DC Round-Up: Comics Released 3/1/17

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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 18, Green Lanterns 18, Midnighter and Apollo 6, Shade The Changing Girl 6 and Superman 18.  Also, we’ll be discussing Batman 18 on Friday, so come back for that! As always, this article containers SPOILERS!

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Green Arrow 18

green-arrow-18Michael: Modern superhero stories tend to aim for “realism” in their portrayals, hence the New 52. One thing that proves to be a problem for realism is the notion of kid sidekicks. We can believe that a billionaire fights crime, but we draw the line at endangering the fictional life of a minor.

After establishing a strong foundation for Oliver Queen in the present, Benjamin Percy and Eleonora Carlini delve into the past in Green Arrow 18. The first chapter of “The Return of Roy Harper” gives us an insight into the origins of the Green Arrow/Speedy team without belaboring the point.

Percy respects his readers enough to connect the dots between the few flashbacks presented. Ollie recruits the talented miscreant Roy Harper as “tech support,” leading to the trick arrows of classic continuity. It’s a nice blend of Rebirth and New 52 approach: it gives us the goofy elements but also explains them as a teenager’s indulgence.

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Not to forget its liberal ideology, Green Arrow 18 has probably the most direct reference to real-world events yet: The Standing Rock/Dakota Access Pipeline conflict. The real-world problem is grounded within the story by placing Roy at the center of it: he seems to have grown up in the Spokane Indian Reservation where the pipeline is being built. More than that, Roy is at the center of the story — he’s not a side character that returns; this is his issue.

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I’m excited to see where the Roy/Ollie relationship goes, this was a strong Rebirth start. I just hope that someone gives his god-awful New 52 costume a redesign…

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Green Lanterns 18

green-lanterns-18Patrick: I have a few pet peeves in comics that I’m probably never going to shake. One is that I don’t like issues that take a survey of a character’s life, as narrated by the character — too often they end up being rehashes of stuff we already know with no real storytelling value. Another peeve (assuming I don’t always need the modifier “pet” here) is that I don’t like it when heretofore unexplored mythology takes precedence over character. And lastly, I always have an extra hurdle to clear when a story takes place in outer space — I like a more meaningful sense of location than “space” allows. Green Lanterns 18 commits all three of Patrick cardinal sins, but it cuts such a wide, deep path through both Green Lantern and DC publishing history, anchoring its meta-wonkery (and meta-wankery) in the experience of a surprisingly sympathetic character: Volthoom.

It’s the 10,000,000,000 year life and times of the First Lantern! A daunting amount of time, right? Writer Sam Humphries is keenly aware of how much implied history there is out there for this guy, and he makes those 10 billion of existence sheer torture for Volthoom.

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Not that he’s being tortured, by the sheer fact that he exists for such an absurd length of time is the torture. This makes Volthoom adversarial to his own mythology — which I love — and is a tacit admission that Green Lantern mythos has become unapproachable, even torturous. I’ve been on this train for over a decade and I am routinely dumbfounded by some Lantern (or other mythological wrinkle) that was previously unknown to me.

And believe it or not, Humphries’ way-zoomed-out retrospective on Volthoom’s life is actually working to simplify mythology. Ever wonder why Earth-3’s Green Lantern analogue, Power Ring, had the spirit of Volthoom inside his ring? Simple: Volthoom is a multidimensional refugee, and one of his stops when searching for a home was the universe of Earth-3, and he lent his connection to the emotional spectrum to the would-be Guardians of that Universe. Volthoom’s experience is all wrapped up in the origins of both the emotional spectrum and the multiverse, which lends a sympathetic human face to both.

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Midnighter and Apollo 6

midnighter-and-apollo-6Spencer: The titular stars of Midnighter and Apollo have been separated for most of the mini-series’ run, with their epic quest to reunite — even if means going to Hell and facing the devil himself — revealing the depth of their love for each other. That said, the full extent of their bond becomes even clearer once Midnighter and Apollo reunite in this month’s finale, an issue that’s as unabashedly romantic and sexy as it is action-packed.

Often, it’s all those things at once. Even as Midnighter and Apollo battle Neron or flee from the grotesque souls of all those they’ve murdered, they can’t help but to moon over each other: Apollo claims that there’s nowhere he wouldn’t hear Midnighter’s voice, and Midnighter reveals that he never made a plan to escape from Hell because he trusted Apollo to get them out alive. The full page splash of their kiss — draped in practically angelic light from Apollo — is about as romantic a scene as you’ll find in a comic book. As for sexy? If the foreplay that closes out the issue doesn’t do it for you (?!), there’s always this sequence, which actually made me gasp out loud in my car when I read it.

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Aside from reemphasizing what a special relationship Apollo and Midnighter have, these moments stand out because they treat a gay romance with a kind of vocabulary you don’t often see in mainstream stories, the kind of romance/sex tropes usually reserved for heterosexual couples. Significantly, Steve Orlando and Fernando Blanco never explicitly mention their sexuality within the issue, treating them as if they were any other normal couple (because, aside from being superheroes, they are). That kind of treatment is progressive in its own right, and there are other moments that read in similar ways.

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On a surface level, this is just a group of friends enjoying a meal together, preparing for whatever challenges they’ll face next. With the knowledge that most of these characters are gay, though, it reads differently. It’s a reminder that there’s strength in unity, that the LGBT community have overcome so much and will continue to as long as they stick together. In today’s political climate, that’s a message we need more than ever, and I feel the same way about Midnighter and Apollo. DC, who do I have to talk to about getting more of this series? Bendix is still out there just begging for an ass-kicking; there’s so much story left to tell!

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Shade, The Changing Girl 6

shade-the-changing-girl-6Drew: Here’s a question: how would you have pitched the first few issues of Shade, The Changing Girl? The best I can come up with is “it’s like Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, only, there’s just one body-snatcher (not really an invasion), but it’s from her perspective.” It’s an intriguing premise, rich in the very same fish-out-of water conflict that writer Cecil Castellucci has been focusing on from the start. But it’s lacked any real protagonist — I suppose Shade’s erratic behavior might have eventually led someone to suspect she’s not Megan, but pretty much everyone had chalked it up to her coma having changed her. Indeed, the only character Shade was truly in conflict with was Megan herself, who had left a monstrous legacy Shade has been struggling with from the very beginning. Castellucci capitalizes on that conflict in issue 6, bringing Megan’s spirit back, introducing the first real hurdle to Shade’s new life.

Of course, that this is a “new life” may be debatable — Shade may have just wanted a short visit, but with it apparently impossible for her to return to Meta, she’s now fighting for her life. That sets some stakes that haven’t really existed in this series, pitching the fight with Megan several degrees higher than the teen drama and metaphysical poetry this series has made its home. In that way, “the disembodied spirit of a teenage girl miraculously fighting her way back to life” doesn’t exactly feel like a bad guy, Castellucci adds another piece to the puzzle, confirming that Megan’s return wouldn’t just be bad for Shade — it would be bad for everyone:

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Shade’s not just quite saving the world, but saving the people touched by Megan’s monstrousness feels like the right scope for this series. She manages to defeat Megan, but a bizarre twist suggests that Megan’s body may now be pregnant with Megan, herself. It’s strange, for sure, but feels very much in line with the rest of this series. Moreover, it sets the series up to address teen pregnancy, albeit in its own idiosyncratic way.

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Superman 18

superman-18Mark: Something’s gone wrong in the Rebirth time stream. Whether it’s the insertion of pre-Flashpoint Superman into the present, Dr. Manhattan dabbling with space and time in the past, or something else entirely, things in Rebirth are not exactly what they seem. And while we’ll undoubtably have to wait at for at least one more crossover event for the curtain to be pulled back fully, Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Superman 18 begins the process of teasing out more information.

And tease it does. We still don’t know too much more about what Mr. Oz has been up to, or what escaped his prison. Nor do we learn anything concrete about the mysterious Clark Kent that shows up at the “Smith” farm to deliver a mysterious scrapbook right before glowing flames erase Jon seemingly out of existence. But the fact alone that these pieces are coming together in the same book gives me hope that we’ll get some answers soon.

Still, here’s the thing: I don’t really care about the mysteries of Rebirth at this point. But DC has been fidgeting uncomfortably, trying to get our attention like a child with a secret they desperately want to share to the point of distraction, so I’d love to just get it out there so everyone can move on.

In addition to the story, Gleason contributes pencils for the first time in a while. Sure, the Gleason-ness of it all is occasionally turned up to uncomfortable levels, such as when we see Jon for the first time and his enormous anime eyes threaten to swallow the page and the reader along with it:

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But overall it’s nice to have him back.

It’s just one issue, so I don’t want to jump to too many conclusions, but one of the complaints with DC’s recents efforts has been the practical regression of its characters in the name of returning them to some idealized status quo. So there’s no reason to think that the apparent erasure of Jon and the rest of the Kent’s perfect domestic bliss will last beyond this arc, but you also can’t be certain it won’t stick since doing so would certainly push Clark and Lois back towards their classic dynamic in a way DC’s been seemingly jockeying for since their re-introduction into current canon.

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

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

  1. Mark and I both do it here (and I will tomorrow in our Batman piece) – it is remarkable how hard it is to write about DC comics without endlessly reflecting on the canon and continuity the place an individual issue holds in its franchise’s legacy. Is that a function of the comics themselves? Or perhaps our perceptions of the the comics of the past? I’ll confess that I’d have a hard time making similar arguments about Marvel, even if it were being so self-referential.

    And further: do writers construct these stories now because they grew up reading stories of DC continuity? Did Crisis change everything forever?

    • Every week I challenge myself to not mention Rebirth in my write-ups, and most weeks I fail. I’m not sure what it is that makes it so difficult to avoid discussing broader canon, but it feels relevant in the DC discussion in a way it doesn’t for other publishers. I partly think it’s because DC itself seems so obsessed with canon.

      • It’s interesting: I’d say both DC and Marvel are obsessed with canon (continuity was a key component to Marvel’s success right from the start), but DC is additionally obsessed with self-reference. I mean, the fact that Barry Allen used to read old Jay Garrick Flash comics is part of his origin. I suppose that obsession with self-reference may simply a function with their reboot-heavy approach to continuity — you don’t need to explain how this Flash relates to that Flash if there’s only one of them (or if one of them is a former sidekick) — but that’s the thing that stands out to me as something you’d (virtually) never see at Marvel. Either way, I think there’s something more than just devotion to canon that makes DC’s canon so salient.

        • Barry Allen reading Jay Carrick comics was just a cute reference at the start, and I think it is important to note how easy it is to tell a Flash story without dealing with that. I think it is important that it was only with Flash of Two Worlds that things turned into self referential STORYTELLING, instead of just self reference. DC loves to bring out the self referenential storytelling during special occasions, but DC does feel to me less likely than Marvel to rely on continuity outside of those special occasions – as you said, continuity was a key part of Marvel’s success from the start. That’s how DC can do something like Infinite Crisis, which is self referential as hell but quickly moved past from, and Marvel took years to exploring the fallout of the first Civil War

          To say that DC has an approach to canon that is salient in a way that Marvel don’t doesn’t feel right to me, because there is so much of DC’s output that doesn’t fit that sort of thing. I can’t imagine Marvel ever doing something like Scott Snyder’s Batman, which are essentially five independent stories. You can call Endgame a sequel to Death in the Family and Superheavy a sequel to Endgame, but essentially continuity and canon come second to being a standalone story (especially if we ignore Superheavy). I can’t imagine a high profile Marvel book that would tell a story that doesn’t feel like a smaller part of a greater story, but pick up any Snyder arc, and you have a complete story that can exist by itself. You read Court of Owls, and you have an entire story. Death of the Family isn’t a continuation of the story in Court of Owls, but a new story from the same team. Continuity and canon only became important when Snyder was writing single issues, like the Requiem issue or 51, the rare issue based around the expectation that you knew Damian died or that this was the final issue of Snyder and Capullo’s run.
          In fact, the way I described Endgame and Superheavy as sequels is notable, as I think you wouldn’t call, say, the latest Mighty Thor storyline a sequel of the previous one. The Asgard/Shi’ar war is not a new Mighty Thor story, but a new chapter in the same story that Aaron has been writing since 2012. I don’t think the nature of Marvel’s characters so easily supports storytelling that ignores continuity.

          But DC also have a happen to go all meta on special occasions. And I think it is notable that it is only on special occasions. But when that happens, continuity and what the story means in the greater context of canon, is important (as opposed to something on the side). But I do think meta DC is a distinctly different entity to normal DC. Something that happens specifically when DC leave their normal toolbox behind to open the special toolbox designed explicitly to make for meta purposes. It is only during a Crisis that DC gets meta, and DC is in the middle of a Crisis. While Rebirth is still telling the grand Rebirth story, this will be a constant part of the comics

      • From my standpoint, I would say it is to do with Rebirth specifically and the strong influence of Geoff Johns generally (as he is a writer in particular known for reaching into the past.

        As a general rule, I would say that a DC story is less likely to require reflecting on canon etc than a Marvel story. It goes back to the classic ‘DC’s heroes are Gods, Marvel’s heroes are People’ thing. DC’s heroes are generally more idea driven, more mythic.
        Mad Max is probably the best example of a modern day mythic character, as the combination of his wandering hero/Knight Errant/Lone Ronin nature and the intentionally incoherent timeline creates a character to whom canon means a lot less than the idea he represents. That a Mad Max story is ultimately about the story itself, and not how it connects with everything else.
        If we look at Mad Max as a mythic ideal, I think your generic DC character gets a lot closer than your generic Marvel character. The classic Superman story, or the classic Batman story, is much closer to that ideal. Meanwhile, a character like Spiderman cannot be divorced from the fact that their superheroics are combined with their histories. The deaths of Jason Todd and Gwen Stacy are a great comparison. Jason Todd’s death was a singular story. Gwen Stacy’s death was the consequence of a series of stories that led Gwen Stacy to be in Peter’s apartment just at the time when Osborne, a villain who Peter decided to leave alone because he thought Osborne’s amnesia meant that both his villainy and his knowledge of Peter’s death were no longer problems (the ultimate example of this is Daredevil, a character whose every story has been in response to the tragedies of the previous stories since, at latest, Kevin Smith. Even Soule, who erased most of that canon, did so as part of a story that in in response to the ending of Waid’s run). There are exceptions to this, of course. Captain America is probably the most DC-like Marvel character, while the Teen Titans made their name on the sort of storytelling that I am describing as Marvel like. But I think it works generally.

        I don’t think it was Crisis on Infinite Earths that changed everything. But I think that Crisis storylines change the narrative a bit. You can’t discuss Infinite Crisis without discussing its relationship with the canon. And Rebirth is a Crisis storyline. It ins’t a miniseries like many of the other Crises, but the fact that the one shot set up a bunch of elements that are slowly being unfurled means you can’t divorce any Rebirth comic from the greater Rebirth ‘event’, no more than you can divorce, say, Civil War II storylines from Civil War II, even things like the Americops or Alex Wilder’s plans. This is a meta period of DC’s existence. Add to that the fact that Rebirth is dedicated entirely to the worship of old continuity and it isn’t surprising that it is so hard to avoid discussing Rebirth and continuity at DC at the moment. This is Rebirth’s aesthetic

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