Today, Michael and Drew are discussing Trinity 1, originally released September 21st, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Michael: This might be considered controversial but I like my superheroes to be friends. Superheroes fighting each other is a time-honored tradition dating back to the golden age, but we have taken that to the extreme in the modern day. The past year has given us Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War on the big screen and Marvel’s Civil War II is still on the shelves at comic shops. When characters have lived side by side with one another for 50+ years however, their personal relationships are far more interesting than their super smash battles. Enter Francis Manapul’s Trinity, whose purpose seems to be reuniting the three greatest heroes that DC has to offer and once again make them the greatest friends that DC has to offer as well.
Last week, I wrote about the wonderful simplicity of Sam Humphries’ Green Lanterns 7, an issue focused on Jessica Cruz helping her GL partner Simon Baz make the perfect batch of cookies for his mother. Trinity 1 has that same kind of humble appeal: Lois has invited Batman and Wonder Woman over for dinner with her family. There’s no larger-than-life threat that they team up to battle nor is there any looming evil that they must plan to defeat — just dinner. In a way, it’s kind of shocking how little action there is in this series’ debut issue. Barring Jon’s accidental heat vision blasting Bruce off of the front porch there is pretty much zero action. The Rebirth line has been a success overall, but Trinity 1 stands out as really trying to make good on Rebirth’s promise of getting back to basics.
I have a feeling that Lois Lane Kent (Smith?) will eventually become a greater part of the DCU, but until then she’s relegated to a supporting cast member of Superman’s home life — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By assigning Lois the role of narrator in Trinity 1, Manapul gives her this air of wisdom that elevates her above our three great heroes — she’s the reason they’re all meeting, after all. Lois reminds us that, while we have our old Superman back, he has become a little overprotective in this bold new world. As such, Lois is there to cover any potential blind spots that Clark might have — ya know, like trusting his partners.
Grant Morrison taught me to embrace the silly parts of Batman’s history, so I of course was a big fan of the scene where Clark recollected the story of the Rainbow Batman costume. Manapul provides us with a loud flashback to silver age Batman and Robin — short pants and all. Since it’s showcasing the rainbow batsuit the emphasis is of course on the colors of this panel. Look closely and you can see the 4 Color Process/spot coloring — the granular detail associated with comic books of that time. It’s as if Clark can picture those memories in that same, cheap paper detail.
I think what I enjoy most about this scene is that it is unapologetic. First and foremost, Manapul is explicitly unapologetic for bringing up one the more oddball adventures in Batman’s history. More to the point, however: both Manapul and Clark are unapologetic about talking to Bruce about an old adventure that he wasn’t actually a part of. Sometimes the specifics of the “old Superman juxtaposed in New 52 land” are interesting to the story but they can also be a chore with the “My Superman” or “The Superman I knew” lines. What I dig about this is that reboots and alternate Earths be damned, Batman is Batman and will always be Batman — we don’ need to sweat the small stuff of continuity. I like that we are leaning hard into the idea of “Superman being everyone’s dad” as well. Clark’s little Rainbow Batman story reminds me of how your Grandpa will call you by the wrong name every once in a while and you’re polite not to correct him because you get his point. Superman doesn’t have Alzheimer’s or anything, but it’s the same general idea — we don’t need to pick apart all of the minutiae. (He says after he wrote about 200 words picking apart the minutiae.) I just really liked this scene!
That said. I’ll zoom out a bit — I think the characterization of Trinity is on point. Manapul balances the levels of Batman’s apprehension and rare optimism well — same with Wonder Woman’s levels of wisdom and fish-out-of-waterness. I remember the one note joke of New 52 Wonder Woman was “She’s like Thor! She doesn’t know what ice cream is and she loves to fight!” Manapul throws a little bit of that in with the boar she brought to dinner — wild boar — but also gives her character dimension with her interactions with Lois. Some writers make Batman a little too much of an untrusting asshole for my tastes. Manapul gives him some of that skepticism here but appeals to one of his less prominent skills — being a father. I just want Superman and Batman to be BFFS again you guys!
Drew, did you fancy this issue like I did? How about those character splash pages for our super trio? I like that Batman and Wonder Woman have to travel in costume for dinner parties. Did you like how uninterested Manapul was in the plot of Jon’s magic beans he bought? He and I have the same priorities in super friends, methinks.
Drew: Are they magic beans, or is it some kind of magical plant food? The top of the bag says “magic grow,” which I guess sounds enough like “miracle-gro” to assume the latter. In any event, I can’t imagine a farm as big as the Kents’ distributing fertilizer or seeds by hand — Jonathan is under explicit instructions to not use his superpowers, so he wouldn’t have been able to cover even a single acre in one afternoon, let alone have enough time to stop for ice cream. Jon’s actions don’t make a ton of sense, but because it’s what’s necessary to put this issue in motion — something that I think could be said of the issue as a whole.
Take, as you mention, the fact that Bruce and Diana arrive right on the farm in costume. It’s understandable that Manapul would want to introduce these characters in their platonic form — this is about the pairing of these three icons, after all — but it’s also established as kind of a dick move on Bruce and Diana’s part. Note the precautions Clark takes so that nobody associates Superman with the family farm.
Whatever security Clark achieves by taking this particular route home is totally undermined by having Batman and Wonder Woman show up on his doorstep. Or, I guess they don’t “show up on his doorstep” so much as “arrive on his property, disappear, and reemerge as Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince,” which could have even worse repercussions if anyone is watching via satellite, which Clark is clearly concerned about.
I realize that’s a petty complaint, so it may be that I’m simply reacting to the missed storytelling opportunities in the other in-costume introductions. Superman gets this interesting character beat about the lengths he goes to protect his family’s identity, but all we get for Wonder Woman and Batman is the revelation that they arrived by planes (invisible- and bat-, respectively). All of which tells me that this may not have been the most interesting moment to open with. Starting earlier could have shown these characters in action, and built a mystery around Lois’ plan (or at least given her the character beat of tracking down/contacting Batman and Wonder Woman), and starting later could have emphasized their values as they talk around the dinner table (though maybe without ever showing them in-costume). Instead, we get this strange compromise that can’t be said to have any narrative purpose beyond showing these characters in their costumes.
I hate to dwell on this particular choice, but I fear it’s indicative of this series’ attitude towards these characters. Starting earlier or later might have illustrated what these characters do or what they think, but instead, starting at this moment of strange obligation illustrates simply that they are DC’s most iconic superheroes. That is, this series isn’t so much about the way these personalities bounce off one another or the tactical value in them teaming-up; it’s first and foremost about putting them in the same comic together. We may all understand that that probably is the point from a marketing perspective, but I’d like the comic to at least try to convince me that there’s a narrative value to it, as well.
To Manapul’s credit, I’m sure that this opening arc will explicate why Superman needs Batman and Wonder Woman (and vice versa), but it’s strange that they were brought together before that need was established. We’re told at length about the importance of their friendship, but we’re never really shown it, which is strange, given that this issue is written and drawn by one of the most innovative visual storytellers working in comics today. Manapul’s prior work affords him a great deal of latitude in my book, but this issue suggests that he’s going to need more of that goodwill before we really get anywhere.
I hate to say it, but I think the problems of this issue may come down to weakness in writing. This issue is both over- and under-written, giving over huge swaths of the narrative to captions and talking heads, never fully taking advantage of Manapul’s artwork. The most dazzling pages here amount to little more than pinups, allowing Manapul’s knack for layouts and compelling narrative sequences to fall by the wayside. Manapul the writer is failing to play to the strengths of Manapul the artist, which is a cardinal sin for any writer, even if they happen to be one-in-the-same. To be clear, it’s not that I need more “action”; I just need more visual ways to communicate who these characters are and what it is that they value. I know Manapul can do it — he does it in the sequence I highlighted above — but he doesn’t do it nearly enough in this issue. It should be one of this series’ strengths, but so far, it seems like it’s its greatest weakness.
I know I’m coming off as really down on this issue, but I have to acknowledge that at least some of that may be that I had unreasonably high expectations for this series. Manapul has long been one of my favorite artists, and a series with DC’s three biggest heroes seems like a home run. The flaws I see in this issue may amount to little more than typical first-issue roughness and I really hope that’s all they are. I certainly know Manapul is capable of more than we’re getting here. I suspect the next issue will feature more obvious opportunities for compelling visual sequences, though I may also need to adjust my expectations before then.
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