DC Round-Up: Comics Released 12/21/16

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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 Batman 13, Green Arrow 13, Superman 13, and Trinity 4. Also, we’ll be discussing Nightwing 11 on Friday, so come back for that! As always, this article containers SPOILERS!

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Batman 13

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The chances of the plan succeeding are inversely proportional to how much of the plan the audience knows about beforehand.

TV Tropes and Idioms, “Unspoken Plan Guarantee”

Drew: There are countless examples of the “Unspoken Plan Guarantee” trope, but the one that springs immediately to mind is Ocean’s Eleven, where a great deal of the suspense comes from us thinking the plan has gone wrong, but only because we aren’t actually privy to the plan beforehand. When done poorly, a story’s caginess about the plan can’t help but feel suspicious, but when done right, it makes the heroes look impossibly slick, always staying one step ahead of the villains and the audience. Mileage will vary whether those joys outweigh the familiarity that trope has in the wake of Ocean’s Eleven, but I’m generally willing to embrace a well-executed secret plan so long as it has fun with those reveals. Tom King and Mikel Janín definitely have that kind of fun with Batman 13, making their hyper-competent Batman even more prepared than they initially let on.

This issue acts in many ways like the climax of any Ocean’s film — not just the heist, but the specific moment of the heist when it seems like things have hopelessly gone awry. This is our characters at their lowest moment, only, it turns out this “low moment” was part of the plan all along. It allows the characters to swing from utter defeat to soaring success in the course of a few moments (even though, again, the “utter defeat” part turns out to be a put-on). In this case, it also requires following characters through four different scenes as their plan falls into place. Fortunately, Janín has more than a few tricks up his sleeve to manage all of those threads.

Threads

Punch and Jewlee end up getting the majority of the space in this particular spread, but Janín manages to check in with everyone on almost every page of this issue. That Wesker is basically standing still throughout this sequence might make those check-ins feel gimmicky, but I found those moments to be remarkably effective. He’s standing still, like the “little guy” Homer can’t keep his eyes off of when the Yakuza battle the Mafia in “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson” — he’s going to do something, and you know it’s going to be good. That the plan worked out in the end may not have been a surprise, but seeing how it worked out was an absolute blast.

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Green Arrow 13

green-arrow-13Michael: I like the current run of Green Arrow for a couple of reasons: Oliver has a goatee again, Dinah and Ollie are an item again and most importantly, it plays against type. In many stories of its kind Dinah and Ollie would’ve broken up after a classic misunderstanding, but thankfully Benjamin Percy and co. haven’t played it that way (yet.) Another example is how Green Arrow 13 is the second chapter of “Emerald Outlaw” and the mysterious killer remains just that – we aren’t spoon-fed clues and breadcrumbs of where the plot is headed. I guess what I like most of all is that Percy doesn’t treat his readers like they’re idiots.

If Green Arrow 13 is indeed a mystery then Percy treats it as such with the utmost respect. There are various threads weaving in and out of the narrative – a Trumpian stooge mayoral candidate and a crap cop turned vigilante – that are never explicitly painted as the culprit. Someone is trying to squander Green Arrow’s public good will by framing him for murder. Most likely Queen Industries’ Cyrus Broderick but Percy plays it like anyone is a suspect – even (the unnamed) Roy Harper.

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Artist Otto Schmidt does a lot of layering with his panel sequences in Green Arrow 13. Sometimes these panels inject themselves against negative space, highlighting one of Fyffe’s jokes. Other times they are laid atop the action, as we see a red background of a leg belonging to Black Canary or “Vice Squad.” I’m happy Green Arrow continues to deliver.

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Superman 13

superman-13Spencer: Sometimes Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s stories truly surprise me, not just with the direction they take, but with the speed in which they run through wonderfully ridiculous new ideas. That’s surely the case with their “Super-monster” storyline, which concludes in this week’s Superman 13. We go from “Lois has a job interview” to “Lois’ boss has been replaced by an intergalactic despot” to “Frankenstein family feud” at a blistering pace, but thankfully, all these ideas are more than entertaining enough to carry the story. More importantly, though, Tomasi, Gleason, and artist Doug Mahnke continue to hone in on the theme of “family” that’s been carrying this title from the start.

Oddly enough, it’s not the Superman family that’s gets the focus here, but Frankenstein’s instead, all kicked off when his “bride” shows up, decked out in full bounty hunter regalia.

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I know this creative team didn’t create this version of the character, but I still adore her design, the way some classic Bride of Frankenstein-isms are combined with the leather and guns and the four arms; it’s just a fun, unique look. Bride carries with her a lot of pain, however, and despite all the fun of her design and all the bombast of her and Frankenstein’s fight, their tale ends on a particularly somber note.

In contrast, the creative team ends the issue in a much happier place — Lois and Clark lovingly tucking Jon into bed — which just begs comparisons between the two families. I don’t think the fate of the Frankensteins’ son or their marriage is meant to foreshadow any events in the lives of the Kents/”Smiths,” but I do think they provide a powerful reminder of how quickly love can turn to hate, how easily we can lose the ones we love, and how irreparably damaged even the closest relationship can become if we’re not careful. The Frankensteins remind, not just Lois and Clark, but all of us of how important family is, and how we need to properly cherish and care for all the ones we love while we still can.

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Trinity 4

trinity-4Mark: After three issues of Francis Manapul riffing on the seminal Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons Superman Annual #11 – For The Man Who Has Everything, I’m curious what the point of this exercise will be in the end.

In the original story, Wonder Woman is not trapped by Mongul’s plant and her heart’s deepest desire is never revealed. Here, Diana opens the issue saying she’s ready to discover “the truth,” but, unlike Superman and Batman’s issues, her struggle never feels real. After proving herself worthy through her performance in the Games, Wonder Woman is welcomed by her mother to stay on Themyscira (although it’s unclear if Hippolyta ever recognizes Diana as a doppelgänger of her daughter). But in the end, Wonder Woman decides to leave with Superman and Batman after they are banished. Hippolyta helpfully explains Wonder Woman’s decision by saying that Diana’s “path lies elsewhere.”

Despite being rather facile, I’m fine in theory with “path lies elsewhere” being The Truth Diana learns about herself, but it doesn’t work emotionally because the issue does nothing to sell the idea. Diana lands on Themyscira with Batman and Superman, the three of them prove themselves worthy, Batman and Superman are banished from the island, and Wonder Woman decides to join them because she doesn’t feel right having them go on their own. But why doesn’t she feel right about it? The stakes are never made clear and we’re robbed of the moment she takes this stand. Never is there a sense that it’s a difficult decision for her to make.

When dealing with such familiar ideas, the emotional tenor of an issue is what will sell it, and the coldness of Trinity 4 brings the whole thing down. So far Trinity is too much like the 1998 Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho: faithful to For The Man Who Has Everything in execution, but lacking the original’s raison d’être.

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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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14 comments on “DC Round-Up: Comics Released 12/21/16

  1. Is there a moment in Ocean’s Eleven where it feels like the plan has gone hopelessly awry? To me, there is such an awareness that there is a plan, that the tension isn’t ‘Oh god, everything has gone wrong’. It is ‘what is their plan for THIS?’. The tension doesn’t panic us, it intrigues us. Ocean’s Eleven doesn’t pretend that an elaborate deception isn’t happening, and that is what makes it work so well. In fact, I think that is why this sort of story so often goes so wrong. People try to make the reveal be ‘it was a deception all the time’ instead of the specifics of the deception itself.

    I kind of don’t want to use I Am Suicide as an example, because quite obviously my thoughts on DC Rebirth are very clear (though in my defence, when I am Suicide was first announced, I was intrigued. The idea of a ‘Squad on the Mission’ style tale with Batman and supervillains appealed to me. Back before Young Animal completely broke me, I was actually keeping an eye on I am Suicide specifically as a storyline that would justify Rebirth (even as my attempts at looking at Rebirth storylines in general were so consistently disappointing). In fact, while you guys were getting abuse from Catwoman fans, I, a massive Catwoman fan, actually defended King’s choices. The fact that the next few issues threw out the ‘Squad on a Mission’ concept, did a moment I am about to harshly criticise, wrote the worst goddamn letter and spent two entire issues in a story arc about Batman’s Suicide Squad with Batman alone at the exact same time DC finally broke me doesn’t change the fact that I initially was on this arc’s side).

    But in I am Suicide, it appears that they try and get that Ocean’s Eleven ending through the shock of Catwoman betraying Batman and killing everyone. The problem with this isn’t about Catwoman’s character. The fact is that it is so obvious that it is all an elaborate plot. When that happens, it is truly clear that this is not a ‘Squad on a Mission’ story, but a heist story. It is clear at that very moment that the the ‘twist’ in the final issue is that this is a massive deception, and everything that has happened is part of Batman’s master plan. Is anyone actually surprised that in this issue, it was revealed that Batman had staged an elaborate con? Because that is exactly what I thought it would be when I saw Catwoman’s betrayal. Meanwhile, how many people were surprised by the reveal that the SWAT team was actually the Eleven stealing the money?

    Ocean’s Eleven never pretends it isn’t a con. But that is why it works so well. That’s the difference between a good Unspoken Plan and a bad Unspoken Plan. If you are aware there is a plan, the writer can create great moments by surprising you with the specifics of the plan. When you try and pretend the plan doesn’t exist, it becomes very easy to guess the reveal that there was a plan all along. And even if you have smaller reveals about the specifics, they are hurt by the fact that they feel obvious, simply by virtue of being part of the greater, disappointingly obvious twist

    Of course, there are more complicated aspects than just that (the fact the I am Suicide is a great example of whiffing the idea of an Unspoken Plan doesn’t change the fact that smaller reveals could still be effective, even if they aren’t as effective as they could have been. Punch and Jewlee’s stuff may have still worked, if they were given the right set up and payoff, even if they would have worked better in a story that didn’t try to pretend it wasn’t a con. But I have absolutely no idea about anything to do about them in the context of this story, so I can’t comment on the effectiveness of their subreveal. Only that the main reveal that Batman was more prepared than you think lands with such a horrible thud). But the purpose of this post wasn’t to attack DC Rebirth, but to use I am Suicide as an example to talk about why Ocean’s Eleven’s climax is so amazing.

    Because, damn, that movie has a truly fantastic climax

  2. I sort of disagree with Matt on the “in a story that didn’t try to pretend it wasn’t a con” because it felt that way the whole time to me. I did read it all in one sitting (Thanks Excaliber Comics for your New Years 50% off comics sale!) so there was no time to wait and stew on the cliffhangers.

    I found the greatest difference between I Am Suicide and Ocean’s Eleven to be the sense of joy and whimsy. I Am Suicide is so dark and grim that they can’t even reveal the main villain fully (because he’s naked) meaning everything visually has to be drenched in shadow. Thematically, Ocean’s Eleven is about trying to live and I Am Suicide is about the grim transformation of (figurative) death.

    I found the story ok. I always find Bane stories weak (VENOM BACK VENOM BACK VENOM VENOM BACK BACK BACK) and this story suffers from … umm, being Bane-ish.

    Damn. I guess I’m at least slightly interested in what the hell Catwoman’s story is. I think that has been set up well. I’m curious as to how everything is going to tie in with Gotham Girl.

    It didn’t make me want to pay full price, though.

    —————–

    You know, Janin’s art here is mostly spectacular. He’s been brilliant.

    —————-

    Hindsight: This whole All New All Different Batman is too dark for me. Visually and thematically. I’m just not having fun while I read it. I think the stories are fine (except the Monster thing which caused me to drop it from my pull list, that sucked), it just seems so joyless. Even two lunatics blowing bubbles of love that turn into the getaway boat (that should have been glorious) seemed drab and gray. Oh well.

    • Got to say, I love that take of Ocean’s Eleven being about trying to live.

      I only know about I am Suicide from seeing a couple of pages here and there (Janin’s art is fantastic, and he works really well with a darker colour scheme) and from other people’s own reaction to the issue. So I can’t say anything with certainty. But nothing I saw made it clear that it was a con all along. In fact, it suggested that we were supposed to believe that Catwoman actually did betray Batman. Still, if it is clear that it is a con, then that would work much better.

      It is interesting you find the Batman books too dark at this moment of time. I’m not entirely sure the exact level of darkness is the problem (The Black Mirror is still the best Batman story in recent memory, and also probably the darkest), but the type of dark content. It really seems that the Bat books have just fallen into the same traps that they fell into back in the days of worshipping Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns. That loss of humanity so that the books can be sufficiently edgy. I think why the stories have shifted from dark to dour and joyless

        • There is only so much I can say about your review considering my experience with DC comics at the moment is hearing what’s in the latest comic, going ‘Really?’ and being happy that I made the smart choice after reading DC Rebirth.

          Pretty decent review. There were a but too many parts that were a bit too nitpicky for me, but you had some really fantastic stuff. All of that stuff about the geographic failures was really good. Haven’t seen anyone else notice the fact that Batman was above the throne room in the end of Batman 11. And you do a great job at discussing how the individual members of the Squad are wasted (I am honestly shocked that Bronze Tiger never got to fight anyone)
          If you want a couple more criticisms to add, why is an arc about Batman’s Suicide Squad spending two issues with Batman alone, punching things? And from what I’ve heard, there is so, so much more wrong with Batman 12 than what you expressed

          Also, I highly recommend that you read the Vision and Omega Men, alongside Sheriff of Babylon which round out the ‘trilogy’. All three are masterpieces

        • I’m completely fine with the suicide retcon in batman 12. I wish his batman was as good as his other work. Have you read his green lantern darkseid war one shot? It is fantastic.

        • From the stuff I’ve heard, my problem with Batman 12 isn’t the suicide attempt, but the fact that it appears to imply that being Batman is actually just Bruce committing suicide the long way. That everything Batman does is just another path to his eventual death. Which ignores the fact that there has always been more to Batman to leaping in front of bullets. There is the love he has for his Batfamily, the pride he has in so successfully raising them (Dick grayson being the world’s most well adjusted guy is supposed to be Batman’s biggest success). His commitment to helping people. His philanthropy to the people of Gotham. His actual attempts at meaningful change. There is so much more to Batman than running off to his death each night. Especially after Morrison and SNyder spent so much time exploring just how broad and complex Batman is, to put something so simplistic as ‘being the Batman is one long suicide attempt’ is terrible.

          Haven’t read Tom King’s Green Lantern One Shot, as I didn’t read Darkseid War. And I haven’t been reading All Star Batman. From everything I’ve heard, it seems to be the only DC Rebirth book that I can’t say anything bad about. But nothing I’ve heard or seen makes me want to read it. It looks fine, but worse than Snyder’s previous work. I’ve just accepted that Rebirth is utterly terrible, and not reading anything

        • Matt, I think a lot of folks have misinterpreted that suicide business — it’s not that Bruce is slowly committing suicide by being Batman (suicide by joker toxin or back-breaking or whatever), but that he’s already dead. He doesn’t have a death wish because he can’t have a death wish — as far as he’s concerned he died in his childhood. In this way, he doesn’t go out each night hoping that something will kill him, he does it because he’s the ghost of Bruce Wayne, and fighting crime is his unfinished business. There’s definitely still some fatalism to that take on the character, but not nearly as much as you’re suggesting.

        • That’s better, but not much better. Compare that to what Snyder did, with Batman 49. For Batman to live, Bruce Wayne must die. The word live is important. Batman is still someone who lives, just differently to how he would have lived if his parents never died. He has always been more than just a war on crime. He is a philanthropist, he is compassionate and charitable, he is a father. Many, if not all, of the best Batman stories have been built on this very idea that there is a human side to go alongside his inhuman drive to fight crime, as have nearly all the movies.

          And hell, in today’s world, where we are trying to have more nuanced discussions around trauma as part of ongoing dialogues about topics like mental health and rape culture, I think it is important to have the most popular superhero in the world be a Survivor, as opposed to someone who ‘died’ because of their trauma. Someone who became more than what happened to them.

          Regardless of the exact level of fatalism, is it really that much better an interpretation to reduce Batman to just punching bad guys? Because that’s the problem. Not that it is fatalistic. But that it is limited and simplistic.

        • I think the key thing is that this is Bruce’s explanation, and is necessarily selective and hypocritical. He didn’t actually give up and die, he just came up with a profoundly unhealthy coping mechanism. He still has relationships, even romantic ones, but uses his fractured interpretation of “death” to justify it to himself. And I think it’s okay for Batman to be unhealthy. Frankly, I think he has to be unhealthy to make the decisions that he makes. Trauma is a necessary part of his origin, and moving past it in any real way would effectively undo his motivation to be Batman in the first place.

        • Are there any context clues that suggest the comic doesn’t believe what Bruce is saying or that we should treat what Bruce says solely as his interpretation? Because if we are solely supposed to see the contents of the letter as solely the character’s interpretation, instead of the stance of the run itself, surely there would be some context clues?

          And I’m not saying that Bruce should have moved on. The two runs I have referenced the most are Morrison’s, where the sheer tragedy of Bruce’s mind is so overwhelming powerful that Darkseid’s clones cannot physically handle it, and Snyder’s, which showed, in Zero Year, that making the oath to become Batman was the self care mechanism of a guy struggling to deal with the trauma so much, that he basically had a suicide attempt. Both of those versions of Batman were permanently scarred by their tragic histories, and carried those wounds around them every day. They never moved past it, but ultimately still have lives. Those versions of Batman are exactly what you are describing. Not entirely healthy, but with a self care mechanism that lets them function enough to support all the normal things that Batman does, like philanthropy, romance and fatherhood

          But there is a big difference between that and ‘Batman is the Ghost of Vengeance of a dead Bruce Wayne’. That is something very different, a Batman defeated by his trauma, and a Batman that can’t exist outside fighting crime. So again, are there any context clues that suggest that the comic doesn’t ‘believe’ Bruce is correct?

        • His relationship with Catwoman is the big exception for me. “Ghost of vengeance” and “human man with romantic desires” are incompatible, so he justifies it by saying that she’s dead, too. He’s obviously straining to define his wants and desires as part of being dead. Or, he’s using “dead” even more figuratively, to mean some kind of emotional death, and he simply sees that reflected in Catwoman. Either way, his actions and his words aren’t quite compatible.

        • Good point. I don’t think that entirely wins the argument, because it depends on the exact nature of how their relationship is portrayed, but now it is getting to a level of nuance I can’t argue from my current position.

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