Evidently, DC Comics published something other than the tonal reset that is DC Universe Rebirth 1. Here’s our weekly survey of what else is going on in the DC Universe. Today, we’re discussing The Flash 52, Grayson 20, Justice League 50, and Superman 52.
The Flash 52
Spencer: Recently, Flash writer Van Jensen tweeted that he considered his run on the title a failure creatively, a bit of candor and self-criticism I could really respect and empathize with. Reading Jensen’s (and former co-writer Robert Venditti’s) run has been an interesting experience — some issues I absolutely loved, some I really disliked, and often my opinion would fluctuate between the two extremes from month to month. Amazingly, then, Jensen and Jesus Merino’s The Flash 52 somehow manages to land right in the middle of that spectrum; it’s a fun issue that, nonetheless, has its fair share of problems.
First of all, the big “secret identity reveal” I griped about last month had almost zero effect on the story and was immediately undone, which somehow only makes me madder about the whole thing. The rest of the issue is more solid, but never revelatory — the action plays out about how you’d expect, the dialogue can be a bit stilted at times, and in his final pages, Jensen resolves his open plots at such a breakneck pace that none of the moments have a chance to be anything more than perfunctory.
Yet, there’s a lot of fun to be had with this one as well. Jensen gives just about every character who’s been important to the last several arcs a chance to shine, and takes the time to leave his cast better off than when he first started writing them (bringing Heat Wave back into the fold, reviving Lisa without robbing her of her Glider abilities, etc.). Plus, I can never get enough of the Flash and the Rogues putting aside their differences to work together; it’s what I live for.
Jensen and Venditti’s run is never going to be remembered as a classic Flash run, but that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed outright. In many ways it’s a throwback to classic superhero storytelling, and that’s something that still has value. An arc like the Riddler one especially is something that might appeal to younger readers making their first forays into the Flash’s world, for example — and sometimes you just want some straight-up, old fashioned superhero vs. supervillain action. If nothing else, The Flash 52‘s got that in spades.
Mark: Considering the creative team change and the need to wrap up the story quickly, Grayson 20 succeeds as a grand finale. If that sounds like a lot of qualifications, well, that’s been the name of the game ever since Tim Seeley and Tom King left, hasn’t it?
But it’s never been truly fair to compare Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelley’s work on Grayson to imaginary issues by Seeley and King that will never exist, and Grayson 20 is definitely the best work Lanzing and Kelley have done on the series. It will never not be fun to see the many dimensions of Dick Grayson work together to beat up a giant Nazi spider IN HIS MIND, but most importantly, they allow Helena and Grayson a few moments to wrap up their story in an emotionally satisfying way.
Likewise, since most of the action sequences take place in a weird psychic zone, artist Roge Antonio is able to really let loose with the visuals. Paired with strong color work by Jeromy Cox, this is the most visually striking Grayson has been for a long while.
I have nits to pick (Tiger’s appearance in the issue is necessary and way too truncated to be effective), but there’s not really any point now. Grayson‘s gone and I’m sad to see it go. I know Rebirth is all about giving fans what they want, but Dick Grayson made an excellent international super spy, and I’m a bit bummed he’s returning to Nightwing. Still, we’ll always have the perfectly executed first arc of Grayson. And while even Seeley and King never reached those heights again (as the serialized aspects of the story overwhelmed the narrative), there were enough great issues along the way to make reading worthwhile.
Justice League 50
Patrick: I try not to let plot developments overshadow the analysis in my close readings of comics. The question “what does this mean for the DC Universe?” is ultimately sorta boring to me: no amount of status-quo-reshuffling is going to change the quality of the storytelling going forward – that’s on the storytellers themselves. But Justice League 50 reads like a mythology-shredder, grinding up and reforming its ludicrously enormous cast over and over again. By the end, they’re a loose pulp, ready to be reformed into the paper the next story will be told on.
The issue is almost literally all character – beyond some rubble and one panel of the Dark Racer chasing The Flash though the city streets, there’s basically no indication where these events are taking place. It doesn’t matter, of course: the Justice League, New Gods, Crime Syndicate, etc. serve as both the characters and the setting for this story. Jason Fabok has an unruly task on his hands – populating every panel with more characters than will appear on any given page in another comic series. And then, on top of that, the panel count on each page is absurdly high. Sure, there are a handful of show-stopping splash pages, but much more common are the 6 – 8 panel pages.
It seems like an absolutely mind-bending amount of work on Fabok’s part. Look how he doesn’t even take any shortcuts in that third panel. Rather than using a more dynamic camera angle, which could have heightened the drama AND limited the number of faces he had to draw — Fabok renders the cast neatly arranged, as though posing for a yearbook photo. The presentation is intensely un-cinematic, almost the antithesis of storytelling, reducing every action beat to cool poster.
And maybe that’s the point. The ever-evolving origins and fates of Superwoman’s baby have to be making fun off convoluted superhero origins. The story here was never going to be anything but a fireworks display, and writer Geoff Johns sets off all his rockets at once. Sure it’s bright, and shit blows ups up good, but it’s a hollow exercise in spectacle. Also, it’s disappointing to see three female characters die during this battle: Jessica Cruz, Myrina Black and Superwoman. I know Jessica comes back (as a Green Lantern, finally), and Owl-Man and Metron are similarly vaporized in the epilogue, but it’s still a bummer to see the gender imbalance in the canon-fodder here. It’s made especially yucky when you consider that both of those women who fell in battle are important to this narrative because they’re mothers. Fathers are totally inconsequential (Darkseid is… kind of his own grandfather? And Alexander Luther has been dead for 20 issues), but mother’s have to pay for their wicked mothering? It might not be fair to try to project any kind of moralizing on to this thing… I don’t ask what the themes are of a fireworks display, right?
Drew: There’s an old, possibly apocryphal anecdote about Alan Moore accosting editor Julie Schwartz to demand the opportunity to write “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” In some versions, Schwartz had invited Moore to lunch to offer him the job, in others, Moore had followed Schwartz to the restaurant to insist that only he could write the story, but in all accounts, Moore was extremely excited at the opportunity. Unfortunately, Superman 52, the conclusion of Peter Tomasi’s “The Final Days of Superman” arc, lacks any of that excitement. Indeed, the events of this issue feel so perfunctory, it reads more like a list of things that should appear in Superman’s last adventure than an actual story.
Part of the problem is that the death of Superman has been done to, well, death. I’ve already mentioned “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”, but the bigger influence might be Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman, which sent Superman on a kind of Labors of Hercules before his death. This arc doesn’t benefit from that structure — indeed, it often suffers from its own ungainly crossover status — leaving this issue to capture all of the thematic material the previous issues could never properly develop.
Tomasi manages to get a lot of things right — Superman’s insistence on taking the fight away from people is spot on, as is his desire to save Pre-Flashpoint Superman — but there’s simply too much to cram into this issue. A quickly overstuffed battle (featuring two real Supermen, one impostor Superman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batman) concludes with an even more overstuffed deathbed goodbye, adding Lana, Lois, and Steel to the mix. Nobody gets more than three panels for their farewell, draining the issue of any of that deliberate emotional pacing I so admired in Superman 51. Indeed, this arc seemed to hit its peak in that first issue, slowly losing whatever character it had to become the paint-by-numbers story that is this issue.
Mikel Janin fans might find his work to be worth the trip — this issue does look gorgeous — but for me, the most thematically relevant sequence might be the final page:
That story has a lot of potential to be great, but all we can see is an imprecise mishmash.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?