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
Spencer: 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
Patrick: 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
Spencer: 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
Drew: 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?