DC Round-Up: Comics Released 11/23/16

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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 Detective Comics 945, The Flash 11 and Wonder Woman 11.  Also, we’ll be discussing Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 9 on Tuesday, and Batgirl 5 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article containers SPOILERS!

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Detective Comics 945

dc-detective-comics-945Michael: The shine of Detective Comics has worn off, boys and girls. What started off as a Bat-team book with a fun X-Men vibe has devolved into another story with full of recycled Batman themes and ideas. “The Victim Syndicate” asks the age-old question of “does Batman do more harm than good?” While overdone, this question can have merit if executed properly. Unfortunately when that question is posed by a bunch of oddball, knockoff Bat-villains and relative Bat-newbie Stephanie Brown.

Perhaps my issues with the conflicts of Detective Comics 945 lay in their foundations: the fallout of “Rise of the Batmen.” Stephanie’s rage and Batman’s self-doubt are based on the Red Robin’s “death” and Batwoman is still dealing with the villainous turn of her father Jacob Kane. Tynion focuses Kate’s anger on Batwing/Luke Fox, who has become a veritable Tony Stark. Granted Luke is an ill-defined character but the conflict between him and Batwoman seems like a needless distraction.

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I loved Stephanie Brown as Batgirl but her whole theory that Batman is keeping all of the “supervillains’” daughters at arm’s length is…frustrating. There was not a lot to like about Detective Comics 945 in my opinion. Clayface and Azrael’s turns at redemption are welcome additions however. I like Azrael as the penitent soldier who is ready to defend his new home at a moment’s notice. Another interesting notion that Tynion introduces is that Clayface’s morality disintegrates the longer he’s in his clay form. He’s the character to watch in Detective Comics.

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The Flash 11

dc-the-flash-11Spencer: Shadows can hold quite a bit of symbolic meaning. In Joshua Williamson and Davide Gianfelice’s Flash 11, the Shade’s shadows are quite obviously meant to represent distrust and fear, but what’s interesting is how this theme applies to both stories being told. The Shade’s so scared that he’ll inevitably return to evil (and lose Hope O’Dare in the process) that his insecurities have taken on life via the Shadowlands and the power they grant him, bringing the Shade’s worst nightmares to life. Meanwhile, the Flash’s fear for and distrust of Wally, well intentioned as they may be, drive the kid right into the Shadowlands in an attempt to prove himself.

Williamson seems to be saying that fear and insecurity are natural, but that you can’t let them fester until they become destructive to yourself or others. Instead, you simply have to accept, own up to, and attempt to fix your mistakes.

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It feels appropriate that Kid Flash delivers this moral. Wally’s owning up to his mistakes (skipping school, going after the Shade alone), which is what he needs to regain the Flash’s trust — and perhaps even make Barry acknowledge his own mistakes as well.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the issue’s use of Hope O’Dare and Iris West, though. In one page Williamson has managed to turn the story’s only two female characters into both damsels-in-distress and villains simultaneously, which is as impressive as it is frustrating. On the other hand, though, seeing them possessed by the shadows presents the possibility to explore both characters’ insecurities the same way we’ve done with Barry and the Shade (Hope’s fear of Shade’s criminal ways and Iris’s fears of the “horror story” of superheroes could easily be driving their actions here). I hope the creative team takes the latter path.

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Wonder Woman 11

dc-wonder-woman-11Patrick: I’ve been doing a Mad Men rewatch — which is good for the brain and heart — and I just got through the season four episode “The Beautiful Girls.” Sally runs away to spend a weekend with Don in the city, Ida Blankenship dies at her desk and Peggy shuts down an anarchist suitor who wants to sell her on women’s libration. They’re all fascinating stories, but I think the most interesting is Peggy’s indignation at the idea that women would need a civil rights movement in the same way African Americans did. It’s not to say that she doesn’t perceive herself as totally welcome in the environment of SCDP, but that there was no movement propping up her success when she needed it, so why should she pretend it’s important now. She’s trying to live an apolitical life, but her moment in history doesn’t really support the idea that anyone could be apolitical – something that Abe smartly points out. To bring this back around to Wonder Woman: Diana in an inherently political character, but what her politics mean is necessarily dependent on the moment in history she is acting in. In issue 11, Liam Sharp and Greg Rucka suggest that all of her history has been a lie, demanding that we not adhere to the political message of any previous iterations of the character.

Mind you, it’s not like this issue has much in the way of what we should expect of Diana, politically speaking. Call it a conclusion if you want, nothing here is wrapped up in a neat bow. In fact, I’m left with more questions than I’ve ever had reading this series. Questions like: do we know anything about Diana’s past? Why would someone fabricate her memories? Where are Diana and Steve now? Sharp knows he’s got to spin some conceptually tricky plates in this issue, and he deploys some very strict layouts to keep all the action as orderly as possible. Panel dividers are thick and deliberate, almost always at fat right angles to each other. The mythology might be folding back over and negating itself, but the incident of this issue is neatly stacked with no room for confusion.

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I love that fourth panel – the lasso of truth is perfect for the center panel for both thematic and visual purposes, and it really speaks to the strength of Sharp’s storytelling.

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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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One comment on “DC Round-Up: Comics Released 11/23/16

  1. I warned you all about Detective Comics. I told you all it was bad, while it was being celebrated as Rebirth’s golden child. The simple fact is the exact thing that has caused this to go so wrong is the exact thing I have criticised since issue one. From the stuff I have seen (I have no idea what is happening with Batwoman at the moment), it is the fact that the foundations are so rotten. And not just the fallout of the last story.

    The problem isn’t the fact that they are telling a story about Stephanie Brown questioning Batman. There is probably no better character to do so than her, considering her long history that has been unfortunately intertwined with Batman’s worst features. And the Victim Syndicate could have been good if they weren’t a strawman presenting the world’s stupidest argument ‘Batman is bad because we got hurt while he was stopping the bad guy!’ that we are supposed to take seriously (honestly, everything I have seen has suggested that the only way this storyline could have more strawmen is to have the villain actually be Scarecrow).

    It is the fact that Detective Comics has done exactly what Rebirth promised to do. It has reduced characterisation to iconography. I have literally seen nothing of Stephanie Brown in any Detective Comics page that doesn’t characterise her as either ‘Red Robin’s girlfriend’ or ‘Cluemaster’s daughter’, which is both a terrible characterisation and a great example of the subtler ways that DC Rebirth is misogynistic trollop.

    I criticised the many character choices Detective Comics has had, and this is why. Because what has happened is that by focusing on Iconography, we have instead a cast of caricatures. And when actual attempts at dramatic interaction occur, this is what happens. I have no idea what happens with Batwoman, but I saw the pages of the therapy/interrogation scene. A poorly written Stephanie Brown attacks a caricature of the Batman from the War Games/Infinite Crisis era. And, because this is a cast of caricatures, we are supposed to take the accusation seriously. Even though any knowledge of these characters from outside Rebirth makes clear how stupid it is. Even Tynion’s own work on the Eternals contradicts this. But this is Rebirth, and iconography matters more than character. So instead, you get this. A cast of caricatures cheapening everything, and the reveal the emperor had no clothes.

    Michael is right that this is recycled themes and poor foundations. Unsurprisingly, when you turn your cast into caricatures of themselves out of nostalgic fetishization, things implode the moment you try and have real interaction.

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    So let’s move onto the only good thing DC is releasing, Batman: the Telltale Game. Though to be honest, the fourth episode, Guardian of Gotham, is disappointing.

    Part of this is a structure issue. I’ve discussed the Five Act Structure before on thi site, and one of its great strengths is how it takes the aimless structural purpose of the second act and condenses it into a much smaller fourth act. But this episode is that fourth act, all about putting the pieces in play. After last episode’s amazing twist, now what needs to happen is to have all the pieces put into play for the finale. So we have Mayor Twoface causing martial law. We have the building of the Children of Arkham’s next big plan. Catwoman and similar characters make decisions that position themselves where they need to be in the Endgame. But a lot of the story is a holding pattern. Batman can’t do much, because things aren’t ready yet.

    And the sad thing is that the things he does do feel like they would have been better later. We investigate the Big Bad (who I won’t spoil here), but learn nothing meaningful, even as we get a great ‘the kid who saved Batman’ moment. We defeat Penguin this episode, because something has to happen, but that would have been better next episode. Instead, the idea of a Penguin run Wayne Enterprises disappears as soon as it arrives. And it takes with it one of the more interesting ideas. I’ve discussed a lot about how technology is a strong motif in this game, and so as the bad guys have taken control and are actually winning, the idea of them also taking control of Batman’s technological advantage is a great one. The perfect representation of the shift in power. But in the need for a big choice at the end, I got all of that back. And I feel if I chose the other option, dealing with Twoface, I would have also gotten something important back. As much as you try and build a cliffhanger around what has been lost by choosing the other option, you feel like you end the choice in a better place than you start.

    But the real issue is that this episode felt it needed to be about Batman in the first place. The game begins with Bruce Wayne is Arkham, and it should have been entirely about that. All the plot movements can happen off screen, while we are busy with an episode as an Arkham patient. Because Bruce Wayne is Arkham is an amazing idea. Bruce, locked up in the very asylum that his parents used to imprison those who got in their way? Bruce facing the Sins of the Father literally, getting reborn inside the walls into something that can truly defeat the Children of Arkham? Great idea. But it happens too fast. We get out too soon.

    Which is a shame, because Arkham is where we meet this version of the Joker. And that is very interesting. Being so early in the timeline, Batman hasn’t fought the Joker yet. Instead, ‘John Doe’ is a mysterious patient with white skin and green hair who just appeared one day. No one can remember when, but he knows a lot more than he should. He’s done really well. To the hospital staff, he is charismatic and seemingly kind. Constantly manipulating them through the veneer of being a patient committed to recovery. The sort of guy you can imagine seducing Harley Quinn. And yet, the moment that the staff leave, he reveals his sadistic streak in ordinary, yet scary ways. Every patient avoids him, and for good reason. A fantastic combination of ordinary and inhuman, exactly the Joker that this game should have. Which is surprising, as I really did not expect the Joker to turn out well. I really thought he wouldn’t fit. But I hope we get more, and see John Doe finally turn into the horror we know he will become.

    Honestly, I am really hoping this gets a second season. I would love to see Telltale do their own twist on Ra’s al Ghul and Poison Ivy, who could have fantastic twists in this techno noir version of Batman. Despite how disappointing this episode was, the entire season has been strong. And the finale looks like it will be amazing.

    Also, rumour has it that Telltale’s next game is a Guardians of the Galaxy game. I can’t wait

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