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 Action Comics 959, Detective Comics 936, The Flash 2, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps Rebirth 1, New Superman 1, and Nightwing Rebirth 1.
Action Comics 959
Shane: Doomsday’s famous 1992 battle with Superman is the stuff of legends and, for better or worse, helped to define that decade in comics. Revisiting that storyline at the launch of DC Rebirth is an ambitious move, and some parts of Action Comics 959 had me a little worried: there are a LOT of direct callbacks to the original storyline. I’m all about representing an earlier story for new readers, but some of the panels in this issue are direct replications of classic scenes from the original — which is a cool throwback for those of us that grew up on “The Death of Superman”, but almost at times feels as if writer Dan Jurgens might be trying too hard to revisit his most famous work.
I say “almost”, though, because despite some gratuitous callbacks, the story not only has enough new moving parts (the mystery of Clark Kent takes yet another turn!), but the context changes as we see the battle from the eyes of Lois and Clark’s young son, Jon. He doesn’t know why Doomsday is such a big deal, why his father battles so ferociously, and why his mother is so terrified…but he’s able to read between the lines a little bit. The scenes with him and Lois, where she tries to reassure him without lying to him, are powerful.
Sometimes, too, the callbacks to the original are done in interesting ways, including the trick with the gas line at the end of the issue: once upon a time, it was Maxima who pulled up a gas line, causing an accidental explosion, but here, it’s Doomsday, and it’s intentional. There have already been some small hints that perhaps this is the original Doomsday…could the monster have learned from past encounters? There’s obviously some mystery happening here, and with the mysterious hooded figure in play it’s connected to the central Rebirth storyline. I highly doubt DC will kill off another Superman so soon, but outside of that, this storyline is starting to feel like anything can happen.
Detective Comics 936
Michael: I’d wager that no one would be more pleasantly surprised by the quality and authenticity of Rebirth’s Detective Comics than yours truly. While I enjoy Detective Comics 936 overall, there is one thing in particular that really left me disappointed – more on that later. Heroes typically have to rise to the occasion sooner than they planned and the Batwoman-led team is no exception (methinks they need a team name) — Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan, Clayface, and Batwoman do their best to mobilize and defend their HQ from the militarized forces of the Batman-inspired organization The Colony.
James Tynion IV and Alvaro Martinez open the book with something that most of us have been waiting for since DC gave Batwoman her own ongoing series: the reunion of Kate Kane and Renee Montoya. While this brief scene was just a tease, it gave us a glimpse into the pathos of Kate Kane via Renee. This simultaneously propels Kate’s story forward while affirming that her relationship with Montoya was significant enough for Montoya to be able to read Kate like a book. This scene, plus dynamic displays of superhero action like Clayface’s team-encompassing “play ball” form, make this a fun read.
Detective Comics 936 leaves a bad taste in my mouth, however, due to its treatment of Kate’s father, Colonel Jacob Kane. The Colonel is revealed to be the force behind The Colony and begs his daughter to join their army. This…just…no. No no no no no. This felt like a complete disservice to a wonderfully complex father/daughter dynamic and turns Colonel Kane into yet another nut who thinks he can do a better job than Batman. I could rant and rave for longer about this but I’ve already exceeded my word limit. Tone deaf characterization.
The Flash 2
Spencer: When Mark Waid introduced the Speed Force back in the mid 90s, it immediately caught his readers’ imaginations — it was an inspired plot element that not only explained away some of the wonkier elements of super-speed as a power, but united DC’s many disparate speedsters around a central power source/mythological anchor. Personally, I feel that the Speed Force is most effective in this state, as an abstract idea, and the more writers dig into it — examining how it works, how was it created, if it’s sentient, what its rules are — the less compelling it is. Joshua Williamson and Carmine Di Giandomenico’s story in The Flash 2 dances around these ideas, but never loses me the way other Speed Force stories so quite often do.
Why? It all comes down to focus: while Barry may wonder if the Speed Force is granting his wishes, the narrative doesn’t spend much time on that idea at all. Instead, Williamson and Di Giandomenico are more interested in how their characters intend to use the Speed Force, and what the effects of more characters suddenly gaining access to it are. The Flash wants to share the Speed Force, and relishes the idea of teaching others to use its power (Williamson characterizes Barry as a real “dad” here, and I am all about that), but Dr. Carver seems to want to steal the Speed Force’s power for himself (he also believes the Flash is “hogging” its power, likely projecting a bit).
It’s a classic case of selfishness vs. selflessness, but their conflict will no doubt be complicated by Central City’s hoard of new speedsters. Most prominent amongst them is August Heart, who doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with Barry about their abilities, no matter how much he admires and respects him.
Not only will these new speedsters put Barry’s skill as a teacher and mentor to the test, but the ways each speedster ends up using their new abilities will no doubt eventually support either the Flash’s or Carver’s view of things. The Speed Force is still at the center of this story, but it’s not what this story is about — that’s using the Speed Force in the way it was originally intended, and it makes for a strong, exciting story.
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps Rebirth 1
Patrick: I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a time when the Green Lantern writers aren’t — in some way — responding to Geoff Johns’ blockbuster run with the character from 2004 to 2013. It’s a run that simultaneously defined the man’s career, as well as the franchise’s mythology: characters, ancient powers, rules, exceptions – Johns built them all patiently and thoroughly. No strangers to this expansive mythology, writer Robert Venditti and artist Ethan Van Sciver use Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps Rebirth 1 (or, “HJ&tGLCR1” as I’ve been calling it around the office) to celebrate the infinite possibilities that come from dismantling Johns’ masterwork. It’s a thrilling preamble that promises a strong new identity for both Hal Jordan and the series as a whole.
A lot of this issues takes place in a weird combination of Hal’s memory and some kind of physical representation of Hal’s influence on the rest of the Universe. Van Sciver — who’s most famous for rendering hordes of Green Lanterns in exacting detail — refreshingly embraces the abstraction. At one point, Hal swings his gauntlet-generated pick-ax, seemingly re-forging everyone and everything connected to the emotional spectrum, and Van Sciver draws that construct hammer into every panel as we check in all round the galaxy. The weight of the Krakooom even knocks those panels off their orderly grid.
But probably the most exciting sequence is Sinestro on
Oa Warworld, where Venditti and Van Sciver work overtime to sell just how hugely devastating it is that the Sinestro Corps have taken over. Here’s my favorite page, which uses the bigness of the world in conjunction with the height of the page to convey just how low Sinestro is sinking in this scene.
The reader’s eye has to travel from the top of the page to the bottom three times, and we’re constantly seeing the physical steps Sinestro is taking, uniting his experience with ours. (And the hell-like imagery of Warworld is no coincidence – Venditti and Van Sciver appear to be seeding a Sinestro-makes-a-deal-with-the-devil-aka-Parallax story here.)
New Super-Man 1
Mark: New Super-Man 1 should have been the poster child for the muddled DC YOU initiative. As a fairly transparent attempt to capture some of Marvel’s shine for their own, DC YOU was ostensibly all about making DC’s stable of characters a more realistic reflection of the real world. Marvel has done this by increasing the ethnic and gender diversity of their main players (Sexuality? Well…maybe some day). DC never figured out how to do that without risking the wrath that would come with changing their iconic characters. Instead, they tried increasing the diversity of the creative teams working on their straight, mostly white male, characters.
In hindsight, Gene Luen Yang was an awkward fit for Superman, and his run on the title was pretty much a mess, but I’m glad he’s in the DC stable because so far New Super-Man is a home run. Removed from the baggage of (poor) legacy decisions, Yang is free to create an appealing main character in Kong Kenan. And the promise of being able to flesh out the story’s setting, Shanghai, as more than just a pitstop on Batman’s latest world tour is exciting.
My hope is that for, at the very least, a few issues, Yang and his editors will be able to resist the temptation to have DC’s Trinity pop in to say hello unless the story really calls for it. I’d love to see this new, original corner of the DC universe have a chance to develop on its own before it’s inevitably swallowed by the suffocating embrace of tie-ins and universe-wide continuity.
Nightwing Rebirth 1
Mark: Like most of DC’s Rebirth books, Nightwing Rebirth 1 spends little time moving forward, preferring to wrap up loose ends from the end of Grayson and quietly setting the stage for Nightwing moving forward. Having previously helped steer Grayson for most of its run, writer Tim Seeley obviously has a strong grasp on what makes Dick Grayson tick, but the issue never comes together in a particularly satisfying manner.
The difficulty is two-fold. First, and most superficially, I have a hard time embracing Yanick Paquette’s character designs. In costume everyone looks pretty good. But out of costume? Well, Dick and Damian trend a bit too Bruce Campbell-y (or Jay Leno-y) for my tastes.
(Also, big oops on Damian’s word balloon pushing outside the panel here.)
But mostly I’m finding it difficult to get very excited about the looming Parliament of Owls. The “Owls” at this point are basically Freddy Krueger: initially frightening, but any threat they posed in the past has been thoroughly watered down thanks to overexposure. And like many Hollywood sequels, the formula here feels similarly familiar — “It’s the Court of Owls you loved before, only bigger. And this time, the threat is global!”
Still, one good thing has already come from the Parliament’s presence: Lincoln March is dead. Though he started out as an interesting idea, March was another character rendered uninteresting by his overexposure. Dead is never dead in comic books, so fans of March can begin the countdown to his next appearance, but for now it’s nice to know, in at least this one way, Nightwing won’t be beholden to Batman’s past.
Now let us pray for more Midnighter across the DC line in the near future. If he keeps popping up in cameos like the one he has here, I will be forever content. Amen.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?
I’m generally a big time Yanick Paquette fan but his typical brilliant layout work seemed to absent from this issue; In fact a lot of these one-shots seem a bit phoned in and unnecessary and the creative teams seem to be giving it the Zero Month/Villains Month/Futures End Month phone-in treatment.
Nicola Scott inking herself in Wonder Women #2 is gorgeous though, and the parallel storytelling between Diana and Steve is a thing to behold in the issue. Rucka For President. With Liam Sharp inking himself, and now Yanick Paquette inking himself, this is something I’m falling in love with during Rebirth. Joe Kubert would have been very proud of this trend. They’re still producing one book of art each month per artist under the bi-weekly schedule, so I’m not sure where they’re getting the extra time, but I truly hope this isn’t a temporary thing.
I was really disappointed by Action Comics this week; it just seemed so inconsequential, and I don’t feel like we have moved since last issue at all. Superman is still fighting Doomsday, he’s still wary about Lex, Lois and John are still fretting about what they’re seeing on TV. It feels like everything is jogging in place. I suppose there could be something to be said about this approach–its drawn out nature could be reflective of how Superman feels during the battle–but it’s not working for me. The original Doomsday fight in the 90s was drawn out, but at least that was because it was building up to the death of Superman. Here it feels like a bunch of sound and fury leading to nothing.
This is only tangentially related, but I am really loving everything about Greg Ruka’s work on Wonder Woman, both on and off the page.
Word came out today that Frank Cho quit his contract to draw variant covers for Wonder Woman because of editorial influence from Ruka, who was objecting to some of the more pin-up aspects of the art.
People are certainly welcome to enjoy cheesecake versions of their favorite characters, but I appreciate Ruka taking a stand. Cho’s sexualized art is not a good fit with Ruka’s take on the character.
I blame my phone keyboard!
I hadn’t heard that, but it’s very interesting. Good on Rucka. I know there’s a place for pin-up culture in comics, but I think Wonder Woman’s probably too important a character to treat that way.
Yeah. Good on Rucka.
I have always had issues with Wonder Woman from a feminist perspective, but I know that Rucka is truly passionate about Wonder Woman from that same perspective, and I appreciate that he is taking such a strong stance. In fact, I also believe he used his position to make sure that Eddie Berganza no longer edited Wonder Woman, an important success (even though, from my understanding, the only reason Rucka is doing Wonder Woman is that the woman offered the book refused because they didn’t want to work with Eddie Berganza)
Hopefully Rucka’s strong stance can help make things better in a meaningful way.
When I feel like playing a more casual game, I enjoy the LEGO games. Which means lately that I’ve been playing LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. Which has been honestly interesting to play in many ways.
It is easy to forget that superheroes are kids characters. That isn’t to say that it is wrong that we read and enjoy them, but it is an important thing to remember. And something that the comics industry can forget. While I’d happily give a kid an issue of Mighty Thor, things like the Vision or Batman are often either too advanced or too mature for a kid. I mean, between Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition and the astonishingly poorly animated Killing Joke (I honestly can’t believe how little care has seemingly been placed into this), we have two R rated comics movies. With all of that, it is important to pay attention to superhero stories for kids, to remember the roots. And considering the dire state of superhero animated shows since Young Justice was cancelled, the LEGO games are a good place to go for them.
And LEGO Batman 3 does a lot of good stuff. It is a Justice League story, but a Justice League story rooted by Batman and Robin, giving the game the epic scale of a Justice League story as well as a very simple relationship to act as the core. It also gives the game a focus LEGO Marvel didn’t have, which tried to be as broad as possible. The other advantage of being a ‘Batman game’ is that it allows the scale to rise so well (especially considering the LEGO games, which are ultimately puzzle games, have managed to find a way to do set pieces so much better than so many other video games). The story begins with Batman and Robin chasing Killer Croc through the sewers, a perfect starting point that allows, as the story continues, to get bigger and bigger, turning from another night in Gotham to a Legion of Doom story to an alien invasion to a intergalactic adventure. The transitions aren’t always natural – not enough is done with the Legion of Doom to make the transition from them to Brainiac feel natural, and unfortunately the story kind of just ends when the Justice League stop the alien invasion, with the intergalactic adventure part basically involving the collection of Lanterns from the Lantern Corps instead of a real plot. But alongside all that is a pretty decent emotional story about Batman suppressing his feeling. The writers actually cleverly use the Green Lantern mythos throughout the game to give Batman an arc where he has to admit the importance of emotions. Simple stuff, but the perfect sort of arc for a kid’s superhero story. Batman admits he can’t just bury his emotions, that he is allowed to feel fear, when the people he cares about are in danger.
There are a range of issues I could discuss, considering the state of video games storytelling, but the only real storytelling issue of important, I think, is the Joker. Being a kid’s game, the Joker can’t be who he is in the comics. Which means, of course, that they have a Joker who plays more towards the trickster/joke side. Unfortunately, it makes the Joker feel a bit harmless. Lex Luthor works perfectly, with all the pettiness and arrogance he usually has making him the perfect adversary to Superman, but nothing sells the idea of the Joker as Batman’s archenemy. Batman TAS was truly successful with its Joker, but only by being surprisingly mature. It is a shame, however, that we are in a state where he can’t think up kid friendly Joker that works. That can have the humour and the jokes and the general kid friendliness but feels right as Batman’s arch enemy, instead of Lex Luthor’s comic relief.
The other big thing to discuss about LEGO Batman is the aesthetics. LEGO Marvel stole its aesthetics from the MCU, which unfortunately isn’t particularly aesthetically interesting outside of Guardians of the Galaxy. But LEGO Batman uses the Burton movies as a major influence, as well as really taking advantage of the fictional nature of Gotham etc. It is amazing to fight in the Gotham sewers, or Poison Ivy’s greenhouse, or along the outside of the Watchtower or the Lantern planets. Even the level that takes place in real cities looks great, thanks to the fact that plot conspires to make the level feel like you are fighting Brainiac in LEGOland. Combined with scores from the Batman and Superman movies, and you have a fantastic aesthetic. It is hard to think of a time that Gotham ever looked better.
And yet, there is one major problem, stemming from the very first LEGO Batman game, before they introduced the rest of the DC Universe. Stuck with a struggle between the LEGO mechanics and the need to keep the DC Universe down to just Batman, they created this system of suits where Batman and Robin constantly change outfits. Now, the idea of Batman having specialised suits isn’t a new idea. It has been a long trope that Batman has special gear designed for specific circumstances. But the appearance of those suits are usually a big deal. He doesn’t change into them on the fly, but instead makes the specific choice wear them for the specialised circumstance. Swapping between a space suit, a dive suit, a sonar suit and an explosive suit in the same mission doesn’t feel like Batman – especially when the mechanics give no incentive to be the real Batman – even stealth and detective vision are treated as part of a different suit. And while they do their best to keep Batman looking similar to Batman, it still feels wrong. You don’t feel like Batman. Especially when you play as a character like Spoiler, or seems to have everything Batman should have. And it doesn’t help that Robin’s different suits have no aesthetic cohesion. The only character it really works with is Cyborg, who as a character feels like he should be to some degree modular. But Batman, Robin, the Joker and to a smaller degree Lex Luthor feel wrong as the suit system in no way fits how the character is supposed to work. In a game that puts effort into making every character feel like they should,the fact that Batman feels wrong in a Batman game is truly astonishing and sad.
Bit of a weird post for this site, but I felt it was interesting to look at how something like this is adapted. And it has honestly been interesting playing. There is a lot to the aesthetics of Gotham etc worth remembering in future discussions here
Shelby and I played a lot of Lego Batman 2 when it came out a couple years ago, and I was similarly un-impressed with Batman and Robin constantly changing suits. Like, it just seemed weird – especially when there are so many other character that you can turn in to, making a costume change seem trivial by comparison. I was also deeply confused by the dynamic split screen (which I believe they’ve cleaned up in subsequent games). I haven’t picked up the game at all since we stopped playing it together.
On a similar Lego-games-with-Retcon-Punch-writers note, Taylor was in town recently and we picked up Lego Star Wars the Force Awakens, which was fucking great. The game does a really fun job of making a meal out of every little beat of that movie (and the end of Jedi, for some reason). I still think the Lego aesthetic is probably best paired with Star Wars – there’s just enough silliness and wild imagination built into the core of Star Wars that it barely even feels like there’s a second IP strapped to it. That’s one of the things that bothered me about Lego Batman or Lego Marvel – those games do meld different aesthetics together, but it just feels like they need to work a little harder to do so.
It sounds like such a nitpicky criticism, but the joy is that the characters feel true. So the fact that Batman feels so wrong to play is such a bad choice. It is forgivable in the first game, as I understand wanting to avoid explaining who Nightwing, Spoiler, Azrael and Oracle are, but the moment you add Superman and the Justice League, they really should have asked if they need the suit system.
I haven’t played LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens, but I saw a video of it that came out of E3, and impressed by the subtle innovation given to the level design. I saw that fight to reach the Falcon while escaping Jakku, where instead of just shooting everyone, you solved the encounter through achieving a series of objectives and just thought that was so much more interesting than shooting everyone. Combine that with the effortless switching to vehicle sections made me feel that it was one of the best action adventure levels I had see.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the new LEGO Star Wars is, post LEGO Marvel and LEGO Batman. Superheroes have been a fantastic way to get LEGO to broaden there array of powers. I feel trying to catch an entire universe of superheroes is too unwieldy (there is a reason I praised Secret Wars and Civil War II for keeping the focus very tight on their main characters, and praised LEGO Batman 3 for focusing on Batman and Robin even in the middle of a Justice League story). But I think a LEGO Star Wars with some of those new mechanics (which apparently the Force Awakens has) could get that balance right. Looking forward to picking it up. Again, everything I saw in the E3 video got that sense of adventure and wild imagination perfect
I’m trying to avoid commenting too much on Rebirth because while I see all sorts of pages, I don’t know the full context. And while I do disagree with some of the choices I’ve heard about Detective Comics (having Tim and Stephanie suddenly in a long term relationship with no build up is the exact sort of short cutting and entitlement shit I was decrying), it seems to rightfully be one of the gems of Rebirth (even more so than Batman, a book being written by a guy who shits masterpieces and seems to have landed with no one really caring). But making Kate’s father a villain is so wrongheaded.
It is easy to reduce Kate Kane to just her status as a lesbian, but there is so much that makes her interesting. She is a wonderful character because of all her complexities, including her relationship with her father – a constant highlight of Rucka’s original run. It was new and unique. Now it has been removed for the most simplistic twist
What makes superheroes great is their differences. The fact that they aren’t the same. A big reason I oppose Rebirth is the focus on removing those differences. And Detective Comics seems to be continuing that tradition.
I was considering giving Rebirth a second chance and letting people recommend me specific titles – though I still struggle to care enough to even open a Rebirth issue.
After reading this round up? Don’t know why I should give them a second chance
The reason I’m giving Rebirth a chance is because DC said, “We’re going to try new things and one of the new things we’re trying is hitting the $2.99 price point (until we decide to go back up),” and I appreciate that. You want me to try something new? Only three bucks? (less 25%! Thanks Excalibur in Portland!) I’m in!
And some of the stories are pretty good! Superman and Action I think are both really good, and I have no idea when the last time that occurred.
Haven’t DC been at the $2.99 forever? They sometimes have select books at $3.99, but those usually have backups. But $2.99 is not a new thing for DC.
And I honestly struggle to see anything new in Rebirth. Even ignoring the fact that DC Rebirth is an intentional step back from DC You, which was an actual attempt at creating something new, so much of DC Rebirth feels like it is about going backwards. About returning to old ideas that we had moved on from (usually because they don’t work in the current context). I mean, DC have literally killed a Superman just so they can bring back an older Superman, instead of just writing Superman better. And that’s ignoring really stupid shit like having Black Canary as Green Arrow’s girlfriend again, undoing decades of work spent fixing Black Canary. Even DC Rebirth’s promise of optimism is questionable after, apparently, killing Krypto and having Kate’s father be revealed to be evil.
Everything I see coming out of Rebirth is a step backwards. It is DC reaffirming their commitment to irrelevance. It is about seeing companies like Marvel and Image drinking from the oasis ahead, and instead choosing to go back to the poisoned well behind them. I want a new idea, and Rebirth has made very clear it doesn’t want anything new.
Everything I’ve seen about DC Rebirth seems to be about either purging interesting differences or returning to status quos for the sole reason of ‘that is what it used to be’. That’s not the DC I was enjoying, even the books weren’t good. The DC I want to read was the DC that was trying to be interesting with things like Demon Knights, Sword of Sorcery or Omega (even when those experiment weren’t great, like We Are Robin!), or the DC taking characters like Batman and doing interesting, modern things like Scott Snyder’s Batman. Now, it seems like every single book exists to go backwards. To be nothing more than fanservice, instead of actually caring about interesting.
There is more than enough ‘good’ comics, that I don’t need DC. So I’ll stick with the people interested in being interesting. So far, DC Rebirth insists on being the exact opposite. And I don’t want a DC going backwards