DC Round-Up: Comics Released 11/9/16

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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 967, Detective Comics 944, The Flash 10, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 8, New Super-Man 5 and Wonder Woman 10.  Also, we’ll be discussing All-Star Batman 4 on Monday, Mother Panic 1 on Tuesday, and Gotham Academy Second Semester 3 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article containers SPOILERS!

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Action Comics 967

action-comics-967Michael: Reboots and relaunches are typically designed with the intent to make things more approachable so new readers can more easily jump onboard. By reintroducing classic Superman, Lois Lane and their son Jon, both Superman and Action Comics don’t seem concerned with that standard relaunch strategy. I’m not exactly complaining – I mostly prefer Pete Tomasi and Dan Jurgens’ approach – but there’s still a whole lot of baggage to deal with. In Action Comics 967 we have two Clark Kents, two Supermen and an alternate Earth Lois Lane disguising herself as her doppelganger.

What I like about Action Comics 967 is that Jurgens seems to finally be moving forward in a clear direction, with Lex Luthor front and center of the drama. There’s some follow-up to “Darkseid War” and Jurgens’ two-issue stint on pre-Rebirth Justice League with the arrival of some Apokolyptian bros trying to avert a perilous future under Lex’s control. It’s a clever misdirect using the Superman symbol for Lex instead of Clark that I didn’t see coming.

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While this issue spends some father/son time with Clark and Jon, I would like to see Action Comics become a book that gives most of the spotlight to Lois or Lex. Tyler Kirkham gives us a Luthor that has flairs of Jim Lee and Ed Benes in his chiseled jaw and sharply suspicious eyes. Jurgens writes Luthor in a way that is familiar to pre-Flashpoint but clearly his own character – I found it odd that he referred to Lois as “Lane,” but he’s not the Lex that Lois and I are used to.

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Detective Comics 944

detective-comics-944Drew: It is difficult to separate superhero comics from the need for clarity. Art was simplified to a few clear lines, colors were limited to a handful of combinations of a few saturations, and lettering was limited to uppercase, all to allow the narrative to survive a primitive plate printing on cheap newsprint. Printing technology has improved, but the techniques have cohered into an aesthetic built around clarity. That aesthetic extends to the stories themselves, which still often manifest as straightforward good vs. evil morality plays. Subtler themes can be achieved, sure, but like lowercase lettering, that tends to be the exception to the rule. Take, for example Detective Comics 944, which writes its “Batman’s actions have consequences” moral so large, it hangs over the issue like the bat-signal on a cloudy night.

On the one hand, Batman’s adversaries, “the victim syndicate,” seem to embody that moral. Their very existence speaks to the consequences of his actions; they are collateral damage of his battles with various costumed criminals. It’s an intriguing idea, though rendered a bit toothless by the fact that blaming Batman for their plight is a bit of a stretch — they’re victims of attacks by costumed criminals, often in situations he wasn’t even explicitly present for. If Batman has a lesson to learn, he may not learn it here. Fortunately, he’s getting a more pointed lesson from Leslie Thompkins, who reminds him that Tim’s death doesn’t just represent the direct damage his mission has, but the emotional damage it can have on his allies.

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Like I said, it’s not the most subtle point. Indeed, it’s just about the least subtly this point could be made, which is more or less in keeping with the over-the-top house style. That house style also dictates that this issue be as overstuffed as ever, giving a few lines to every character, but not enough to weave them into the themes of the issue. It leaves the issue feeling incredibly messy, but there’s no missing its message under all of that slop.

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The Flash 10

the-flash-10Spencer: Well, I certainly can’t say that writer Joshua Williamson is unambitious. While The Flash 10 is a slightly slower paced issue in some ways, there’s actually quite a bit going on beneath its surface. Some of its many plot points, like the disappearance of the Rogues, are clearly setting up future arcs, but many become relevant immediately — Barry’s concerns that there were old foes forgotten the same way that classic-Wally was forgotten Post-Flashpoint immediately becomes valid when the Shade reappears, and while Shade’s claim that “hope was taken” likely refers to his lady love, it’s also a thinly veiled metaphor for the supposed loss of hope the DC Universe faced during the New 52. As always, The Flash continues to be the DC title most closely following the thread began by Rebirth 1.

In the meantime, though, the bulk of this issue revolves around Kid Flash. Nu-Wally is quickly becoming a character defined by his eagerness: his eagerness to fight crime, to use his powers, to prove himself to the Flash. In typical teenager fashion, Wally’s eagerness ends up putting him in trouble more than once, but even when he’s being reckless, he’s coming from a good place. That makes Wally endearing while also making him a nice foil to the more conservative, contemplative Barry Allen. Barry, for his part, makes his own share of mistakes; for someone who already trained one successful young partner, Barry doesn’t know how to deal with kids at all. I’m not sure if this can be chalked up Barry’s worries about repeating the mistakes he made training August with Wally, if Williamson isn’t factoring classic-Wally into Barry’s actions (despite mentioning him several times throughout the issue), or if Barry’s just that bad around kids.

Felipe Watanabe’s art is wildly inconsistent throughout this issue, but his opening page is absolutely stunning.

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Watanabe does wonders with the contrast between dark and light here, and not just on an aesthetic level, but on a symbolic one too. The panel when Shade meets his “hope” uses color masterfully; Shade is completely black against a white background because he sees himself as no good, as so much worse than the rest of the world, while his lady love is white against a black background because she brought hope to his world of darkness. In the final panel, meanwhile, their held hands (and the negative space surrounding them) roughly form the shape of a heart, representing the love they’ve found. It’s a lovely moment, and a succinct bit of characterization for the Shade. That kind of brevity is essential to an issue this packed.

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Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 8

hal-jordan-and-the-green-lanterns-corps-8Patrick: What is Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps without Hal Jordan? If it sounds like a trick question, it just might be, because “The Green Lantern Corps” is not necessarily the answer. Or, as issue eight indicates, it is not the only answer. In addition to picking up new threads of his his own mythology, writer Robert Venditti weaves grand concepts from the greater DC Universe together with some of Geoff Johns best unresolved ideas. The result is a dizzying, frenetic tour of what a Green Lantern comic can be, even if we’re missing Hal.

And (again: even if we are missing Hal), we do know the whereabouts of his ring, which we are reminded in this issue, was created by Hal’s own willpower. The issue starts off the with ring freaking out, declaring its barer diseased, and zipping off to the universe to find him. When we finally check back in with the ring, it’s traveled all the way to Planet Nok (home of the Indigo Lanterns) in Sector 2814, and it’s enlisting the Guardians Sayd and Ganthet. Evidently, I said “oh no!” so loudly that my girlfriend came in from the other room to ask me what was wrong. What can I say? I’m a sucker for those little blue dudes!

That’s the Geoff Johns connection. The rest of the stew of issue 8 takes its ingredients from classic Justice League and Superman comics. John Stewart sets the newly re-established GLC to work immediately, and together with the Sora-led Sinestro Corps, they defend Tomar-Tu’s planet from the O.G. Justice League villain, Starro. Artist Ethan Van Sciver, who is no stranger to drawing throngs of detailed Lantern characters, tosses his talent for intricacy after a killer splash page, which simultaneously celebrates the monstrous character, and, y’know, makes it clear that he’s it’s a monster.

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But Starro’s only a feint. The real threat here is Brianiac, who appears to be using Starro as some kind of Lantern-bait. I love that all of this has to be navigated by the uneasy alliance between Yellow Sora and Green John and their respective teams. It’s maybe a perfect blend of old and new, and satiates my GL fan-hunger in just the right way.

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New Super-Man 5

new-super-man-5Mark: I guess this is the week DC makes a big Starro push! I’m embarrassed to admit I failed to recognize Starro last issue when it cameoed as the ultimate weapon Human Firecracker steals from the Ministry, but the super villain makes multiple appearances here.

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Following up on last month’s cliffhanger, Kenan’s father reveals himself to be a Freedom Fighter. It turns out Kenan’s mom was China’s first superhero, a woman determined to bring democracy to her country who is later killed in a mysterious plane crash. After her death, Kenan’s father, his brother, and their friends form China’s Freedom Fighters to continue her work. It’s the neatest bit of storytelling in an otherwise messy issue, but the politics of it all leaves me slightly confused.

I think we’re meant to believe that the Freedom Fighter’s goals were originally pure, but eventually became corrupted by Human Firecracker. This clears Kenan’s new friends, Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman, and Kenan himself of fighting for the “wrong side,” but by turning the Freedom Fighters into the villains at the end of the issue writer Gene Luen Yang removes any moral complexity from Kenan’s situation. It’d be interesting—if maybe obvious—for Kenan and his friends to have to come to terms with the fact that they haven’t been fighting on the side of good. Instead, when Human Firecracker and the rest of the Freedom Fighters (sans Kenan’s dad) are revealed to actually be bad guys it seems like Yang is coming down on the side of China’s ruling party. I guess that in and of itself is morally complex, but it also doesn’t seem intentional. Being pro-communism would be such a bizarre stand for Yang to take that I imagine everything is bound to shake out differently by the end.

Still, the issue leaves us without much to root for outside of the promise that next time our hero and his dad will be kicking in the teeth of some evil democracy boostin’ radicals. Which seems a little weird, right?

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Wonder Woman 10

wonder-woman-10Ryan M: Sometimes the execution exceeds the premise. In Wonder Woman 10, Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott are able to take the idea “Diana goes the Mall” and make it a multi-layered story that furthers plot, reveals character, and offers some level of meta commentary.

Diana has a language barrier with the rest of the world, but Rucka and Scott use the first mall sequence as a place to show what she’s thinking without needing her to verbalize anything. We see her taking in a lingerie store window, a couple walking hand in hand, and some cherry red platform heels. Her expression of concerned confusion is perfectly rendered and made more effective by her quiet during the conversation happening around her. Without intrusive narration or bending the logic of what one says when they don’t have the language, the reader is able to connect with Diana thanks to the framing of the panels and her open expression.

The first half of the issue seeds everything we need to add resonance to the second half. There is mention of the Sear Group, Diana playing with some cute kids and her mention of gifts that have yet to reveal themselves. The true purpose of the Golden Perfect may not be clear, but using it with her small group allows them freedom to communicate and in some cases reveal things that they’d been holding back. Steve pretty much just makes heart eyes, but that’s to be expected. In fact, Steve functions almost purely as love interest in this issue. I wasn’t sure about Rucka’s intentions with the character, until we got a gratuitous shirt removal so that we could have an ultimate damsel hanging on his hero moment at the end. The underlying humor and commentary in upending the gender dynamics of a super-powered person and their love interest works here, especially as the issue treads into darker territory with the mass shooting.

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The page above is so well executed. The first panel is a sweet moment with friends, and as the terror increases, the size of the gutters decrease, until we are fully immersed in a world where at least one man is dead. It’s an upsetting sequence and gives Diana a chance to use her abilities to protect the cute kids from earlier in another stand out page, as we see Diana stop a hail of bullets with her bracelets. This, along with the image of Diana holding Steve on one arm with a bad guy on the other, show us that we are still early in Diana meeting her potential. Rucka does a great job balancing the various elements of Diana’s story and it will be great to see where they are all headed. Hopefully, more shirtless Steve Trevor.

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The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

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3 comments on “DC Round-Up: Comics Released 11/9/16

  1. Has anyone ever managed to pull off a Victim Syndicate style Batman story? It is a great sounding idea, but has anyone ever actually managed to put forth an argument that indicted Batman for the consequences of his crusade that actually worked? Because there is an argument you can make. But there is a reason that Batman the Animated Series spent an entire episode deconstructing the bullshit notion that Batman is to blame for his villains actions. I’ve basically only seen the page of Detective Comics where Batman lists the reasons, but every reason has nothing to do with Batman. To quote Trial, ‘I used to believe Batman was responsible for you people but now I see nearly everyone here would have ended up exactly the same, Batman or not. Oh, the gimmicks might be different, but you’d all be out there in some form or another that brings misery to Gotham. The truth is, you created him.’ (also, do they do anything to make Clayface more responsible for Mudface? Batman’s speech seems to remove responsibility from both Batman and Clayface. During a fight, things just happened). There has got to be a better way to interrogate Batman’s flaws than ‘maybe it is Batman’s fault that the villains were evil’ or ‘maybe fighting a crusade against injustice is bad, because people get hurt’

    Still, going to talk about something else, since we are blessed with the news that Young Justice is getting a third season. As I’ve started rewatching Young Justice.

    There are so many things that make the show great. One obvious one is just the depth of the setting. There is a glory in how superhero universes are silly mish mashes of confusion. But Young Justice actually places the effort into creating a cohesive universe. It all fits together. Little things like how the Justice League have created a transportation system around Zeta Tubes is fantastic. Even better, it takes those ideas and applies it to the real world. I’ve described Young Justice before as the most mature depiction of a superhero universe, and it is because of how it takes every idea superhero comics have, no matter how silly, and places them in real world situations without mockery. Young Justice is a world that can have episodes on international peace negotiations and a world where Plastic Man is being silly, without feeling tonally inconsistent.

    A big part of this is the choice to make the Team an espionage focused group. The heroes mission’s are more spy stories that straight superhero stories. They rarely go and fight the Joker on a crime spree. Instead, they infiltrate criminal conspiracies, bodyguard POIs, and do recon missions. This forces a more nontraditional look, and forces the character to discuss the politics of Bialya or the ramifications of assassinations at the same time as they fight supervillains. And yet, it never feels like they aren’t superheroes. They are just given a more interesting status quo than you’d expect.

    One of the other strengths is its use of the DC Universe. Everything is placed somewhere (including some very clever fixes to complex characters, like Alan Scott having a damaged Green Lantern Ring that explains why he isn’t part of the Corp without going into complex, overly coincidental and often retconed discussions about magic). Characters like Madame Xanadu, Mayor Hamilton Hill and or others are wonderfully added in, building a textured world. There is a sense of history, and a sense of a grander world. Even as the Team do the important work fight the Light, you also get the sense that there are a hundred different Justice League stories happening at the same time.

    Meanwhile, the plotting is fantastic. Future episodes are effortlessly foreshadowed. The first episode sets up a plot point for episode 11, without distracting from the needs of the first episode. So many lines, on a rewatch, have fantastic double meanings as they inform all sorts of complexities. And strong continuity aids in the development of everything, creating powerful arcs and strong season length stories. And they do this, without hurting individual episodes. Each episode stands on its own, with really strong storytelling and a great focus on character.

    And the characters are great. The main cast are uniformly great. Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Miss Martian, Artemis and Superboy are all given strong characters, and their own unique challenges. Arcs are built creating strong stories of identity, and finding all sorts of interesting twists (for example, Robin is found to be a poor leader, because Robin is used to being part of a perfectly run partnership with Batman. The Team requires a very different style of leadership to the one that Robin knows, and so a big point is made that Aqualad is a better leader at this point of time). And that’s ignoring the fact that ultimately, it all comes down to their humanity. Every part of their character comes down to their humanity. They aren’t abstract symbols and a personality. They are all people who struggle with real, human things. Seeing things like Artemis’ life outside the Team, struggling are fantastic. Even the more minor characters are given depth (Batman is basically the world’s best Dad in this, and Superman is given a humanity in how he struggles to know what to do with his clone).

    A truly fantastic show, and it is going to be great when it comes back

    • The only way you could make a Victim Syndicate story work is by having there be actual negative consequences to Batman’s vigilantism. Under the Red Hood gets somewhere close to that, but still requires some stretching to ignore Joker’s role in Jason’s death. I just don’t think DC has the guts to actually make Batman the bad guy, so you end up with a group of villains with a victim gimmick, rather than a true reckoning of the costs of Batman’s crusade.

      • I would argue Under the Red Hood is the opposite. Under the Red Hood isn’t interrogating Batman’s vigilantism, but his moral code. It works, especially considering it is Jason, because it is all about the consequences of Batman’s moral code. Under the Red Hood is about how Batman isn’t enough of a vigilante, before giving the answer of why it is so important that Batman restrains himself.

        A story like the Victim Syndicate is supposed to be about the problem of vigilante justice in the first place. If the Robins were still around, you could explore the way certain groups could miss the point. Discuss how despite the fact that Batman works so hard to work alongside the system, what does it mean that Batman glorifies going outside the law? Or how does Batman influence people’s perception of Gotham in negative ways? How does it effect the treatment of police? And Trial actually had a much, much better argument, before so successfully deconstructing it.

        But that’s the worst thing about this sort of story. Trial already so adeptly deconstructured it with
        ‘You could have respected her wishes and left her alone.’
        ‘I’D HAVE KILLED HER FIRST! Oop! I’d like that last statement stricken from the record please.’

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