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 964, Batgirl 3, Detective Comics 941, The Flash 7 and Hellblazer 2. Also, we’ll be discussing Wonder Woman 7 on Friday and Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 5 on Wednesday so come back for those! As always, this article containers SPOILERS.
Action Comics 964
Mark: The key to sustaining a central mystery in serialized storytelling is to drop occasional bits of information along the way so that the audience feels like they are gaining some knowledge, even if big picture questions remain unanswered. I know I’m not alone on this site in my undying love for the television show LOST, and one of the things showrunners Damon Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse got right for so much of that show was knowing how to tease the audience with answers, even when the “answers” just raised more questions.
Part of my frustration with Dan Jurgens current run on Action Comics is the lack of forward movement. This issue reveals that the Other Clark Kent isn’t lying about who he is, but I guess I’m still not sure why Superman is so thrown by this other Clark Kent. After all, this Superman is himself from a totally different reality. Adding in yet another mystery in the form of the shadowy figure sporting a Superman Red baseball cap (who is pretty clearly another Clark/Superman analog) feels a bit unfair at the moment.
I’m also not quite sure what to make of the split-screen happening towards the end of the issue as we read Other Clark Kent’s article—aka Jurgen’s casual dragging of New 52 Superman—paired with Superman showing Lois and Jon a new rocket escape tunnel.
The two moments don’t seem to have any connection, and while we should maybe start counting down the moments until Chekhov’s Escape Tunnel is fired, it feels like a complete non sequitur.
Drew: I would say that I’m a mystery fan, but there’s a special place in my heart for stories where the mystery is never clearly articulated. That is, all mysteries find the characters (and the audience) trying to parse who committed the crime in question and why, but some also make the very nature of the crime mysterious. Blue Velvet is a classic example; Kyle MacLachlan’s character is slowly pulled into the dark underbelly of his hometown when he discovers a severed ear — think how differently it would be shaped if he had simply found a corpse at the beginning of the film. Keeping the very premise of a narrative hidden from the audience is a risky move in any narrative, but it takes extra daring in a serialized format, where a disengaged reader has every opportunity to stop reading. That’s not to say such a mystery couldn’t work in comics — indeed, Hope Larson and Rafael Albuquerque seem to be deploying one beautifully in Batgirl — just that it means there will be several issues where exactly what’s going on won’t be all that clear. Babs is starting to put the pieces together in issue 3, but there are still plenty of holes to be filled in.
By the end of the issue, Babs has figured out how to counter an attack that decked her the first time around, follows one of Kai’s attackers to Seoul, and pieces together that Kai is transporting valuable bacteria in his body, but what that bacteria is or who would want it remain a mystery. Which is to say, whatever is at stake here is a mystery. Or, rather, we know the stakes include Kai’s safety, but we don’t know why. I suspect that particular mystery may frustrate some readers, but the volume of clues Babs follows up on here gives me confidence that we’ll find out soon enough. Larson allows Babs to piece things together in a number of different ways, including using her eidetic memory to recall a fight she has nor short-term memory of.
The use of thought balloons gives those thoughts more immediacy than captions could, keeping us in-the-moment, even when the plot can feel a bit shaggy. Of course, Larson also reveals how important that shagginess might be — it turns out Kai’s “food poisoning” in issue 1 was actually an important clue all along. This series is clearly going somewhere, I just hope the audience hangs on long enough to find out where.
Detective Comics 941
Michael: As Patrick and Spencer noted in their coverage of Parts 1 and 2 of “Night of the Monster Men,” this particular crossover feels a little more cohesive than past crossovers. However since it is still a crossover we get characters and storylines from each book bleeding over into one another. Consequently some of my misgivings of a certain Gotham Girl in the pages of Batman gets transplanted here. A decent amount of the focus of Detective Comics 941 is given to Gotham Girl’s fury of fear as she rips apart monsters in Blackgate Penitentiary in front of Nightwing.
Andy McDonald makes this sequence delightfully gruesome – a superhero sending guts flying every which way reminded me of the days when I read Invincible. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great scene with a wonderful build up but it only makes me even more skeptical of the loose cannon Gotham Girl and Batman’s faith in her. Sorry gang!
I think that if “Night of the Monster Men” has proven anything it’s that Batwoman needs to have her own batcycle full time. Seeing her whip around with her red hair in tandem with her cape riding the wind is my new favorite Batwoman visual. Steve Orlando keeps Batman on the sidelines for most of Detective Comics 941 which keeps the team spirit of the book that James Tynion IV put in place since Rebirth began. Overall I’m a little lukewarm to “Night of the Monster Men”, but I do enjoy the noise monsters make when you rip their entrails apart: “SPLORACH!”
The Flash 7
Spencer: One of the most prominent threads running throughout Joshua Williamson and Carmine Di Giandomenico’s run on The Flash has been how much Barry misses having a partner. Barry Allen thrives when he has someone working at his side, and for a while it looked like the new batch of speedsters could fill that role. With Meena’s death and August’s betrayal, though, it seems as if his dream is dead. If Barry’s dream is to have partners, than his wanting to be alone is almost certainly him hitting rock bottom.
That’s where (the new) Wally West fits in. August betrayed everything Barry stood for and used their shared power against him, but Wally learned from Barry, as did Avery and the rest of the new speedsters. They show Barry that he’s not a failure, that the Flash can still inspire others, that he’s not an outdated hero, no matter what Godspeed claims. Barry isn’t the failure; August is. He gained great power and sought to hoard it for himself, killing others in the process, while the new speedsters are willing to give up their power if it will give Barry a chance to save lives.
In the end, the Flash is vindicated, not by simple morality, but by the way he lifts people up instead of tearing them down, and that’s a powerful sentiment to put out there.
Patrick: John Constantine is a little bit like Batman – he’s frequently only successful because he’s so well prepared. But while Bruce’s preparation is the result of decades of virtuous study and sacrifice, Constantine’s knowledge come with a much less savory experiences. That’s part of the reason writer Simon Oliver and artist Moritat spend so much of Hellblazer 2 dwelling on a totally un-seen past – not just of JC, but of Mercury and Swamp Thing as well.
The first three pages are a really primer for this obsession with the past. They’re also the only pages we’re not following Constantine around London. Instead we’re back at Mercury’s farm getting the low-down on what Swamp Thing needs from his new psychic friend. There’s a lot of Swampy history packed in there, and I was suddenly relieved to be so familiar with the New 52 Swamp Thing. Whatever’s going to happen next is steeped in the mythology surrounding Abby Arcane and her role as the avatar of The Rot. Oliver does and admirable job of trying to catch new readers (or, just not readers of Swamp Thing) up on all of these details, but it’s Mortitat that succeeds in catching readers up the aesthetic of that run on Swamp Thing, affecting his finest Yanick Paquette with floral ornaments and a haunting mix of colors.
When we moved back to John Constantine, I started to get worried that I’d be missing similar callbacks to his 300+ issues of Hellblazing adventures, where I would be much more in the dark. And maybe the references are there, but it all plays like very mysterious nods to a past we’re not supposed to know. Like, I sorta doubt that any long-time JC fan knows why he’s placing a bet on Boris Johnson’s Knob or who Clarice’s boss is. But all of the pieces of this mythological soup are fortified and legitimized by the pieces that do add up. There’s also a moment later in the issue where Constantine drops some knowledge about an old Catholic pub that doubled as a chapel, and that’s a sliver of actual history – further legitimizing the web of personal history he finds himself stuck in.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?