DC Round-Up: Comics Released 2/1/17


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 Green Arrow 16, Green Lanterns 16, Midnighter and Apollo 5, and Shade the Changing Girl 5. Also, we’ll be discussing Batman 16 on Friday and Superman 16 on Tuesday, so come back for those! As always, this article containers SPOILERS!


Green Arrow 16

green-arrow-16Spencer: The “Emerald Outlaw” arc has thrown quite a few challenges at Ollie and company, and it makes for a uniquely paced story. The rapid succession of villains that opened the arc essentially dropped the floor out from beneath Green Arrow, sending him to his lowest point, but they’ve also allowed Benjamin Percy and Otto Schmidt to then stagger his victories. In Green Arrow 16 Ollie scores several: the team takes down the Vice Squad, he makes a true ally in Chief Westburg, and Emiko returns, reuniting the complete Arrow family for the first time in a while. All these victories create a much-welcome sense of progression that often escapes these kind of mid-arc installments, but the fact that Domini, Broderick, and the Dark Archer are all still out there means that there’s still quite a bit of conflict to sustain this storyline through its conclusion.

Green Arrow 16 also continues to highlight Oliver Queen’s greatest asset: his compassion (or his bleeding heart, as his enemies would no doubt claim).


One way it does that is by contrasting him against the Vice Squad. We can see that they have a dim view of human life — in their eyes, a man’s worth is only determined by what he can contribute to society. A man has to “earn his oxygen” — Oliver, in contrast, believes every human life is worthwhile simply because it’s a life, and he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is, stepping between the Squad’s victim and their bullet without a moment’s hesitation. The Vice Squad’s rhetoric harkens back to the early issues of this run, where Percy and his collaborators explored both the strengths and dangers of money; here we can see how thinking only of money can dehumanize people, turning them into “resources” or “vultures” instead of human beings. Oliver Queen is a hero because he always resists that line of thought, and it’s probably why his reward in this issue isn’t riches or even clearing his name: it’s mending his scattered family. People: that’s what matters most.


Green Lanterns 16

green-lanterns-16Patrick: Fear is a powerful, if imprecise, motivator. A frightened animal is going to respond, but it’s reaction might be hard — or even impossible — to predict. That’s what makes fear such a good tool for tearing things down and such a lousy tool for progress. In Green Lanterns 16, writer Sam Humphries makes the case that fear can lead different people to totally opposite conclusions.

This is demonstrated most obviously in Batman and Simon’s running debate about Simon’s sidearm. Gordon is actually the one to call him out, with the hilariously casual “what’s with the gun?” Humphries is affecting a tone for Gordon that’s a lot more colloquial that I’m used to seeing, but I think that’s partially because he’s acting as the audience surrogate (or possibly even a writer surrogate) asking the lingering questions we have in a manner we might ask it. Even his retort about Simon’s need to have an Open Carry license comes with a little extra sass on it, subverting both Gordon’s usual no-nonsense approach to police work and his permissive cooperation with all other superheroes. (Sure, Simon’s gun is dangerous, but it’s not more dangerous than Superman’s eyes.) Simon stands up for his gun by citing the various times he probably would have died without it, and it’s hard to argue that the pistol didn’t make him safer. Counterpoint from the Bat: his parents were shot and murdered by a man with a gun. Both Bruce and Simon are afraid: one of them crusades against guns and the other won’t leave the house unarmed.

Artist Neil Edwards might be playing that duality a little too forward for my tastes – the connections between their conclusions is strong enough that we don’t really need a panel like this:


Of course, that’s what the larger case in Gotham City is about. Batman knows people have been freaking out and attacking him because they are suddenly supernaturally frightened. Ever the detective, Batman rules out Scarecrow – Dr. Crane always needs a medium by which he delivers his fear toxin. Conversely, Simon rules out the Sinestro Corps because his ring isn’t picking up yellow energy. They’re both blaming each other’s controllable fear-monsters, which is a wonderful parallel to their gun debate. Of course, they’re both wrong: the man behind the curtain is a Yellow Ring Slingin’ Scarecrow. This has happened before: one of the pivotal (and blindingly awesome) moments of Blackest Night sees six Earth heroes and villains deputized as members of the emotional corps to help fight back Black Hand. Scarecrow was the obvious pick for Yellow, and I guess he’s just been hanging on to that ring through two soft reboots. Humphries even sets us up for this reveal by reminding the readers that the last time he battled the Sinestro Corps was during Blackest Night. (Though, continuity-nerd side note: Bruce Wayne was sorta dead during Blackest Night. He must have read about it later.)


Midnighter and Apollo 5

midnighter-and-apollo-5Spencer: Midnighter is a blunt instrument. I think that’s why we like him so much: the Midnighter always manages to save the day simply by beating the living hell out of any enemy who’s stupid enough to challenge him, and by never doubting for a second that he’s capable of it. The fact that Midnighter is an overpowered character never diminishes that thrill, but it’s even greater on the rare occasions when he challenges a villain even more powerful than himself.

Neron certainly fits that bill, and indeed, the greatest thrills of Midnighter and Apollo 5 come from the typically hyper-violent fist-fight between Midnighter and Neron. Steve Orlando and Fernando Blanco pull no punches and play no tricks, selling the brutality of the battle in a series of standard, straight-forward panels, each one highlighting yet another vicious blow. Between his brutality to Apollo in past issues and his pompous attempts at smack-talk (an area where Midnighter woefully outclasses him), it’s a joy to see a beaten and bloodied Neron lie defeated at Midnighter’s feet.


Of course, Midnighter is never just a blunt instrument — he may march into Hell ready to fist-fight the devil himself, but he does so armed with weapons that will actually let him win the fight. That kind of pragmatism is typical of Midnighter, but still a rather straightforward strategy, and Neron is anything but straightforward. He loses the fist-fight, but gains a leg up over Midnighter by doing what he does best: lying. With that in mind, I can’t help but wonder if we’re supposed to think of Midnighter’s penchant for violence as a liability, as well as an asset. After all, issue 1 had Apollo criticizing Midnighter’s excessive use of violence, and Apollo was able to escape Neron’s grip by outsmarting him, not fighting him. Is this a sign that Midnighter might need to broaden out a bit in his strategy? Or is that what Apollo’s for? After all, while Apollo may have broken free on his own, it’s Midnighter’s black candle giving them a doorway home. They do make a pretty great team.


Shade, the Changing Girl 5

shade-the-changing-girl-5Drew: My wife is a dyed-in-the-wool musical fan, so is often trying to convince me of their charms. It’s not that I dislike musicals per se, but I tend to be suspicious of the narrative value of most musical numbers. My wife argues that those songs are meant to reflect the subjectivity of the characters, which I think makes sense when we understand that our experience is tightly tied to one or a few musically-inclined characters — that is, characters who arguably would experience the world musically — but tends to break down when “lets sing and dance about it!” feels arbitrary to the characters and setting (I’m looking at you, Les Miserables). Case in point: I’m actually quite charmed by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which makes a point of tying our perspective to that of its protagonist and emphasizing how much that protagonist likes musicals. The musical numbers (even the still arguably dubious ones) fall out of the character, building her out rather than fighting against her. I found myself marvelling at a similarly comfortable fit with the subjective touches Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone employ in Shade, the Changing Girl, revealing a great deal about both Shade and Megan in the process.

A school trip to the zoo puts Shade in a decidedly anthropological mood, studying the humans around her as carefully as she’s studying the animals. Castellucci makes as much clear in Shade’s narration, but I’m most impressed at how Zarcone uses the madness hallucinations to emphasize that point.


Indeed, the subjectivity of Shade’s perspective has never been more apparent than this issue, which finds her memories illuminated by proustian triggers, her conversations veering wildly into full-on hallucinations, and her feelings ever more corrupted by Megan’s. Madness is making her lose grip with reality, but only by letting her project her subconscious onto the world around her.

Some of these points are a bit belabored at this point (much like any given chorus from a musical number), including Shade’s inability to return to Meta, but we do get a big, paradigm-shifting ending: the return of Megan’s astral self from limbo. This series has lacked for a strong antagonist, and while the machinations on Meta are diverting, it really needed someone to oppose Shade on Earth. Megan wanting her body back is the perfect conflict (and I suppose justifies reminding us that Shade has nowhere else to go), which promises to push this series into some much-needed new ground.


The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

3 comments on “DC Round-Up: Comics Released 2/1/17

  1. Drew, I think you are taking the wrong approach of musicals. It is great when something like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (which is top of my list of things to watch) and La La Land have characters who are musical, but I think that sort stuff isn’t some key necessity for a musical to work, but simply musicals being meta.

    The thing about musicals is that they aren’t a narrative tool, but a medium in itself. The answer to ‘Why is this a musical?’ is the same as ‘Why is this a novel?’ or ‘Why is this a comic?’. Because it is. You should never ask why they chose to make a musical (unless things go horribly wrong and it is clear that it should have been something else, but that is no different to any other medium). The real question is how well the story uses the tools of the medium to tell its story.

    Naturally, the key tool of the musical genre is the song itself, and the closest equivalent is the soliloquy in a play, especially something like Shakespeare, where they are also talking in verse. No one gives long speeches about their inner conflicts in verse, and no one sings songs about their feelings. But that isn’t a problem, just as many people don’t talk like people talk in comics or movies.

    The trick with musicals is knowing to play to their strengths. Musicals are big, broad things that don’t play with subtlety a lot (even La La Land, which is rich with layered, deep subtlety, has the sort of broad story that a musical needs). In a musical, when you need to demonstrate a perspective or show a decision, a song is used to do so in the biggest way possible. Whether it is ‘Everyday in the Sun’ building the entire philosophy of La La Land’s depiction of LA, ‘Let it Go’ showing Elsa’s dramatic rejection of humanity or Fantine’s collapse into despair as she sings ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, all these songs are used as tools in much that, for example, that Green Lanterns page above use panel design to reflect the duality between Bruce and Simon. Comics don’t need to use panels like that, but they do because the fact that they are comics give them the tools to use panel design for storytelling in a way that isn’t possible without using panel design. Musicals don’t need songs, but they use them because, as musicals, they can use elaborately done songs to present the idea in a way that isn’t possible without singing them.

    I’m no expert when it comes to Les Mis, as I only watched the godawful movie. But that movie was godawful because it was done by Tom Hooper, a fucking idiot who has no idea how cinematography works and fatally destroyed the movie with quite possibly the worst cinematography I have ever seen (how did FilmCritHulk describe Tom Hooper’s grasp on cinematic language? That’s right, “LITERALLY SAYING NONSENSE WORDS AND FARTING, BUT HAS SOMEHOW MADE IT INTO A FANCY DINNER PARTY CAUSE HE WAS WEARING A SUIT AND HAD A BRITISH ACCENT.”)
    But the reason that Les Mis is so perfect for a musical is that it is a big, bombastic epic about the French Revolution. It is a story about high emotions, of epic, iconic moments and all that broad stuff that makes musicals work.

    You don’t have to like musicals (though I do believe in any medium, there is always at least one work that will work for someone), but try changing your approach. Instead of asking why that particular character would burst into song, treat it as you would an innovative panel arrangement in comics. Ask how the music, the choreography and the lyrics help demonstrate the idea much like you would discuss all the things that makes a scene in a comic work so well. Or discuss one of Shakespeare’s famous soliloquies.

    This perspective may not change your opinions on musicals, but hopefully it will help you understand them more.

    • My comments on musicals may have been a little hasty — on reflection, I grew up with several Disney musicals that I don’t have any trouble with. But I think that hook of subjectivity is still necessary, whether or not musicality is part of that subjectivity. We need to be primed for Scar’s evil soliloquy for “Be Prepared” to work. Come to think of it, it’s probably no coincidence that none of the Disney musicals I loved as a kid really have a musical number in their final act — those songs worst best at introducing the characters, their relationships, and their motives.

      Dumping on Les Mis may be a separate issue entirely, but I think a lot of crummy musicals get a pass because the music is memorable. Musicals are expensive endeavors, so while little independent shows can rise to my attention, the majority of shows are crowd-pleasing blockbusters — not inherently devoid of merit, but probably not Chekhov, either. Plus, a lot of classics are kind of formulaic love stories that feel pretty same-y — for every Hamilton that gets produced, there’s always a revival of some old Rodgers and Hammerstein musical going up (and these are invariably the ones performed at my local high school/college/community theatre, which is probably where a lot of my attitudes about musicals come from).

      • I treat the subjectivity of musicals like I treat the subjectivity of Scott Pilgrim. Does Scott really fight evil exes in video game style fights, who explode into coins that Scott uses to pay for his bus fair? Or is it just influenced by Scott’s life as a video game obsessed twenty something (Scott Pilgrim is a musical, which replaces the songs with video game fight scenes, honestly)? It doesn’t really matter if it comes from a subjective point of view or if it is what really happens in this world. What matters is the meaning.

        If we compare it to this scene in La La Land, we have a similar situation. Was the objective version of this scene simple flirting while pretending not to care? Or was what really happened was they tried to hide their feelings through their lyrics, only to let the performance itself reveal their true feelings, ending with a synchronised tap dance because, regardless of what they say to each other, they have actually bonded? In truth, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the sequence is a wonderfully layered look at both how they present themselves and what their true feelings are.

        Also, I disagree with the fact that musicals need to have songs go away in the third act, or that the songs can only introduce elements. I think the reason there are less songs in final acts of Disney movies is that they often place a lot of the action in the finale, and action and songs don’t usually go together. But the reason action and songs don’t go together is that they serve the same purpose. To show through choreographed performance the current dynamics between characters and how they change.
        La La Land is a fantastic example of a movie that builds its final act around a song. Quite simply, with no Disney villain in the movie to act as a threat, it becomes quite easy to build the climax around a song as opposed to an action sequence.
        But Moana also demonstrates how a Disney movie/Adventure story can build the climax around the songs. The climax begins with Moana reprising her introduction song, and shows both her character development and her making active decisions to affect the plot through the ways the song has changed, going from a fearful admonishment of how her heart will push her away from her people to a confident declaration of who she is, and her willingness to follow her heart for her people. And in the actual climax, a giant action sequence with no songs, there is a big shift, where Moana makes an important realisation. With this realisation, Moana chooses not to fight, and instead take an empathetic approach. And at this point, we get a brand new song, a song about Moana reaching out and healing. The song doesn’t introduce anything, it is the climax itself. But quite simply, because the climax wasn’t a giant action sequence, but a young woman reaching out to another, it had the ability to use a song

        In fact, there are even times where you can build a climax that involves both music and action. I really, really, really hate to use this an example, because it is from the most terrible, the most morally abhorrent episode of a show defined by shitty writing and a godawfully selfish sense of morals, but because this scene isn’t the scene about how much better it is for an abuse victim to return to her abuser than to give a shit about the lives of others and actually care about helping people other than yourselves; and because I can’t think of another example on the top of my head I’m going to use it.

        Even an irredeemably horrible blight on humanity that makes DC Rebirth look like a masterpiece can create a musical that can combine action and singing into a climax. Even this uncaring, sociopathic piece of fucking garbage can get it right. And trust me, it is goddamn fucking impressive that this walking disaster can do anything right, considering how often it fucks up the most basic building blocks of narrative.
        So yeah, while the nature of action sequences and the nature of songs means that it takes a bit of work to get things just write so that the song and the fight scene come together at the right time for the scene to require both, nothing stops a musical from doing these sorts of things in the final act.

        And that’s the thing. Any major scene, whether an introduction, a payoff or a choice, can be expressed through song. Just as actual music can be about anything. The fact that cinematic audiences are driven toward naturalism (thanks to the fact that it is the defining cinematic style of decades of Hollywood) means that we are much more likely to agree with elaborate fight scenes that look realistic (and even the action in superhero and Star Wars movies, no matter how absurd, count as realistic. So much effort is put into those movies to making the fantastic elements look like they would if such a thing existed in the real world), than we would something as unrealistic as bursting out into song. But unrealistic isn’t a bad thing. Just as things like Babs Tarr’s Batgirl or Patsy Walker aka Hellcat using cartooning in ways that are less about realism than they are about expressing their ideas, so too can the tools of musicals be used in just the same ways. It will never be realistic, just as it isn’t when Patsy’s body shape lacks consistency and instead adapts to symbolise Patsy’s current mood in the scene, but it can be used for anything. It just means that sometimes, when you find yourself choosing between ‘naturalist fight scene’ and ‘musical number’, one has to be chosen.

        But movies like La La Land and Moana prove that songs can be anywhere, and used for any purpose. They can be used as climaxes, they can interact with the use of different techniques in unique ways, they work just like anything else. Yeah, you need to be primed for the song, in the same way that any narrative tool shouldn’t be used except in the right circumstances (only use soliloquies during moments of introspection, only use action sequences to demonstrate conflicts…).

        The real problem is that cinema is so obsessed with naturalism and realism (and please note, I am just as much at fault. I love that sort of stuff, and in my own creative works, I probably lean more into it that sort of stuff than the average writer), that we ignore the fact that we don’t have to be realistic to tell a story that is True. In fact, I think that ‘subjectivity of the characters’ cliche that is often used to justify musicals is actually a lie, something created to justify musicals existence in a naturalistic cinematic landscape instead of simply admitting that musicals don’t belong there and celebrating that. In a story that is intentionally unrealistic, like a musical, the question to ask isn’t ‘is it justified as the subjective perspective of the character’ but ‘how well does it express the idea it is trying to express’. Embrace the unreality, and enjoy the fact that as unrealistic as it is, the ideas beneath a good musical, whether it is hope, bravado, tragedy, empathy, despair or connection, are true. Because that is their narrative value. And they don’t have to be realistic to achieve it.

        On Les Mis, my opinion of it will forever be tainted by the movie being my primary experience with it. But from my understanding, Les Mis is a true classic of the genre. It was the Hamilton of its day (to be fair, so was Rent. But there is a reason that Les Mis has lived on and Rent hasn’t. Because Rent is awful). Les Mis, done properly, is a spectacle to behold, I believe. But when done poorly, whether by a poor local production or by an idiot director who thinks the way to film an epic is to put the Camera 2 feet away from the faces of the actors for 158 minutes of hell, it isn’t going to be given its fair chance. It is a blockbuster, but a blockbuster in the same way as Hamilton is. The same way as so many great, classic movies are.
        But the tragedy of musical plays is that despite the fact that audiences of plays are much better suited than movie audiences for unreality, plays will always suffer to problem of access, as Hamilton tickets prove. All the best stuff is done in New York or London, and if you aren’t in the right place, you don’t get the opportunity to see the best stuff done by the best people. But the worst thing to do is let that influence your opinions on the medium as a whole. There are still lots of great musicals in easy access. There are actually a lot of good musical movies out there, once you put the effort into sifting through the crud

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