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 14, Green Arrow 14, Midnighter and Apollo 4, Nightwing 12 and Shade the Changing Girl 4. Also, we’ll be discussing Superman 14 on Monday and Green Lanterns 14 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article containers SPOILERS!
Patrick: If we want to accept Tom King’s version of Batman as a sort of Life After Bruce Wayne Died — and that’s an “if” I’m happy to continue debating forever — there has to be some kind of compelling force that keeps Batman active all these years. I think we all sort of intuit our way to that explanation for Batman’s existence: he fights crime so no one will have to suffer as he did. That pat and clean – justice in a way that makes without having to unpack it too much. But Batman 14 mixes up that baggage just enough to make the argument that there is a ghostly resignation to Batman’s lifestyle. He fights crime not because it brings him some kind of peace, but because “he has to.”
It’s a revelation that borders on trite, but King and artist Mitch Gerards take special care not to paint Batman as some kind of narcissist thrill-seeker. Pairing him with Catwoman takes the more violent edge off his nightly exploits punching costumed weirdos in the face. And lemme tell ya, King goes for the fucking weirdest Batman villains you could possible imagine. Between this and Scott Snyder’s All-Star Batman, I’m beginning to thing there’s a trend in modern Batman of defining the hero by the sheer depth and insanity of his rogues gallery. Sure, we can learn a lot about Bats by how he’s reflected by Joker or Two-Face or whomever, but we might even be able to learn more by the variety of villains that decide to square off against him.
Gerards, who handles everything you see on the page other than the lettering, shows off over a dozen different D-List Bat villains, even if only to show them getting clocked in the face. The rhythm of this sequence is so immensely satisfying that it’s hard to argue with Batman’s M.O.
God, they’re all so dumb. I actually really like the idea that Catwoman’s after the same pointless endgame: stealing because “she has to.” That may end up falling under the “there is no answer” approach to answering narrative questions, but it works for me.
Green Arrow 14
Michael: A few weeks back I praised Green Arrow 13 for playing the mystery game very well — who doesn’t love a mystery? Often times the notion of the mystery itself is a lot more interesting than its actual resolution. Benjamin Percy peels back the curtain in Green Arrow 14 and reveals that the mysterious archer that has been framing the Emerald Archer for murder is Malcolm Merlyn.
It’s not so much a disappointing reveal as it is a curious one. We don’t really get a good idea for why Merlyn was doing what he was doing, other than he’s a villain. Merlyn simply spouts some rhetoric about how Oliver is “caught in the throat of his own denial,” fires an arrow at a cop and disappears.
Green Arrow has been a great showcase for varying styles of talented artists but this time around it’s a bit of a mixed bag as its split among Eleonara Carlini, Carlos Rodriguez and Gus Vazquez. The opening pages have Green Arrow surrounded by an angry mob — all of whom have “mask eyeholes” where their eyes should be. If the intention was to creep us out then I guess it achieved that goal.
It’s a step down in the consistent quality but there are still things to love about Green Arrow 14. Black Canary continues to steal the spotlight, as she stumbles her way into masquerading as a member of the Seattle PD. Things like this are what keep me coming back to Green Arrow: Black Canary pretending to be a cop named “Officer…Kiniry.”
Midnighter and Apollo 4
Mark: One of the great pleasures of Steve Orlando and Fernando Blanco’s Midnighter and Apollo has been the insane page layouts. While never aping the stylings of ACO, Blanco has followed the precedent set by the old Midnighter book, which means dizzying and complex compositions. Midnighter and Apollo 4 showcases Blanco at his best, with striking page after striking page. From Midnighter’s confrontation with Mawzir to fighting his way into Neron’s throne room, this is the strongest issue of Midnighter and Apollo yet.
Late in the issue, Orlando uses our knowledge of tropes again us. Like Bilbo and Gollum, for a moment it seems like Apollo is going to stump Neron with a riddle and win back his freedom. But no. When Midnighter kicks down the door of Castle Epicaricacius he finds Apollo a prisoner; Apollo’s gambit fails. And while it’s been a little frustrating to see Apollo neutered issue after issue, it’s a testament to Orlando that I was genuinely surprised by the issue’s final reveal.
Spencer: In the past I’ve often complained about the middle chapters of storylines being the weakest, but Nightwing 12 manages to buck that trend; this third installment of the “Bludhaven” arc is easily the strongest thus far. The same qualities that often hamper these middle installments, such as a focus on plot and place-setting above all else, actually work to the story’s advantage — it turns out that Tim Seeley and Marcus To’s Dick Grayson is a lot more interesting when he’s investigating a case than when he’s feeling sorry for himself.
While there is some minor advancement of Dick’s search for meaning and fulfillment, the bulk of the issue is devoted to Nightwing’s attempts to ingratiate himself to the Run-Offs and investigate the murders being pinned them, as well as a particularly entertaining fight against a giant whale-woman and her goons. Here, especially, Nightwing shines.
This is the Dick Grayson I’ve missed — the one who smiles and quips and flips. Seeley taps into some classic Grayson-isms earlier in the issue as well, where Dick explains how he learned to read people’s intentions as a survival mechanism — it again emphasizes Dick’s empathy as his greatest asset, while also giving a reasonable explanation as to how he got so good at it. With Nightwing 12, Seeley and To are able to use Dick’s actions and interactions with the Run-Offs to define him better than they ever could with his isolating search for personal meaning. I hope they can keep it up.
Shade the Changing Girl 4
Drew: That DC’s “Young Animals” imprint is inspired by Vertigo’s earliest years can’t really be denied — half of the series that launched Young Animals are revamps/sequels to series that launched Vertigo. Of course, that begs the question: what made Vertigo special in the first place? I doubt there’s one simple answer to this — a lot of key factors coalesced in those early years to make Vertigo a success — which means it may be difficult to isolate any factor from Vertigo in hopes of replicating that success. That is, even the elements like, say, the highly episodic storytelling that feel dated to us now might be essential to Vertigo-ness. Which is to say, while Shade the Changing Girl gets a lot of the spirit of those early Vertigo series right, it’s modern, decompressed storytelling might just be what does it in.
Don’t get me wrong — I love a decompressed story as much as anyone — but this particular issue emphasized the shagginess of the plotting, and ultimately didn’t actually advance the story. As with last month’s issue, this one finds Shade overwhelmed at her emotions, her teammates secretly hating her, River intrigued by her, and it all ends with Shade at the precipice of discovering what happened to Megan. The only real change in this story happens in the three pages we get on Meta. Three pages. That’s too decompressed, even by my standards, feeling for all the world like the Amazing Spider-Man comic strip, where a full one third of each instalment is just a summary of the previous few.
I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt; perhaps writer Cecil Castellucci simply needed to adjust the pacing for the Earth and Meta storylines to collide properly down the line (though why that adjustment couldn’t have happened earlier is beyond me). I’m still intrigued by this series — like I said, it gets a lot of the spirit of Vertigo right — but this issue was a big miss for me. Here’s hoping next month sees some real changes in the paradigm for both Shade and Lepuck.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?
Midnighter: Mark, I love that image you posted, but you passed up a PRIME opportunity to pull perhaps the best Midnighter scene of ALL TIME:
MIDNIGHTER HEADBUTTING A MAGIC BULLET THROUGH A SIX-GUN-ARMED DEMON’S HEAD
I’m not really sure I understand what went on with Apollo’s riddle gambit, but god, that fight, and especially the shotgun headbutt make up for any shortcomings.
Batman: Are there any rooftops Batman and Catwoman HAVEN’T had sex on?
I still don’t fully get this weird tonal mix King is using — King has these moody, somber, heady plots and dialogue mixed with almost campy villains and threats, and while I can love both those elements on their own (Kite Man! Hell yeah!), I don’t think they’ve ever fully meshed. I kinda walk away from most issues of King’s Batman perplexed, even when I understand the point he’s trying to make. It just doesn’t jive for me.
Yeah I’m just not digging King’s Batman anymore. I appreciated the approach that he took with Bane – not just making him the ‘roided out brute – but he didn’t explore the character’s motivations too thoroughly. King has posed a lot of different theses in his 14 issues of Batman but I don’t think he’s actually dived in and elaborate on them in an interesting or meaningful way. I find myself wanting more every time, like “ok…what else?”
Is a single issue, episodic storytelling really that is part of the essential nature of Vertigo? In the 90s, this sort of storytelling was still a key part of how comics worked and what was expected. But some of the most iconic Vertigo stories have been multi issue arcs. Sandman was just as much multi issue epics as it was single tales (and Neil Gaiman has admitted that he wrote the Kindly Ones for the trade, and gave up any pretence of working a as single issue). Hell, even the single issue stuff groups works is surprisingly arc based ways at times, where things like Worlds’ End is designed as an arc to be read together, instead of simply being the next six ‘episodes’ of the Sandman. And books like Hellblazer have some of their most iconic stories be arcs. Dangerous Habits is very specifically an arc, and the story that will forever define John Constantine