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 Batgirl 51, Black Canary 11, and Grayson 19.
Patrick: Barbara Gordon has always had a tough time multi-tasking. Of course, the only reason she has such a tough time is that she insists on performing every aspect of her life at near-perfect capacity. So when she tries to pivot from business management to superheroing to mentoring, important tasks inevitably get dropped along the way. The same cannot be said of writer Brenden Fletcher and artists Eleonora Carlini, Minkyu Jung and Roger Robinson, who demonstrate an absurdly tight command over those same components of a Batgirl story.
The issue starts with a light fake-out: both the readers and the Gladius henchmen assume that Batgirl is in pursuit of a stolen S.W.A.T. van, but after a page of misdirection, our caped heroine is revealed to be Spoiler. It’s just some simple speed lines and the glare of motorcycle headlights that keep us from properly identifying her, and the mystery is only sustained for a single page, but it’s just long enough to set up expectations and then subvert them. That full page splash of Steph pointing some Frankie-tech at the baddies accomplishes three things at one: a) that’s our exciting hero shot, b) we understand that Babs isn’t there, and c) we see that Frankie’s sending out the less experienced heroes on her own. In the next couple pages, we’ll loop around to address all of this directly, but in two pages Flecther et al. have laid out many of the issues conflicts.
When Babs does snap into action, it’s exhilarating just to see her work. Operator may have been able to dispatch Spoiler and Bluebird and their tech dude to the streets of Gotham, but Batgirl commands fucking Black Canary and Vixen to infiltrated terrorist cells in Poland. Further, there’s nothing quite like this team drawing a Batgirl fight.
I love the way the reader’s natural eye movement traces the trajectory of the combatants here. Look how intense that first throat grab looks! You have to follow all of the Gladius Commander’s long, outstretched arm, which is elongated by that second panel, all the way to Babs’ neck. And the self-defensive judo throw (nicely foreshadowed (or spoiled!) by Spoiler in the first couple pages) effectively changes the direction of the storytelling.
Black Canary 11
Spencer: The (not-so) secret weapon of Black Canary is colorist Lee Loughridge. I can turn to almost any page of Black Canary 11 and point out unique, arresting color choices on Loughridge’s behalf that only work to elevate the issue. Take this opening spread, for example:
In terms of color, there’s only two elements in play here: the dark nighttime hues that dominate most of the scene, and the burning reds and yellows from Dinah’s bike. That stark contrast in color (with no other elements to distract from it) creates a striking opening image that grabs the reader’s attention. It also emphasizes that the bike was broken (and veered into a wall) sometime during the fight, allowing readers to create a clearer mental picture of a battle that otherwise takes place completely off-page.
Then there’s the scenes taking place within Orato’s club:
Here Loughridge uses color to differentiate between the two dueling elements of the room: Orato and the brainwashed band on the stage (represented in green), and Dinah in the crowd (represented in purple). It’s immediately apparent which character each panel is focusing on from the color alone. While lighting the stage is an obvious move, the using the color green is a more offbeat choice, yet it works perfectly in this scene — the characters on stage are all either brainwashed (the band) or the brainwashee (Orato), and the specific sickly shade of green Loughridge chooses represents brainwashing well.
There’s one last moment I want to point out:
Here Dinah finds herself in a hall of mirrors which may possibly be an illusion created by Orato, which Loughridge depicts in full turquoise, making the red of Dinah’s blood when Orato attacks her stand out all the stronger. When Dinah is presented with a vision of her dead mother, though, that turquoise falls away, replaced with a flashback-appropriate gray. This really is the culmination of Loughridge’s work in this issue; he uses color to differentiate between scenes, characters, time-periods, and to create unique, memorable images. More than any single artist, Black Canary‘s signature look relies upon Loughridge, and that’s an achievement worth praising.
I don’t jive quite as well with Brenden Fletcher’s story this month — I just have trouble caring about Dinah’s parents, and I saw “Aunt Rena’s” betrayal coming from a mile away — but in a similar vein as Loughridge, I find myself impressed by the straight-up outrageousness of some of Fletcher’s choices. The Orato plot is out there — way out there — but it’s sheer strangeness certainly makes for an entertaining read. Throw in guest-artists Sandy Jarrell’s clear, energetic pencils, and you’ve got an incredibly readable, enjoyable issue.
Michael: I recently made the critique that one of the problems of “The Darkseid War” was how roles were reversed and alliances were betrayed at the drop of a hat. I think the same can be said of Grayson, but given the fact that it is a spy book that’s almost forgivable. Much like Helena Bertinelli is the vessel that brings Doctor Daedalus back to life, Grayson 19 is the vessel that brings us to next month’s series finale. In a series of table-turning, backstabbing and revelations, Grayson 19 fits in just fine. Revelations are a tricky thing however- it could be a good thing that you can’t see them coming, or it could be a bad thing. I’m on the fence on whether or not the revelation of Tiger working for Maxwell Lord/Checkmate is a good thing or a bad thing however. The perfect mystery gives even the teensiest hints for its twists and shocks – I’d be interested to reread Grayson as a whole and see what kind of teases I recognize with a hindsight bias.
If you’ve read any of my Retcon stuff, you should know that I’m a Grant Morrison purist – especially where Batman is concerned. It’s with that perspective as well as a “simple” desire to see good storytelling that Grayson 19 gives me pause. While Doctor Otto Netz/Doctor Daedalus is a property of DC Comics, he was created by Grant Morrison. Having him be the big bad for Grayson is by no means a bad thing – it raises the stakes and allows Dick to “fight for Helena’s soul” on a whole other level. However since Doctor Daedalus/Batman Incorporated is still relatively fresh in my mind, I can’t help but note how odd and random his sudden inclusion is in this series. While I’m sure this vibes with Tom King’s original plot, I can’t help but think that new Grayson writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing are sullying what King laid in place. The series was always grounded in the odd, colorful super-spy realm that Morrison established in Batman Inc – but it always felt like its own entity. Having Doctor Daedalus be the “final boss” doesn’t seem like an especially progressive step for this very unique series.
Grayson 19 is not a bad comic – I think that its story and twists are still very engaging and make me want to return next month – but the way it makes me question how I feel about its story choice do not make it a good comic. Carmine Di Giandomenico is aided by Roge Antonio on the art duties and they went and did the thing that we do not need more of: The Dark Knight Returns visual homage. Why guys? Why?
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?