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 935, The Flash 1 and Wonder Woman 1.
Detective Comics 935
Patrick: Batman’s the quintessential expert – fighter, detective, leader, interrogator, driver, mechanic, chemist, electrician, master of disguise. Part of the reason we’re so into that level of expertise is that we don’t have to endure the frankly illogical amount of training Bruce went through to become the master of all things. Yeah, yeah, sure: we can flash back to some trial of a young, globetrotting Bruce Wayne, but that is only a sampling of what would have to be hundreds of thousands of hours of practice. All we really need to know is that, in the end, Batman’s going to have the skills to handle whatever’s thrown his way. Detective Comics 935 effectively reintroduces the idea that expertise isn’t automatic by presenting the flaws and short-comings of the individuals in Batwoman’s team and holding them up to the immaculate perfection that his Batman.
As with most stories that involve a hand full of Gotham heroes, this issue is concerned with characters living up the the impossible legacy of Bruce Wayne. We’re introduced to the team as they train in the
Danger Room Mud Room, which is simulating a multi-Joker riot in Gotham. It’s kind of an insane premise to be simulating, but it’s not at all unlike the End Game story arc from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, and ultimately not that dissimilar from gangs of Jokers in stories like Batman Beyond or Dark Knight Returns. A regular Batman reader has neural pathways with “Multiple Jokers” spraypainted on them already, and those appear to be Batman Only lanes. It’s no wonder that this group struggles to overcome the same foe. They all complain about it, of course – it’s unrealistic to think that just because Batman is capable of something that anyone else would be capable of the same thing.
Whether or not that’s something the creative team also feels, would only be conjecture on my part. Both James Tynion IV and Eddy Barrows have been Batman-adjacent for so long, that the move to Detective Comics (especially with that intimidating re-claiming of the old numbering) must come with a lot of baggage. Tynion’s writing is more focused that usual, bringing a clarity and specificity to each member of this sprawling cast. We spend time with seven superheroes and three of their support cast (Alfred, Jacob Kane, and Dr. Leslie Thompkins) and each of them has a distinct and compelling personality. It’s rewarding to see Tynion’s skills, honed through the uneven Batman and Robin Eternal and his own excellent The Woods, coming to bear on a series as high-profile as Detective Comics. On that same note, Barrows’ work on this issue looks like a career-high for him, blending dynamic (if non-revolutionary) layouts and simple, clear storytelling. I love the Barrows-ism of dropping a single un-inked image on to a page – he does it three times in this issue, always to show Red Robin’s vulnerability.
The softer edges not only look fucking awesome, but they sell what Tim is experiencing – and that’s about all you can ever ask in a comic book.
The Flash 1
Spencer: It’s something I hadn’t really thought about until discussing the Flash Rebirth special from two weeks ago, but the post-Flashpoint incarnation of Barry Allen is a rather isolated character. It’s not that he doesn’t have a supporting cast, it’s just that there aren’t many characters he can discuss both aspects of his dual life with (other than his father, who just returned to his life, the only confidant Barry’s had was Patty Spivot, who left when Barry’s being the Flash became too much for her to handle). In that sense, the return of the original Wally West may be less about the whole “Watchmen” plot (at least for now), and more about reminding Barry Allen of the joys of working with a partner.
It’s certainly something that’s on Barry’s mind throughout The Flash 1. Writer Joshua Williamson makes that explicit through Barry’s internal monologue early in the issue, where he reminisces about missing having a partner, but it’s also subtext throughout literally the entire rest of the issue. Iris points out how Barry needs someone to vent to, but he doesn’t have anyone who knows all the aspects of his life to open up to. Meanwhile, the primary dilemma of the issue is Barry’s anxiety about not being able to save enough people as the Flash — he literally dreams of being in two places at once at one point, which he could do if Wally was at his side again.
In typical “first issue of a run” fashion, Williamson introduces a new character named August Heart (great name!), who has apparently been close to Barry for years; he’s just been standing off-panel the past 52 issues. By the end of the issue, Heart’s gained super speed himself thanks to another lightning strike, setting him up as the perfect partner to fill the hole in Barry’s life. The only problem? We’ve also got the new Wally West waiting in the wings (who reminds us of his own newly gained super speed by finishing his science project “quick”), who is destined to become the new Kid Flash. That bit of foreknowledge makes Heart’s role in this story suddenly look a lot more uncertain. Could Barry’s desire for a partner cause him to trust the wrong people? It’s a distinct possibility.
Artists Carmine Di Giandomenico (on pencils and inks) and Ivan Plasencia (on colors) continue to provide strong work this month. I’m especially fond of the spread that simultaneously follows Barry’s evacuation of a burning building and the Black Hole’s attack on Heart.
The ways Di Giandomenico and Plasencia differentiate between these two different scenes are ingenious. The Flash’s panels are jagged, emphasizing his speed and motion, and bathed in the bright, attention-catching red and orange hues of the fire, while the Black Hole’s panels are more square and standard, bathed in the cooler shades of the night, a stark contrast to Barry’s panels. It’s immediately apparent that these are two different scenes, and distinctly clear which scene you’re looking at in any given panel. That’s just smart storytelling.
The Flash 1 gives me a much clearer picture of what Williamson, Di Giandomenico, and Plasencia have planned for their run than the Rebirth special, and so far I like what I’m seeing.
Wonder Woman 1
Drew: Feminist history — the study of history through the lens of feminism (not the history of feminism) — is a complicated minefield. History is full of women who overcame immense obstacles to become notable figures, but their stories are always tinged with the knowledge that their male counterparts wielded more power, received more accolades, and just generally succeeded more easily. That is, feminist history is as much about oppression as it is about people who overcome it, charting a cycle of oppression that is downright depressing. There’s hope that the future represents a liberation from that cycle, but until then, every woman we know (personally and historically) fights against that oppression just to stay afloat.
Wonder Woman is a particularly complicated figure in feminist history. She’s undoubtedly a feminist figure — exactly what creator William Moulton Marston intended — but one whose history has almost as many regrettable moments as laudable ones. Her earliest adventures, tinged with essentialism and a remarkable amount of bondage, seem more a reflection of Marston’s fixations than an earnest attempt at equality. Throughout her 75-year history, she’s been similarly (though thankfully, not exclusively) written and drawn by men who simply don’t “get” feminism, reducing her to ditzy eye candy, or worse. Point is, while I definitely agree that Wonder Woman is (and should be) a feminist figure, there’s a lot of her history that is decidedly less-than-feminist, which is why Greg Rucka and Liam Sharp’s open acknowledgement of her complicated and contradictory history is such a smart move.
To my eye, it feels a bit like Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s approach — not in tone or content, necessarily, but in the approach to Diana’s history. That is, a stronger feminist message can be found by “changing” the past, picking and choosing some elements of her history, while adding new ones to bolster that reading. Rucka and Sharp may ultimately use this approach to erase Azzarello and Chiang’s changes seems likely, but the fact that they’re effectively the same act is notable. To me, it’s the act of changing that history — or, questioning the act of historymaking itself — that is what made Azzarello and Chaing’s run so deeply feminist, so to see that torch carried on (even at the expense of the specific changes) feels like a win. Rucka and Sharp may be incorporating more of Diana’s history, but you can bet they’re going to be questioning every piece of it.
The implications of that are far-reaching, but manifest themselves in interesting ways in this issue. Diana can’t find Themyscira — she’s literally lost her way home. Her history is going to be her identity, and with so much of that history in flux at the moment, she doesn’t know where she belongs. It drives her to seek out Cheetah, a character that never appeared in Azzarello and Chiang’s run, a sure sign that Rucka and Sharp’s answers lie somewhere else. That feeling is echoed in the reintroductions of Etta Candy and Steve Trevor — two more figures who (more or less) never appeared in Azzarello and Chiang’s Wonder Woman. Of course, they’re not quite the same characters from before the New 52, either.
Whatever history Rucka and Sharp settle on, it seems it won’t quite be one we’ve seen before (at least, not exactly). That uncertainty can be a scary prospect, but as feminist history teaches us, the future might just free us from the problems of the past. Here’s hoping.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?