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 The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade 1, Green Arrow 1, Green Lanterns 1, Justice League 51, New Suicide Squad 21, and Superman 1.
The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade 1
Drew: Say what you will about The Dark Knight Returns; at the very least, it was an original approach to a character who had been in continuous publication for over 45 years. I think that novelty warrants emphasis, as it might very well explain the more tepid reception of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, which lost some of that freshness in returning to the well. I suppose that’s a symptom of all sequels, but is particularly notable when the initial work was so praised for its originality. That’s not to say that originality is paramount — that previous 45 years was filled with generic-but-worthwhile Batman stories — just that the lack thereof might become distracting in situations where we’ve been conditioned to expect it.
Which I guess is my way of saying The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade 1 feels rather profoundly unoriginal. Not only is the setting and approach to the characters familiar, so is the specific situation of Jason Todd’s death. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s still plenty of time for writers Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello to subvert our assumptions of this story — a move that would effectively negate my reservations about this issue — but for now, it feels decidedly like a mashup between DKR and A Death in the Family. That doesn’t necessarily make the issue a failure — indeed, I found myself impressed at how elegantly the themes of those stories meld in this issue — but it weighs heavily enough in my mind to distort the reading experience.
But, like I said, I actually enjoyed this issue in spite of those distractions. Miller and Azzarello have added enough wrinkles to their plotting to keep the endgame a bit uncertain, and, as always, Azzarello’s wordplay is a pleasure to read. I may well come to eat my criticisms (or praise) of this issue — this is definitely a series that seems best understood as a whole. For now, there’s enough working to bring me back, which is really all a first issue needs to do.
Green Arrow 1
Spencer: I recently finished a killer book about the 80s independent music scene called Our Band Could Be Your Life, and one of the prominent themes throughout the book is the way money (or the promise of money) can corrupt even those with the best of intentions. This is most apparent when it comes to some of the independent record labels chronicled: labels like Seattle’s Sub Pop or Black Flag founder Greg Ginn’s legendary SST took pride in being more transparent and ethical than major labels, but eventually fell prey to the same kind of dishonest (or downright underhanded) dealings they were birthed to transcend in the first place. Dealing with money and trying to stay in business simply overrode their ethics.
Benjamin Percy and Otto Schmidt tackle a similar theme in Green Arrow 1 — much of the issue revolves around Green Arrow and Black Canary’s tiff over the way Oliver throws money around. Dinah views many of Oliver’s methods as straight-up bribery, and worries about how many of his relationships are defined by money, but Ollie emphasizes how much good his money facilitates.
Much like those record labels I mentioned a bit back, though, Ollie’s downfall comes, not from his intentions, but from the reality of obtaining the money he needs to keep those operations running. Oliver has little hand in the day-to-day running of Queen Industries, and that’s left the door wide open for his board to corrupt his company, using its funds to operate the very threats that Oliver, as Green Arrow, fights so valiantly against.
Does the good Ollie does with his money offset the bad? Is there any way Ollie can use his fortune as a force for good, or will money always find a way to corrupt even his best intentions? I love that Percy and Schmidt are asking these kind of hard questions, and that the answers don’t seem to be easy, or all that immediately forthcoming. Combine that with some charming character work and Schmidt’s typically excellent art, and you’ve got one compelling series. Green Arrow is off to a terrific start.
Green Lanterns 1
Mark: Here’s my dilemma with Green Lanterns 1: I really dig Sam Humphries’ taking cop genre tropes and mashing them up with comic book intergalactic police agencies like the Green Lantern Corps…but I don’t care at all about the plot he’s wrapping around it. There are some nice touches, like the murdered alien and pile of corpses, and his characterizatiions of Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz are continually great. But I’m have a really hard time mustering up a lot of enthusiasm for Atrocious and his Red Dawn nonsense.
Still, the good outweighs the meh. It’s a story we’ve seen a million times before (what happens when the odd couple *record scratch* become partners???), but given the fresh context it works.
Justice League 51
Michael: What an odd thing Justice League 51 is. With the end of Geoff Johns’ New 52 run, the dawn of Rebirth and the fact that it’s a flashback means it serves as an epilogue/prologue/reboot. The goings-on of DC editorial are fascinating and unfathomable to me. For some reason they decided that Justice League would not make it to their target goal of 52 issues in the face of Rebirth, but they also decided to let Dan Abnett’s Justice League 51 (which is sort of a Titans prelude) go through. The result is a surprisingly enjoyable final issue for the New 52 flagship.
Justice League 51 is bookended by a yet-to-be-revealed threat who by the issue’s end decides to strike at the heroes of Earth through Robin. Before all of that happens however, Abnett and Paul Pelletier treat us to a story that is young Dick Grayson’s introduction to the Justice League. Maybe it’s the whiff of Rebirth in the air, but I found myself enjoying the spirit of this issue; it was a Justice League that was a lot more jovial and positive than we had seen for the past 50 issues. Then again, the League would be a really shitty group of heroes if they just bullied Batman’s teenage sidekick the whole time.
I found Paul Pelletier to be a worthy successor of New 52 Aquaman artist Ivan Reis and he doesn’t disappoint here either. Pelletier’s approach to the League is more caricaturistic than Jim Lee’s “realistic” designs; and it works. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the further the Justice League gets from Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League book, the better. Overall Justice League 51 was an enjoyable issue that highlighted what hardcore DC fans already know: Dick Grayson is pretty damn cool.
New Suicide Squad 21
Patrick: There are a lot of things to not like about the members of Suicide Squad. For starters, they’re all horrible murders whose only semblance of loyalty steams from the threat of spine-explosion. But they are graphic, silly, and outrageous in a way that makes the reality of their crimes a lot easier to ignore. Writer Tim Seeley and artists Juan Ferreyra and Gus Vasquez refuse to rest on the surface level of either side of the spectrum, revealing both what is truly awful and what is genuinely humane about each one of their characters. Of course, this is all done against the backdrop of a anti-Christ-cult mega-murder-orgy.
What’s maybe the most remarkable thing is how many of these characters get that kind of thoughtful exploration, even as this Fist of Cain story comes to a close. I’m actually sorta hard-pressed to narrow down my analysis to any one of the characters. I love the brothers-in-arms relationship between Deathtrap and Deadshot, particularly how the sweetness of that friendship (and Deathtrap’s sacrifice) is made all the more scary and insane by Deathtrap literally tearing down a historical castle to build one giant gun. I love that dark beat at the end of the issue where Harley feels the need to comfort herself, but has promised Waller that she won’t talk to herself anymore, so she asks Deadshot to compliment her on her own behalf. That’s all genuinely sad and scary at the same time, giving a peek into what’s unnerving about their psychology, and not just what’s fun about it. El Diablo has to be the clearest example of this, and Seeley puts his redemption story at the heart of this issue. Ferreyra and Vasquez dutifully send him out in a glorious blaze, literally engulfing the panels with his final fire.
Ferreyra’s got the characters positioned in such classically compelling ways – check out how that first panel gives us a totally clear shot of both of their bodies, from a clear proscenium perspective. The camera gets close as the combatants do, and we’re even more focused on their faces. The sequence ends with a wide shot that goes for the symbolic representation of El Diablo’s victory rather than the physical. This is the kind of earnest ending a creative team can only give to a character they’ve taken the time to really understand.
Shane: I’ll admit, it feels a little weird to begin the first issue of a new Superman run — arguably the most inspirational and cheery hero in all of comics — in such a somber place as a graveyard. He isn’t Batman, after all. But the issue uses this setting to quickly cast off all the weirdness of this relaunch (with one reality’s Superman replacing the other) to instantly move forward into the new status quo. Sure, circumstances are what they are, but I can’t tell you how happy I was to see the double page spread of Clark opening his shirt to reveal the iconic S-shield. This is our Superman now, and he’s here for everyone. But this isn’t just an issue about him: in fact, the title’s first arc seems to be focusing more on his son, Jonathan. Peter Tomasi and Pat Gleason have tackled the son of a hero before in Batman and Robin, so they have a lot to live up to with this new title, but it’s clear they’re going to be handling it very differently. After all, Damian and Jonathan are very different characters: while Damian was self-assured and already established, Jonathan is new to his powers and heroic legacy, and doesn’t know quite where he stands. And while the creative team once enjoyed playing up Damian’s unlikely relation to the pets in his life, they seem to be taking a very different track in regards to Jonathan, as a terrible accident involving his powers results in tragedy for Goldie, the family pet.
Although his parents remain in the dark about what happened, Jonathan shares his shame and secret with an unlikely stranger, a young girl that has moved in at a nearby farm, which sets up all sorts of possibilities for the future, including a dynamic that Damian never really had the chance to experience in Tomasi’s run: having a friend his age. As the issue draws to a close, though, the stakes seem to drastically rise, with a couple of uninvited guests visiting the Kent farm:
Although DC’s Trinity is often shown as being particularly close, it’s clear that we’re going to soon see a different side of it, as to Batman and Wonder Woman, this isn’t their Superman, and although we’ll likely see most of that play out in the upcoming Trinity title, the art here reflects this new dynamic. Batman and Wonder Woman aren’t here to socialize, but rather to address what could be a real threat: the existence of not just an unknown Superman, but his suddenly-powered son. As arguments ensue, the issue closes leaving all sorts of questions for what is to come. What I find particularly intriguing about this issue is that, although this is ostensibly the main Superman title, it isn’t Superman who seems to be the main character, but rather Jonathan, and although I don’t know if that’s just for the issue, the arc, or long-term, I’m suddenly very glad for DC’s new double-shipping policy: the sooner the next issue, the better!
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?