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 Batgirl 7, Flash 15, Kamandi Challenge 1, and Wonder Woman 15. Also, we’ll be discussing Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 13 on Friday, so come back for that! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: Batgirl 7 feels like a first issue. Within its pages, Hope Larson and Chris Wildgoose reestablish who Barbara Gordon is and what she stands for, while also building and advancing the cast and environment surrounding her. It’s not only timely, but charming as hell.
Barbara’s returned to Burnside to find that it’s gentrifying at a startling rate, and its new residents suffer from a severe lack of empathy. While there’s a few supervillains/potential-supervillains in play here, Batgirl’s real enemies are apathy, selfishness, and obliviousness. The tech gurus moving into Burnside like to think of themselves as progressive, as making the world a better place, but take no notice of the harm their presence is doing to the community. Many are actively hostile towards the homeless, but even those who think they’re “helping” them don’t really care enough to actually make sure they’re doing any good — what they really want is not to be inconvenienced.
In contrast, Batgirl’s all about people, and all about Burnside. She’s on a first-name basis with the staff of Burnside’s homeless shelters. She calls people out when she hears then saying hateful stuff. Most telling is the opening scene, where she basically lets a few disgruntled vandals go with a warning — she understands where they’re coming from and knows they don’t belong in jail, which would only hurt them further. Barbara’s social consciousness finally sells me on why she wasn’t a good fit for the tech world (and thus why she needed her international sojourn); her new career goal of becoming a librarian is much more fitting for the “Batgirl of Burnside” because it fosters community, knowledge, and selflessness, all traits we see Barbara displaying in spades throughout this issue.
This is a take on Batgirl and a direction for this title I can’t help but love, especially when accompanied by Wildgoose’s playful, detailed, and stylish art and character designs. Larson and Wildgoose also give us a Nightwing scene that’s probably my favorite use of the character since Rebirth began — more of that, please!
The Flash 15
Mark: I have to admit this is the first The Flash issue I’ve read since Rebirth, and The Flash 15 delivers everything I want out of this book: a great rogues gallery, some clever use of powers, a few twists in the story, and plenty of Flash being heroic. In The Flash 15, Joshua Williamson writes a stripped down, streamlined version of a Flash comic, and it’s exactly what I want.
Like the story, the issue’s art keeps it simple. Pencilist Carmine Di Giandomencio forgoes the visually chaotic layouts that can occasionally overwhelm issues of The Flash. In opting for more classically structured pages, Di Giandomencio loses none of Flash’s kinetic energy thanks to some well-placed bursts of lightning. It’s restrained, but not boring. That sense of excitement is enhanced by Ivan Plascencia’s color work. Something as simple as combining the blue of the Mirror Monster with the red of the Flash to give the monster an electric purple glow makes their encounter more dynamic.
For my money, this is the back-to-basics embrace of comic book-isms that the current Batman run attempted unsuccessfully in its first few issues. Maybe the rest of this Rebirth-ed The Flash has been a nightmare, but The Flash 15 illustrates how simplicity is often the best policy.
Kamandi Challenge 1
Drew: Having some formalist inclinations, I’m generally disinterested in the capital ‘R’ Romantic image of the artist. Which is to say, I’m more interested in the qualities of the work itself than the biographical information of the person who made it. That also means I’m not particularly curious about the specific circumstances surrounding the creation of a given work of art — some people love to know that an album was written and recorded in an empty cabin, or that a novel was written in one drug-fuelled week, but that all feels like superfluous information to me. Which makes talking about DC’s Kamandi Challenge a bit uncomfortable for me — I’d like to evaluate it on its own merits, but so much of the excitement for it focuses on how it was made, it seems like I’d be missing something. Fortunately, issue 1 obliges with a creative change halfway through the issue, revealing just what will make this series tick.
The first half, from Dan DiDio, Keith Giffen, and Scott Koblish, carries Kamandi from his Truman Show-inspired bunker (populated with robot actors) to a gladiator ring in a Planet of the Apes-inspired post-apocalyptic animal society. It’s short on explanation, but that’s very much in the spirit of the series, which is designed to paint future creative teams into difficult corners. The most obvious are the cliffhangers, but that opening hints at some serious mythology that will have much more profound effects on the series as it develops. The virtue of planing longer-gestating seeds is lost on the second creative team of Dan Abnett and Dale Eaglesham, who draw almost a straight line between the cliffhanger they inherit and the one they leave for the next creative team:
Indeed, the most interesting world-building elements Abnett introduces — everyone’s disbelief that a human can speak — seems to directly contradict dialogue from the previous issue (where a human speaking was utterly unremarkable). Wrestling all of the previous pieces of mythology will only get more difficult as the series goes on, but hopefully they’ll manage it with a bit more grace than this one. Fortunately, the next issue is written by Peter Tomasi, who is somewhat of a modern expert on transforming unwieldy mythology into compelling narratives.
Wonder Woman 15
“People mistake facts for the truth all the time. And they’re two very different things.”
Patrick: We are living in dangerous times, where both the truth and facts are being treated as mutable things by the highest office in the country. It is perhaps a coincidence that Greg Rucka and Liam Sharp’s Wonder Woman 15 leans on the mosaic quality of truth, and the connections to our current President and his aggressive campaign of disinformation are simply a trick of timing. Whatever the case, Diana’s fractured psyche reads as particularly horrifying, as both the reality of her history and her perception of her history remain hopelessly obscured.
Artist Liam Sharp delivers a heartstoppingly obstructive opening sequence, marrying the distinct visual identity of comic books to that of Diana’s memory and the tiles on the walls of her cell. It’s all horrifying in a beautifully understated way – it’s chaos through the guise of complete order.
This visual motif goes away after the cold open, but the attendant sense of unease pervasive throughout. Rucka checks in on just about all the open story threads, finding everyone dealing with huge amounts of uncertainty. In Themyscria, Hippolyta and the Amazons divine a warning from the same gnarled tree that seems to be at the heart of Diana’s experience, while Candy, Trevor and Barbara Ann struggle to figure out if they have any friends left in the world. It’s some dark shit, and it’s amazing to see Sharp and colorist Laura Martin shift their style as they bop from one dreary location to the next. In Themyscria, they’re clearly taking cues from Nicola Scott’s softer edges and contours; with Steve and the gang, Sharp seems to be channeling the grime and grit of Michael Gaydos’ Black Hood. I can’t say it makes for a particularly fun read, but it is engaging as hell.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?
I know what you mean about the issue of Batgirl feeling like the start of a new run. I read the preview (it doesn’t look like the preview was the beginning of the book, if the opening involves vandals), and the preview felt like the new run housecleaning where they get rid of all the previous writer’s elements so that they can do their own stuff
What shocked me, though, was how mean spirited it felt. It looked back at an instantly iconic run (even with its flaws, no one can dismiss that Batgirl was instantly iconic in a way better books weren’t. The only books comparable in terms of instantly iconic are the Vision and Spider-Gwen, and I say this as a guy who doesn’t care that much for the Spider-Gwen book), and did so in a way that felt so happy to finally be getting rid of all the elements of the previous run. Having the bit with the teacher after class to make very clear just how much better being a librarian was to… making innovative predictive models designed to help improve quality of life in urban areas. Having the bit where Barbara thinks about how great it is that she is to be out of… the clean energy industry.
Surely, there has to be a way to return things to the old status quo (and bore me to death) without treating the previous run as a mistake that is thankfully corrected. A way to have Barbara return to her roots as a librarian without treating her time creating valuable algorithms as a distraction from her true path. A way to explore gentrification without having Barbara demonise a company that she designed to supply affordable, clean energy. A way to do what they wanted to do without treating THAT Batgirl run in particular like dirt