We got us a double-header! We try to stay up on what’s going on with the Big Two, but we can’t always dig deep into every issue. The solution? Our weekly round-up of titles released by Marvel and DC Comics. Today, we’re discussing Batman and Robin Eternal 22, Black Widow 1, Green Lantern 50, Old Man Logan 3, and Spider-Man 2.
Batman and Robin Eternal 22
Mark: Who could have supposed after the interminable Robin War, an entire crossover event dedicated to Robins, that the most contemplative reflection of the characters would come months later in an issue of Batman and Robin Eternal. This is probably the strongest issue this weekly has produced. While we get a bit of plot movement in the final pages, Genevieve Valentine pumps the brakes on the relentless action of the last few issues. Instead, we finally get a few moments for characters to really react to what has happened.
The issue begins with Harper getting a full 3 pages to explain her pain to Cass, and it’s honest and realistic in a way that’s jarring for this mayhem-fueled book and superhero books in general.
I feel like we almost never get moments like this in superhero comics. Instead, we normally see reactions more like Harper’s Fear Serum reaction a couple issues back: a lot of bellowing followed by a lot of punching.
And after swooping in to save the day at the end of Batman and Robin Eternal 20, of course it’s Damian who gives the rest of the Robins a pep talk after they’re ready to all but give up. Because, of course, Batman didn’t expect or want every Robin to be identical soldiers. In their training, he allowed each Robin to figure out where they excelled. Now the stage is set for Jason, Tim, Dick, and Damian to each bring their unique skill sets to the table as they work together to take down Mother.
How was this not the climax of the ill-conceived Robin War? Frustration!
Black Widow 1
Spencer: Co-writer and artist Chris Samnee gets top billing in the credits of Black Widow 1, and looking through the issue, it’s easy to see why. This is clearly a title that values visual storytelling above all else, and Samnee is more than up to the task of carrying the story — the man’s a master of his craft. It’s especially notable that our protagonist only gets one line of dialogue in the entire issue — on the last page at that! — yet she never comes across as a cipher.
Instead, Samnee and Mark Waid’s story and Samnee’s art especially paints a remarkably clear picture of Natasha Romanoff. Her escape from S.H.I.E.L.D. shows off her grace and agility, her vicious, no-holds barred battle with an agent at the issue’s close shows off her raw power and skill, and moments like the following highlight Widow’s guile and cunning:
That kiss is an important moment too, because it stops Natasha from being a stereotypical stone-cold action hero and instead imbues her with just a touch of humor. These moments of levity do wonders to humanize a character who’s so often written as absolutely cold, mysterious, and unknowable.
Of course, there’s still an element of mystery to Black Widow. What did she steal from S.H.I.E.L.D., and why? It’s a compelling hook to hang this series on, but perhaps more importantly, it leaves plenty of opportunity for more high-octane chase scenes like the one that dominates Black Widow 1. If Samnee and Waid can keep pumping out action like this on a monthly basis, they won’t even need a plot to make this book a hit.
Green Lantern 50
Michael: DC must have an unwritten rule that every Green Lantern 50 since the ’90s must feature Hal Jordan as Parallax. Hal became Parallax in 1994’s Green Lantern 50; he briefly reunited with Parallax during “Blackest Night” in 2010’s Green Lantern 50 and now in the most recent Green Lantern 50 has Hallax (presumably from Convergence) arrive to the New 52 Earth. Robert Venditti and Billy Tan open up the issue by focusing on the imagery of “Emerald Twilight”: greying Hal Jordan in a construct sling, mourning the loss of his hometown Coast City. No matter how far Hal Jordan and Green Lantern have come since 1994, that is still a powerful and dark symbol in the character’s history. After introducing Hallax to the modern day, undestroyed Coast City we turn our focus to New 52 Hal (or as I shall call him for sake of clarity: hoodie Hal). Hoodie Hal is still feeling guilty for inadvertently landing his nephew in a wheelchair (for the moment) because of his battle with Sonar.
What follows is an extra-sized issue (because it’s a #50) that is basically hoodie Hal trading blows with Hallax while trying to plead to Hallax’s sensibility. Since current DC continuity is pretty murky as far as Batman and Green Lantern go, I was very curious to see where Venditti was going to stand on the issue of Hal and Parallax. At first it seemed like the issue was going to ignore the Green Lantern: Rebirth story altogether, as Hal didn’t immediately recognize a doppelganger of his in one of the most murderous phases of his life. It’s not until the last quarter of the book that hoodie Hal corrects Hallax (and addresses my concerns) by telling him that Coast City was destroyed and that he had been corrupted by the Parallax entity. Hoodie Hal uses the gauntlet to become a living construct — for some reason this is way too much for Hallax and he just straight up leaves.
Huh? Hallax’s whole shtick is that he wants more and more power — he even says so in this issue. You’re telling me that he sees a Green Lantern become a living construct and he’s not gonna try to steal that? Yeah…no.
This was one of the more entertaining issues of the Venditti/Tan Green Lantern run — probably only for nostalgia’s sake. Nevertheless the question remains: why? Why did we have to have an oversized issue of Hal Jordan fighting himself? This may be a cop out but I’m gonna go ahead and say it: bring on DC’s Rebirth.
Old Man Logan 3
Spencer: Is Logan’s tragic future fated to be the future of the current Marvel universe? It’s a question that’s been lurking in the background of Old Man Logan since its inception, but it’s especially pertinent in issue 3, where Kate Bishop straight-up questions the validity of Logan’s mission. Writer Jeff Lemire pulls off a tricky balancing act here, using flashbacks to keep the reader keyed into Logan’s emotions and remind us of why his mission is so vital to him, yet consistently calling his perspective and methods into question in the present-day. Kate’s arguments against Logan are valid, but there’s truth to Logan’s argument as well — by keeping the truth ambiguous Lemire keeps the reader as off-balance as Logan himself is, again helping us to become invested in Logan as a character by making sure we know nothing more than Logan himself does.
Lemire’s character work here is top-notch as well. Kate makes a terrific foil to Logan — she enables him and questions him in equal measure. In a way Kate fills the typical “Wolverine’s young female companion” role, but even that helps show how this Logan differs from the one we knew; our Logan would never have attacked Kitty or Jubilee the way this Logan does Kate, and she can’t bring out Old Man Logan’s soft side the way those previous young women did. It seems entirely possible that Logan’s soft side no longer exists, or that if it does, it belongs only to his dead family. Perhaps one of the best aspects of Kate’s characterization here, though, is that she’s a stone-cold badass, capable of standing up to Logan and going toe-to-toe with him if needed.
Andrea Sorrentino (and colorist Marcelo Maiolo) are astounding here — Kate’s open-palm thrust looks like it hurt, and they highlight her skill and athleticism without diminishing her optimism and humor elsewhere in the issue. These three creators have obviously found their rhythm working together, and it shows in the final product. We may have reason to doubt Logan, but I’ve got full confidence in Lemire, Sorrentino, and Maiolo.
Drew: “What does Hawkeye do in his free time?””What if Jane Foster was Thor?” “What if the Vision created a robot family?” Some of Marvel’s best series in recent years have sprung from these kinds of questions, pushing characters in new directions, and offering structure to the nonstop grind of publication. I could go on at length about why I think this has been such a successful strategy for them, but there’s no denying that it’s a decidedly different strategy (or at least appears to be different) from the villain of the week model that typified the first decades of the publisher. In that climate, you might think the thesis-free plotting of Spider-Man might be a refreshing change of pace, but instead, it feels utterly aimless.
Spider-Man has always been kind of a reactive character — he has a responsibility to fight crime, but not to prevent it, apparently — which can make giving him an objective somewhat difficult. That difficulty ends up driving the narrative in this issue, bouncing Miles Morales from one conflict to another. Unfortunately, those conflicts never result in any consequences, robbing them of any narrative tension they might have. Peter Parker not wanting Miles to use the name Spider-Man could be an interesting source of tension, but it dissipates as quickly as it comes on. A demon could be an interesting villain, if Miles hadn’t already defeated it easily in the previous issue. Miles balking at being labeled “the black Spider-Man” and getting chewed out by his grandmother for failing grades are the only threads that have any teeth in this issue, but neither has the space to be properly developed.
To its credit, the issue seems designed to avoid the “nothing happened” label often thrown at Brian Michael Bendis joints, but enough of the events are rendered moot that I think that label still feels apt. Paradoxically, more meaningful storytelling might have happened if Bendis had actually excised some of these happenings. Why have the demon come back only to be defeated again? It doesn’t introduce anything new about the demon, and only serves to interrupt the argument between Peter and Miles — an argument that also could be excised if it’s not going to go anywhere here. I genuinely believe there’s a great story (and meta-commentary) in Miles being labeled “the black Spider-Man,” but unfortunately, this issue can’t commit enough to that concept to give it its due. Here’s hoping it can find its direction next month.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?