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 All-Star Batman 3, Doom Patrol 2, Gotham Academy Second Semester 2, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 6, New Super-Man 4, Supergirl 2, and Wonder Woman 8. Also, we’ll be discussing Detective Comics 942 on Monday, so come back for that! As always, this article containers SPOILERS.
All-Star Batman 3
Michael: By rights Scott Snyder could do whatever he wanted to do with Batman. I think the fact that he’s no longer writing the main Batman title has allowed himself to tell a different brand of Bat-story in All-Star Batman. Case in point: the “title cards” that he’s used as a means of levity and exposition throughout the series. In All-Star Batman 3 the humor of these subtitles is taken to a new level as Snyder details the overwhelming strength, preparation and weaponry that KG Beast has while on the next page Batman simply has “Bat Knuckles.” I suppose Snyder basically uses the same joke of “kickass/witty punchline” every issue but dammit does it work for me.
Batman is a bloodied mess in All-Star Batman 3 – it’s the first time we actually see his desperation versus cool confidence. It’s a dual testament to the ferocity of KG Beast and Batman’s compassion for human life; specifically Two-Face’s, whom he calls “Harvey” for the first time in this series. Duality is of course the name of the game with Two-Face, as Snyder bookends the issue with Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne respectively seeing the world in very different ways: first as boys, then as men.
I get the feeling that John Romita Jr. is a Batman fan. He’s not cutting corners with his art, as there’s a great amount of detail in his characters that I’ve never seen before from him. Credit must also be given to colorist Dean White, who continues to give us a sun-drenched Batman tale that doesn’t even make us blink. In conclusion: Harold Allnut.
Doom Patrol 2
Drew: One of my pet peeves in comedy is the straight man vacuum — every character is so off-the-wall that no expectations can be established long enough to be thwarted, undermining one of the essential ingredients of comedy. It had never occurred to me how important expectations were to non-comedic narratives, but then again, I don’t think I’ve ever read a non-comedic narrative that so gleefully avoids establishing expectations as Doom Patrol. It’s slightly less embarrassing to read than watching a sketch performed by mugging twenty-somethings that all think their characters need a funny accent for some reason, but only slightly.
Let’s just look at the title page, as an example:
What can we glean about the world from this image? It’s a world that apparently has street-side Russian nesting doll stands and where people might carry boxes of live snakes or wear red jumpsuits under leather dusters. Are these things normal in this world, or just the quirkiest things Gerard Way and Nick Derington could come up with? We have no way of knowing. The world is made to not resemble ours, but seemingly for the sake of doing so. These details add texture without giving us any meaning for that texture, feeling for all the world like a misplaced foreign accent.
I want to be clear: I can deal with weirdness. I know how to be patient with stories, waiting for whatever context is needed to clarify my initial confusion. BUT, there needs to be something to actually make me want to do that. Maybe its a fondness for the characters or the creators, maybe it’s some confidence that it will be worth it in the end, or maybe it’s just some intriguing hook that I just have to find out more about. Unfortunately, this issue doesn’t have any of that, so my patience is quickly wearing out. There’s no clear sense of cause and effect or what any of the events depicted mean to the characters, so it’s all but impossible for me to be invested. Are robots with human brains normal in this world? Are exploding roommates? Without any cues in the narrative, I lose any sense of grounding, and no longer have any expectations of what could or should happen — it reads less like a story and more like a series of random pictures and words. That’s not quite enough to bring me back for another issue.
Gotham Academy Second Semester 2
Taylor: Gotham Academy has always been about the mood it sets. Regardless of what’s happening to Olive, Maps, and the rest of crew, the thing that really keeps me coming back issue after is issue the way it makes me feel when I read it. The second issue of Gotham Academy Second Semester may be sunnier than its predecessors, but it maintains the same broody atmosphere that has become the hallmark of this series.
While Olive spends more time with Amy, Maps is left to her own wiles. It doesn’t take long before she stumbles upon a new mystery that needs solving in the form of missing Academy students. Go figure. Most of this action takes place during the daytime, which is a big change for a series that prides itself on being dark and moody. However, colorist Serge LaPointe is up for the task. He wonderfully imbues the daytime scenes of this issue with washes of sunshine that feel so real I can practically feel the slow warmth radiating from the pages.
While I like this, LaPointe’s true mastery is in his ability to color dark scenes in a way that is vibrant and enchanting. The last page of issue is a wonderful example of this.
Despite the page being mostly a mix of dark blues, purples, and browns, the color pops from the page. This at once makes the page look realistic, yet magical and animated. Combined this creates a mix that is simply gorgeous to look at. In addition, the way LaPointe uses shading to give volume to the characters adds to the realism of the page without sacrificing an abundance of contour lines and the like. Lastly, those candles burning a bright orange at the top of page form an excellent counterpoint to the rest of the page. Not only does it brighten up an otherwise dark page, but the fade from bright orange to cool blue is mesmerizing. It’s spreads like this that not only set the mood, but set the high expectations that keep me hooked to this series.
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 6
Patrick: After side-lining the titular Jordan for the last three issues, HJ&tCLC 7 finally starts to deliver on the kind of dangerous heroism for which the Greatest Green Lantern is known. He storms Warworld, single-handedly manning an entire squadron of construct-fighter-jets, and couldn’t be more fist-bumpingly awesome. Artist Rafa Sandoval plays the action for everything it’s worth, constantly hinting at the shape of the Green Lantern logo in his more heroic layouts without ever being obvious about it.
That shape is built into to all the moments where Jordan is really kicking ass – two long bars on opposites sides of a rounded focal point.
Writer Robert Venditti has been carefully setting up Sinestro to be the opposite of Hal Jordan, and not just in the shallow “fear is the opposite of will” kind of way. If there’s anything that Hal represents in this issue, it’s impulse, while Sinestro is careful and prepared. Consider the action that Sinestro actually takes in this issue: the whole time Hal’s out taking down his Warworld, Sinestro meditates. All the while, his power level rises, eventually transforming him into the Parallax version of Sinestro. The closer he gets to this transformation, the more often Sandoval interrupts Hal’s neat little symbols in favor of more chaotic layouts. Hal’s mastery of both the page and the battlefield is called into question simultaneously. It’s a pretty cool trick, and I love seeing Lantern characters expressed visually beyond obvious uses of color.
(One gripe I will continue to have about Green Lantern comics — probably forever — is that I really hate seeing a ring’s charge percentage. That’s always where the comics start to feel like I’m playing D&D. I am never concerned with a character’s “stats,” and I resent the implication that we need to see numbers getting bigger to understand that someone is getting stronger. If Sinestro is becoming more in-tune with fear, there has to be a better way to illustrate that than giving him a lot of MP. I’d love to hear other people weigh in on this – it’s just always felt like weak-ass storytelling to me.)
New Super-Man 4
Mark: We’ve talked a lot on Retcon Punch about the greatness of Superman; the strength of Kal-El has always come from his inherent goodness, not his rainbow vision or whatever new power he’s gifted with every few years. Kenan Kong, in contrast, is kind of a bully. He has the powers of Superman, but none of his greatness.
The “reveal” that Kenan’s Dad is an influential member of the Freedom Fighters of China, an ostensibly evil organization, is not a very interesting cliffhanger on its face, since his alter-ego has been telegraphed for at least a few issues. But the revelation ultimately works because just a few pages earlier Kenan’s Dad—as Flying Dragon General—called his son to the carpet for his lack of ideals. This Super-Man has no moral identity behind the costume; he’s merely a snotty kid with too much physical power. The fallout from that confrontation is more interesting than the mechanizations of the overall plot, where Gene Luen Yang seems to have all but played his hand for this first arc (the Ministry is evil, Kenan will grow a soul).
But as with most stories that are content with riffing on familiar tropes, the pleasure of reading New Super-Man is in the details, like Folding Paper Man crawling out of Ghost Woman’s mouth being lovingly rendered by artist Viktor Bogdanovic.
And the greatest strength of New Super-Man continues to be its sense of humor. At least, I assume Human Firecracker’s ULTIMATE WEAPON being revealed as a…starfish of some sort…is being played for laughs…
Ryan M.: Supergirl 2 is a mid-arc story that advances two plot lines with varied levels of success. First, there is the story of her enemy who may be the reincarnated spirit of her father and may have rebuilt her home off-world and also brought the spirit of her mother along to live in the new version of Argo City. Oh, and Kara may be up for an internship with Cat Grant.
The second of these plots feels so insignificant compared to the first that the time spent on it feels wasteful. This is partly because Kara is such a timid character. She isn’t willing to say what she wants and even when given a chance to speak, after Cat’s rambling mission statement, she fumbles her response. Being well-spoken and confident are not prerequisites to being an engaging character, but it is hard to know how I’m supposed to feel about what’s happening. At points, the art and writing seemed to be in direct contradiction with one another.
We start with Kara being surprised to see Ben, when she (and an entire auditorium) saw him get invited to this meeting. In the second panel, Ben has an almost bashful pose. His eyes are downcast and a smile plays on his lips. Meanwhile, the dialogue takes him on an emotional arc, from begrudgingly complimenting Kara, to getting defensive over her jab, to revealing that his motivations are about defiance. Who is this guy? I have no idea what his real motivations are and I know that Kara doesn’t like him, but I can’t tell whether I am supposed to agree. The Supergirl story line has clear stakes and may be exposition-heavy, but Steve Orlando and Brian Ching give me a reason to be invested.
Wonder Woman 8
Spencer: Barbara Minerva has been one of the most prominent characters in Greg Rucka’s current Wonder Woman run — sometimes even more prominent than Wonder Woman herself, especially in the odd-numbered issues. It’s no surprise, then, that Rucka and guest artist Bilquis Evely devote Wonder Woman 8 to exploring Minerva’s past. This gives us a peek, not just at Barbara’s brilliance, but at the qualities that have made her such a beloved friend to Wonder Woman.
Barbara’s been obsessed with learning about, and eventually discovering, the Amazons her entire life. From her father to her superiors to even her co-workers, many nay-sayers have doubted Barbara and tried to dissuade her, but it only fuels her drive. Barbara’s faith and determination are admirable, and considering the odds she faces, quickly won me over. I want to see Barbara succeed, even knowing the disastrous future her success will eventually entail.
Evely’s art plays a big part in that. Her attention to detail throughout the entire issue is astounding — I especially love the contrast of the disheveled young Barbara to her proper, perfectly coiffed father and teacher — but she especially excels at imbuing her characters with feeling. Just check this shot of Barbara as she finally makes it to the Amazons’ former home.
There’s just so much emotion packed into Barbara’s expression — she’s absolutely overwhelmed with joy, but with wonder as well. She looks like she almost can’t handle it. That’s just so endearing, and again, Barbara’s victory makes my heart swell even despite the fact that I know it just brings her one step closer to the tragedy that is the Cheetah.
Between Barbara’s indefatigable determination and the divine intervention that points her in the right direction, this issue almost seems to be suggesting that the Amazons and the Cheetah may just be Barbara’s destiny. That’s a pretty cruddy fate for poor Barbara, but I’m curious as to what else the future holds in store for Barbara, especially now that she and Wonder Woman are on good terms again. Rucka and Evely sneak a few more signs and clues into this issue as well — the tree that’s been haunting young Diana in the even-numbered issues shows up twice, for example — meaning that this issue isn’t just about the past: it’s about the future as well.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?