DC Round-Up: Comics Released 12/14/16

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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 Flash 12Gotham Academy Second Semester 4Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 10New Super-Man 6, and Suicide Squad 8. Also, we discussed Supergirl 4 on Thursday, and will be discussing Wonder Woman 12 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article containers SPOILERS.

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Flash 12

Flash 12Spencer: I like seeing Barry Allen as a teacher; it’s a natural outlet for Barry’s earnestness (my favorite bit of this issue may just be Barry’s “Every day is [a teachable moment], Kid Flash”). I’m not quite sure I understand the lesson writer Joshua Williamson places at the heart of The Flash 12, though. I like that Barry and Wally are able to overcome their trust issues by compromising, but the path to that compromise is a bit strange. Flash says that he won’t reveal his secret identity to Wally because secrets are a burden, and he wants Wally to be able to have room for a childhood, even explicitly referencing how his mother’s death made him grow up too fast. I get that, but what I don’t understand is how keeping Barry’s secret is going to rob Wally of a childhood when he’s already living the life of a superhero and already keeping his own identity a secret. Is one more tiny secret going to be the needle that pushes Wally from having a childhood to not having a childhood? If Barry’s so concerned about Wally having a full childhood, maybe supporting his vigilantism is a more pressing issue than telling him his real name? I’d almost think that Williamson was purposely having Barry be a bit obtuse here, if not for the fact that Barry’s lesson directly leads to his and Wally’s trust being strengthened and their saving the day. It’s just an all-around odd moral.

I’ve got qualms about the art, too. Davide Gianfelice’s figures are actually much more consistent than they were last issue, and I love his creepy (yet oddly-adorable) designs for Shade’s shadow monsters, but his sense of space is seriously out of whack for much of the issue.

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Take this page. Barry and Wally are literally being swallowed alive by shadow monsters in the first panel, and the rest of their discussion takes place in a shapeless, shadowy void. That first panel evokes a sense of horror, yet once they’re inside the shadows, they just walk around and talk like everything’s normal. Then, all of a sudden, in the final panel they’re outside the shadows. How did that happen? Their entire argument is literally about how they can only escape the shadows if they vibrate in sync, yet a few moments later they’ve escaped the shadows with no apparent effort or intent on their part. What the hell? That last complaint could just as easily be a problem with the scripting, but either way, there’s a lot about what goes on in this issue that remains frustratingly vague and inconsistent (including the moment Shade freezes Hope just by grabbing her. What is he doing, and how?! That he’s “showing [her] what darkness really is” is not an answer). This isn’t the Flash‘s strongest outing, that’s for sure..

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Gotham Academy Second Semester 4

Gotham Academy Second Semester 4Taylor: In class students often ask me if I like having to give students consequences for their bad behavior. The rote answer is that no I don’t, I wish they would just behave properly in the first place. Sure, that’s the answer teachers have been giving students for decades now, but speaking from personal experience, it really is true. That students would believe teacher’s enjoy punishing students shows how in some ways kids still fundamentally misunderstand the good intentions of their elders. In Gotham Academy 4, students don’t learn this with the fine passing of time, but with an honest to god demon.

The Midnight Carnival is in town and the Headmaster Vaughn Hammer has forbidden any student of Gotham Academy to go see it. This of course only makes his students want to see it more and they do just that. There, they see many horrors, one being that the circus master is really a horrifying green demon. Right when this demon is about to attack, however, Headmaster Hammer appears and strikes the demon down, condemning him to “eternal detention.”

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While my school doesn’t have anything close to “eternal detention in the netherworld” I would assume it basically means writing rules out of the demon handbook for the rest of existence. Not fun. In saving the children in such dramatic fashion Hammer has shown that he was right in forbidding the children to visit the circus. What seemed like draconian practice was actually his effort to protect the children from this hell beast. This cleverly shows that even the oldest among us aren’t always trying to be buzzkills. Instead they just want to help.

Hammer has rarely been presented as a heroic figure in this series before this action. Instead, he’s always glowered over students as a sort of arch villain who threatens to get them in trouble. It’s curious to see him given the heroic treatment here, the issue before he weighs in on Colton’s fate for breaking into his office. Perhaps it hints at an outcome for Colton that may be lenient or perhaps it hints at the development of a complex character who is about to do something most readers will object to. Regardless, it’s fun to see the creators of this series broaden their reach and write for characters beyond Olive’s inner circle.

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Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 10

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 12Patrick: For as much as Green Lanterns comics have to be rooted in their own knotted past, there’s a second part to their endless mythologizing that’s potentially more intriguing. I’m talking about the future of Green Lantern Corps and the emotional spectrum, which may not always appear to be the most revered part of the GLC timeline – our characters are almost always striving to re-establish equilibrium, which is a necessarily boring goal. Arguably, that’s the goal of every protagonist, but the true heartache that comes from story is that the characters are changed for the having gone on the quest to make things normal again. At 10 issues in, we’re starting to realize that Hal’s status quo in Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps is making huge mythological shake-ups, and that even dying isn’t a matter of transformation for him, but of routine. In death, Hal receives his call to “adventure” — whatever that fucking means in this context.

Hal’s goal is to restore “Hope.” As a long-time Green Lantern fan, I know what that means – that means restoring the ranks of the Blue Lanterns, right? Maybe. Writer Robert Venditti is setting us up to believe that he is referring to Hope in a very Green Lantern-specific context by reminding the reader so much damn GL history. Hal’s little visit to the Emerald Space is breathtaking, but only if you’re familiar with the deceased characters that inhabit it. Artist Ed Benes does a great of job of showing reverence for these characters, but man, I can only imagine what the experience of reading this series cold would be.

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Everywhere else in the issue, Venditti doubles down on the presumption that the audience is hip to decades of Green Lantern mythology. Ganthet just casually calls Kyle the Torchbearer, a title he’s not held since before Geoff Johns started writing for the franchise. Even the final page reveal that Larfleeze is the “collector” that Brainiac is working for only works for fans with outside knowledge of this franchise. But I think Venditti might be rope-a-doping us a little bit. Abin Sur makes no mention of Blue Lanterns, or Saint Walker (who… I believe is dead right now?), and no mention of the fall of Odym. Hell, Ganthet and Sayd are IN THIS STORY, and they don’t mention their former Corps. I’m interested to see what “Hal needs to restore Hope” actually means.

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New Super-Man 6

New Super-Man 6Mark: Is anyone else reading New Super-Man, and can tell me if I’m completely misinterpreting the politics of this book thus far?

My boyfriend is a Chinese national and I was trying to explain to him that what’s weird to me about this run is not so much that the pro-democracy characters in the book are currently painted as terrorists, but that DC Comics is printing a book that expresses such literal political messages at all. To my mind, an equivalent would be the Joker riding into Gotham and declaring that America should recognize Palestine as an independent state or else he’s going to do something super Joker crazy. Then Batman beats him up. Whether I agreed with the Joker or not wouldn’t be germane, it’d just be a weird thing to happen in general.

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I guess my wildest conspiracy theory is that DC is looking to expand into China, and thus is publishing a book they think will sell best in that market. But I feel like Occam’s Razor suggests I’m completely missing the point of Gene Luen Yang’s scripts and ideas. It’s driving me crazy. Can anyone help out?

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Suicide Squad 8

Suicide Squad 8Michael: Suicide Squad has never been as hot of a property as it is right now –with its successful (but bad) movie and the upcoming Justice League vs. Suicide Squad storyline in the comics. Suicide Squad 8 is billed as a prelude to Justice League vs. Suicide Squad but mostly serves as the conclusion to Rob Williams and Jim Lee’s lengthy, entertaining first arc.

The powers of “The Black Vault” – a physical manifestation of the Phantom Zone – has caused all of the inhabitants of Belle Reve Penitentiary to go insane with murderous rage. Everyone except for Harley Quinn (who has gone sane), Enchantress (who is magicly unaffected), Rick Flagg (because he stabbed his leg to distract from the mental anguish) and Amanda Waller (because she’s the Wall?). Williams definitely has a knack for distinguishing the many colorful characters of this book. It’s clear from the over-dramatic dialogue of Enchantress and General Zod and the buffoonery of Captain Boomerang that Williams is enjoying himself quite a bit.

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The return of the sane “Dr. Harleen Quinzel” was a nice treat that I didn’t know I wanted. It was such an interesting tease that for the meantime will remain just that. Suicide Squad 8 focused just enough on that particular plot point without distracting from the rest of the action and making it more heartbreaking when she goes loony again by issue’s end. The Justice League vs Suicide Squad “prelude” introduced Killer Frost to the team, hyping her up as uber deadly. For my money I can never take her seriously.

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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 12/14/16

  1. Batman: the Telltale Game – The finale, CIty of Light, came out, concluding the first season of Telltale’s Batman stories (with hopefully a second season, especially after ending on a sequel hook).

    This episode really makes clear what a waste of time episode 4 was. I complained about how episode 4 was mostly setting things in place, and it is really clear here, where half the content is repeated, except giving the arcs proper conclusions. We get another scene about Selina leaving Gotham, but we actually get a proper goodbye. We get another exploration of the villain’s past, but this gives us the real stuff. Episode 4 really should have just focused on the Asylum.

    But there are some stuff that I am not entirely sure what I think. THe villain (who is original, but whose very name is a small spoiler that I don’t want to reveal) is shifted from revolutionary with a righteous cause to an anti-Batman. They do it really, really well (compared to similar characters like Prometheus, the parallels and differences between the villain and Batman are utterly perfect). And as the revolution collapses and the villain shifts to an Anti-Batman, this leads to a more personal final confrontation in Arkham, a simple, desperate one on one. But even as it gives a familiar trope a revolutionary update, I would have preferred to avoid that final trope.

    And there are a couple of other issues. Selina’s arc concludes in a way that expects a second season. When I found out she was leaving in episode 4, I was expecting her to return at the last minute in a hero moment. Instead, she actually leaves. The arc works – Selina finds herself so fundamentally challenged that she has turned from a confident operator to someone struggling to know who she actually is, and actually leaving works both as a sign of this change and a sign of Selina’s need to escape this uncertainty. This is combined with the fantastic reveal that Selina was originally running a con on Bruce, until everything got twisted (this twist, in retrospect, is ingeniously hidden. The combination of our awareness of Selina’s activities in very different contexts before we ‘meet’ Selina and the fact that their first encounter is the very encounter that causes everything to spin out of control and forces the pair of them together for very different reasons means we never consider the prospect).
    And the scene of them talking is truly fantastic. Great Catwoman writing, in how Selina puts up her walls and try and pretend she has not lost control on her understanding of herself. Her attempts to deny that she is actually a good person is fantastic, and the emphasis of this side of her provides a great contrast to the villain. Both are Anti-Batmen, but where Selina’s flaw in uncertainty, the villain’s flaw is conviction.

    Which brings me to the finale itself. The villain wants to break Arkham Asylum. Arkham is the symbol of Thomas Wayne’s crimes, and the villain wishes to release the prisoners in an attempt to force THomas Wayne’s sins out in the open, even as they kidnap Alfred in an attempt to get their revenge on Bruce. Batman, in a terrible new suit, goes off to face them, we get everything come to roost.
    Bruce is forced to face the sins of his family in an attempt to restore order, while finding himself forced to face the contradictions inside of him against a villain who is like him, but lacks that contradiction (this is a really clever use of game mechanics for theme. The need to constantly choose how Batman/Bruce reacts, showing a man with a wide range of options, down to the option of ‘Is he Batman or is he Bruce?’ is the theme). And depending on your choices, the entire climax can have you unmask, symbolically creating a synthesis where you are both Batman and Bruce at the same time.)
    And here, we truly see just how lost the villain is. The villain has always had a good point – Thomas Wayne was a crook in this continuity and deserves to have his sins unearthed. But the villain, in their conviction, is lost to fanaticism – how they twist facts to justify their own grievances make them the perfect villain for our supposed ‘post-truth’ world. The villain actually ends up being a nice complement to Mr Bloom. If Mr Bloom represents positive ideology taken to toxic extremes, this villain is what happens to someone who honestly believes those ideologies. Were or not for the fact that the villain requires changes to canon that simply could never happen in the comics, I would love them to transplant into the comics themselves.

    In all honesty, I feel like most of my issues with the game come down more to an expectation of a more definite ending. But it is very clear in the ending that there is a hope for a second season. Everyone gets an ending, but it is an ending predicated on the idea that all of these characters will have another chapter. Because once you accept that, it is fantastic how everything comes together thematically. Everyone is wrecked by identity crises. This is ultimately the key to the story, and it all comes together in such compelling ways. I’ve was shocked and surprised how much I loved the first episode (still free, by the way) and the game rarely disappointed. An intriguing new version of the Batman mythos has been created, and it never makes a grievous mistake. Instead, it frequently excels, creating strong and dramatic scenes and creating the sort of thing that DC has been missing since Young Justice was cancelled – a complete and cohesive take on DC’s properties, combined with strong writing and a mature outlook that accepted the premises of the source material while delicately weaving real world elements. Consistently excellent. Can’t wait for Seaosn 2, and I can’t wait to see Telltale’s take on the Guardians of the Galaxy.

    Also, I kind of love that this is the second Batman video game that ends with a fight in a prison chapel. Wonder why that is so popular in Batman video games?

  2. Mark, I still feel like New Super-Man is pro-democracy: Kenan’s father specifically lists democracy as a quality Kenan needs to stand for as Super-Man even after he’s betrayed his freedom fighter comrades, and the Chinese Government (including, this month at least, the Great Ten) are still positioned as the title’s antagonists.

    The message Yang seems to be sending, instead, is that political revolution, even if it’s backing the “right” philosophies, can do more harm than good if it’s needlessly hurting innocent people. Even the implication of Kenan’s father’s dying words is that, if Kenan focuses on caring about as many people as possible, that’ll naturally help him come around to the right political views (by which Kenan’s father clearly means democracy).

    I don’t necessarily know how I feel about that statement, but I think it shows that this book is putting out a more complex message than you’re giving it credit for.

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