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 Detective Comics 51, Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Special 1, Midnighter 11, New Suicide Squad 19, and Superman 51.
Detective Comics 51
Michael: In a strange way, Detective Comics 51 fulfills the promise of what Frank Miller’s Holy Terror was supposed to be: Batman in the Middle East — albeit 100x less racist. Pete Tomasi and Fernando Pasarin try to squeeze in one last Jim Gordon Batman tale in “Gordon at War.” After an old marine pal visits Jim and is quickly murdered thereafter, Jim “calls in some favors” and further investigates in Afghanistan. We discover that Jim and his old unit are being hunted and killed for “defiling the temple of Amun-Set” — discovering a horrific dungeon of sacrifice and torture — years ago. Jim knows that he’s not a one-man-army so to take on the bad guys he puts a call into Team Batman for the robo-batsuit Rookie.
Similar to the previous arc “The Bronze Age,” Tomasi and Pasarin are trying to weave a tale that feels “too little, too late.” I’ve gone on the record saying that I thought that “The Bronze Age” was truncated and deserved more time to deliver on the mystery that was set up. I’m scratching my head as to why Tomasi would want to tell two abridged Jim Gordon Detective Comics stories instead of devoting meaningful time to one or the other over the case of 4+ issues.
You can feel the countdown clock ticking away as you turn each page of Detective Comics 51 — Tomasi tries to cram as much story in as possible. The premise of “a threat from Jim’s marine past” is a sturdy foundation to build a decent Jim Gordon story; Batman or otherwise. Unfortunately Detective Comics 51 never seems to declare much about “that thing that [Jim’s unit] buried…didn’t stay buried.” The story doesn’t really tell us why any of this matters, what the larger consequences are or what these characters mean to Jim Gordon personally. By wrapping this “mystery” up in the nostalgia blanket of Gordon war stories, Detective Comics 51 is posed as personal and important but if you brush away the sand you’ll see what’s buried beneath isn’t very interesting at all.
Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Special 1
Michael: If I had to make a guess, I probably have only read a combined total of five issues of Suicide Squad and Harley Quinn, and none of New Suicide Squad. Nevertheless I found myself very curious about the Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Special — so curious that I begged my fellow editors to let me write about it in some form or another. Before reading the issue my suspicion was that it would be a taste of things to come from Rob Williams (Martian Manhunter) and Jim Lee’s “DC Rebirth” Suicide Squad title. After reading the issue I am hoping the same damn thing.
With her fourth wall breaching and a handful of comic titles — including her own “Harley Team” — it’s pretty obvious that DC is positing Harley Quinn as their resident Deadpool. And while I know there are devoted fans of Amanda Conner iteration of the character, the one that Rob Williams and Jim Lee give us is the truest I’ve seen since Batman: The Animated Series. As much as I love meta-jokes, for my money, Harley is not Deadpool; so I appreciated the minimal amount of self-referential bits Williams put in the script. Batman fans love Harley because we feel protective of her — though she’s a criminal and in love with a mad man, deep down she does want to help. That’s what rings true about Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Special for me: Harley’s whole mission is to help people (villains.) It’s a perfect marriage of who she was as a psychiatrist and who she is as a villain.
Williams plays Harley’s equal levels of intelligence and stupidity for laughs in all of the right ways. Jim Lee has often been accused of making his female characters too provocative/scandalous/unrealistic/Barbie-like etc, BUT this is actually the most amount of clothing I’ve seen on Harley Quinn since her introduction. While Lee delivers on his typical dynamic action scenes, Sean Galloway shares a substantial amount of the book’s art. The cast of the book becomes cartoony-cute under Galloway’s pencil; and their character is heightened by Williams in those scenes. There’s a great comedic run of D-grade supervillains on “Dr. Harley’s” couch that shows you that this book is something special.
I was very pleased with this book and would not complain if Lee and Williams delivered more of the same. Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Special feels like an homage to the seminal Harley Quinn story Mad Love by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. Where Harley once felt that Batman was the only thing standing in the way of happiness for her and Mr. J, she now feels that superheroes are the only thing standing in the way of sanity for the world’s “supervillains.” I’m on board.
Spencer: While Midnighter’s had solo series before, he’s most commonly thought of as part of a team, or as one half of the Apollo/Midnighter partnership. It’s to writer Steve Orlando’s credit, then, that Midnighter has never felt bogged down by expectations about Apollo, even as he’s retained a low-key presence in the story; it makes it all the grander when Apollo finally returns to the spotlight in Midnighter 11. Not only do Orlando and ACO treat us to the spectacle of his spectacular powers, but they demonstrate exactly why he means so much to Midnighter, and it’s not just because the man’s a total hunk (though that helps, obviously).
Seriously, he’s so handsome he literally glows! But there’s more than that to their relationship; we’ve seen throughout this series how much Midnighter respects strength and competence, and Apollo is pretty much the epitome of both. Most important, though, is the unconditional love and support Apollo provides Midnighter. Apollo never had a problem with Midnighter — any imagined problems were Midnighter projecting his own insecurities onto his partner — yet he still gave Midnighter space to grow and explore without ever giving up on him.
That space has paid off; Midnighter’s grown as a character since the beginning of this series, although ironically enough, that growth hasn’t really resulted in any actual change, but instead has simply helped Midnighter learn to accept himself for who he is. That’s an important bit of emotional maturity there, and with Midnighter’s growth now firmly established, Orlando’s given himself plenty of space to jam-pack Midnighter 12 full of explosions, bone-crunching violence, and a battle worthy of Midnighter‘s finale. I can’t wait.
New Suicide Squad 19
Mark: I don’t envy the writer of a Suicide Squad comic. It has to be hard to tell a story that feels authentic to the characters (characters as diverse as Harley Quinn and Razer), but still satisfy the obligations of a monthly book. For that reason I generally tend to avoid Suicide Squad books (this anti-Justice League works best for me in small, sporadic doses), and this is my first time picking up an issue of New Suicide Squad. And while my usual petty quibbles about these stories remain (for example, its violent because “edgy villains,” but the violence feels superfluous and is never committed by our heroes), in New Suicide Squad 19 writer Tim Seeley does a pretty good job of keeping all of these balls in the air.
The gang is holed up in an old castle in Germany, held captive by the Fist of Cain — a cult of serial killers who are hunting the Squad as sport, complete with a sliding scale point system depending on the proficiency of the target. The highlight of the issue is the appearance of Deathtrap. I love how much Seeley loves the Wildstorm universe and incorporates its weird-ass characters into his work as much as possible. So, sure, why not have Deathtrap show up just in time to fashion some guns for Deadshot out of bathroom tiles? Is Deathtrap a permanent member of the New Suicide Squad? That might get me to check it out more often.
I’m not a huge fan of Juan Ferreyra’s art style — it feels at odds with the subject matter — but I have no complaint other than it’s just not a style I glom onto. It’s well executed for what it is, and I quite like his color work on the issue. Each location in the story, the castle, the control room, Waller’s office, gets its own tint and tone. It’s incredibly effective in orienting the reader to location without the need for additional text.
But, seriously, more insane Wildstorm characters in future DC titles, please.
Drew: One of the earliest pieces of wisdom I picked up writing for this site was that there are no bad characters, just bad creative teams (or, more broadly, bad approaches to the character). It’s good to keep in mind that what doesn’t work at one time might work at another, and seeing multiple takes on a character is one of the blessings of superhero comics. I would argue that this wisdom holds just as true for situations as it does for characters — Batman fighting the Joker, for example, is neither inherently good nor bad, but can be either, depending on how its approached. Curiously, the death of Superman is one of of those situations that has been returned to time and time again — sometimes transcendently, as in Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman; sometimes infamously, as in 1993’s “Death of Superman” and, you know, whatever blockbuster movies might crib from that particular storyline. Point is, Superman 51, which presents part one of “The Final Days of Superman,” has some monumental stories to live up (or down) to.
It would be foolish to suggest what form Peter Tomasi’s eight-part crossover “Super League” will take — this issue feels more like a prologue than a first chapter — but he’s making some brilliant decisions. Like All-Star Superman, the story isn’t about the mechanics of how Superman dies, but of what he does when he knows he’s going to die. That Superman will die is such a foregone conclusion, Tomasi gets the reveal out of the way right out front:
Tomasi spends a little more time assuring us that, yes, he really is going to die, but what better way to convince us this is true than by having Superman himself tell us right to our faces? Of course, it helps that Mikel Janin is on art duties — it’s tough to imagine many artists pulling off a straight-on closeup with this much drama, but it absolutely works here, elevated by Janin’s innovative color work.
With that issue settled, Superman can focus on dealing with his death, which first means telling his friends. Sure, there’s some exposition about another Superman (or Supermen?), but the bulk of the issue is all about Clark telling Lana, and then Lois, about his diagnosis. The Lana scene is particularly touching, offering not only a glimpse into their childhood, but also offering a frank portrait of what happens when a dear friend has a terminal illness. It’s a decidedly human moment, and while I’m sure Tomasi will take us pretty far from Ma and Pa Kent’s graves in Smallville over the next seven instalments, this issue gives me confidence that he’ll make that trip a satisfying one.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?