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 15, Green Arrow 14, Green Lanterns 15, Superman 15 and Trinity 5. Also, we’ll be discussing Nightwing 13 on Tuesday, so come back for that! As always, this article containers SPOILERS!
Drew: Abstract any story enough, and you’ve heard it before. That’s not much of an insight — Joseph Campbell beat me to that punch a long time ago — but I think making stories look the same requires a great deal less abstraction than we typically assume. Take, for example, the first time Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle laid eyes on each other. Whether you’re imagining the botched diamond heist from Batman 1 (that is, the first volume, from Spring of 1940) or the botched reconnaissance mission Bruce went on in Year One, the stories are remarkably similar. A character in disguise (not the typical disguise we associate with them), their plan goes awry, and the other character is immediately drawn to them. I’m not certain Frank Miller was intentionally mirroring Catwoman’s first appearance when he wrote Year One, but in Batman 15, Tom King makes those similarities feel essential to her character.
To emphasize this, King establishes both stories as the first meeting of these characters — Batman remembers the Batman 1 story, while Catwoman remembers Year One.
It’s an intriguing approach to continuity, suggesting less that “everything happened” a la Grant Morrison, and more that continuity as we know it is an amalgamation of subjective memories. But what’s really fascinating here is that King unearths and advances a theory on the nature of Batman and Catwoman’s relationship — something that has been true from their very first meeting (whichever first meeting you choose) — and smashes it to bits.
Because what’s essential to both of those stories, and arguably every Catwoman story ever, is the tension between their romantic interests in one another and their adversarial costumed relationship. Neither of those stories could “end” without disrupting that tension, effectively turning their relationship into something else entirely. King does exactly that, allowing them not just to openly declare their love for one another, but to do so joyfully, embracing one another in a way that wasn’t possible when they first met (just look at that final row of panels I included). Which is to say, this isn’t like every Catwoman story we’ve heard before — it’s effectively the last one, a kind of conclusion to the story established in her dual first appearances. This issue fundamentally changes their relationship, and leaves Batman appropriately disturbed. It’s a daring move for King, but with such confident command over Catwoman’s entire history, it feels like a purposeful one.
Green Arrow 15
Michael: Green Arrow is a bleeding heart superhero, one who feels very responsible for the wellbeing of his city – Seattle or Star City. When there’s a killer on the loose or political injustice afoot, Oliver Queen takes it very personally, which is why he is punishing himself again in Green Arrow 15. Part four of “Emerald Outlaw” deals with the aftermath of Malcolm Merlyn’s attempt to frame Green Arrow while corrupt Officer Notting starts his own little vigilante revolution.
Oliver takes his frustrations out on his bathroom mirror as Juan E. Ferreyra gives us a recap on past events through the broken glass shard panels. I sometimes complain about over-exposition, but if you can catch new readers up to speed in an engaging and interesting way, I’m all for it. There’s an interesting “mirror within the mirror” concept going on here as Ferreyra presents us Trump stand-in Nathan Domini (look at those tiny hands) as a mirror image of demon-masked Cyrus Broderick.
Ferreyra constantly shifts the panel layouts throughout Green Arrow 15. As Notting and his “Vice Squad” go on their killing spree through the prison, the gutters of the page are transformed into the bars of a prison cell. Later he draws a good cop/bad cop game of chicken as a double-page spread made out of 17 panels of varying shape and size. Ferreyra breaks down the sequence beat by beat and stretches out the tension – sometimes literally – making it that much more effective. I would be completely fine with Green Arrow being a monthly book if this man could be the regular artist for every issue.
Green Lanterns 15
Patrick: Jessica Cruz is an oddity among Green Lanterns in that she suffers from crippling anxiety. That’s a hard idea to reconcile with any superhero, but that’s an even trickier idea when you have to put her condition in the same column as “the ability to overcome great fear.” So which is it? Is Jessica paralyzed by fear or impervious to it? Luckily, writer Sam Humphries refuses to ask questions as pointlessly pedantic as the one I posed above, portraying Jess’ anxiety less as a weakness and more as an opponent she fights every fucking day.
Humphries is joined this issue by a small studio of artists — Tom Derenick providing the layouts while Miguel Mendonca pencils, Scott Hanna inks and Blond colors. And it’s a good thing there’s so much artistic support for this story. For an issue titled “A Day in the Life,” there’s a ton of bombastic action in this issue, including a cameo by the Justice League. Derenick’s layouts are often driven by this almost obsessively orderly geometry, and it gives the otherwordly events of Jessica’s day an OCD quality. I mean, check out how pleasing the lines and circles are in this fight against a giant golden sea monster.
I love the circle created by the Bat Plane’s path, the submarine in the monster’s hand and Cyborg’s jets. I love the perpendicular lines of Simon and Cyborg’s flight paths. I love the symmetry of Wonder Woman and Jess on one side and Cyborg and Superman on the other. I love Flash cutting a clear path down the middle. It is so clean and so orderly. Jessica may claim that it’s Simon who is in his element here, but it’s clear that she’s more or less at peace doing this too.
Humphries, Derenick and Mendonca will also turn that orderliness against us when Jess’ anxiety gets the better of her. But that idea is phenomenal – it’s always there, and some days she’s better than coping with it than others. At one point, Simon says “I thought you were better” to which Jessica replies “I don’t ‘get better’ from this.” It’s just like how Batman can never fight crime to completion, he can only keep fighting it.
Oh and speaking of Batman – team-up next issue? Hell yes!
Mark: Multiversity is my favorite DC event series ever, and I couldn’t be happier to see its legacy live on in Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Superman run.
After a breathless Superman 14, Tomasi and Gleason slow things down just a little to give a bit of context for readers who maybe aren’t familiar with Multiversity or the Multiverse in general. You know a writer is aiming for the cheap seats when a scene begins with the words “…So let me get this straight…” When Superman is the one delivering that line, it’s hilarious.
But any issue that includes visits to so many Earths will never fail to win me over. Earth 2 is all well and good, but I just love seeing the rare Earths like Earth 14 trotted out. (And do you think the inclusion of Earth 10 came with the editorial mandate that no full swastikas could be in frame?)
Four artists (Ryan Sook, Ed Benes, Clay Mann, and Jorge Jimenez) worked on the issue, and it’s a pet peeve of mine when artists aren’t credited for the specific pages they worked on. In anthology issues you never see writers go uncredited on their specific story, so it’s weird to me when we let it slide for artists.
Superman encountering the many Supermen from throughout the Multiverse in Superman 15 did give me an idea for my own million dollar one-shot pitch, though: group therapy sessions where superheroes work through their issues with their counterparts from the Multiverse. I’d read it.
Spencer: There’s only one creator credited on the cover of Trinity 5: Francis Manapul. Indeed, while there are obviously letterers and editors involved in the creation of this issue, the majority of it comes solely from Manapul’s mind. In most ways that’s a good thing, as Manapul usually puts out his best work when he’s given freedom to craft his own ideas as he sees fit — Trinity 5 proves that true by providing some of the most straight-up gorgeous art Manapul’s ever created. He provides page after page of iconic images, bombastic action, and unbelievably vivid colors (in fact, if Trinity has taught me anything, it’s that Manapul might be an even better colorist than he is an artist — and he’s a damn fine artist), and while his storytelling and layouts aren’t as flashy as his work on The Flash, they continue to be smart and intuitive (I love the simple detail that scenes taking place in the real world have borders around their panels, while scenes taking place within the dream world don’t).
The story is rather smart too. This entire arc (aptly titled “Better Together”) has been about bringing this new incarnation of the trinity together and gaining power from connection and family, so of course Mongul would put that very concept to the test by siring a child of pure evil and manipulating Poison Ivy to do his bidding by pretending it’s hers. He’s using the very idea of this title against its stars, and I can’t wait to see how they turn the tables on him.
Where Manapul could really use another set of hands, though, is with the script. While Mongul has a bit of menace to his dialogue, the rest comes across as painfully generic at best, and embarrassing at worst. Most of the characters have similar voices (if you isolated much of the trinity’s dialogue and took their names away, I’d have no idea who was saying what), there’s loads of unwieldy exposition, and the trinity especially throw around generic stock phrases like they’ve got a room full of em.
The writers of the Justice League animated series have admitted to having a similar issue in their first season, often saddling Superman with painfully generic lines, so as a self-effacing joke, an episode in season two featured an army of Superman robots repeating real Superman dialogue from season one, pointing out how truly bad it was. Superman’s line here sounds exactly like one of the lines those robots would have spouted. It’s not even the issue’s worst offender: that honor would go to Batman’s “Justice League intel has this guy last seen buried in Black Mercy.” Seriously — Batman referring to Mongul as “this guy?” Is he sixteen years old, and also not Bruce Wayne somehow? It’s just way too casual a line for him.
I think Manapul could really benefit from the kind of arrangement Chris Samnee and Mark Waid share over in Black Widow — Samnee comes up with the stories and art, then Waid touches up the dialogue to give it a more finished, professional touch. Don’t get me wrong — Manapul will probably always be a creator whose work people buy for the art more than anything, but with sharper scripts, his books could go from being “okay stories with great art” to legitimately great series.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?