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 All-Star Batman 8, Batman 19, Batwoman 1, Superman 19, Trinity 7 and Wild Storm 2. Also, we’ll be discussing Green Lanterns 19 on Monday and Green Arrow 19 on Tuesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
All-Star Batman 8
Spencer: It’s hard to trick Batman. We all know that, but for good measure, Scott Snyder and Giuseppi Camuncoli reestablish that fact early in All-Star Batman 8 by having Batman immediately see through the disguises of the Blackhawk agents posing as his sidekicks and teammates in one of those fist-pumping moments of uber-competence that Snyder and his Batman are all-too good at.
Reminding us of Batman’s ability to see through any trick, though, only makes it more effective when the Mad Hatter eventually gets through his defenses, making Bruce question what’s real and what’s an illusion. The triumph of All-Star Batman 8 is the way Snyder and Camuncoli incorporate the audience into Batman’s confusion. There’s not a single dialogue balloon in this issue — instead, Batman narrates the entire story himself. It’s fairly standard at first, but eventually Batman starts referring to himself in second person (“He thinks you don’t see him, but you do”), inviting the audience to place themselves in his shoes. As Hatter’s mind-bending deception grows stronger, though, he suddenly takes over as narrator, taking full control of Batman’s mind and how the reader experiences it. Our perception of what’s going on is just as muddled as Batman’s, and it’s a wonderful trick.
The full story of what went down between Batman and Hatter — both in the present and back before the Zero Year — is never entirely clear, though I’m inclined to believe that Hatter’s lying about pretty much everything. What’s certain, though, is that Batman’s victory this time comes from, not his uncanny perception, but his perseverance. Batman never gives up trying to find the truth, trying to find justice, and would rather risk death than live in uncertainty and fear. As always, Batman never fails to impress.
Patrick: Batman’s the man with the plan, right? One of his superpowers is that he is meticulously prepared for anything, like some kind of violent ultra-Boy Scout. So, just like Superman is often robbed of his Kryptonian superstrength to introduce a sense of danger, Batman occasionally finds himself backed up against a wall, with no plan and no prep. That’s where the drama kicks up a notch, and we’re no longer left with the certainty that Batman has a plan to get out of this unscathed. Tom King and David Finch’s Batman 19 casts Bane as the “hero” in a classic Batman “there’s no way he has a plan” story, pitting the Pride of Santa Prisca against the inmates at Gotham.
It’s kind cool to see the ol’ Arkham Asylum treatment applied to Bane. Both the Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s graphic novel and the WB video game from 2009 set out to describe Batman by exploring his relationship to his enemies. With the script flipped and Bane standing in Batman’s place, it becomes a little bit harder to see those relationships, but this issue is no less effective at expressing the core of what Bane is. Essentially, Bane is a juggernaut. Unstoppable, and incapable of being thrown off balance by any of the inmates nonsense. He literally doesn’t even stop to acknowledge Maxi Zeus, who bookends the piece by muttering his way through Dante. But it’s not even like the rest of the speed bumps do much to slow him down. My favorite interaction comes early in the issue: Two-Face approaches and mediates on the duality of his desires in that moment, as a Two-Face is wont to do. Bane doesn’t entertain any of this — he is too singularly focused on his goal — and he lays out Two-Face in no time. At least he offers a superficial satisfaction of knocking him out with a 1-2 punch.
I think Finch’s work in this issue is fantastic. There is so little room to tell the stories of all the encounters King has scripted, but he manages them all with a tight, claustrophobic efficiency. Bane often appears as too big for the panels he’s occupying, and he basically swallows every page.
This continues through the majority of Batman’s rogues, and there are really only two hiccups. Scarecrow’s fear toxin seems to affect Bane on a biological level, but he’s able to brush it off as soon as it gets to the psychological level, the implications of which are awesome. The second hiccup is with Riddler. Nygma acquiesces and hacks the New Genesis locks under the threat of breaking, but it’s fascinating to see King give Riddler a subtle advantage as the scene goes on. Riddler’s first line in the scene is a riddle: “When is a door not a door?” We never get his answer to that because Bane all “just open the goddamn thing or VIOLENCE.” He opens the door and then is allowed to both pose and answer another riddle. King has given us one hell of a Bane — one that continues to be a harrowingly warped reflection of Batman — but this interaction gets me excited for the calm menace of his Riddler.
Mark: Batwoman 1 is absolutely gorgeous. With a resume that includes working with Ed Brubaker on Captain America and Velvet, I consider Steve Epting to be a prestige artist. But if DC is angling to position Batwoman as a prestige title, the rest of the book needs to be more than basic.
I was feeling pretty good about the future of Batwoman by the end of Batwoman Rebirth 1, last month’s pseudo-prequel/zero issue, but that was based on the erroneous assumption that Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV planned to focus on the cliffhanging Commander Kane persona and move past the Batwoman we know. Clearly, that’s not the case (although Commander Kane might be a long term plan), as Batwoman 1 is only a minor variation on the Batwoman we already know.
But beyond all of that, I’m frustrated by the blandness of the issue itself. Tynion has always been a reliably consistent writer— albeit one who errs on the side of safe storytelling choices— but rarely to the cliched extent here. The sequence of events after Batwoman takes out the Dr. Martine in Kapalicarsi Market is ripped right from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (never a flattering comparison), which in turn is borrowed from countless other sources.
Batwoman confronts Martine, “Tell me where to find the seller!” Martine chokes out a cryptic clue to Batwoman just as projectile weapon enters the frame and kills him before he can reveal too much. Batwoman turns. A mysterious assassin lingers nearby. Batwoman gives chase, but before long the assassin engages a rocket pack and blasts away to parts unknown.
I want Batwoman 1 to be more than it is, which is a frustrating feeling. What’s here is capital “F” Fine, but in a crowded comic landscape, and with a core fanbase as fiercely loyal as Batwoman’s, I don’t know how long Fine can cut it.
Michael: If you’re going to make a comic book with a villainous magical imp who dwells in 5th dimensional playground then you need a high caliber artist. Luckily Superman 19 has Patrick Gleason at the helm, showcasing his imagination by detailing Mxyzptlk’s traps and games for Lois and Clark. First off I’d like to state for the record how creepy Gleason makes Mxyzptlk look throughout Superman 19. Visually Mxy has the style of a hybrid between an old man and a little boy, and Gleason plays up the levels of innocence and malevolence to an unsettling effect.
Gleason delights in the topsy-turvy powers of the maniacal imp, taking Lois and Clark through spirals of personal history, cosmic landscape boss levels and board games of Superman continuity. Mxy is a character who goes beyond the fourth wall and these artistic devices Gleason uses are a great way to embody that.
DC’s titles are getting closer and closer to the “mysteries of Rebirth,” no more so than Superman. Pete Tomasi and Patrick Gleason add another layer this week as they suggest that Superman was split in two, giving us classic Superman and New 52 Superman. I love the theme of this idea – New 52 Superman was Superman devoid of hope and optimism – but I’m curious how Gleason and Tomasi will spin this continuity-wise.
Jonathan Kent spends the issue in the “Island of Misfit Toys” dimension where he meets up with the banished souls of New 52 Superman and Lois who are seemingly resurrected at the end of the issue. I have no idea what happens next, but just want to point out that New 52 Lois and Superman lived and died and never ended up together. How strange is that?
Spencer: This issue bored me to tears. It pains me to say that — the idea of Lex Luthor, R’as al Ghul, and Circe forming a Dark Trinity has potential, and the Supes/Bats/Wondy fusion beast they battle is exactly the kind of wacko idea that first got me into comics, but the execution is just so dull. I think my main problem with Trinity 7 is that it’s overwritten. It’s full of purple prose; each character speaks like they’ve memorized a thesaurus, which isn’t exactly out of character for any of them, but considering they’re the only three speaking parts in the entire issue, it gets exhausting fast. Meanwhile, we’ve got internal monologues from all three leads mixed in with plenty of external monologues, dragging down even the action sequences with tons of text that, ultimately, has very little to actually say.
What it does have to say, meanwhile, is rather superficial. There’s no subtext here: Lex and R’as will flat-out state out-loud why they hate each other, and then give another variation of the same sentiment in their internal monologue, and none of it really digs into these characters. Lex hates R’as because he’s an assassin? Give me a break — even this more heroic Lex is far more complex than that. Their sniping could at least be fun, but again, Cullen Bunn, Clay Mann, and Miguel Mendonca play it out in the dullest possible fashion, refusing to let their cast ham it up or to dig into the fun or humor inherent to the genre. The cast comes across on the written page like actors bored with their script, which would be an astounding feat if it wasn’t so depressing.
Honestly, the only moment that worked for me at all was this moment of reflection from Lex as he battles the fusion monster.
This isn’t exactly revelatory, but it’s a take on Luthor that I enjoy regardless — he doesn’t hate gods and aliens and myth because he’s a scientist or a genius, but because he’s an egomaniac. R’as and Circe each get a page just like this one, but Bunn misses the point of those characters completely. He plays Circe like a bland, standard God, giving no insight into what drives her as an individual. R’as, meanwhile, freaks out with blind hatred over Batman, which is completely wrong. Batman is R’as’ enemy, yeah, but R’as has the utmost respect for him. It’s the whole point of their relationship.
Francis Manapul’s Trinity wasn’t a perfect book, but it was bright, fun, and hopeful even in its most awkward moments. Bunn’s Trinity isn’t giving me much reason to check back at all, except to see if Manapul’s returned yet.
Wild Storm 2
Drew: For all of the dazzling near-future tech and mind-bending existential quandaries that typify writer Warren Ellis’ style, I’d say the key component is how relatable the characters are in spite of those alien elements. That is, while his characters are grappling with trans-skeletal drysuits and the morality of organizations that secretly control/protect the planet, their humanity is never completely obscured. In that way, the story of Angela Spica boils down to that of a woman on the run from everybody — some who might do her harm, some who might protect her, and others who just want answers. It’s The Fugitive, but with superpowers.
This issue is rich in the kind of casual exposition Ellis tends to favor, giving us just enough context to follow each conversation. And there are a lot of conversations. This is a very talky issue, but artist Jon Davis-Hunt manages to make it a visually stimulating one, as well. Some of that comes from inventive angles (there are a lot of dutch tilts in this issue), but I’m actually more impressed with his geographic discipline. Every shot makes it clear where in the room each character is standing, and where we’re observing them from. That requires meticulous attention to detail in his backgrounds, but also requires a clear shot structure, including some helpful establishing shots.
These wide shots lend vital context to the closeups. It’s elementary stuff, but rare enough elsewhere (and deployed so effectively here) that it warrants praise. Ellis may still be holding back information from us, but Davis-Hunt definitely isn’t.
With all of our factions quickly zeroing in on Montauk, we’ll get more information about their motives soon enough. It’s not yet clear whether this is Angela’s story, or if she’s just the property that sets off a turf war, but I suspect that question will be settled in the next issue (and may depend on who gets to her first). It’s an exciting series, even if it is a little cryptic.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?