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 19, Batman/Superman 29, Gotham Academy 15, New Suicide Squad 17, and Starfire 9.
Batman and Robin Eternal 19
Mark: I believe this is the first issue of Batman and Robin Eternal to not feature a flashback, which is fine by me because I’m ready to give the flashbacks’ Batman-makes-un-Batman-like-decisions-constantly game a rest. Instead, the entire issue, scripted by Tim Seeley, is devoted to St. Hadrians’ students attacking the school thanks to Mother’s Icthys broadcast. Things start off pretty dark, with a school bus full of children murdering their driver and causing the bus to plow into a nearby building. For all the murderous kids, though, the only ones we ever see our heroes kick/punch are anonymously wearing masks. Not that I’m looking for my comics to necessarily show me Red Hood kicking a tween in the face, mind you. Just thought it was an interesting editorial choice to draw the line there.
Seeley does a fine enough job this issue, but you can tell that these weeklys are a drop-in, drop-out affair for most of the people working on them. The one-off nature of it seems to lead to bland characterizations and characters with no real individual voice, even for characters Seeley uses often in Grayson. Maybe it’s just the nature of the beast that Eternal demands so much forward plot movement each issue that the subtleties of other work gets lost along the way.
I’m not crazy about Paul Pelletier’s pencils, but they’re totally serviceable, and, again, it’s a weekly. What are you gonna do?
Michael: Tom Taylor and Robson Rocha’s Batman/Superman continues to be the Batman/Superman story that I’ve been hoping for since this particular series launched. Brief tangent: I work at a school and I often find myself having the following conversation:
Student: “Who do you think is going to win in Batman v Superman?”
Me: “Neither. They shouldn’t be fighting, they’re BEST FRIENDS.”
It’s so evident that Tom Taylor loves Batman and Superman – he absolutely nails the Odd Couple friendship in Batman/Superman 29. Case in point, my favorite scene in this issue:
Another key to this issue’s success are all of the opportunities Taylor takes to point out how methodical Batman is and how good-hearted Superman is. Superman enlisted Batman’s help on this murder mystery case because he’s the detective. Sure enough, the Dark Knight uses his keen bat ears and intellect to poke holes in his first witness’ story. The world doesn’t necessarily need a “Batman is prepared for anything” story, but Taylor plays it up for laughs. When Batman realizes that Lobo is an un-killable Czarnian Robson Rocha draws Bats with a wicked glee as he cuts loose in a fight. Though it’s not explicitly stated, I’m theorizing that Batman cut off Lobo’s finger with the intent of stealing his ship.
Robson Rocha’s art has improved from last issue, with some help from Júlio Ferreira. They embrace some good old-fashioned Superman power poses, heightened by Blond’s powerful yellow-orange sun blazes. Taylor and Robson’s interpretation of the Worlds Finest is so much fun that I’m going to be very sad to see them go after next issue. Banana Muffin.
Gotham Academy 15
Spencer: Now this is a bit more like it. The past few issues of Gotham Academy — including last month’s first installment of the current “Yearbook” storyline — have just felt off to me. Sure, the same characters were there, but they were so far removed from the plots and tones that defined the first year of this book that it might as well’ve been another title entirely. Gotham Academy 15, though, manages to right the course, despite sticking to “Yearbook’s” anthology format.
Eduardo Medeiros and Rafael Albuquerque’s “Serpents and Secrets” is probably the most successful at this, as the story combines many of Gotham Academy‘s most compelling ingredients: there’s a mission that blends the supernatural and the mundane, a genuine mystery, a cameo from the Batman books, and some dark secrets among the school’s staff. Plus, it’s just a genuine treat to see Albuquerque’s fantasy-style take on Olive and Maps.
Zac Gorman’s “Staff Party” is a much more successful “teacher story” than last month’s attempt, mainly because it shows us the staff’s antics through Maps’ POV, and pays off with a rather brilliant punchline that, again, flows naturally from a character we’re already invested in. “Hammin’ Around” mainly relies upon Mingjue Helen Chen’s art (which, thankfully, is stunning), but also manages to successfully expand the series’ perspective beyond the core cast (something Gotham Academy hasn’t always been able to pull off).
These random characters don’t dominate the story, but their perspectives are quite informative and interesting, fleshing out how the rest of the student body views the Detective Club kids. Each story in this issue stands strong on its own, but also provides details that may just be important to the myth arc as Gotham Academy continues. Now that’s how you do an anthology issue.
New Suicide Squad 17
Patrick: Every time a new creative team takes over a title, there’s a little bit of housecleaning that’s in order: establish new goals, settle into slightly new takes on the characters, kill the whole cast. Wait, what? Writer Tim Seeley and artist Juan Ferreyra are fresh off a spectacular run revitalizing the already-doomed Gotham by Midnight and it looks as though they’ve got their re-tooling tools pointed at a much more viable DC franchise. The story is slow to find its footing, meandering through flashbacks that don’t appear relevant before settling into a tour of Bell Reve Penitentiary. Mr. Ashemore, a squirrelly English gentleman with a weak constitution, has to be prepped for his tenure wrangling the Suicide Squad, so naturally, Amanda Waller has to show him the ropes. It all feels awfully convenient – there’s an in-universe reason Waller would be explaining the whole concept to someone, so new readers needn’t feel left out or alienated.
But if there’s anything rote about those first couple pages, Seeley and Ferreyra blow up all that convention when the real bad-ass Suicide Squaders are introduced. We meet Harley Quinn doing a one-armed handstand on the back of a chair and reading self-affirmative letters to herself. What’s more is that her introduction takes the majority of the page, her tall upside-down body dictating the shape of the paneling, which suddenly favors vertical, rather than wide-screen-esque horizontal panels. Her influence is so powerful, there’s even a tall vertical panel on the next page, seemingly just the lingering effects of Harley’s presence. Deadshot also seems keenly aware of the visual space he occupies, and makes his knowledge explicit in one of my favorite panels of the issue:
Of course, once these guys are let out of their cells, the real visual magic begins. The first couple of pages showing the start of their mission are all presented on a skewed grid, tilting the action ever so slightly. And then, when shit really gets going, Ferreyra has a show-stopping spread that tracks the movements of Deadshot across the rooftops and Harley through the streets simultaneously, while snaking a more detailed narrative across the the two-page splash. It’s an impressive visual statement, that I wasn’t prepared for Seeley to make the Queen Mother of all storytelling statements by killing everyone on the team. I have no idea what’s next for these guys, but holy shit, if it’s anywhere near as electric and unpredictable as issue 17, count me in.
Spencer: Elsa Charretier (best known to Retcon Punch readers for her work on The Infinite Loop) takes over art duties for Starfire in issue 9, and I cannot think of a better choice to handle Kori’s adventures. Charretier is simply a perfect fit for this title, combining class, non-exploitative sex appeal, sheer enthusiasm, and some impressive storytelling chops into a gorgeous, visually dazzling final product.
I mean, check out this moment here — beyond Starfire’s 40s Bombshell look, we’ve also got Charretier breaking up the panel in order to better highlight each character and drum-up the tension of an already tense and exciting moment. Charretier’s skill also reinforces characterization, especially via body language.
Just this one panel provides a rather clear snapshot of each character’s personality, and especially their feelings about their trip to Strata — Kori’s as enthusiastic as ever, Atlee’s done it so many times that it’s old hat by now, and Stella’s plagued by doubts and anxieties about it. It’s stunning work, and I’m already pumped to see what Charretier does in the next three issues.
Storywise, this issue mainly serves as a transition between plots, but that’s not a problem for Starfire; writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti have always been more concerned about the journey than the destination, and it’s the details of that journey that make the issue sing. In fact, the slower pace of this issue allows Conner and Palmiotti to hone in on the relationship between these three women, and it produces fine results, be it their surprisingly deep conversation about the duties of a superhero or simply running gags like Stella’s fear of alligators or Kori’s growing understanding of Earth customs.
Starfire 9 is a delight, and I’m bummed that this creative team is only sticking around for three more issues.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?