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 Green Arrow 10, Midnighter and Apollo 2, Nightwing 8, Shade the Changing Girl 2, and Superman 10. Also, we discussed Green Lanterns 10 on Thursday, and will be discussing Batman 10 on Tuesday, so come back for those! As always, this article containers SPOILERS.
Green Arrow 10
Michael: Nothing beats a good old fashioned train caper: there’s only two directions to run, which means the characters and creators have to get creative with their limited surroundings. Green Arrow 10 continues Benjamin Percy’s Rebirth tale for Oliver Queen with the first part of “Murder on the Empire Express” – great title by the way. As it has been the case lately Dinah, Diggle and Ollie are separated from one another and face their own individual challenges. I love how much fun Green Arrow has under Percy’s direction, we even got a boxing glove arrow in this issue!
While Oliver played his Scooby Doo shadow games, Dinah found herself front and center with the elite passengers of the train. This was a great use of her new fame as a singer, combined with Black Canary’s habit of just being awesome overall. Which of course brings me to the showstopper page of the book:
After Dinah discovers that her would-be date has been poisoned she tries to warn the rest of the guests not to drink the champagne – as if she is that committed to her cover or forgot who she was – until she does what she does best. What a great canary cry from Juan E. Ferreyra: the way the vibrations are placed makes it look like the cry is coming from both Dinah and her close-up that intersects with her. Ferreyra is the Green Arrow artist for me: he does the creepy bits that Percy’s scripts tend to feature and throws in plenty of fun action.
Midnighter and Apollo 2
Mark: With Midnighter and Apollo, it’s exciting to watch Steve Orlando and Fernando Blanco continue to carve out and develop a small portion of the DC universe populated by fleshed out queer characters. After his brief cameo in the first issue, Extrano plays a larger role here, delivering the mystic weirdness we never knew we were missing from a Midnighter title. How perfectly timed to make us all realize how straight and basic Stephen Strange looks by comparison.
Whether Neron is also a friend of Dorothy, in addition to being a demon, is a cliffhanger left for a future issue.
The competing tendencies of Blanco’s art are on high display this issue. Midnighter’s thrilling escape to the surface through Bendix’s gauntlet of traps is muddled a little by a admirably complex, but visually confusing spread.
Still, readers have come to expect mind-bending layouts in a Midnighter book, and I love the ambition of Blanco’s art. At the climax of the issue, Apollo’s attempted ascent through the darkness of hell past menacing, shadowed arachnoid shapes, is in equal parts beautifully rendered and skin-crawlingly creepy.
In case it’s not clear, I love this book.
My one hope for upcoming issues is to see more queer people of color included in its pages. Acknowledging that Orlando and Blanco’s hands are somewhat tied by existing DC canon, the opportunity they have been given to redefine and deepen the characterization of DC’s forgotten back-of-the-closet gays is powerful. It’s an admittedly unfair burden to foist onto any one creative team, but the cynic in me is worried the good times can only last for so long. With Midnighter and Apollo, DC’s queer men are experiencing a rare moment in the spotlight. How great would it be to see everyone invited to the party before the lights get turned back off?
Spencer: The other day I rewatched The Dark Knight Rises for the first time in a few years, and while it was great to be reminded of the fact that Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is, and will always be, the best thing ever, I was also reminded of how disappointing Bane’s master plan ultimately ended up being. Ending up as Talia’s lackey was deflating for Bane’s character, but for me the bigger blow was that Bane’s cries of revolution were nothing more than misdirection. That’s a problem that continues to plague superhero stories tackling social issues; they’re problems the heroes can’t solve with fisticuffs, so they tend to be shunted aside without resolution or revealed as some sort of ruse or feint.
This certainly describes my disappointment with Nightwing 8. Raptor spends much of the issue ranting to Bruce and Dick about his problems with the rich and powerful of the world and his own experiences as one of the neglected and mistreated, but ultimately Dick — and writer Tim Seeley — reduces his rage to nothing more than fanatical, misguided love for Mary Grayson (nee Lloyd) and his grief over not being able to protect her. In some ways I like that Seeley trusts the audience enough to come to their own conclusions about Raptor’s grievances — especially the ones relating to Bruce raising Dick and making him Robin — but by ditching them three-quarters of the way through the issue, Seeley mostly just seems to be saying that they were never worth considering in the first place. I’ll admit that this rubs me the wrong way — there’s quite a bit of interesting material that could be gleaned from Dick’s Romani background or the idea that becoming one of Gotham’s elite could strip him of his former culture or even from Mary’s wild past, but they’re ultimately brushed aside for a far more pat conflict and resolution.
That said, there’s two elements of this issue that stood out to me as especially strong. The first is the colors of Chris Sotomayor. I love his more eclectic choices (the hot pink background as Nightwing knees Raptor in the face, for example), yet his simpler choices work just as well. There’s a warm nature to the shade of orange Sotomayor bathes Raptor’s flashbacks in that fully characterizes Raptor’s love and nostalgia towards Mary, and he returns to that shade on the final page as Bruce and Dick reunite, helping to emphasize their reconciliation. Sotomayor’s most striking work, though, comes when Nightwing rescues Bruce.
Because of the stark black background, the bright patches just pop off the page, and the orange of the crane and the blue on Nightwing’s chest look like they were applied directly by Sotomayor himself (instead of filling in Javier Fernandez’s pencils), which is an especially eye-catching technique. The spotlight even manages to focus on the page’s vanishing point and where Bruce fell from, emphasizing the page’s action and the danger Bruce was in.
The other moment I love is the final one, when Bruce reveals that he didn’t fall from the platform; he jumped because he knew Dick would catch him. This recalls the best moment of Kyle Higgins’ Nightwing run: the idea that for Dick, being a hero is about catching people when they fall. Bruce’s trust in Dick here is a fine resolution to their conflict throughout this storyline, but this moment is more important for how it recalls the mode in which Dick works best as a character. Nightwing’s been particularly angsty throughout this run; I hope this signals a return to his lighter, more inspirational side.
Shade the Changing Girl 2
Drew: Being a teen is hard. It’s easy to dismiss that difficulty because they have relatively few responsibilities, but that ignores the dramatic changes that are going on in their bodies, both physically and chemically. I used to work for an academic summer program for high school students, and we spent days talking about how teens’ brains are different from adults’ — a developing pre-frontal cortex and a sudden uptick in hormones means they’re driven by emotions in a very real way, even as they pride themselves on logical thought. In my opinion, very few writers get teens right for that very reason; they’re treated as miniature adults, or completely illogical children, possibly because either of those stereotypes is easier for adults to understand. With Shade, the Changing Girl, writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Marley Zarcone manage to have their cake and eat it too, capturing the chaos of a teen brain while giving us an “adult” narrator to comment on just how strange it really is.
There are overt commentaries, like Loma commenting on the weirdness of her human body (and how its changing), but I’m more intrigued at Loma’s relationship to Megan’s memories. Loma largely doesn’t have access to those memories, so is mostly driven by Megan’s emotional responses. Of course, Loma has a completely different perspective, so confuses those emotions, mistaking the comfort Megan took in tormenting Cupcake as a sign of friendship. Physical contact helps jog some real memories, revealing just how monstrous Megan was, and forcing Loma to confront the fact that the emotions she’s feeling are those of a monster.
Which brings me to the most interesting theme: identity. High School is a time when teens “try on” new identities, so to the outside world, Megan insisting that everyone now call her “Shade” doesn’t seem that odd. Obviously, the notion of identity is much slipperier here. While I’ve called the character “Loma” and the body “Megan” thus far, it’s clear that neither is acting quite as they would independently. It’s Loma’s consciousness, sure, but its inputs are filtered through Megan’s emotions and memories, creating an entirely new person — one we might reasonably call “Shade.” This issue represents the first time Loma has really confronted how difficult cohabiting with another person’s emotions will be, or the fact that she’s going to have to live with the person Megan was. Teens may be driven by their emotions to do things they regret, but they still have to live with the repercussions. If Castellucci and Zarcone’s exploration of that idea is even a fraction as complex and messy as this issue, this series is going to be something truly special.
Patrick: Genuine artistic ownership is so rare when it comes to the characters in DC and Marvel comics. But some writers and artists have such complete mastery over a character that their right to shape and express that character should go totally unchallenged. With Grant Morrison having hung up his green domino mask and R badge years ago, Patrick Gleason and Peter Tomasi have become the unquestioned stewards of Damian Wayne, and while their work on Superman has been great, there’s nothing quite like watching them come home to Robin.
Damian’s personality looms LARGE over this issue — it’s sort hard for it not too — but Gleason and Tomasi are still careful to keep a very Superman-type of wonder, cheer and hope at the heart of this thing. That’s doubly true of the first eight pages, which find Jon slipping between a wholesome story about school bullying and unexplainable sci-fi visions of a psychotropic moose. Even when the Damian-adjacent details start showing up — like Nobody or Goliath — they’re bright, fun and colorful. I’ve really got to tip my virtual hat to colorist John Kalisz, who even makes a point to give the spooky forest a lighter color palette and this point in the story.
That bubble gum aesthetic VANISHES when everyone’s favorite motherfucker shows up.
The colors are so much more heavy and dark in Damian’s hideout, asserting this little sonofabitch’s personality instantly and aggressively.
Which, of course, is perfect. Damian’s inherent distrust / fear / disdain for Jon is hilarious, insightful, and earned. Gleason and Tomasi anchor Damian’s initial grievance in his love for animals, giving him a literal “save the cat” moment in the same breath that he’s kidnapping a superhero and calling him a hayseed. And then Damian has to suffer the indignity of Jon enthusiastically thanking Alfred while his tea gets cold up stairs. It’s such smart writing, and I could probably write about the Jon-Damian relationship all day, but Tomasi is the master of the father-son relationship and he brings out the big guns in this issue. When an enraged Superman bursts in on the hideout looking for his son, Bruce whips out the ol’ Kryptonite batarang. It’s a pragmatic, if kind of extreme move, and you’ve got to wonder whether he knows that he’s modeling that same behavior for his son. So of course Damian was going to pull a K ‘rang of his own when he and Jon get into a (totally Damian-instigated) punch-up. Like father, like son, right? Im sure at some point Jon and Damian will have to work together to battle some third-party threat, but holy shit is there drama to be mined from these two working out their issues with each other (and with their fathers).
Incidentally, this is going on my shortlist for best issue of 2016. Gleason and Tomasi coming back to Damian is like Jordan coming back to the Bulls and I’m just glad we get to witness it.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?