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 17, Green Arrow 17, Green Lanterns 17, Superman 17 and Trinity 6. Also, we’ll be discussing Super Sons 1 on Friday, Batwoman Rebirth 1 on Tuesday, and Wild Storm 1 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article containers SPOILERS!
Drew: Who’s your Batman? Christian Bale? Michael Keaton? Adam West? The voice of Kevin Conroy? Maybe it’s a never-was dream-casting, like Cary Grant, or maybe it’s not an actor, but a drawing by a specific artist. The point is: there are LOTS of incarnations of Batman to choose from, each with their own take on the character, complete with unique tones, themes, and casts of characters. Grant Morrison recently found success in compressing much of Batman’s history into one rambling continuity, but Tom King seems poised to break it apart again, referencing not only conflicting canonical stories, but alluding to decidedly non-canonical books and films. Curiously, even that seems to all hinge on Morrison.
It happens so subtly, it’s almost hard to see. In Arkham Asylum, we get a location caption telling us that we’re in the “Morrison Wing.” These kinds of nods to notable creators abound in Batman stories, such that the Finger River spills into the Miller Harbor, which is crossed by the Aparo Expressway. But then we get another, the “McKean Clock Tower,” which tells us retroactively that the “Morrison Wing” wasn’t a tribute to Morrison’s extensive work with the character, but to one specific book: Arkahm Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth — a non-canonical graphic novel notable for its psychoanalytic approach to Batman (and McKean’s lavishly painted artwork). And then we get another location, “Nolan Alley” — it seems King is exclusively nodding to non-canonical (but wildly popular) iterations of the character. Taken with the riff on Kingdom Come in the previous issue, and with the conflicting continuities presented in issue 15, this run starts to feel designed specifically to indict the notion of continuity in a world where Batman has decades of stories told across virtually every form of media. In this way, we can understand that King’s Batman isn’t just the culmination of all of DC comics current (or former) comics continuity, but of all versions of Batman, everywhere — he’s writing the abstract idea of Batman.
It’s an idea that King has clearly been manifesting since the beginning, though it might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Under King’s pen, Jim Gordon doesn’t smoke cigarettes, as he has for decades (in spite of his attempts to quit), but a pipe, as he did in the earliest Batman comics. His Dr. Double X spells his civilian name “Echs,” not “Ecks,” as he has in all previous incarnations. But King really lays it out when Psycho-Pirate explains his deepest fears:
Psycho-Pirate seems somehow aware of Rebirth (in much the same way that Calendar Man, who also makes an appearance here, did in Batman: Rebirth). Exactly what that means for this series isn’t clear, but it certainly suggests a more complex series than we gave the first arc credit for. King is up to something here, it’s just taking a bit longer to gestate than we’re used to from him.
Green Arrow 17
Michael: As Green Arrow progresses towards what I’ve been eagerly waiting for: “Roy Harper: Rebirth” Benjamin Percy and Otto Schmidt close out “Emerald Outlaw” in Green Arrow 17. As the Seattle Police Department pay their respects for Chief Westberg — murdered at the hands of Malcom Merlyn — Oliver sets forth to rebuild once again.
Percy packs a lot of story into this little epilogue: burying Westberg, Domini confronting Broderick, hinting at the sordid history between Ollie and Roy, and a showdown with Malcolm Merlyn. Merlyn’s place in all of this is still somewhat a mystery. Someone hired him to “ruin Green Arrow,” but Merlyn also tries to pull a weak Darth Vader “join me” moment.
The lines of Schmidt’s panels fly across the page on an angle like Merlyn and Oliver’s arrows. My favorite page of Schmidt’s is the end of the issue when Diggle “betrays” Oliver. Diggle prevents Oliver from killing Malcom by knocking him in the head with the butt of his gun. A flash of surprise goes off in Ollie’s eye in the second panel and he falls out of the frame of the third panel into the background — becoming a black and white ghost of shock.
The final page of the issue reveals that there might be a “Star City” hidden within Seattle, which is the perfect expression of Percy’s approach to Rebirth: he doesn’t pile on classic ideas right out of the gate. Instead he slowly unearths them as the saga progresses.
Green Lanterns 17
Patrick: It’s hard to tell a story about superhero giving up any of their power for the safety of those around them. That may be what’s best for the hero’s friends, family, city and/or planet, but that’s never what the audience wants. You pick up a Hulk book because you wanna see the goddamn incredible Hulk. Writer Sam Humphries twists that formula ever so slightly by making part of Simon Baz’ power a gun. Unfortunately, Humphries’ message is far too muddled to have any real weight, and Baz’ heroic concession makes Batman peg him as the only Green Lantern he “can work with” — i.e., control.
I may be projecting a little bit on that last part. Throughout the issue, Batman is a characteristically quiet sounding board, letting Baz express all of his defensive opinions about why he should have the gun with him at all times. Batman is past the point of arguing with him, but he’s also weirdly past the point of making a case for gunlessness. Evidently, the seed of doubt planted by Sinestro Corps Alfred grabbing his piece in issue 16 is enough to undo Simon’s convictions all on its own. Again, I’ll concede that I’m probably projecting here, in that I want to see Simon make a measured choice to abandon his gun, and not just pull out a more deadly weapon to replace it.
Instead, Humphries focus is on the addictive nature of fear, as expressed by the Yellow Lantern-ified Scarecrow. This too is inelegant, established over long stretches vague narration, but I like the idea of exploring fear as a biological response that makes Scarecrow feel good. It seems like an easy line to connect to Simon feeling good when he’s afraid, but we never quite get that far. It’s possible that what I’m missing most in this issue is any fear felt by the reader. Eduardo Pansica’s drawing are never scary, and there’s never really enough room on the page to create affective atmosphere or characters that could become scary. Even Simon’s meltdown feels more like a recap page than a fear-induced freakout.
Humphries has such a good handle on Jessica’s anxieties and fears — as evidenced by Green Lanterns 15 — but Simon Baz is proving to be a tougher nut to crack.
Spencer: One of the greatest pleasures of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Damian Wayne stories was watching them depict such an unusual child — a ten-year-old assassin who has never lived a life even remotely approaching normal — doing typical little kid activities. Jonathan Kent is Damian’s polar opposite — an All-American kid only just beginning to comprehend his fantastic abilities — so it’s interesting to watch Tomasi and Gleason reverse their formula, throwing such an average kid into situations that are anything but average.
Superman 17 follows Jon and his friend Kathy as their late-night search for Kathy’s missing cow turns into something far stranger and scarier than they ever imagined. It’s a phenomenal showcase for artist Sebastian Fiumara and colorist Dave Stewart, whose moody, atmospheric work only gets darker the further the kids venture into the woods, and eventually becomes downright surreal once they stumble into the strange house. That said, even Jon’s “normal” life at the issue’s beginning is depicted with a tinge of horror.
This is the kind of scares most kids like at Jon’s age — the “safe” scares of a late-night horror movie, while you’re safe under a blanket eating ice cream with your parents out of town. Kathy’s call, though — and their eventual trip into Deadman’s Swamp — forces Jon to face real scares and his even realer fears, first in the form of the wreckage left behind last time Jon lost control of his powers, and then in the form of the fifty-foot shadow man who pursues them through the swamp. While Jon doesn’t defeat the creature, he more than proves himself by facing his fears, protecting Kathy, and keeping them both alive until help comes (all while attempting to preserve his secret identity in the most transparent way possible, a fun running gag).
While Kathy’s grandfather brushes off their story as the effects of the swamp’s hallucinogenic gas, the issue’s coda shows that the shadow man is still out there. Next time, though, Jon will no doubt be ready for him. The greatest victory, though — at least for a kid like Jon — is pulling all this off under his parents’ noses. That’s the real confidence booster.
Mark: What an unwieldy beast the first arc of Francis Manapul’s Trinity has turned out to be. After a strong first issue, “Better Together” quickly became a strange rehashing of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s “For the Man Who Has Everything” that finally concludes here with a Men In Black-style memory wipe that preemptively retcons the one instance of character growth in the whole endeavor, and a moment of Wonder Woman ultimately being set free by “the truth” (which seems to be her capital “T” Thing in Rebirth).
The question of “why?” is easily answered in a commercial medium like comics. Why was Trinity created? To sell comic books, obviously. But this strange first arc leaves me baffled. Francis Manapul is a tremendously talented writer (and artist). The art team — which, on Trinity 6, consists of Ray McCarthy, Emanuela Lupacchino, and Matt Santorelli, with colors by Hi-Fi — is equally up to the task. But the whole enterprise feels ill-conceived and redundant. This is nobody’s best work, and it’s a disappointing end to “Better Together.”
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’ll avoid making the obvious attack on Trinity/Rebirth that Mark so easily set up for me and instead just say that the reason Psycho Pirate is aware of Rebirth is that that has been an element of Psycho Pirate since day one. Since Morrison created him in Animal Man, the fact that he can remember Crisis of Infinite Earths has been a key part of his character. That is why he remembers Rebirth. It may mean something for King’s existing series, but it may just be an expression of existing character traits
Psycho Pirate was created by Gardner Fox, and the fact that he remembers the Crisis on Infinite Earths was established IN Crisis on Infinite Earths, with the final page depicting him ranting and raving about worlds living and dying in Arkham Asylum when nobody else remembered the event at all.
Your point still stands, though, Matt — the fact that Psycho Pirate is aware of the various changes in timelines and continuity since COIE has been a part of his character ever since, and has played a prominent role in series like Animal Man and Infinite Crisis. King’s use of him in Rebirth Batman is a continuation of that facet of the character.
(and thanks for picking up my slack, Matt — I meant to make this comment earlier and totally forgot)
I never realised. I associate Psycho Pirate so closely with Morrison, especially Animal Man era Morrison, I never realised he had such a long past. I’ve never got round to reading Crisis (one of those books I just keep meaning to read…) and would never have expected that aspect of Psycho Pirate to be established there of all places. I’m honestly surprised that Psycho Pirate of all people had been given the ability to remember the Crisis – I always thought that the idea of someone so minor being given that ability was Morrison having fun