happiness to the Earth. And, like Ulysses, everything with Rao is not what it seems. But this stock narrative is complicated by apparent rips in the space-time continuum: Atlantis and Olympus appear to collide, Flash shows up at the Infinity Corporation Building in 1961, and Green Lantern speaks with Rao on Krypton 250,000 years ago. It’s a lot of moving parts, and almost too much to keep track of.

If I remember right, I think I’m more in the bag for this series so far than other contributors to the site, and I remain bullish on this arc, but there’s no denying it’ll read better in trade paperback. Hopefully future delays will be minimal and we won’t have to ramp back up again.

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Robin: Son of Batman 7

Robin: Son of Batman 7Michael: After a steady six issues, Robin: Son of Batman 7 takes a dip in quality due to its obligatory “Robin War” tie-in. The Robins square against several heavily-armed Talons in an old-fashioned Gotham rooftop battle. The typically loner Red Hood suggests that the Robins need to “fight together” and Damian lays a fairly obvious trap of causing Talon to detonate a flammable container of flammables. Dick is leading his personal investigation in the Labyrinth of the Court of Owls where he is confronted by alleged son of Wayne: Lincoln March. Dick wants to know why the Court so desperately wants him to be their Gray Son once again, but is met by the new Gray Son of the Court: Damian.

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Robin War…what are you exactly? The only thing that this series has proven to me thus far is that the We Are Robin crew isn’t exactly worthy of the Robin name. Sure, Nico semi-redeemed herself at the end of Robin: Son of Batman 7 by leading the team to the Court’s HQ at Gotham Academy, but she still spent the majority of the issue scared shitless of the Court. Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls is a cool concept, but I never could really get behind the “horror” that that silly nursery rhyme was supposed to evoke.

I say this a lot, but Scott Snyder’s concepts and characters haven’t fared well outside of his creative control. Wasn’t Lincoln March supposed to this pawn of the Court of Owls that rebelled against them for his own agenda? Why exactly is he working for them now? Why would they let him? Did Ray Fawkes and Pat Gleason steal the idea of Damian working for the Court from the mediocre Batman vs. Robin animated feature? And is that supposed to be a group of Owl-controlled Goliaths? What ARE you Robin War?

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Teen Titans 15

Teen Titans 15Spencer: Scott Lobdell’s two “Robin War” tie-ins (Red Hood and Arsenal and Teen Titans) are some of the most tangental tie-ins I’ve seen in ages. Red Hood at least attempted to use the opportunity “Robin War” provided to dig deeper into its title character and his relationship with one of his brothers, no matter how unsuccessfully it did so; Teen Titans 15 can’t even muster that. The Jason/Tim scenes add no value to the overall plot, literally depicting how the cast got from Point A to Point B (it’s as boring and inconsequential as it sounds), and doing even less to build character or explore the themes of the crossover. Instead, we get Jason and Tim squabbling, with little motive or resolution. Straight-up: it’s lazy and boring.

Lobdell and co-writer Will Pfeifer take a smarter approach to the issue’s main story, using this month’s Gotham locale to their advantage by pitting the team against Doctor Pyg, but also using Pyg’s guest appearance to introduce a few long-term plots. That’s about the most you can hope for when it comes to a tie-in; I just wish Lobdell and Pfeifer could’ve executed it with even the tiniest bit of finesse. Every time Lobdell and Pfeifer even come close to a genuine moment between characters, it’s ruined by clunky, overly-expository dialogue — each character seems compelled to explain their emotions and backstory in intricate detail every time they speak. That same kind of dialogue ruins the action sequences as well.

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The key piece of this sequence is the wall Bunker builds that the creature breaks through, but we never see it — both the construction and the destruction of the wall is conveyed through one throwaway line of dialogue. It just makes for stilted dialogue, clunky character work, and one absolutely toothless action scene.

Seriously, I hated this issue. Outside of the genuinely cute gag that opens it, this story is devoid of personality, charm, and fun, not to mention relevance and anything even approaching a point of view. Even the most hardcore of “Robin War” completionists can skip this issue with a clear conscience.

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The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

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One comment on “DC Round-Up Comics Released 12/23/15

  1. Batman and Robin Eternal: After last issue, I assumed that this issue was going to be very trippy. Have fun with the combination of a psychic and Spyral tech, and used to show that Dick had got a bit out of control, in his fears about Batman’s relationship with Mother. Instead, it was just origin stuff, with the potential problems of mixing Spyral tech and mental powers being completely ignored.

    I didn’t really look at the Sculptor as a metaphor for DC Editorial, largely as I find such analysis a bit uninteresting. I will happily discuss stories on a meta level (look at what I posted in the Batgirl thread), but ‘this is a metaphor for the act of writing a comic book’ is generally uninteresting to me. I’m more interested in looking at the Sculptor and Cain through the lens of abuse. Quite simply, the Mother’s family is abusive, and the ways that Cain and the Sculptor justify their actions, to me, seems to reflect the ways that some victims can act. Because the unfortunate reality of growing up with abuse is that you grow up in a world where being abused is normal. Seeing Cain truly believe in the righteous of the actions, or seeing the Sculptor simply never considering the possability of going rogue and saving the kids, helps show the horror of the abuse. It isn’t that they have been hurt, it is that it has left wounds that are hard to heal (if it is indeed possible to heal, instead of just healthily manage)

    Robin: Is it me, or did this feel like it had a little too much plot. Multiple scenes were only given a single page, and it feels like there should have been another issue. And I feel that this issue really should have belonged to the We Are Robin gang. Duke, not Daimian should have saved the day during the escape. And the whole ‘hey, we’ll train you after, but only named characters are allowed to be in the climax’ seems to be hedging their bets, which is especially poor choice in a story that has positioned the the people against the Robins as an abusive, extreme police force doing all the things that the police these days do except make Mafia style threats at Quentin Tarantino. The Robins should have beat the Talons, and when Red RObin and Red Hood make their speech that the Robins can go home, and get training after, they should have stood up and stated that all of them are willing to fight against the Court and what is right (though that may be in next issue. This issue feels really like the connective beats between two major set pieces).

    Damian becoming the Gray Son is perfect to me, and I think comparing it to the crappy Batman v Robin movie is wrong (Batman v Robin was just adapting the Nobody story that begun Batman and RObin in the New 52, but using the Court instead). Throughout this arc, Damian has been the one who, ideologically, is closest to the Owls. The end of this issue makes this closeness explicit, as Damian gets his redemption through the visual of him smashing the mask of the Court of Owls (or whatever happens).

    I honestly think the big problem with this is that it is very rushed, and serving no purpose than to be connective tissue between two key scenes. Lincoln March is supposed to be a twist, as last time we saw him he was a prisoner of the Court, but they quickly rush to discussing his evil plans, and this sort of problem happens throughout the issue. Can’t wait for King to return and conclude, as quite simply, none of the other writers have managed to handle the themes of Robin War well enough, and a lot of the intelligence of the first two issues are left to be inferred in the rest

    Dark Knight 3: I loved the first issue, and was pleasantly surprised at how well it fit into the same thematic space as Batman 44 and the like. The second issue… The Gotham sections are the best. I feel that Azzarello is having a lot of input into what exactly is like (with things like the television interview with the Reverend). I also liked the longing nostalgia of Bruce’s older, sillier adventures, as well as the great action beat of Carrie’s escape. But there is a massive But.

    I spent a lot of time last time discussing the Gotham City of issue one and how it reflected the issues of the real world, the same issues being explored throughout the Batman books at the moment. But lets look at that issue in a different way. Instead of an exploration of the real world’s flaws, you could also treat the first issue as ‘the world as it should be’. This may seem odd, because of things like the corrupt police force, but it is a fair argument, and one that I think this issue supports a lot more than my previous interpretation, is that ‘the world as it should be’ is one where Batman and the superheroes drop from the sky and beat up the bad guys. The fact that the bad guys happened to be police officers trying to shoot an unarmed black guy may just be because the co-writer of Batman 44 being the writer of this. And considering that Superheroes, for all their positive attributes, are also inherently fascistic figures, setting that up as ‘the world as it should be’ is dangerous waters when one of the writers is Frank Miller

    And yet, I think that this is supposed to be the case, considering the nature of issue 2, where the status quo is disrupted to by a call to action or anything like that, but a betrayal. Now, a key part of the old status quo is that the people of Kandor are stuck in Kandor, and shrunken. The inciting incident of issue one is the Kandorians wanting to be freed. In the first issue, I likened this to the plight of #BlackLivesMatter, about wanting the privileges that everyone else has and to no longer be, both literally and metaphorically, small. Except they betray them. The people of Kandor stab them in the back.

    Drew said that Miller and Azzarello navigate the murky waters by having the Master Race be a fringe minority, but to me, that makes it worse, for one reason. It is the Master Race that asked for help, and Ray Palmer is only able to embiggen them with the help of research from the leader of the Master Race. This means that the movement we saw in issue one, who wished to be big (and, as the issue suggested, wanted the privileges of everyone else), actually just wants to stab us in the back and take over the world. And that everything would have been better if we didn’t listen to the people asking for help, because they just want to betray us. And because, despite masquerading as an attempt to help the people of Kandor, they have no care for the people of Kandor (actually, a deep loathing of them), only the empowerment of their own faction

    So the disruption of the status quo is not a call to action fix the broken world, but a betrayal borne out of the misguided notion that trying to fix Kandor was the right thing to do. And the first thing they do is, of course, kill a superhero, which really builds my argument. Urgh.

    And here is where things get really bad. I love Philip Sandifer’s ‘Guided by the Beauty of their Weapons’ essay, about fascism (in respect to the Hugo Awards this year). He has a great section on fascism, and I’m going to quote a bit.

    ‘No, the useful way to understand fascism, at least for the purposes of Beale, is as an aesthetic – as a particular mix of fetishes and paranoias that always crops up in culture, occasionally seizing some measure of power, essentially always with poor results. It can basically be reduced to a particular sort of story. The fascist narrative comes, in effect, in two parts. The first involves a nostalgic belief in a past golden age – a historical moment in which things were good. In the fascist narrative, this golden age was ended because of an act of disingenuous betrayal – what’s called the “stab in the back myth.” (The most famous form, and the one that gave the myth its name, being the idea that German Jews had betrayed the German army, leading to the nation’s defeat in World War I.) Since then, the present and sorry state of affairs has been maintained by the backstabbers, generally through conspiratorial means.

    The second part is a vision of what should happen, which centers on a heroic figure who speaks the truth of the conspiracy and leads a populist restoration of the old order. The usual root of this figure is (a bad misreading of) Nietzsche’s idea of the ubermensch – a figure of such strength that morality does not really apply to him. He’s at once a fiercely individualistic figure – a man unencumbered by the degenerate culture in which he lives – and a collectivist figure who is to be followed passionately and absolutely. A great leader, as it were. (This is, counterintuitively, something of a libertarian figure. Ayn Rand’s heroes – the great and worthy men who deserve their freedom – are archetypal fascist heroes, because they rise up over the pettiness of their society and become great leaders.) It is not, to be clear, that all cults of personality are fascist, any more than all conspiracy theories are. Rather, it is the combination – the stab-in-the-back conspiracy theory coupled with the great leader that all men must follow – that defines the fascist aesthetic.’

    The first two issues seem to have done a pitch perfect aspect of the first part of the fascist narrative. We used to live in a world where Superheroes would stop the bad guys. Then the evil Master Race stabbed us in the back, and the Golden Age ended. The only thing missing is that the Master Race don’t look like they will rule the world in a conspiratorial way, but that is hardly an important aspect of the narrative.

    And what will the rest of the book have? Well, it will have Batman save the day. The exact specifics are unclear, and we have to ask about the role of Superman (you know, the ultimate Ubermensch), but it doesn’t feel like it is going to veer too far away from that basic narrative. Not a comfortable thing, when we are talking about modern day Frank Miller. Especially considering the ‘stab in the back’ aspect was literally a social movement pretending to better the plight of their people, only to be revealed to have murdered them all and to

    Don’t think I’ve ever had such a massive change in opinion between the first and second issues. But Urgh…

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