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 15, Batman / Superman 28, Constantine The Hellblazer 8, Gotham Academy 14 and Starfire 8.
Batman and Robin Eternal 15
Mark: There are so many words in Batman and Robin Eternal 15, and so may of them are unnecessary. The gist, though, is this: The Secret Order of Saint Dumas has developed a bio-tech, Ichthys, that allows them to program memories into people’s brains. It’s the ultimate endgame for Mother (ostensibly), the perfection of her system. Now you don’t have to feel bad if your mind wanders while sifting through the overwhelming amount of narration and dialogue in this issue. Writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelley seemingly leave no page without at least one panel filled with enough dialogue to nearly crowd out the art underneath.
That’s not to say that what’s here is dire, just overwritten. I believe Batman and Robin Eternal marks the first appearance of Jean-Paul Valley in the New 52/DC YOU continuity, and I’m interested to see how he’s integrated into the DC universe at large going forward. The main action setpiece of the issue is Red Robin and Azrael’s fight, and it has some cool moments like Red Robin stopping Azrael’s flaming sword with his hands. I’m less interested in the cliffhanger— Saint Dumas somehow activates Ichthys in Red Hood’s mind, where he reverts to childhood and it appears he will experience his fateful date with the Joker all over again. On its face, I’m not super excited about reliving this particular event in Jason Todd’s life, but who knows where next issue will take us.
Batman / Superman 28
Michael: I can’t express to you enough how excited that Tom Taylor is helming not one but TWO miniseries at DC – the man is freaking talented you guys. And while I was pretty confident that Taylor would put out a better Green Lantern book than DC has seen since Geoff Johns left, I was even more positive that he would absolutely nail the friendship of Batman and Superman.
Admittedly, Batman/Superman 28 is not a perfect book. Story-wise, there are some formulaic superhero team-up cliches: Batman is almost always in the middle of a fight with a lesser villain (here it is Clayface) in these instances. In terms of artwork, Robson Rocha has a 50% success rate in this issue. There is one particularly egregious panel in the Batcave where Alfred informs Batman that Superman has arrived. Superman looms in the background behind Alfred but he doesn’t look like he’s in the distance – he looks like he’s a giant adult standing behind a child. Overall there’s just some awkward character work.
I won’t label Batman/Superman 28 as a bad comic though; I won’t do it. Just as I had hoped, Taylor hones in on what makes these two characters good partners and good friends. There is a shorthand between Clark and Bruce that implies a lot of trust. Though Bats is annoyed that Superman is interrupting his current case, he doesn’t have any reservations about Superman closing the case by delivering Clayface to Arkham. Instead of telling us what makes Batman and Superman great, Taylor shows us. Superman’s sincerity is on display when after he rescues a NASA commander from a space station mishap and the first thing he says is “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m a big fan.”
I love the fear and respect that Taylor gives to Batman in this issue. When Superman finds a giant dead alien on the moon, he naturally turns to Batman to investigate (I know the alien carved their symbols in the moon, but still: Batman’s the guy you want on that case.) Another great moment is Lobo and his alien client decide that Batman is a higher priority target than Superman. That’s a hell of a reputation for a guy who has a “no kill” policy.
Constantine The Hellblazer 8
Patrick: I’ve noticed that we’ve been getting into a lot of disagreements on the site about whether characters’ actions are properly motivated or not. Sometimes, we’re willing to grant a superhero a leap in emotional logic – Batman wants to stop a crime because that’s what Batman wants to do – and other times, we’re a little more demanding of the internal emotional logic. John Constantine always felt — to me — like he belonged in the first camp: we don’t necessarily need to know why John goes off on his paranormal quests, the point is that he likes those adventures. Which is why it’s all the more puzzling that issue 8 of Constantine The Hellblazer bothers to blackmail John into action. Papa Midnight poisons John’s new boyfriend, and the only way to get the antidote is to help Papa take his club back from some corporate demon types. Then, throughout their heist, Constantine discovers that there are other reasons to exorcise these particular demons from Club Midnight — chief among them being that the main demon behind the takeover is some kind of uber-bastard named Neron and the club gives him access to a portal to Hell.
Why in the everloving fuck don’t we start with that information? The framing device that John needs to rescue his new squeeze feels totally tacked on to this genuine threat to the magical world. Also, that threat is both literal and metaphorical as it plays with the language of gentrification in interesting ways, as well as, y’know, giving the denizens of Hell direct access to the real world. I’m just not interested in Constantine having to solve this problem against his will – and it seem like writers Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV aren’t interested in that either. John and Papa may bicker about the proper way to approach the penthouse, but at no point does John actually address the fact that his friend is in mortal danger.
But John and Papa do talk an awful lot about misdirection — one of the basic tenants of stage magic — so maybe I just haven’t seen “prestige” part of this particular magic trick. Right now, this issue feels like a lot of misdirection.
Gotham Academy 14
Taylor: The extent to which an artist owns a series changes drastically based on a myriad of things. How long they’ve been drawing for the series, how much of their style plays into the story itself, and whether or not they do their own colors can affect how much I view an artist as having ownership of a series. With Gotham Academy, I fee like artist Karl Kerschl owns that series. His work on the series has done so much for creating a moody and mysterious atmosphere that I feel is now an intrinsic part of the series.
In issue 14 Kerschl is conspicuously absent as several other writers pick up the pencil. The reason for this is pretty straightforward: this is a guest issue and several different stories are being told by various artists. It’s all in good fun and enjoyable but I can’t help but feel that part of what makes Gotham Academy, Gotham Academy is missing. For instance, take a look at these panels penned by Kris Mukai.
Whereas with Kershcl’s work I know immediately if I’m reading Gotham Academy, here I don’t. I get that the point of guest artists is to put a new spin on a familiar concept, but at what point does that spin entirely lose sight of the source material? I’m not sure if there’s a strict answer to that question but I feel like Mukai’s art is approaching it. This isn’t a bash on Mukai’s work. It’s actually really charming and cute! But what I see when I look at his work isn’t Gotham Academy and that kind of bothers me. Still, I would be remiss to say that this issue isn’t without its charms. In particular I favor the short about a sharp-toothed, flying sheep that escapes the school. It’s weird and silly and the kind of one off that’s just plain fun. To an extent all of these stories are entertaining and while they don’t necessarily have the Gotham Academy feel, they’re still a fun read.
Spencer: When Red Hood and the Outlaws premiered at the beginning of the New 52, Starfire was depicted as having almost no long-term memory, living in the moment because she had no other choice and taking little pleasure in it. One of the best changes Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Emanuela Lupacchino made to the character when they launched Starfire was returning her joy, enthusiasm, and lust for life, and in Starfire 8 they continue to expand and explore Kori’s perspective on the world, establishing a far more nuanced reason for her living in the present than Outlaws did.
Kori’s focus on living each moment to the fullest isn’t some kind of hedonistic or nihilistic streak, but a desire to experience as much as possible while she can, because she understands that the good times (and life itself, for that matter) won’t last forever. This reveal adds some interesting, welcome layers to Kori’s personality while also allowing her to retain agency in how she lives her life and views the world. It also helps her move past the difficult times in her past, and since she’s living a life she enjoys so much right now, it’s much easier for Kori to accept the ways her and Dick’s relationship has changed.
That kind of maturity seems contagious in this issue, actually. Stella takes an important step in growing more used to the craziness around her by accepting Atlee’s invitation to visit Strata, and Sol’s become more willing to accept the love his friends offer him; he’s finally healing and moving past Maria’s death. It seems like Kori’s rubbing off on her friends, and I appreciate that; Conner and Palmiotti show that Kori hasn’t just brought chaos, excitement, and danger to their lives, but some peace as well. Way to go, Kori.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?