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 All-Star Batman 6, Detective Comics 948, Flash 14, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 12, New Super-Man 7 and Wonder Woman 14. Also, we’ll be discussing Gotham Academy Second Semester 5 on Tuesday, so come back for that! As always, this article containers SPOILERS!
All-Star Batman 6
Michael: Traditionally Batman is a character who “never smiles.” Of course that’s not necessarily true but there is a very specific “Batman smile” that comes to mind that I want to talk about today: “The Dark Knight smile.” Frank Miller’s Batman is one whose smile is mean, cynical and sinister. In All-Star Batman 6 we see that Dark Knight smile again.
Scott Snyder is joined by frequent collaborator Jock as they craft the first chapter of “Ends of the Earth.” Jock paints a frozen moody world inhabited by the inhuman, gangly Mr. Freeze and his ominous, silent zombie slaves. Jock doesn’t focus on big splashy comic book character reveals. In fact Freeze remains in shadow for most of the story, which enhances his creepiness. Snyder and letterer Steve Wands provide a unique arrangement of prose storytelling that wraps around Jock’s visuals.
After Batman seemingly fails to stop Freeze’s master plan of worldwide death, he falls asleep. It’s then that perspective of this prose is suddenly shifted from Batman to freeze, which heightens the reveal that Batman had planned to fail, as he was carrying a virus in his skin to counteract Freeze’s biological terror. When Freeze realizes what has happened, Jock draws Batman with blood-red eyes and a devilish smile. He grabs Freeze and locks the two of them in a bunker as they witness Freeze’s “dreams” blown to hell.
Thanks to a terrific character revamp in Batman: The Animated Series, Mr. Freeze is considered a tragic figure. That’s why it’s so striking to see Batman laugh at Freeze’s defeat. But as we’ve seen thus far in All-Star Batman, this is an extreme Batman who doesn’t suffer any bullshit from his villains. Besides, Freeze WAS trying to kill everybody on the planet.
Detective Comics 948
Spencer: Despite the title and the lengthy flashback to her earliest days in the costume, “Batwoman Begins” is (thankfully) not a retelling of Batwoman’s origin. Instead, this story acts as a prelude (or even a “Rebirth” one-shot) to Kate’s upcoming solo series, with Detective Comics writer James Tynion IV even bringing in his Batwoman co-writer Marguerite Bennett in to help get things rolling. And while Tynion’s incorporated Kate into the Bat-Family in his tenure on ‘Tec, the point he, Bennett, and artist Ben Oliver seem most adamant about making in this issue is that Batwoman needs to fill the kind of role, and have the kind of adventures, that Batman can’t.
Knowing what we now know about Jacob Kane, it’s fairly obvious that his idea of the role Batwoman should fill is very different from the one she ended up finding, and in that regard, this issue’s focus on Kane and the Colony are very likely setting up events that will end up reverberating throughout both of Kate’s spotlight titles.
Much of this issue, though, acts as a backdoor pilot for Batwoman. Tynion and Bennett don’t just say that Kate needs her own role to fill; they remember that she already has that role (the Gotham vigilante who deals with the monstrous and supernatural), and adjust accordingly. “Monstertown” — the quarantined section of Gotham surrounding the corpses of the beasts from the “Night of the Monster Men” crossover, now filled with mutated creatures who have sampled the beasts’ remains — provides a natural setting for Batwoman’s trademark kind of adventures, and Tynion and Bennett even seem to be setting up some supporting characters for Kate (including Dr. Victoria October, who brings quite a bit of spark and personality, along with some welcome trans representation, to the proceedings).
It’s nice to know that a creative team has a solid plan going into a series. I was always going to check out Batwoman no matter what, but if you’re on the fence about it, this storyline might just help you make up your mind.
The Flash 14
Spencer: Now that Joshua Williamson and Carmine Di Giandomenico have had a full year’s worth of issues to establish their Rebirthed takes on Barry Allen and Wally West, it’s time for them to turn their attention to the Flash’s most iconic enemies, the Rogues. Williamson makes some fascinating choices early in the issue, somehow reconciling the Rogues’ New 52 stories with their original Bronze Age continuity in a way that’s, amazingly enough, concise and easy to understand.
The most interesting choice here, though, is the decision to withhold the Rogues themselves until the final page of the issue. Instead of learning about the Rogues through their words or actions, we learn about them by seeing how the people of Central City view them. To a man like Warden Wolfe, they’re hopeless criminal scum; to newbie thieves like Papercut, they’re washed-up has-beens. To Gambi they’re friends whose secrets are worth keeping; to citizens like Lisa’s former teacher or the members of the Rogues Support Group, they’re menaces whose greed have ruined countless lives, including their own. It’s a complicated, sometimes contradictory message, but to be fair, those are very much words I’d use to describe the Rogues themselves. Still, all things considered, I can see why the Rogues might feel the need to take back control of their own narrative.
A “Rebirth” implies a cleansing or purification of some sort, implies that things are going to get better, but by their own admission, the Rogues aren’t being reborn — they’re being “Reloaded,” and that implies that they’re going on the offensive, ready to attack. After a string of stories throughout the New 52 that have mostly emphasized their (admittedly reluctant) better sides, the Rogues are ready to show everyone just how bad they can truly be. If Williamson and Di Giandomenico can explore this new chapter in the lives of the Rogues with the same deft, reverent touch with which they’ve handled their history, it should be an absolute blast.
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 12
Patrick: “Personality” can be an elusive quality for any work of fiction. Is is doubly true when working in a collaborative medium like comic books. Let’s just go ahead and double that again when characters with as much history as the Green Lanterns are in play. Luckily, writer Robert Venditti and artist Ethan Van Sciver can play the vast array of Lantern personalities like a harp, somehow honoring character and universe in the same breath that they’re staging a climactic battle. It’s all so remarkably fun.
Van Sciver’s really stepped up his game here, and rather than letting the simple iconography of his pages and panels tell the story, he’s making choices that actively show movement and character at the same time. There’s a great page where Guy is about to smash a bottle with Lobo in it, and the paneling suggests the direction that he’d be spiking the bottle into the ground. Guy’s sightline never intersects with the contents of the bottle, so Lobo’s a bit of dramatic irony for the audience to enjoy, but the spiking recalls Guys past as a college football player. That kind of attention to character details is on display when Hal and Kyle show up. I love this spread, and I’m including the whole thing here, so forgive how small I have to make it.
John’s got a strategy, Kyle follows orders, and Hal just charges right in. That’s all perfect, but I’m even more impressed by the forms their constructs take. John, the former architect, swings a wrecking ball, while Kyle, the artist, hurls X-acto knives at his targets. Meanwhile, Hal, the Air Force fighter pilot, plays his hand straight: planes and guns. It’s all so remarkably simple and satisfying, which makes for the best Green Lantern stories.
I also gotta tip my hat to Venditti for continuing to develop the mythology, even while wrapping up an explosive battle. There’s the micro-development that Larfleeze murdered a Brainiac, and therefore now commands an orange construct version of him. And then there’s the more macro-development of the alliance between the Greens and the Yellows. I feel like I should hate Hal’s incredulous “We’re going to do what now?” comment, but goddamn it all — it just feels exciting, fresh and earned.
New Super-Man 7
Mark: While Kenan Kang as Super-Man has begun showing up in other DC titles (most recently Superman 14), writer Gene Luen Yang has been afforded the luxury of being able to build his own world in New Super-Man, with interesting and unexpectedly comedic results. The issue opens with Lex Luthor visiting Shanghai as part of a Lunar New Year celebration, and the whole thing is funny. Luthor’s imperfect Mandarin is good for a laugh, but I really enjoyed this interaction between Luthor and Kenan:
Having a young Super-Man is paying dividends in a way that de-aging Superman in the New 52 never did. Kenan hasn’t been beaten down by the world yet, and his awkwardness mixed with cocksuredness makes him stand out from other heroes in the DC canon.
New Super-Man 7 also finds Yang finally delving into the backstories of another member of the Chinese Justice League with a visit to the secret training facility that spawned Bat-Man. But while I enjoy finding out more about Baixi, the logic of what happens at the Academy of the Bat doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. One minute Headmaster O is reminding school bully Feng Rongpei that the ministry’s decision to make Baixi Bat-Man is final, the next the school is hosting a sanctioned duel in a simulated Gotham City between Baixi and Feng to determine who will wear the cowl. It’s confusing. Is everyone at the Academy jockeying to become Bat-Man in a giant game of King of the Hill?
Still, despite its shortcomings, the trip is worthwhile as Yang builds out his little corner of the DC universe. Hopefully we don’t have to wait another 7 issues to find out more about Wonder-Woman.
Wonder Woman 14
Drew: I’ll admit, I never really got the Lasso of Truth. Don’t get me wrong — it certainly came in handy from time to time, though it seemed on par with, say, Daredevil’s lie-detector hearing; they could both come in handy, but neither could be said to be the most important feature of their respective heroes. Sure, criminals might lie, but Batman doesn’t need special abilities to know when they were lying, nor does need a special tool to compel them to tell the truth. Of course, this is a perspective that comes when we take the truth for granted, a luxury that it’s increasingly clear we no longer have. In this light, the Lasso of Truth is one of the most powerful tools in comics, and is rightly elevated to that position in Wonder Woman 14, as “Year One” draws to a close.
Not once, but twice in this issue the Lasso proves its worth, first in defeating Ares, then in destroying the biological agent that would have created an army of berserkers (or, if you like, would have infected everyone with rage). In this way, the Lasso doesn’t just compel truth, it banishes lies, whether those lies are the product of biological agents in the bloodtream, or personified in the shape of Greek deities. Diana is the opposite of war because she has the truth on her side.
The thought that war, or violence in general, is only the product of lies strikes me as uncontroversial, but writer Greg Rucka seems to be making a subtler point in having Barbara Minerva translating Diana’s exchange with Ares. That is, she’s reporting the exchange. It seems simply stating what’s happening (she gets the meaning right, even when her translations are a bit clumsy) isn’t enough to banish lies. There’s a higher order of truth, represented by Diana’s Lasso, that reporters have a duty to aspire towards if they’re ever going to defeat lies. It’s a heady moral, but a timely one, reminding us just how relevant a character like Wonder Woman can be.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?
So is Snyder’s directive on All-Star Batman just to do Batman stories that don’t take place in Gotham? This has a wildly different tone from the first arc, and with it’s constant narration almost feels like it’s cribbing from King’s Batman. I think this story is interesting, but I’m having a hard time grasping both scale and reality in it, which is a criticism I always have of Jock’s work. Like… did Freeze really release this bacteria on the whole world? Or is that a Batman fever dream? That confusion could easily be part of the point, but I think I need to see the whole story to judge this one volume.
My take was that Freeze unleashed the bacteria but the antidote in Batman’s skin was able to kill it…I’m just not sure how Batman escaped the sleep/cell Freeze put him into in the first place. I, too, have trouble following Jock’s art sometimes, atmospheric as it is
I’m surprised to hear people struggle following Jock’s art. Jock’s art is heavy on atmosphere, but I’ve never struggled in any real way. Hidden behind everything is usually a very strong use of the geography of the scene, and his emphasis on atmosphere means the very change in tone can guide you through a scene. I think of some sequences, like the car crusher in the Black Mirror, or the descent into the Wytches’ lair, and it works wonderfully because everything does so much work into telling the story, in a way which more obvious art would fail.
I have my own confusions with this story. I remember, years ago now, the first Batman annual of the New 52 had a Mr. Freeze story where Snyder added a twist to Freeze’s origin so that he had NEVER been married and only imagined that the woman who was cryogenically frozen was his wife. I thought that would have to still be the case–since DC Rebirth (I don’t think?) was not a continuity altering reboot–but, here, it seems like Mr. Freeze is closer to his more classic origin. Am I missing something?
Kyle seems… chipper in that picture. Something about the one line that you showed feels like it is from a Kyle who is a bit quippy and relaxed. Is it just me seeing the page out of context, or is that how they are writing Kyle?
Because it would be great if just once, when someone says ‘Rebirth gets the characters just right’ they mean ‘they truly get how Kyle is suffering from his loss of faith and his struggles with his realisation of man’s savagery’ and not ‘they read that Kyle was an artist on wikipedia’
The story’s not really about Kyle, so I’d have no problem with his characterization being off of what we saw in Omega Men. Also, I’m not sure where you’re getting “chipper” from. He says “Fear. I can do that.” If anything, that statement is pretty grim.
I think the White Lantern, who has the power of the entire emotional spectrum as a set of different tools on his toolbelt, saying “Fear. I can do that” after being specifically asked for fear while shooting X-acto knives is very different from Batman saying the same thing. Feels relaxed and casual. Another day in the office, when that office is the Green Lantern Corps mythos.
And while this story appears to be primarily about John Stewart, I think it is fair to say that Kyle Rayner is one of the four leads of this book. This isn’t Superman being a guest star in Batman. So why shouldn’t they be seeding the important character stuff about Kyle? Shouldn’t Kyle, in his own book, be written in such a way that acknowledges who he currently is? Even if he isn’t currently the main focus?
I mean, you were praising the issue for how great a job Venditti and Van Sciver does with the four Lanterns. Yet how can the depiction of a character be praised if it is not taking into account the most important defining parts of the character? And for Kyle Rayner, currently, it is that he has recently suffered an incredible loss of faith in humanity, in God and in the very idea that the Green Lanterns can create meaningful change.
All you need at this point is a Kyle who is doubting and uncertain. A little curt, someone who isn’t feeling entirely comfortable with being a superhero. Doing the job, but doesn’t have his heart in it. Maybe the true visual way to show Kyle’s constructs would be boring and utilitarian. Basically just shooting things with lasers. It works, but lacks the artistic flair he usually has. Showing a disconnect that makes him distinct from everyone else. That is Kyle in character. And from something as simple as that, you then go into further depth about his current status quo in the later, Kyle focused story. I mean, isn’t a Blue Lantern story coming up? Aren’t the Blue Lanterns the perfect foil for a story like that? Kyle as the man who has lost all hope, searching for the literal hope that is the Blue Lanterns? So why not write a Kyle that actually has something to do with Kyle’s current status quo, instead of ignoring every piece of characterisation there is, as is apparently Rebirth’s mandate