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 16, Robin: Son of Batman 8, American Monster 1, Wolf 5, Star Wars 15, and Judge Dredd 2.
Batman and Robin Eternal 16
Michael: I have “hate watched” TV shows before – it’s a destructive self-fulfilling prophetic experience that I don’t really recommend (unless you’re looking for more negativity in your life). I don’t think Batman and Robin Eternal is quite at the level where I’m “hate reading it,” because amid the cliché over-the-top drama there are ideas and characters I like present in it.
I think Jason Todd as a character is rife with potential, but I’ve yet to see anyone tap into it. Instead, writers characterize him as the bad boy Robin who is most famous for being beaten and killed by the Joker. Guess what character element of Jason’s the creative team decides to play with in Batman and Robin Eternal 16? If you guessed his death at the hands of the Joker, finish your drink. Joker killing Jason is of course an important moment – it’s a scary moment for the fictional world of Batman and a scarier moment for DC Comics publishing standards – but still essential.
Scripted by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelley, Batman and Robin Eternal 16 takes a unique and possible controversial approach to this pivotal moment in Jason’s life. St. Dumas has ol’ Jason hooked up to one of Mother’s brainwashing devices and is making him relive that terrifying last encounter he had with the Joker as Robin #2. A key part of Mother’s brainwashing is removing all fear from the individual as a way of making them more effective killers/weapons. Consequently, Jason is experiencing some revisionist history where he turns the tables on the Joker and starts beating the clown senseless. After Azrael has his “duh-doy” moment of working for the bad guy, he helps Tim Drake attempt to free Jason. In order to counteract St. Dumas’ brainwashing, Tim pleas to Jason not to give in to this revenge fantasy. Tim tells Jason that he has to remember every terrible moment of that day and accept it as it was – embrace the fear. Tim reminds Jason that he’s not alone: he’s a Robin.
Lanzing and Kelley frame this mental struggle of Jason’s as positive experience – accepting the trauma he’s endured and working to move past that. Initially I thought that Tim’s insistence on Jason remembering his death the way it actually happened was cruel. It made me think of victims of abuse, rape or other violent crimes being forced to relive their tragedy over and over so the police can get the story straight etc. The more I think about it however, the more on board I am with the way things played out in Batman and Robin Eternal 16. Upon waking, Jason tells Tim how he hasn’t been “good for a really long time. But I think I’m ready to try.” Having Jason legitimately come to terms with his death and try to move past it is a big step for the character; I’m hoping future creators that shepherd Jason Todd will take note.
Robin: Son of Batman 8
Spencer: Robin: Son of Batman 8 is the series’ first fill-in issue, giving Ray Fawkes and Ramon Bachs a chance to try their hand at penning the adventures of Damian, NoBody, and Goliath, even if it takes a handy flashback to do so. Bachs does excellent work, capturing the youthful spirit of Damian that’s long been an essential component of Patrick Gleason’s work with the character without directly copying Gleason’s style — Bachs’ take on Damian is looser and less moody, but still dynamic and very much in character. Just look at this cocky little smirk: that’s 100% Damian Wayne.
Fawkes likewise has a fine handle on Damian and Maya’s voices, but perhaps sticks a bit too closely to the template Gleason established in the first few issues of this series. Robin’s attempt to return an artifact he stole during the “Year of Blood” ends up pitting him and Maya against living embodiments of what they could be if they continued on their once-dark paths. They’re appropriate opponents for these kids and it’s a fitting message for this series, but it does feel like a somewhat simplistic repetition of lessons Damian and Maya already learned during Gleason’s first arc. In the end, though, I suppose that’s about the most you can ask for from a fill-in issue; if nothing else, the story serves as a handy reminder of Robin: Son of Batman‘s core themes after the diversion that was “Robin War.”
American Monster 1
Drew: Brian Azzarello knows how to write a crime story. His name has long been enough to get me to invest in a new series, but this time, it also has me investing in a new publisher. As part of the first barrage of Aftershock Comics, American Monster helps give the publisher some of the street cred it needs to challenge the legacy of Vertigo. Scooping up creators who made their name at Vertigo, like Azzarello or Garth Ennis, goes a long way towards making that case, but even more important is just how good this issue is. I hesitate to assume the quality of this issue translates to the rest of Aftershock’s line, but there’s no denying how smart the editors were to nab this series while they could.
The issue introduces three characters that the series seems poised to revolve around: one is Snow, a teenage stoner who makes money showing her breasts to local perverts; another is Felix, a vindictive criminal introduced torturing and murdering a couple who had wronged him; and the last is an unnamed, disfigured veteran whose car breaks down on his way through town, apparently after staging a successful bank heist. Who is the titular monster? Felix is easily the most demonstrative in his evilness, but there’s clearly more to the stranger than we get here. I’ll also make the case for Snow, whose casual degradation of “Seesaw Man” and apparent interest in disfigurement suggest that she might have some sociopathic tendencies (plus, you know, it’s an Azzarello joint, so the simplest answer can’t be the right one).
Artist Juan Doe brings a bold, graceful line evocative of Bruce Timm, leaning on noirish stylization and plenty of inky black shadows. His color work is just as striking, bathing most of the issue in sunset reds, and pulling out breathtaking lighting effects in just about every scene. Add that to the brilliant writing, and you’ve got an issue that’s a publisher could well stake their name on. I’m looking forward to following this series for a long, long time.
Patrick: Wolf has always been about perception – particularly just what people are willing to ignore. The fact that human beings can only see 3% of the electromagentic spectrum came up a couple of times in the first four issues, and while that percentage seems high, the concept is intriguing. Wolfe, and Anita, are both given a leg up in this world of monsters and normals by being able see the shit that everyone else either can’t perceive or chooses to ignore. Which is why issues five — which starts a new story arc under artist Ricardo Lopez Ortiz — is so troubling: not only is Wolfe unable to use his extraperceptory powers, it seems like he can’t tell fantasy from reality, or past from present. We flash back to his time in Iraq, and hook-up he had with a rando-ghost-zombie Iraqi woman, but it’s hard to say when we flash back to the present. When Wolfe finds himself straddled by the figure, is he in his memories or stuck in the present? Is he in Iraq or is he in that private prison we read about in issue 4?
Meanwhile, Anita’s turned into quite the teenage detective. I think it’s appropriate to emphasize both parts of that moniker – she is very much teenage and very much a detective. She keeps a journal, has a Hole poster on her wall, and idly speculates about her sexuality. Oh, and she’s got a plush Pikachu on her bed. Totally 17 years old. But I love that 5 years away from her once-protectorate motivates her to investigate Wolfe’s whereabouts. We don’t really to know how she’s put in contact with Yeti — or how Yeti knows what’s going on — but the scene is so delightfully goofy, playing to all of the sillier strengths of this series. Lopez Ortiz almost dresses the character like Han Solo, which, when combined with his furry facade, makes their meeting charmingly reminiscent of the Cantina scene from Star Wars.
Hey! Speaking of Star Wars…
Star Wars 15
Taylor: One of the things I like best about the current run of Star Wars comics hitting the shelves is how it fills in the gaps of what happened before, in between, and after the original trilogy. In doing so the creative teams involved have done a wonderful job of not so much expanding the universe, but deepening it in meaningful ways. Star Wars 15 is a distillation of this mission, explored through the lens of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Trapped on a desert planet and charged with watching over young Luke, Obi-Wan is a portrait of loneliness and devotion.
We’ve always known that Obi-Wan was watching over Luke, even as early as A New Hope. After all, Darth Vader’s former master doesn’t just end up on the same planet as his estranged son, that much is clear. And while I’ve always known Kenobi spent upwards of twenty years on Tatooine, I never really considered before just how trying that might be on the man. Writer Jason Aaron does a great job of shining some light on Ben’s living circumstances during these years and he presents a once proud Jedi dealing with estrangement from everyone and everything he once knew.
While there are many instances of Kenobi’s isolation, what really struck me was the scene where Obi-Wan is seen preparing his dinner of snake soup for the evening.
The isolation of his house paired with a disgusting dinner the likes of which has been eaten every night for year is somewhat sad. Add to this the fact that Ben is talking to himself, or perhaps an unanswering Qui-Gon, and the scene is close to heartbreaking. The mention of the Jedi temple reminds me that Ben once spent his days flying around the universe, saving lives, and generally being somebody. His reduced role on Tatooine, while important, is a shadow of his old life and I can’t help but feel Kenobi’s loneliness throughout this issue.
Ultimately I think Obi-Wan’s pathetic Tatooine life speaks to the kind of man he is. If anything, Obi-Wan is a dedicated Jedi and even if that means a life of near isolation, he’ll be sure to see his duties through until the very end. This isn’t anything we didn’t already know about Obi-Wan from the movies, but it does give me a better appreciation of the man and his role in the Star Wars saga.
Judge Dredd 2
Drew: In a comics market full of antiheroes, Judge Dredd has always stood out because he’s not really a hero at all. Sure, he’s usually cast as the protagonist, but he’s also a murderous fascist, often fighting against democratic ideals of justice. Like most characters that sprung out of 2000 AD, Judge Dredd was meant to make a political point, satirizing the restrictive conservative policies of Margaret Thatcher. Of course, the character proved to be much more enduring than Thatcherism, but the satirical elements are still baked right into the character, which is precisely why IDW’s new Judge Dredd series has interested me so much. Cast out of his Mega-City One, apparently into the future, Dredd’s will no longer reflect the morals of society — he no longer is the law. Writers Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas drop him into a basically anarchic society — just as foreign and distasteful to the audience, but the polar opposite of Dredd’s fascism.
Cleverly, this anarchy seems to be based on social media, where everyone is allowed to do and say whatever they want — the only crime is trying to suppress the rights of others. Farinas and Freitas draw just enough parallels to make the connection, but leave much of their world too fickle to pin to any one philosophy. Except, of course, for Trog Lody, who first comes to Dredd’s aid before ultimately becoming the bad guy. It all comes down to methodologies — Lody abhors violence, hoping instead to draw hypocrites into exposing themselves through conversation. Lody’s own hypocrisy around those methods ultimately undermines his point, though the issue never ultimately celebrates Dredd’s methods as better.
The issue is drawn by Dan McDaid, who wears his debt to Frank Miller on his sleeve. Indeed, McDaid’s dynamic sense of line and cheeky mockery of his futuristic populace is so evocative of Miller, this feels like the Judge Dredd story Miller could have written if he were invited to 25 years ago. I suppose, then, that Farinas and Freitas’ ambiguous morality is a perfect fit, channeling all of the energy and confused politics of classic Frank Miller into a character that seemed designed for it.