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 Flash 18, Gotham Academy Second Semester 7, Mother Panic 4, and New Super-Man 9. Also, we’ll be discussing Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps and Wonder Woman 18 on Tuesday, so come back for that! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
The Flash 18
Spencer: There’s a bit of a strange structure to The Flash 18 and the storyline Joshua Williamson and Jesus Merino are leading into. The thrust of this arc is Kid Flash’s journey to see his father, Daniel West/Reverse Flash, again, and for the first two acts everything that happens in the issue supports that goal. For example, a “family dinner” with Henry and Barry Allen and Iris and Wally West finds time to build the relationship between Barry and his father and for Henry to dispense some romantic advice, but that strong parental bond also makes Wally uncomfortable and only serves to further motivate him to find his father. This all leads to a dead-end when Barry and Wally confront Amanda Waller, which then takes the two to Australia. That’s where the issue takes a strange turn.
There’s a logical, Daniel West-related reason for the two to track down Captain Boomerang — he’s got a history with the Flash and works with Amanda Waller on the Suicide Squad, and thus might know what she’s hiding — but they quickly get sucked into Digger’s own job, a mission to take down a team of gun runners known as the Weaver Clan. These guys have a fun and interesting motif (even if it’s straight out of Si Spurrier’s Weavers), Williamson has a great handle on Digger’s voice, and it’s nice to see him become a part of the Flash mythos again, but after a whole issue of building up Wally’s quest to find his father, the sudden shift to Digger’s mission is a strange turn; it’s using the Daniel story to build and support new storylines, instead of the other way around like before.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation. I was actually surprised to discover that Daniel West had been appearing in Suicide Squad (as I hadn’t seen him since the end of the Manapul/Buccellato run), and after doing some research, was even more surprised to discover that he died at some point during the series. In the world of superhero comics that certainly doesn’t rule out his return (in fact, I’d say it’s almost certain), but it does make me question how this arc will proceed from here. I hope we eventually get that Daniel/Wally reunion, if only because there’s a lot of complicated emotions involved and I’m interested to see how they’ll play out, but if the Reverse Flash premise ends up mostly being a springboard towards other stories, well, I’m cool with that as long as they all end up as fun as Digger’s has been so far.
Gotham Academy: Second Semester 7
Taylor: Recently, Netflix added two more seasons of the Great British Bake Off to their library and I’ve been watching it every day. I love the show primarily because I loved baked goods, but it is always amazing to watch talented people do what they’re best at. One of the things contestants on the show have to do each week is bake a “showstopper.” These are the marvelous cakes, intricate macarons, and ridiculous pies that simply look amazing and can’t be pulled off by the average baker. I feel like full page spreads in comics are the artistic equivalent of a a baked showstopper. Both need to be impactful, tasteful, and above all, well executed. With baked cakes and breads spinning around my head, I couldn’t help but be floored by a showstopper in Second Semester 7.
If you’ve read this issue, it’s not hard to guess what this showstopper is. Yes, the reveal that Olive’s roommate Amy is actually a figment of her mind and not a real person. It’s a shattering moment as the cover of the issue suggests, and which is reinforced when Olive is first confronted with the fact that Amy isn’t real.
Now this is a showstopper! Too often it seems as if full page spreads are used in comics without much though being applied to why they are being used. To me, a full page spread should stand out both artistically and narratively. What I mean is, a spread should be used when comic creators really want to drive a point home.
The example above is a perfect illustration of this. This is an earthshaking moment not only in this issue, but the entirety of the issue. The revelation that Olive has split personalities, or something like it, is as shocking as it is upsetting. This is a key moment and one that deserves the grandiose showstopping gesture of a full page spread. Credit needs to be given to the entire creative team of Gotham Academy (and it is a big team) for creating this moment. Not only is perfectly timed in the series but it’s perfectly drawn and colored. The coup de gras is the split down the middle of the page with the mirroring panels of scenes showing what Olive remembers happening vs. what actually happened. It’s a stunning page and one that has set up this issue, and the rest to follow, excellently well.
Mother Panic 4
Drew: One of the tricky things about working in a medium dominated by 75-year-old characters is that new characters simply can’t have the same depth of history and intricately developed worlds. That’s an obvious point — really just a function of the number of stories — but it’s complicated by the fact that the storied histories of older characters are so often the point of superhero comics that it can be hard to distinguish history from genre. Lacking a convoluted history isn’t necessarily a weakness, but it may default to weakness in the absence of some deliberate attention to that lack. To writer Jody Houser’s credit, I believe her treatment of Violet Paige’s backstory as a mystery is exactly the kind of attention I’m talking about, but unfortunately, it feels more needlessly cryptic than it does mysterious and alluring.
The series seems to have settled into a flashback structure where the villain of the month is revealed to have some kind of connection to Violet’s mysterious past, but because we lack the context for that connection, Violet’s motives are entirely inscrutable. This month, she’s seeking revenge against a dude who recommended that she attend some kind of secret torture boarding school, but his exact connection to the school — or indeed, the baffling purpose of the school — are left totally unexplained. It’s enough to establish that he’s bad, but at this point in the series, we should have enough information to understand exactly how this flashback fits within the life of our heroine. Instead, it feels like an odd addendum to what we’ve learned, feeling less like an important part of her history, and more like a hastily thrown-together motivation for her to punch something this week.
It could be that I’m just missing Tommy Lee Edwards art — Shawn Crystal does an admirable job picking up the atmospheric brushwork (landing somewhere pleasingly close to Rafael Albuquerque), but his cartoonier style takes all of the unsettling weight out of those surrealist images that pepper Violet’s fight scenes. Moreover, his simplified style completely undermines the shocking reveal of the mysterious terrorist/ally, who we know has something wrong with their face (as two characters remark on it before we finally see it):
I’ve unhelpfully cropped out Violet’s narration that explains what’s wrong, but only to emphasize how impossible it would be to pick up on, otherwise: “it’s too perfect.” Asking any artist to make a face look disturbingly, remarkably perfect would be a tall order, but especially for one who works in such a cartoony style. This character’s face looks almost identical to Violet’s — they’re just simplified, pretty faces, without nearly enough detail to distinguish who is more attractive, let alone who is unsettlingly attractive. It doesn’t quite work, which is a feeling I’m increasingly having about this series as a whole.
New Super-Man 9
Mark: Remember how New Super-Man 8 ended with the big Ching Lung cliffhanger? I figured we’d begin to see Gene Luen Yang’s plans for Lung begin to take shape this issue, but it turns out Lung is a much longer term play. Instead, New Super-Man 9 focuses on Kenan Kong’s visit to Metropolis and Lexcorp at the request of Lex Luthor.
While it’s exciting to see the world of Chinese superheroes continue to expand (and it completely follows that there would be a Speedster in the mix) New Super-Man continues to be all over the place narratively. There’s the mysteries of Kenan’s powers, his mother’s death, the true motives of the Ministry, where Ching Lung fits in, etc. This issue alone introduces portals to Hell and yet another band of people with superpowers. It’s a lot of balls to keep in the air, and none of them are serviced particularly well on an issue-to-issue basis, leading to this feeling of the whole book kind of treading water.
What continues to work well is the humor Lung brings to the story. I’ve yet to get tired of Luthor’s broken Mandarin (which turns out to be a put-on), and the dynamic between him, Kenan, and Master I-Ching as they try to communicate with each other is well executed. Additionally, Lung’s characterization of Kenan continues to highlight how different this dumb, impulsive teenager is from the noble Clark Kent. Given the choice between immediately having his powers returned to him or gaining them the hard way as Master I-Ching encourages, Kenan chooses the easy way (and suffers the consequences).
Plotting was Yang’s struggle during his Superman run, and character work his strength. That continues to be true here.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?