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 and the Birds of Prey Rebirth 1, Batman 3, Hellblazer Rebirth 1, Green Arrow 3, and Superman 3.
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth 1
Mark: A lot of ink has been spilled discussing the redundant and sometimes slapdash efforts put into these Rebirth titles; most of the time there’s been precious little Rebirth and a lot of backstory. And while Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth 1 continues that trend, it also has the other Rebirth issues’ problem: it just isn’t very fun.
That’s partly out of writers Julie and Shawna Benson’s control, as I don’t doubt there’s a mandate to summarize the origins of every featured character, but basically half of the issue is spent exclusively on Barbara’s origin story. Throw in a couple more pages to explain ex-Spyral Matron Helena Bertinelli taking up the mantle of “Huntress,” and you’ve basically run out of room for anything fun or exciting to happen. Hell, the main cover of the issue is the Birds of Prey in a yelling match. The dream is real!
Here’s what I’m interested to know: these Rebirth relaunches have predictably increased DC’s sales, but are the folks snatching up #1’s lapsed DC readers enticed by the promise of familiar faces or is it bringing brand new readers into the DC fold? Based on no information, my gut is that the majority are lapsed DC readers. For them, the promise of seeing their old favorites back might be enough of a hook. But beyond that niche group of readers, I have a hard time seeing BatBoPR make a compelling case for shelling out another $2.99 to see the story really begins.
Spencer: The themes Tom King explores in Batman 3 are incredibly on-the-nose, but that doesn’t make them any less compelling. Gotham (the superhero) takes the “I Am Gotham!” mantra quite literally; like his father, he believes that, while growing up in Gotham can be difficult and dangerous, surviving it only makes you stronger. Hugo Strange, meanwhile, delivers a nearly symmetrical counterpoint; to him, those who grow up in Gotham strive to live down to their home, and that’s something he’ll no longer abide. Of course, recruiting the Psycho Pirate and killing people immediately invalidates Strange’s arguments, but the idea of how our environments affect our development is a compelling one regardless.
Fortunately, that idea is more than just an idealogical exercise; it’s also a challenge to a core part of Batman’s very existence. After all, he himself grew strong because of the gauntlet Gotham City ran him through, and while he fights to spare others the same fate, he also helps Gotham’s victims turn their fear and pain into strengths; Gotham and Gotham Girl (who, thus far, are genuinely idealistic and selfless) are proof enough that his methods work. Strange’s attack on the city — and specifically on Gotham and Gotham Girl — threatens to undermine Batman’s entire modus operandi, and that’s a scary thought indeed.
On the art side of the spectrum, these past three issues may just be the best work of David Finch’s career. The inks and colors of the incomparable Danny Miki and Jordie Bellaire are a perfect compliment to Finch’s pencils: they highlight his bold characters and staging while cutting away the sometimes overwhelming shadows and “griminess” of his past work. I’m particularly fond of the following scene:
I love the way Bellaire cuts between the actual colors of the alley when focusing on Hank and the more abstract, heightened shade of yellow whenever the panel cuts to a violent (or potentially violent) moment. Finch maintains a tense pace throughout the entire sequence, and the somewhat exaggerated figure of the mugger (his fist is as big as Mrs. Clover’s head in panel 3!) works wonders to sell the threat he presents. As someone who never really “got” Finch’s work in the past, I’m thrilled to finally be able to embrace it. Batman 3 is a fine spotlight for each and every member of the creative team.
Hellblazer Rebirth 1
Patrick: I’m on-board with Bugs Bunny’s attitude right up to the point where he turns the to camera and rhetorically asks “ain’t I a stinker?” He is, of course, “a stinker,” but that’s a judgement I’d just as soon come to on my own. When Bugs self-identifies as anarchic, what he’s really doing is articulating his own brand — and I can’t think of a less anarchic phrase than “articulating his own brand.” This is something that always gets fucked up for dangerous characters — the creatives will eventually get too excited and show their hand, insisting that Bart’s cool because he’s an under-achiever and proud of it. Simon Oliver’s take on John Constantine, the titular Hellblazer, walks the line between acceptably-detached-cool-guy and sociopath, before turning directly to the reader and asking us if “it looks like [he] gives a shit?” Since you’re asking, John: not really.
The story here revolves around Johnny’s return to London after a force-holiday kept him grounded in New York. Returning to London means confronting the demon that placed a curse on him and reversing said curse. Of course, Constantine can’t simply reverse the curse, but he can turn it inside-out, making everyone in the city of London supernaturally sick. This draws Mercury — a psychic — out of hiding. She arrives on the scene at the last-minute and gives John the one thing he needs to beat the curse entirely; the demon’s name. I can’t quite figure out why this whole rouse is necessary. Mercury feels John’s presence from the moment he sets foot in the country, and is already on her way to meet him before the curse goes sideways. Also, who the fuck is Mercury? If I was supposed to be able to play along with this mystery, I certainly didn’t have enough information to get excited when she showed up on the scene.
I think that’s actually where I find this issue most frustrating. Even though Oliver and artist Moritat take care to flash back to John’s original cursing and some of his time in New York, we still don’t really have enough information about the past to make the present meaningful. And there’s no way to argue that the team was hurting for space – there’s a two page cameo from Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman and Shazam which answers the question “why aren’t the other superheroes doing anything?” But that’s a question I wasn’t asking, and never want to have to ask while reading a solo title.
Green Arrow 3
Spencer: Oliver Queen uses money as a tool. Perhaps even more than his trusty bow and arrow, money is the first solution he turns to when looking to solve a problem. Need a henchman on your side? Pay him more than his boss. Need some information from the cops? Pay them off. Nobody can say that Ollie isn’t generous and selfless with his money, but the point Benjamin Percy seems to be making in Green Arrow 3 is that money is rarely the best tool to use in such a situation.
In fact, money is actively evil throughout this issue, from the more metaphorical example of the cover to the quite literal fact that this arc’s main villain is a bank that finances supervillains. In previous issues Ollie’s argued that his use of money is only helpful, but this week finds almost every one of his examples refuted: the company that finances his crusade is in cahoots with the Ninth Circle, his money can’t buy the loyalty of the goon down at the docks (though at least he only squeals to Black Canary), and his “bribes” to the cops have put him in their crosshairs. I don’t believe that money is inherently good or evil, but in Percy’s world, relying on it always seems to lead to disaster; it’s a corrupting influence on all those around it.
All those, that is, except for Oliver Queen. Ollie may not always use his money in the smartest way, but his soul remains pure despite his great wealth; while almost every other character in this issue cares about money more than anything else, Emiko rightly points out that what Ollie cares about most is people. That may put him at a disadvantage for the moment, but it’s also what makes him a hero.
Juan Ferreyra handles art and colors this week, and the result is dazzling. I love the way Ferreyra plays with angles and directions in his layout — an elevator literally carries the narrative up the page at one point, while at other times entire panels slant to follow the path of Ollie’s arrows (with even Nate Piekos’ letters and narration boxes slanting at the same angle). Ferreyra’s use of perspective is also uniquely captivating.
We’re so close to Ollie here that his bow and arrow actually seem to distort as a result! It’s an effect that’s practically 3-D, and it’s a moment that won’t be easily forgotten.
Shane: Yikes. Jon Kent is REALLY not good with pets, is he?
With this issue highly featuring The Eradicator, a former villain/antihero of the old continuity, I was pretty excited going in — he was one of my favorite characters of the old Superman universe, mostly due to his awesome design, but Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason seems to be taking a bit of a different approach in this new universe, one maybe a little more aligned with some movie sensibilities. Still, it works, and maintains the character’s primary concept: to protect the Kryptonian heritage at all costs, a focus that has put the character at odds with Superman many times in the past, and continues to do so now. As Superman and Lois bring an injured Jon to the Fortress of Solitude, they find the Eradicator and your stereotypical “two characters meet, they battle, and then stop when they realize it’s all just a big misunderstanding and they’re actually on the same side” events occur…only for Tomasi and Gleason to sort of subvert that trope when it’s revealed that, oh, yeah, maybe the characters aren’t actually going to get along, after all. The Eradicator is totally down to protect Kryptonian life, but only after he ingests the human side of Superman’s son to purify him.
You can imagine that Superman isn’t thrilled at the idea of this guy literally eating part of his son’s DNA, and he’s not the only one leaping to protect Jon: Krypto, newly returned in this issue, jumps to the defense of the new Superboy, and in a scene both horrifying and comical, things end poorly. That image is all over the Internet at this point, though, and it’s the following sequence that really stood with me, as Superman completely goes nuts on the Eradicator.
Tomasi, Gleason, and artist Jorge Jiminez take a “less is more” approach to the beatdown, keeping our eyes off the brutality so that we can focus once again on Jon’s emotional journey, while still using sound effects to reinforce just exactly what’s happening off-panel. Between Krypto’s sacrifice and his father’s savage assault on the Eradicator, plus the events of the past few issues, I can’t help but feel that maybe Jon won’t be the most well-adjusted Superboy to ever exist, and that’s saying something.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?